July 15, 2004

On to Transylvania

Press HERE to see a slideshow
from Transylvania.

Riverside in Oradea

We left Debrecen Sunday about midday. We drove a bit around the city before heading south and then east. About an hour after leaving we were at the Romanian border. When we first arrived at the border we were a bit surprised to see a long line of cars waiting to cross. Until then it had been rare to have even one car in front of ours at a frontier. Then for some reason or another, we all started moving through almost at once. Romania looks much as eastern Hungary at this point. We drove the dozen or so miles to Oradea. The first thing that I did was to change $200 for Romanian Lei. Now I was a millionaire with 6,500,000 Lei - wow! The excitement quickly abated when I found a very inexpensive hotel and paid 650,000 Lei for the room - oh well! Much of Romania was once part of Hungary, so the center of the city looked a lot like a Hungarian city. Ordena seemed all worn out. It was nothing like I saw in Calcutta last year, still many of the buildings were in desperate need of restoration. Not all the city was like this, we did see a few restoration projects started or completed. We visited a museum. The Romanian painters were good but they made not a great impression on me. The handicraft arts, as always, were very interesting to me. Some of the large modern woven tapestries were stunning. After the museum we walked and drove around a bit. We saw a good number of people fishing in the river that ran through the center of the city. We had a nice dinner of Romanian food, dishes with ham and beans and ham and cabbage. Then we strolled on the pedestrian mall and stopped for ice cream.

A Fortress Church in Sebes

Monday we drove for a couple of hours through the Romanian countryside to Cluj-Napoca. It became hillier as we drove on. The agriculture in Hungary was very modern, using large machinery and large fields. Here everything was done by hand, and mostly with wooden tools. In fact, they were using the same wooden tools that we saw in the museum the day before. The real question is - which is the museum, a building in the city or the countryside itself? Farmers driving horse carts were a common sight and a traffic problem on E60. Before long we drove through forested and near-mountainous terrain. Eventually we returned to an agricultural area, only here is was mostly pastures. It brought back memories of New Zealand. Cluj is a much cleaner and nicer looking city. We had trouble finding a lower priced hotel. They have no tourist information services here. Our Lonely Planet guide was helpful, but the year-old volume prices are way off with most prices 50 to 80% higher. Maybe it is because they too will join the EU in three years. There is not a whole lot to see here. We did look around. It has some great architecture from the 19th century, but it also has loads of the 12-story socialist dream apartments that have the esthetic appeal of a plain block of concrete.

Evangelical Church in Sibiu

Tuesday we drove for a few hours mostly south and a little east to Sibiu. Along the way we stopped in one city, Sebes, to walk through an orthodox church and to walk around an ancient church with a high wall about it. Interestingly this is the first time that we saw the housing built in the fifty's actually look like it had an architecture that fit the people and the town. In other words, they were three or four story apartment buildings with red clay roofs and stucco exteriors. I digress too much. It was about this time that it started to rain and it would rain the rest of the day, slow steady rain and very cool temperatures not higher than 57 degrees Fahrenheit. One of the best things about Sibiu is that is has a tourist information office. We had thought that there were none in Romania, but in fact they exist in about a dozen locations. The office greatly sped up our search time, and we had a pension in less than an hour. I have continued to be surprised at how expensive accommodations are here, relatively, but with the aid of the tourist office we got a nice pension for a modest price. Its name was Pensiunea Hermannstadt.
One of the first things that we did was ask about a laundry. I really did not expect to hear that one existed, but to my surprise the hotel owner showed me one that was less than a block away. It was more like an industrial laundry, with a dry cleaning service. The shop would wash our clothes by the kilo. Upon our return to the hotel, the hotel owner offered to wash our clothes for about the same price of about $4.50. With that we got our clothes washed.
The day had turned rainy, and despite the rain we went out for a walk and some dinner. The town is truly amazing; in fact nearly all of Transylvania is amazing. In that it is incredibly old with building after building in the cityscape being 200 to 400 years old. Of course, the town square was in need of work and some was taking place. There is a huge German influence in the area. They immigrated to Transylvania hundreds of years ago. Most of the towns have two names, a Romanian and a German name. Sibiu's German name is Hermannstadt. With the end of totalitarian rule in Eastern Europe, much of this German population moved back to Germany in the 1990's, when the German population went from 450,000 to 50,000.

We started Wednesday with a visit to the local museum. We enjoy seeing the art of a country when we visit. After the museum we did a walking tour exploring much of the town center. This included two churches more than 400 years old: the Roman Catholic and Evangelical (Lutheran) Church. Then we made our way to the lower town and an open air market. We returned to the hotel to get the car and drive around the town. In the evening we went to an organ concert at the Evangelical Church. The music was spectacular. The thing that surprised me was the seeming lack of enthusiasm for the music. I wanted to applaud, or at least say "Amen," at the end of each piece. But the audience was silent. In any case, the music was wonderful.

Today, Thursday, we drove to Sighisoara. More than likely, it is most beautiful town in Transylvania. We saw a place Vlad Dracula once lived, a 750 year old church on a wonderful hilltop section of the town. From here we climbed even higher to the church at the top. The only problem in the town was that its main street was seriously under construction, which will soon make the town even nicer.
After a couple hours visiting Sighisoara, we drove onto Brasov. We again had problems finding accommodations. We decided to continue on toward a wine growing region of Romania. We headed off through vast corn and wheat fields, and then we passed through an idyllic forested valley. We saw a couple of new towns finally stopped about 8:30.

A Home of Vlad Dracula
Clock Tower in Sighisoara

Transylvania is by far the most interesting area of Romania. As we left the area the towns seemed all post WWII. Perhaps, they were likely destroyed in the war. Well on to the Black Sea.

Posted by bill at July 15, 2004 11:14 PM

Hello Bill and Betty, I am sorry I haven't written sooner. After you left, I weighed in heavily into pre production and then production, which ended Wed., July 14. I am very proud of the work, the actors, the camera work, etc. We start editing beginning August. I just got through updating an LA producer I met back in April. I hope to get her interested in helping me wend my way through Sundance.

Bill, I have to say, you have become a very good photographer. I am thoroughly enjoying the photos from this trip.

Betty, I am wondering if you have had a chance to watch the Limey yet? And the other one? Let me know what you thought about those films. Also, if it is convenient for you, I would like you to write me John's email address again. I saved your card, but alas it disappeared under the pre-pro morass.....no excuse, I know. I suppose you have heard from others that we have had an unusually cool summer, earlier lots of rain and now often below normal highs - which makes everything so lush and green. Very pretty around here, all is missing is some of that Transalvanian architecture and if I had that I would start another movie. Miss you. Keep on writing, Mickie

Posted by: Mickie at July 19, 2004 05:53 AM


Your travel log is a wonderful break in my day....I can escape for while and it often feels like I am right there on the same streets..The photos are amazing.
Thank you so much for sharing as I doubt I will get to many of the fantastic spots you are visiting....
Happy and safe travels

Kathleen (friend of the 10 foot fairy with the
water pistol in Hokitika, New Zealand)

Posted by: Kathleen Carr at July 19, 2004 05:55 AM

Wonderful pictures and great narrative. Thanks for sharing. Nancy

Posted by: Nancy Stine at July 20, 2004 12:17 AM