Three days in Transylvania

I said the past couple of weeks had been stressful. They were; but there also were some very good things, the best of which probably was discovering Transylvania with my students. It’s too bad my students discovered very little of it (they were attending a scholarly programme, and only had time to gaze at the landscape through the windows. Thankfully, I was free during this time, and could roam the moutains all I wanted, or at least, the little part of the mountains that was accessible while wearing a skirt and city shoes.

Like most people who were fed an early diet of vampire stories, I pictured Transylvania as a dark, forbidding place, with vertiginous mountains full of rocky crags. Now I know… it looks exactly like that. Except that, at the top of one of these mountains, there is a huge cross that is lit up at night, giving you the impression of an extremely creepy cross of fire hanging in the sky over your head. Also, dogs seem to howl almost continuously, there are very few people, and when you do meet someone on the street, they either ignore or glare at you, because apparently, Romania is one of those countries where it’s not usual to smile to strangers.

What I mean by this is, of course it’s beautiful.

Going there in the middle of autumn meant that the top of the mountains was dusted with snow, while most of the slopes were covered in orange and dark green, beech woods mixing with spruce. I managed to find a path to a waterfall in the forest. It had this combination of natural beauty and decaying infrastructure you sometimes find in countries that are just starting to develop tourism: the fall used to produce (or still produces, I don’t know) electricity for the village below, and there wer concrete pipes running among dry leaves down to the river. On the deserted skiing slopes, mushrooms grew in rings. They looked like the very toxic ones that grow at home. I left them alone and only picked wild mint for tea.

The village itself had an air of faded grandeur. There is a small castle somewhere, built by a nobleman in the 1900’s as a holiday home. Many houses are very pretty, with carved wood and bright colours. Many more, however, are for sale. Perhaps it’s not so surprising: climate change has been hard for skiing resorts all over Europe, after all. There  were few guests in the hostel we stayed at. It was very quiet at night. You could have wondered if all the crucifixes on the walls (one of which was lit up at night and glowed red) were to ward off vampires, or just for company.

Here is the first thing I saw when getting off the train:

Now, it would have been perfect if the three songs playing in my head all this time had not been this one, this and this (one because it mentions a German soldier in Bucarest, the second because it’s the most infamous Romanian export of the 21st century barring horse meat in lasagna, and the third, I suppose, because it randomly features the word Transylvania at some point). Who said our species had a natural sense of aesthetics?

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