Christmas in Romania – part 4: Mocanita Steam Train
Mocanita from Viseu de Sus is the most famous narrow gauge train using a steam engine in Romania and the only one in Europe still in use. Mocanita Steam Train is also the only way to access Vaser Valley, a mountainous area, with century old forests, mostly untamed due to a complete lack of transport infrastructure and human settlements.
Our trip started with our “conductor,” a young lady dressed in the official uniform joining us in the cabin and checking our tickets. After we all proved we were legit, she offered us shots of “horinca” (Romanian hard liquor) and toasted us to a great trip! The drink helped warm us up but it certainly didn’t compete with the wood-burning stove we had in our cabin. The trip was slow and peaceful. We made a couple of short stops before taking a break for food at a rest area. Of course, there was a lot of food, mainly meat. You could either purchase the trip tickets to include the meal or you could buy the food on the spot. There were fire pits available to warm us up, since the weather was fairly cold. There were carolers singing traditional songs around the fire and there was plenty of space for the kids to run around. The place also housed a small museum, where one could learn more about the history of the railway and the area. The trip back was long, without stops. All in all, I would recommend the trip during fall or summer when the weather makes for a better scenery and picnic break.
Christmas in Romania – Part 3: Maramures & Traditions
While in Maramures, we visited a few traditional landmarks, happenings, and people:
The Merry Cemetery at Sapanta
Far from being funny but certainly capturing the locals’ story-telling affection, this cemetery is unique in its beautifully-carved and brightly-colored crosses. The cemetery dates back to the 30s, however, the belief on which it was built – that death is not the final destination – comes from our ancestors, the Dacians (10th century BC – 2nd century AD). Most of the stories involved young men who drank too much but also other sad happenings. The church was being renovated to include colorful detailed mosaic tiles creating quite a site to see. If you wish to get some traditional souvenirs, there are plenty of vendors just outside the cemetery selling anything form hand-woven rugs, purses, and clothing, to traditional blouses (I highly recommend these), and wood-carved flasks and décor.
The festival was spread over several streets and piazzas in downtown Sighet. We watched the processions of dancers and singers dressed in the attire specific to each area. Romania is very rich in tradition, with a multitude of details and nuances to the traditional attire, song, and dance for each part of the country, down to the county. Some areas of the country will use mainly red and black for the hand-stitched decorations on their clothing, while others will add bright colors such as yellow and red, along with elaborate head gear and jewelry.
In the Valley (Din Ses): Built in the seventeen hundreds, this small wooden church invites Ieud’s locals to attend Orthodox mass each Sunday. The locals dress up in traditional attire and proceed through the hand-carved gate towards the beautifully crafted church.
On the Hill (Din Deal): We arrived at the monastery at dusk and I enjoyed the quiet vista from the old wooden church overlooking the village. We returned on daylight and were able to photograph the amazing paintings inside the church. The monastery is unique because the paintings are done directly onto the wood (usually, a cloth is applied on top of the wood and then painted). The paintings are very well preserved, given this fact and their age (the church was built in the seventeenth century).
He was an artist, promising to give a new life and beauty to any piece of wood and dead limb he transformed into decorative, useful, or clever objects. He was known for his spindle with bells (“fus cu zurgalai”) and story-telling. Everything in his home was thoughtfully hand-crafted. He embodied the spirit of the local folklore at its best. Read more about Mos Pupaza (English translation). Sadly, Mos Pupaza passed away only days after our visit in Maramures. I feel lucky to have met him even if just once… May he rest in peace.
Folk Museum Ples
We stopped by the Ples family’s museum: their two houses. The host showed us the old loom and demonstrated the use of different tools around the yard.
Talking about the kids, who are far away…
Other fun things in Maramures:
Dressing up in the traditional clothing
Getting stopped by the border police near Ukraine
We were right near the border but couldn’t see Ukraine because of the mountain ridge between us… We were driving back to Brasov and out of three cars, the police decided to only stop the little green car we were in. My sister-in-law’s sister was driving. Apparently, there is an issue with cigarette trafficking around the border. The funny thing is that she works for the equivalent of the local IRS in Romania.
On our way back to Brasov, we took in the gorgeous panorama past Bistrita and Cosbuc village (named after one of Romania’s greatest poets George Cosbuc, born here in 1866), Reghin (also known as the city of violins for its masterfully-crafted instruments), Shighisoara (the best-preserved Medieval town and citadel in Europe), Viscri village (fortified church is UNESCO World Heritage Site; In 2006, Charles, the Prince of Wales bought and restored two 18th century Saxon houses in the Transylvanian villages of Mălâncrav and Viscri to help protect the unique way of life that has existed for hundreds of years and promote sustainable tourism. The buildings have been restored keeping the traditional ways and converted into guesthouses for tourists. The renovation of these buildings has helped provide a sustainable future for the people of rural Transylvania while also enabling residents to maintain their traditional way of life.)
This winter I escaped to my hometown of Brasov, Romania for the holidays and it was everything I could have asked for: family, food, dancing, walking, and more food.
I could have used a bit more snow but the good part about not having much snow was that we were able travel around the country. I had the opportunity to travel to Maramures, the northwestern corner of Romania, where traditions are kept alive to this day by the locals.
Come back later and read the details of the trip. Meanwhile, here are a few photos to hold you over: