We met Marius and Oana, his wife, in their cluj home and shortly after we began the long 128km drive to Maramureș. Doesn’t sound long right? But with the condition of Romanian roads and the rough terrain of the county, it takes about 3 hours. It seemed that the further away we got from Cluj, the more the touch of the 21th century was disappearing. The style of the villages, the way the people dress, and of course the way the hay is collected.
Finally we made it to the village of Cărbunari, where stands our home for these couple of weeks – Vila Roseta. Back in the days, Marius’s grandfather established here a resort by a local mineral spring. Unfortunately the place was taken away from the family “for the greater good” by the state during the communist era. Only a few years ago, after a long struggle with the authorities, Marius managed to reclaim the property. The place was in bad shape, and is still going through gradual renovation and improvement. Most of the work is done by Oana and Marius, and some with the help of volunteers like us. Today it has one big guesthouse, an even bigger hostel, and plenty of green grounds which still hold some of the original buildings.
On our first night here a thunderstorm was brewing to the west, and we went with Inés and Christian, young volunteers from Argentina, up a nearby hill to get a better view. The storm was still far away but quite spectacular. After a short while it started raining on us so we retreated back to the house, but that was just when the real show was beginning. The lightnings were drawing closer, and we simply had to open our room window and capture them with our eyes and camera lens.
The following day Inés led us through the surrounding forest to an overgrown berry patch full of blueberries and blackberries. We started filling our canisters and mouths, imagining all the things we can make with them: pancakes, jams, cookies… And suddenly we heard a tiny kitten crying from one of the trees. He was stuck pretty high, but with a little push from Christian, Shay was able to safely bring the kitten down. He was a scared little thing, with a loud voice, and one sick eye, but after a few minutes Noa managed to gain his trust, and soon he became her picking companion.
The cat came back with us, and was gladly accepted by Oana and Marius. At first he received the name Berry, for obvious reasons, but it didn’t stick. We quickly changed it to Mogli, due to his affection for tree climbing. Luckily he seemed to have learnt how to climb down as well, and now he seems healthier and growing every day.
Inés and Christian left a couple of days later, and from then on we went into a routine of the guesthouse work- cleaning, organizing rooms and plenty of laundry and ironing. It was pretty boring and tedious, and we’re not sure if this is a line of volunteering we shall pursue again. On the other hand we had access to a big kitchen, which we really enjoyed, an occasional use of the swimming pool, and the general beauty of the surrounding nature.
Luckily Oana and Marius took us for some sightseeing, which broke the routine, and allowed us to explore Maramureș a bit. Here are some highlights:
The capital of Maramureș county, and the nearest city to Cărbunari, is an old town with the obligatory bell tower. The tower was open for a change and free of charge, first time that happened to us in Romania… so we climbed up to get a good look of the city. The first thing we noticed is that it’s rather flat, even in term of Romania, most of the houses are 1-2 stories high. Probably because it’s in a big valley and there’s plenty of space to expend to. The second thing was that most of the higher structures are hideous, whether it’s the new cathedral being built, a huge unused factory chimney (back from the town’s copper mining days), or the one tall apartment building. Compared to previous medieval towns we visited, Baia Mare just wasn’t as interesting.
Old wooden churches
One of the things Maramureș if famous for is it’s unique wooden churches with their steep roofs. There are contradicting explanations as to why these churches are made out of wood alone. One claims that it was simply the most abundant materiel around, while the other claims that at a certain point in time the locals weren’t allowed to built with stone. Either way it’s quite impressive to see these magnificent wooden structures. Interestingly, the roof tiles are made out of unvarnished wood, so when the roof is newly built it’s shiny light brown, and within a few years it turns into faded grey. By chance we passed by a carpentry which makes these tiles and were able to see how they look when they’re fresh from the sawmill.
The Merry Cemetery
For 5 Lei a person we entered this pretty small cemetery in Săpânța that became a tourist attraction for an amusing reason. A local artist and poet decided to make it his life’s work to transform it into a colorful place that celebrates the lives of the deceased rather than mourn their deaths. Each wooden tombstone is decorated with a picture of the dead, usually referring to their profession, and a short poem about their lives. Since we found no translations at the site we amused ourselves by commenting on the drawings and their meaning.
So we’ve had some ups and downs, cold and very hot weather, and plenty of cats and dogs here in Maramureș. Now we’re trying to figure out what’s our next destination. Not to worry, we’ll let you know soon enough…