Category Archives: Language

Romanian A-Z: P: Into the woods (Part 1)

The Romanian word for forest is pădure (plural păduri). This is an important word to know if you like hazelnuts (alune de pădure) or forest fruits (fructe de pădure) or you plan to spend any time exploring Transylvania, 37% of which is covered by forest.

The word pădure is derived from the Latin paludes (vulgar padule), meaning swamp or marsh. How this came to be attached to woodland instead is anyone’s guess, but it certainly suggests a place that is wild and forbidding. As such, it differs from the word forest, which derives from the Latin forestra, used to denote managed woodland. Pădurea is also intimately tied to Romanian folklore; hardly surprising when the forests are inhabited by wolves and bears and both shepherds and sheep have been known to go missing. Venturing into such păduri alone will always be seen as a dangerous undertaking, as in all the best fairytales, with anyone choosing to live there alone being regarded as somewhat strange…

As if to emphasise the point further, the Romanian word for wild, sălbatic, comes from another Latin word sylvaticus, meaning ‘of the woods’. The word ‘savage’ has the same root, as does Transylvania (or Transilvania), which means ‘beyond the woods’. Presumably, ‘beyond the woods’ was a good place to be, if they were full of savagery; something easily forgotten in what’s left of our tame English woods. Not so much here. Some of you may remember this from last summer:

IMAG0069 (2)

IMAG0071 (2)

Into the woods,
Who knows what may
Be lurking on the journey?

(Stephen Sondheim)

Meanwhile, autumn and winter have come and gone and spring has now come to Transylvania, transforming the wooded landscape from dull brown and white to vivid greens. Three weeks ago, on 4th April, the forests looked like this:


Still a dull brown, although the pastures were turning green and a few of the bushes, such as hawthorn and elder were beginning to sprout:

By 9th April, a little colour was starting to appear, mostly provided by hornbeam catkins:


By 14th April, the blackthorn was in full bloom, though most of the larger trees were still bare:



Blackthorn (prunus spinosa) is closely related to plum (Latin: prunus domestica; Romanian: prun), which was also in full bloom:


The plum tree is thought to have originated in Eastern Europe and it certainly does well here. So, whilst it might not qualify for the wild woods mentioned above, it’s a very popular tree in orchards, the plums often being used to make ţuicăor plum brandy. The blossom is also very popular with the bees, as you can see. There were dozens of honey bees on this tree, as well as a few bumble bees. The latter seemed to prefer the top of the tree, so escaped being photographed!

By 17th April, the plum blossom was already beginning to fade, to be replaced by pear (Romanian: păr – tree; pară – fruit). However, the following photo, taken on 17th April, will give you some idea of just how ubiquitous fruit trees (pomi fructiferi) are in the villages:


Just a week later, even the pear blossom was all but finished, but another tree native to Romania was starting to bloom – the lilac (liliac):


And on the Tuesday of this week, just three weeks after the first pictures, the forest was looking like this:


It’s amazing to think that, just over a month ago, it was all covered in snow and there was not a spike of green to be seen. It seems primăvară comes quickly to the păduri!

More about the forests, the trees and the battles for their conservation in the next post.


Romanian A-Z: P – and the Crișul Repede Gorge

The Crișul Repede is a river that runs through the Cluj and Bihor counties of Romania, cutting through the Apuseni mountains to flow down to Oradea and into Hungary. As it does so, it cuts through a limestone gorge, which, with the weather being sunny and warm this week, we thought might be worth exploring.

Having lived not far from Cheddar, in Somerset, we are familiar with at least one limestone gorge and we found this one to be equally impressive. With walls 100-150m high surrounding the river and a little-used railway, it was definitely worth a visit, even without the summer or autumn colours to set it off:



Of course, the first thing you notice about a gorge is the rock, or piatră. Indeed, if, like me, you travel with a geologist, rocks are the one thing you are not going to miss on any expedition! In this case, we are talking about limestone, but our previous explorations have already shown that the geology of the Apuseni is complex, with volcanic, sedimentary and metamorphic rocks all playing their part. Limestone is made of calcite – i.e. calcium carbonate – which itself comes in many forms. Here, for example, is some calcite from above Lacul Drăgan (which we also visited):

It’s quite crumbly, but if you look closely, you will see that the last specimen resembles marble, which is what limestone turns into when it is squished. Pure calcite/marble is white, so the different colours come from accompanying minerals.

Meanwhile, rivers need to be crossed, which requires un pod:


The one above is for pedestrians only, but we also came across this one:


Looks like it ought to lead somewhere significant, doesn’t it? That would be here then:


The beginning of the path along the gorge and a nice enough place for a picnic, but perhaps not quite what such a bridge might lead one to expect! I can only think that, like so many other things in Romania, the bridge was part of a plan that never fully materialised? Another, more notorious, example of this kind of thing is the Autostradă Transilvania, where we have the opposite problem; a beautiful new road, part of which remains unused for want of a bridge!

Both the above bridges lead (eventually) to one of a number of caves, or or peștere:


Limestone is, of course, famous for its caverns full of stalactites and stalagmites and the Crișul Repede Gorge is no exception. The one above is the Peștera Unguru Mare. We weren’t able to go in because it’s only open at weekends at this time of year, but Duncan was able to visit the Peștera Vadu Crișului at the other end of the gorge. The path to reach this wasn’t accessible to my scooter, so I spent my time in the woods instead, enjoying the signs of new life:

Romanian A-Z: O – and the first signs of spring

The letter O brings me to another of my favourite Romanian words:


O oaie – a sheep. Or, in this case, trei oi – three sheep.

I like this word because, being made up only of vowels, it’s not the sort of word you find much in English. Certainly not for something as everyday as a sheep. ‘Oh-aye-eh’. It’s a word that would be very useful in Scrabble, I think 😉

This photo was taken a few weeks ago, at the end of February. Friends of ours who keep sheep have said that they lost a few lambs in March to the Beast from the East, but now, at last, it’s looking as if spring is on the way, so the sheep are out on the hills again.

Saturday was a particularly warm day, with temperatures reaching 21°C. Here’s what I found when I went for a wander up the hill:


Wild violets (violete). No, they don’t begin with O and neither do the celandines:


But I was excited about them, so I decided to share them anyway! It’s not really cheating because my next letter will be P for primavara (meaning the spring). And, as I have lots to talk about for the letter P, I decided not to bore you with words like oribil, onest and optsprezece (eighteen), but to jump straight in.

Literally, primavara means ‘first summer’. I didn’t see any primroses Saturday afternoon, but they get their name from the same Latin root. This is because they are often the first flowers to appear in the spring. Certainly, they were the first I saw this year, but I didn’t have a camera with me at the time, so here are some English ones from 2nd April 2010:

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What I did see up on the hill on Saturday were some of their close relatives:


In Romanian: Ciuboţica cucului.




What a lovely surprise!

Romanian A-Z: M and a taste of grandeur

Today we woke up to a light sprinkling of snow – a prelude to the icy Siberian blast that is about to overtake Europe – so we decided a visit to the mountains was in order. This was convenient because, while munte (plural munți) is perhaps not the most exciting of Romanian words, it does begin with M!

Of course, mountains have featured before on this blog, but this is the first time we have been up to the local ski resort, which, at a height of 1600m, is the highest we’ve been. On the way up, we found ourselves shrouded in cloud, but the top was clear and most of the mist had rolled away by the time we came back down. It really was a perfect day for it:





The vastness of the snowy landscape, the deep valleys of the Apuseni and the panoramic views from ‘the top of the world’ (or that bit of it!) lead naturally to my next word, mare. At its simplest, it means ‘big’, but it can also be used in place of ‘grand’ or to describe an older child or a higher temperature or…

The sea! That is, as a noun, rather than an adjective, that’s precisely what it means!

Now, it so happens that the only sea that borders Romania is the Black Sea, to which I have never been. So I can’t show you a picture of that without cheating, so, instead, here is a picture taken from the SW coast of England:

Looking West

A picture chosen because that’s the great big Atlantic Ocean out there. (Sorry, Romania, you may have higher mountains, but we get to win this one!) And this is definitely not cheating because, of course, it’s a photo taken in Marea Britanie!

Meanwhile, mare comes with several related words, such as măreț (magnificent, mighty, lofty), măreție (grandeur), mărime (size), the verb mări (to enlarge), not to be confused with mări (seas), măr (apple) and mere (apples).

Magnificence. Grandeur. These are among the characteristics I love about both mountains and sea. Others include wildness, beauty, majesty, power (in the case of the sea) and the feeling of size and space. Being in the presence of such beauty and grandeur feeds my soul. It causes me to pause, to breathe, to wonder. Which is why I love living in a village in Romania! And it’s also why the sea is among the things I miss most!

So here’s just a few more pictures, this time from the Welsh coast – and with them the words that being there inspired:

Be still!

Feel the heartbeat of the universe:

In the breath-taking grandeur of earth and sky,
In the awesome power of wind and wave,
In the deep darkness of a starless night
In the bright splendour of a new day

Be still!

Feel the heartbeat of the universe:

In the still silence of an ancient church
In the resounding song of a Cathedral choir
In the buzz and murmur of a meal that’s shared
In the piercing cry of a new born child

Be still!

Feel the heartbeat of the universe:

In the smile that lights
In the tear that falls
In the anger that disturbs
In the passion that ignites
In the grace that liberates
In the love that enfolds

Be still!
Feel the heartbeat of the universe
Deep in your soul

Awaken to its movement
Dance to its rhythm
Rejoice in its melody
Live to the beat of God’s heart.




Romanian A-Z: L and a visit to the Parc Etnografic

Yes, I know. Neither ‘Parc‘ nor ‘Etnografic‘ begin with L. Also, it’s been some time since I last blogged… and even longer since we visited said park! Before Christmas, other things in life took over and it’s taken me a little while to get back to where I left off…

In this case, L for lebeniță:


I chose to talk about this because its popularity at the end of last summer led me to discover that it has a number of different names in Romania. Language apps will tell you that it is un pepene roșu (a name that comes from Latin). The family here tell me that, in Transylvania, it is called o lebeniță. Others will tell you that it’s o lubeniță. (Both these are related to the Bulgarian). Then, up near the border with Moldova, it’s un harbuz (from the Ukrainian).

Whatever you choose to call it, unless you have grown it yourself, you will need some of these to buy one:


The leu – plural lei. The word also means lion, as might be guessed from its resemblance to the Latin leo and the Welsh lleu. In pronunciation, though, it’s more like the Welsh llew, a vowel sound not really found in English. The above note is equivalent to 100 bani and worth about 20 pence, so you’d need an awful lot of them to buy…


Lemn. In many senses, the life blood of the people of Romania. The above pile is just part of what has been keeping us warm through the winter and horses pulling carts of wood were a very common sight in the villages through October and November. Duncan has commented more than once about so much ‘quality wood’ (beech, for example) going up in smoke, but the fact remains that one burns what’s available when one’s life depends upon it.

Meanwhile, a visit to the Parcul Etnografic Național in Cluj-Napoca in October showed us the huge variety of uses wood has been put to in Transylvania in the past 300 years, apart from lemn de foc (firewood).

Gospodărie – Imper, jud. Harghita, 1678 (2)

The above cottage dates from 1678 and has been constructed from logs.

Gospodărie – Jelna, jud. Bistriţa-Năsăud, 1789 1s

100 years later, when this was built, the preference had shifted to planks. This is a Saxon cottage, of a similar style, though much older, to the one we stayed in last summer.

Gospodărie – Cămârzana, jud. Satu Mare, 1725s

A farm outbuilding from 1725 (above) and gateway from 1882 (below).

Gospodărie – Almaş 1882 1s

We’ve seen wooden houses of a similar plank construction still in use in villages in the Apuseni – as well as more modern ones.

Gospodărie – Almaş 1882 2s

The well inside the above gateway (above) and from 100 years earlier (below):

Gospodărie – Berbeşti, jud. Maramureş, 1795 4s

The park also has various items of wooden machinery on show that were used for grinding and processing both food and minerals.

Transylvania is also famous for its wooden Orthodox churches, particularly in the Maramureș region. Most were built in the 17th to 19th Centuries as a response to the prohibition against the building of stone Orthodox churches by the Roman Catholic Austro-Hungarian authorities. There are three on show at the Ethnographic Park, but the light was failing, so I wasn’t able to get a good photograph. Instead, here’s one we stumbled upon in Bica, a village not far from Huedin, which was built in 1674/5.

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The wooden tiles on these churches, the gateway and one of the wells above are a work of art in themselves (click on any of the pictures to see a larger version):


Lemn. Wood. A significant feature in the landscape of Transylvania, not least because a fair bit of it is still covered in forest. My hope is that, despite its continued use, those forests will remain for future generations. But I’ll come to that when I get to P…


Romanian A-Z: J

This will be a short post. My dictionary doesn’t have a huge number of words beginning with J and I couldn’t think of anything much to say about most of them, so I’ll start with this:


It’s our local parc de joacă. It caught my attention the first time we walked through the village because it seemed so out-of-keeping with the single storey village houses, semi-subsistence farm holdings and the ‘vehicle’ we saw crossing the ford:

Hay Cart 1

Interestingly, I have yet to see a child use it. Either I haven’t been around at the right moment, or they have taste!

Joacă. It’s a noun meaning ‘play’. A juca is the verb, corresponding to the Latin joco, from which we get the word ‘joke’. Un jucător is a player. The j is pronounced the same way as in French – a softer sound than in English.

My second word is județ. This refers to an administrative district, much like the English county. Hence Jud. Cluj on our address refers to the district in which we live. The comuna is a smaller administrative district comprising one or more villages. Village addresses in Romania are interesting in so far as they don’t usually require a street name. The number of the house is deemed sufficient, with the result that we have already had someone stop and ask for the whereabouts of number four hundred and eighty something! In contrast, if you live in a block of flats (apartments) you can expect to have a flat number, a stair number, a block number and a street number. That’s communist efficiency for you!

My final word is jumătate. This means ‘half’. When giving the time, it is often shortened to jumate. Hence both the following mean ‘it’s half past five’.

Este cinci și jumătate
E cinci jumate

And that’s it for today, except to note that some words that you might expect to begin with J do not. Examples include ianuarie (January), iunie (June) and iulie (July). As a result, their pronunciations are closer to the German equivalents than they are to the French.

My next letter will be L as K does not exist in the Romanian alphabet and is only used for words borrowed from other languages, such as kilometru, kilogram and ketchup.

Romanian A-Z: Î

Having been occupied with other things, not least letters ‘home’, my blog has been silent for a while. However, today I return with a letter that doesn’t exist in English. It can be written as both î and â, the former being used at the beginning and end of words and the latter in the middle.

It is pronounced as ‘oo’, but without the rounding of the lips and hence resembles the way one might say ‘rude’ in the posher parts of South East England. This is a sound not generally found in Western European languages, being of Slavic origin, though it is also found in some North Welsh dialects. Examples are given here.

So, now that you have met î and â, I am ‘delighted’ to introduce you to the word încântat, which means just that: delighted, pleased or excited. Încântat de cunoştinţă, for example, is the polite way of saying, ‘pleased to meet you’.

It’s a word that I’m particularly fond of because of its connection with the verb a cânta, which comes from the Latin cantare and means ‘to sing’ or ‘to play’ an instrument. (Both the English word ‘cantata’ and the French chanter come from the same Latin root). This  connection appeals to me because I love to sing and I love to listen to music. Music and delight seem to me to belong together.

But there’s more. The alert among you may also have noticed the similarity between încântat and incantation.


Such delight has a darker side, then. I mean, who knows what those people might be chanting in that strange language of theirs? It could be black magic. And even if it isn’t, we all know about the dangers of religious ecstacy, don’t we?!

Mwa ha ha ha ha

Something to remember next time you get lost in a piece of music you love 😉

Meanwhile, perhaps a more useful word for folks new to the country and its language is înțeleg (I understand) or, rather, nu înțeleg (I don’t understand). Închis (closed) is another useful word. It always helps to know whether a place is open or not.

However, my final word for today is câine:


This is honour of the fact that the one sound I will always associate with Romania is the barking of dogs. Often, it’s one of the first sounds we hear in the morning and one of the last we hear at night. There are dogs everywhere. Walk through any village and you will be barked at. Repeatedly. Most are kept outside, where they are either chained up, given the run of the garden or allowed to roam free. It’s rare to see one taken for a walk since their main purpose seems to be to guard property and/or deter predators. They are not, on the whole, treated cruelly, but they do seem to be largely ignored by their owners.

There are also a significant number of semi-feral dogs. Most of those we’ve seen haven’t come anywhere near us, but friends have told us that bites are not uncommon in Bucharest.

I can’t say that I like any of this very much. I’m too fond of dogs. However, as with many things in a foreign culture, there is little I can do about it. It is as it is. Nonetheless, it always warms my heart when I see a Romanian interacting with a dog in a friendly and positive way because it’s something that so many never get to experience.

I’ll finish with a dog who perhaps doesn’t mind very much being ignored. We spotted him in the mountains one day:

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I’m not sure how he came there, but if you ever find yourself alone in the mountains and you hear the sound of singing…

Watch out!