As a Canadian living in Bucharest and eagerly exploring Romania over the years, there was one region still on my list: Maramures. I’d heard the hype: the only peasant culture still surviving in Europe, nature at its glorious best, friendly locals, tasty food, and inexpensive traditional crafts….Well, it was all that and much more.
We grabbed a 14-hour long sleeper train from Gara de Nord (that in itself was a trip back in time à la Agatha Christie) and chugged our way up towards the most Northern part of the country near to the Ukranian border. Along the way, I stretched out on my lower bunk, hoisted open the window and let the scenery transform me. The closer we got to our destination (Sighet) the more the scenery evolved into a lush storybook of emerald green hills, rich fields of multi-coloured crops, herds of fat sheep, massive shepherding dogs, and horse-driven wagons. The sensation was akin to having woken up to the world as it was over 100 years ago. Bliss!
Home base was a comfy and friendly hotel, in Sighet, and from there we managed to travel to a variety of sites, one of the most appealing being the Mocanita steam train. This beautiful relic from the past is completely fired by wood logs and winds itself slowly through the most spectacular scenery one could hope to witness on a trip of this sort. I spent the entire journey outside the carriage, gawking and taking pictures of roiling rivers, forested mountains, and farmers moving their bleating sheep to the next pasture; once directly across the tracks which brought the train to a full stop :).
Cemeteries are not usually places I like to visit, but the Merry Cemetery in Sapanta is a happy exception :). The first thing that strikes the visitor is the colourful spectrum of wooden crosses dedicated to the lives of the deceased. Each memorial is distinct, hand carved and depicts the loved one in a scene from life -everything from working the fields to having a drink with friends; the idea is to celebrate life even after death. The tradition of carving these intricate crosses carries on to this day and there is no place like the Merry Cemetery anywhere else.
The church of Sapanta – Peri is the tallest wooden church in Europe and one of the grandest examples of the special architecture unique to the area. This remarkable edifice is representative of a centuries old tradition carried out by highly trained church carpenters who continue to carry on a knowledge of great interest to visitors; their techniques are unique to Maramures and other parts of Romania. Once you commence climbing the carefully hewn stairs towards the height of the spire, a scene of breathtaking beauty unfolds: hectares and hectares of gardens, forests and fields reminding visitors how nature and man can live in harmony.
There are many, many experiences to be had in Maramures where I met some of the most helpful people. Their advice on where to eat (Sighet’s Market for THE BEST cheese and dill Placinta!, not to mention her mom’s Slanina), made our trip all the better :).
I know I’ll be back sooner than later and just want to say: Maramures (Romania) is WOW,
Andrea J. Carman