Tag Archives: Transylvania

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:

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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:

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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:

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

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

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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:

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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):

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

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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.

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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:

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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:

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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…

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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).

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

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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):

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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: E

As with D, many Romanian E words resemble their English translations, including expediție (expedition), excursie (excursion) and explorare (exploration). This is convenient because, over this past weekend, we have been on our first major expedition since we arrived in Romania.

Last Friday, our car still wasn’t on the road, so our ‘landlord’ very kindly drove us the 100 miles to Criș, a little village not far from Sighișoara. We had been invited to stay in one of the old Saxon cottages for the weekend so that we could help clear some rubbish from the garden.

The cottage had, as the Estate Agents would say, ‘many character features’:

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It also offered a number of other benefits, including easily accessible wildlife:

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Swallows’ nest just inside the porch

And a prime location in a historic village.

Or, to put it another way, it had mains electricity and hence kettle and fridge, but a thunder storm on Sunday afternoon meant going to bed by candlelight and having a longer wait for coffee on Monday morning:

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In fact, the whole experience reminded me somewhat of the guide camps of my youth: basic washing facilities, meals cooked on wood fires and hot sun followed by thunder storms. The only real difference was that we had solid shelter. And it was solid, too, unlike some other local properties:

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The reason for such dilapidation is that Criș is in a part of Romania that was previously inhabited by Saxon (i.e. German-speaking) people, most of whom left during the Communist era or soon afterwards. (More about this here). As a result, many of their properties fell into disrepair and neglect and only now are being refurbished.

They have a number of distinctive features, including the tiling, the chimney pots and the presence of arches, which often join one property to the next:

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We also noticed that many of them have a simple Latin cross on the outside, just below the roof, although the cross on one of the above cottages is more like those we have seen associated with the Romanian Orthodox church, being more ornate and having the sun’s rays at its centre.

Criș also has a castle, which we went to explore on Sunday afternoon:

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(The photos have been ‘enhanced’ to make the stonework stand out more).

If you are interested, you can read more about the castle’s history and architecture here and here. It is now open to visitors and (as we understood it) is slowly being refurbished with a view to reopening as a Franciscan ‘House of Peace’ in a few years’ time. (The lady on the door only spoke Hungarian, so we weren’t able to find out the details).

On Monday, we took a taxi to nearby Sighișoara, where we enjoyed the luxury of a night in a hotel in the walled citadel:

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As you can see below, the citadel is also of Saxon origin. Sighișoara was first listed as a Saxon settlement in 1191 and then as a town (built on the site of a Roman fort) in 1280. The clock tower dates from around that time.

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And that brings me to the end of our Saxon adventure.

Several of my friends have commented on previous posts that Romania ‘looks beautiful’. I’m not going to dispute that because there are plenty of very beautiful places in Romania and because we enjoyed our weekend in Criș and Sighișoara very much. However, to help put things in perspective, I took a few photos out of the window on our way back:

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From these, you can see that tractors do exist here (and hold up the traffic on major routes, just like they do in Somerset!), that hedges between fields do not and that many of the hills are as bare as any in England and less green. Unlike England, lots are still tree-covered, but preserving the ancient forests is an uphill struggle in a country where the winters are cold and gas expensive. In short, as everywhere, humans have made a considerable impact on the landscape and they continue to do so.

 

 

 

Wild about Transylvania 2

It’s been cooler here this past few days, so I’ve been able to get out a bit more and take some photographs. I continue to be fascinated by the similarities and differences in the local wildlife as compared with the Somerset Levels.

Farms on the Somerset Levels were once major producers of teasels for the wool industry. These were cultivated teasels, Dipsacus sativus, which are better for that purpose than the wild type, Dipsacus fullonum. They were grown up until the 1980s, but have since disappeared, leaving only the wild type, which are pinky, mauve colour:

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Here in Transylvania, we have found a different type altogether. This is the Cut-leaved Teasel, Dipsacus laciniatus:

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Cut-leaved Teasel: Dipsacus laciniatus

Laciniatus refers to its toothed leaves, but its bracts are also straighter, giving a more spiky effect. This is how it looked from the top:

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Cut-leaved Teasel: Dipsacus laciniatus

The Cut-leaved teasel is native to this area. However, the Black Locust tree, Robinia pseudoacacia, is not. It’s native to SE USA, but has been widely planted and naturalised elsewhere, including Romania. It thrives in hot, sunny weather and can be recognised by its compound leaves (with many smooth-edged leaflets) and by its thorns:

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Black Locust: Robinia pseudoacacia

One of the reasons it has become naturalised here is because it is grown to produce honey. Apparently, it’s very good honey, too, which might explain why there are so many beekeepers:

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Bee hives at Luna de Sus

The Black Locust is not in flower at present, however, so the bees must make do with  a plant that is much more familiar in Somerset:

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Bird’s Foot Trefoil: Lotus corniculatus

As for the bears, who knows? They may be down in the woods picnicking on honey at this very moment…

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Forests of the Apuseni Mountains

 

New beginnings

It’s been almost a year since I last blogged. There have been a number of reasons for this, not least that I have been trying to learn Romanian – something that takes some considerable time!

The reason? Well, it all started with a sense of restlessness. The Bible says of the wind that it ‘blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going.’ And that’s how it felt with us. Then, last summer, my husband returned from a two-week excursion to Transylvania with the possible offer of a job and we decided we’d go for it.

So here we are, a year later, in Romania, having spent the last couple of months packing up our belongings and getting our house in Somerset ready for rental.

We flew out on Monday, leaving a suitably chilly England to land at Cluj-Napoca airport in temperatures approaching 40 degrees centrigrade. We were met by a Romanian pastor and his family and taken to their home in a village a few miles outside the city; the place where we are now living.

We were given a wonderful welcome in true Romanian style – a good meal and everyone talking at once! This is a particularly interesting experience when more than one language is being spoken!

Since then, we have mostly been unpacking and sorting things out. We’ve not had a lot of opportunity to explore yet, partly because the weather has been so hot. (I’m allowed to say that because even the Romanians think it is hot at the moment). Here in the village, we are a little cooler than Cluj itself. Nonetheless, the temperature reached 37 C in the shade yesterday and is now 38 C. Thankfully, it is not that warm indoors, although the temperature has been rising all week and the house no longer feels cool. Just cooler than outside!

Meanwhile, our adjustment to the 2-hour time difference has been helped enormously by the cockerel in the garden next door, who wakes at about 5 am and clearly thinks that everyone else should too! He shares his plot of land with some hens, a cow and a couple of goats. Also, two dogs. We thought we heard geese the first morning, but we haven’t actually seen these. It could be that they live next door on the other side.

This traditional way of life exists side by side but in direct contrast with the hypermarket up the road in Floresti. This is bigger than any I have seen in the UK, although it has to be said that I’m used to rural Somerset, where such things simply don’t exist! The last time I saw something of a similar size was in Texas.

The city is also undergoing a massive expansion, with buildings going up everywhere, often with little thought as to how they will look in their surroundings. Floresti is also growing fast, with the result that the road between here and Cluj becomes heavily clogged with traffic and it can take well over an hour by bus or car to cover the 10 miles to the city centre.

So we have come to a country of massive contrasts, more about which I will share in future posts. For now, just a few pictures; snatched in the morning and evening when the weather is more tolerable:

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Biserica Reformata-Calvina, Luna de Sus, dating from 1320

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Horse with haycart drinking at ford

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The road goes ever on and on: Looking over the village, with Cluj in the distance