W. of Sibiu, N. to Sighisoara
Sep 18, 2008
|Thursday, September 18, 2008
W. of Sibiu, (Cristian, Sibiel, Poiana Sibiului, Slimnic, Sighisoara)
Using a detailed city map I acquired the previous day I whipped out of the city in minutes. Had I had this map upon my arrival in the city two days ago, I think of the 2 1/2 hours of frustration I would have avoided.
The day’s objective was to go NE to Sighisoara, a distance of only 60 miles. Thus I decided to visit an area west of Sibiu, Sibailui (lands bordering Sibiu) where primitive village life is still alive and well.
However, before I explored the villages I detoured for a stop in Cristian which is one of a few dozen 14th C Fortified Saxon Churches, most of which are to the northeast of Sibiu.
Cristian is relatively small and it is easy to spot the bell tower of the fortified church. The problem with this fortified church was that it was so fortified I couldn’t find the entrance. I identified four doors and gates but each one was locked. I asked a half dozen people via hand signals how to get inside but was greeted with blank stares.
The local post office was actually built into the wall around the church grounds so I stopped there to inquire. But, the line was like lines at post offices all around the world, long and slow. There was one fairly panoramic view of the walls and church from outside of the walls and I got a nice photo so I decided to move on without seeing the interior.
The town’s streets were lined with homes and storefronts, many of which were freshly painted in cheerful pastels. Thus, I drove around town for a few minutes. Leaving Cristian for my next stop brought me past the fortified church again and I spied an old peasant man coming out one of the doors, preparing to lock if behind him. I jumped out of the car and pleaded with him to admit me. He obviously didn’t want any part of me but finally escorted me inside to a garden where he called out a name. An elderly woman stepped out of a house adjacent to the garden and walked down the steps to greet me. I was surprised when she started speaking reasonably fluent English. I apologized for interrupting her day but she said that she was pleased to have a visitor.
She and her deceased husband were German Saxons. If I got the story right, they came here many years ago from Germany and he served as pastor of the church. She said the church was filled every Sunday during her husband’s era but now only 20 to 30 attended Sunday services.
Upon his death she moved back to Germany for some unspecified number of years but decided to return to Cristian and the church that was her life to live out her days. This was all disclosed as we walked the interior of the walls around the church and stood at the church’s entry. She reached in her apron pocket and produced a massive key ring with a half dozen impressive skeleton keys. After ducking under a low hanging portico she inserted one of the key and the door creaked open.
The spacious church harbors a beautiful German organ, of top quality based on her assessment. If I were disposed to own an organ, this one would be on my short list. She said that the church was locked up tight today because everyone was preparing for a local holiday and the ticket seller wasn’t there to admit visitors. As the weekend progressed, I came to realize that this was a fairly significant Saxon holy day weekend. Many of the churches I visited had limited opening hours so that they could tidy up things before the Sunday holy day. Whatever, I thanked her for the personal tour and drove away thinking of hers words which were basically a tale of “you can’t go home again after you have lived a significant part of your life in another locale.”
A few miles down the road I came to the even smaller village of Sibiel that is the unlikely home to one of the Romania’s premier icon museums, Zosim Oancea. There is a picturesque church and cemetery in front of the museum. It is a relatively small rectangular building that compactly displays its 700 icons. According to Lonely Planet, they were collected by a priest who spent 17 years in the slammer during the Communist era. I have a somewhat limited interest in icons but if you want to see a comprehensive collection that covers old traditional styles with a sampling of more contemporary images, this is a good place as any to receive an introduction to the art form.
I believe but am not certain that the next village I visited was Poiana Sibiului. Entering the town, there was a man and his son shoeing horses. They seemed to be going door-to-door to provide the service. The son would hold the horses’ legs between his own while the father nailed on the shoes.
As I took a photo of them in action, the son did everything he could to feign having been kicked by the horse in his scrotum. I’ll let you be the judge of how good an actor he is based on the accompanying photo.
Arriving at the town center there was an intersection of five or six roads. On a small plaza at the intersection, seven vendors were selling what appeared to me to be black-dyed sheepskin hats. The had an oval shape somewhat like an egg.
This reminded me that the reason I had stopped here was to see a museum that specialized in decorating eggs with colorful and traditional Romanian designs. However, after trying to initiate a few conversations to inquire about the museum’s location, I couldn’t find a soul who spoke any English. I was hopelessly behind on my itinerary for the day and decided it was time to head to Sighisoara.
I took a road out town that I thought would take me back to the highway noting several nicely constructed, well-maintained homes and business buildings as I passed through the town. Five minutes later the road descended down a steep hillside and came to abrupt end. I turned around and drove back to the center hoping to see a turn-off or sign I might have missed. I couldn’t find a likely turn-off and was soon back in the center of town. I turned around and tried again. Again, I found myself approaching the dead-end.
I returned to the center and parked the car on the central plaza. I put my map on the hood of the car and studied it. Moments later a policeman approached and began speaking very passable English. I told him my dilemma and he said that I was taking the right road but that when I got to the top of the hill, I had to take a fork to the left by the schoolhouse.
We talked for awhile and I inquired about the apparent wealth in the town compared to neighboring towns. He said that in the middle of the last century, the town had built high quality boats. Given the apparent landlocked location of the town, I found this surprising but he didn’t have the English vocabulary to explain what type of boats they built and to whom they sold them.
After thanking him for his assistance, I headed out of town for the third time which indeed turned out to be the charm. When I reached the top of the hill there was a small, boxy building which must have been the school and an unsigned dirt road forking to the left. I proceeded with some trepidation as the road descended down into a valley where farmers were harvesting their fields.
Looking down into the valley, I could see the highway in the distance. But before I got very far, I came upon two large, haggard peasant women who were laden with bags of some sort of berries that they had been picking along a fencerow. They gave me a hopeful look that I might offer them a ride. So, I stopped and they somehow wedged themselves into the backseat of my compact car.
They began talking in Romanian, presumably to tell me their destination. They finally came to realize that I could not speak Romanian. Within a mile or two we came to a small village and they motioned for me stop. One woman disembarked; the other motioned for me to continue. At the far end of the village she signaled for me to stop where another road went off to the right. This was a flat, straight road that extended quite a long way. I motioned to her that I would take her down the lane and she gratefully assented. 800 meters down the road she had me stop in front of a farmhouse fronted by a tall fence. She exited the car. I started to turn around, trying to avoid a couple of substantial mud holes in the process. She opened the gate and insistently motioned me to enter. I found a high spot where I parked the car and followed her with my camera in tow. The fence enclosed a barnyard that was stunningly disorganized and in sad need of repair.
She was excited that I was coming in and began calling to someone in the house. Her teenage daughter appeared on the porch in tattered clothes and the grimiest hands I have seen in ages. I believe they extended an invitation to stay for dinner or, perhaps, overnight. When it became apparent to them that I was going to be on my way, I’ve never witnessed two such disappointed faces.
Fifteen minutes later I arrived back at the highway. I had planned to take some back roads to Sighisoara that would have avoided going back to Sibiu before heading north. However, based on the poor road signage, mud holes, potholes and fading daylight, I decided to retrace my steps and take the safe but longer route to my final destination.
A few miles north of Sibiu you arrive at Slimnic, home to one of the oldest Saxon Fortified Church Villages. There was still enough daylight for a quick look. The 13th C. walls crown a steep hill with many portions of the wall crumbling down the hillside, the result of periodic attacks by foreign invades through the centuries.
I had hoped to stay at the sinisterly named Motel Dracula on the south side of Sighisoara but it was no room at the inn. They directed to me to a businessman’s hotel a little further into town but before you come to the maze of the old city. The room rate was about $80 for a single, a little more than my $55/night objective but it was comfortable, had a decent restaurant and pretty girls on the staff who gave me tips on my explorations for the following day.