Transylvania: "Welcome to Romania"

Cluj-Napoca

Romania

June 26, 2001

My Dear Family and Friends,

 

I am sitting in the delightful Hubertus Restaurant, listening to a sweet musical trio (keyboard, violin and clarinet) while I wait for my main course of roasted quail with potatoes and tomato salad.

I am in a charming university town called Cluj-Napoca in the middle of the Transylvanian Mountains in Romania.

For the past two days I have driven in the far north near the borders of Hungary and The Ukraine.  The area is called The Maramureş where communities are living their lives the way they have for hundreds of years -- spinning, woodworking, and farming in beautiful and fertile mountain valleys alongside swift mountain rivers.

I visited a town called Sighet - not on anyone's radar screen except that it is the birthplace of Ellie Wiesel. As I clutched and shifted up the 1000-meter mountain pass I felt as if I was making a pilgrimage. Sighet had a Jewish population of more than forty percent, before the War.

The town itself was disappointing. The one remaining synagogue was quite ordinary and closed and the Wiesel home was under renovation.

But overall it was worth the trip -- about four hours of serious driving on one-lane, occasionally washed-out mountain roads passing the occasional car, truck, horse cart, cows and sheep all insisting on sharing the road with me. And the scenery is inspiring.

Got your map out?

I began my Romanian journey in Bucharest, then north to Brasov, a big and noisy city. From Brasov I made day trips to Sinaia, Bran (so-called Dracula castle), Sighişoara, and Sibiu –- old Saxon towns with castles, and fortifications and wonderful central squares.

From Brasov I took the train to Cluj-Napoca -- so far my favorite city. College town atmosphere in a beautiful setting. Yes every place has its large numbers of Soviet style apartment blocks, which are quite depressing so you have to just eliminate those areas and focus on the well-preserved old sections.

Saturday

Today is a travel day -- a six-hour train ride east to Suceava in the Moldavia region.

True story.... Sitting next to me in the compartment is a very young Romanian woman – maybe 19 or 20. I cannot get her attention. Her eyes are locked on the book in her hands and her expressionless expression hints at a deep scowl. Finally, after two hours, our eyes meet. I have no idea if she speaks a word of English. Regardless, with my best New York attitude I plug ahead and firmly ask, “What the hell are you so mad at?” She responds instantly, “My damn boyfriend didn’t take me to the railroad station!”

By the end of our journey Manuela and I are fast friends and planning to get together next spring. She is a medical student in Cluj.

Sunday

Today, outside Suceava, I visited six of the painted monasteries. The architecture, frescos and paintings are of the highest order. The colorful exterior frescos have lasted more than four hundred years.

Painted on the walls are many religious icons and also some historical events. Amid the religiosity are scenes of the most extreme violence including "The Siege of Constantinople" and "The Final Judgment." The paintings made me feel happy and sad, excited and depressed, astounded, angry, and even at peace. When I mentioned these contrary feelings to Manuela she replied, "Welcome to Romania."

Monday.

Travel by air on Tarom - Romanian Air Transport back to Bucharest. Not to worry. They fly highly dependable second-hand Russian Jets.

Tuesday - Today

Today I am doing. . . . nothing. Well almost. I bought my train ticket for Bulgaria.

Tonight I am going to a piano recital at the Ateneul –- an elegant concert hall near the Plaza Athenee Hotel. Fifty years ago the hotel was a “hotbed of spies, journalists and prostitutes.” Now it's just another renovated Hilton charging $300 a night. Needless to say . . . .

That’s all for now. If you are looking for a postcard -- NOT. Haven't had the opportunity. Well I have but I am lazy.

Hope you are well. I am feeling just fine and looking forward to the next chapter of my "on the road" summer.

Love and hugs and regards (take your pick),

Jan

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