A late afternoon decision and the almost miraculous appearance of a local shark (illegal taxi driver) saw us heading towards Stana (Sztána), one of nine villages in the commune of Almaşu (Váralmás).
As we bounced (I kid you not) along a dirt and gravel road, I realised why the Romanian map feels the need to show three classifications of road: main roads, asphalt roads, and dirt roads – the latter are well-travelled. Given that most rental car agreements would ban travel down such byways, it must put half of the country out of reach of tourists, which might explain why strangers in the more remote towns and villages are such a novelty. Transylvania is one part of Romania that would be a perfect home for a Rent-a-Wreck franchise.
Stana is Romanian for sheepfold. And there were lots of sheep and a few people and a nest of houses, and a church, two shops, and, strangely enough, lots of new-builds. Yep. Seems like EU money is pouring into this tiny community with a massive guest house going up on the outskirts of town. I’d heard that one of the conditions for getting these EU grants is that you have to undertake to have an indoor recreation area – which is why they have a table-tennis (ping-pong) table in the cellar. Go figure.
We were the only guests in the Kék Iringo, an old house that has been renovated to within an inch of its life. A shame really. But hey, we were treated like royalty and looked after like we were the last two women on Earth.
A wander around the village included a beer outside one of the two shops – this would seem to be what passes for entertainment. There’s a lot to be said for passing the evening in the company of neighbours on the village streets – but were I living there, I’d wonder on those nights I stayed away whether I was the topic of conversation. That they build seats into the gateways and porches says so much for a tradition of meeting and mingling. I had thought it might be a bus stop but then remembered that there are no busses.
A few days earlier, while driving from church to church, we’d passed a number of sheep stations. Our driver warned us about the dangers of marauding sheepdogs, who do their best to ensure full employment for walking guides. The shepherds, apparently, make cheese on the spot. And, when I think of the age I’ve reached without ever questioning where ewe cheese comes from, I’m shocked at how surprised I was to think of sheep being milked. Sometimes I really doubt my own intelligence.
We’d planned to walk over the fields to the next village of Petrinzel (Kispetri) in time for a Reformatus service at 10am. In the distance, we saw a horse-drawn cart ferrying other churchgoers from village to village in a scene that could have been plucked from The Little House on the Prairie. So much so that I could have sworn I heard the theme tune as Laura’s freckled face flashed in front of me. We could see the church in the distance and the path was relatively well-worn. We’d not get lost. But then we saw the sheep and later we saw the dogs (all three of them). The shepherd obviously didn’t see us as no amount of waving would get him to look our way. And dressed as I was in my Sunday best rather than usual hill walking gear (if I had any), I did sort of stick out. The sheep seemed determined to thwart us. Just as we thought the coast was clear, the dogs came back. Three attempts we made, walking a little further each time before doubling back. Eventually, at 10am, just as the service was starting, we gave up.
Everyone carries a big stick when they walk further than the village. Kids can play in the streets but not venture out into the hills. Which is a shame, given the gorgeous countryside they have as a back garden. Traffic, which is practically non-existent, doesn’t keep you awake at night – but howling dogs do. And just when you get off to sleep, the roosters start crowing. Were I to live here for any length of time, I’d go demented. I need my sleep. And on the rare occasion that I fancy a walk, I’d like to be able to walk from A to B unaccosted.
We all live different lives. Yes, there might be overlaps and similarities, but each life is unique. Every now and then it’s nice to get a new perspective, to get a glimpse of how other people live. It’s fun to play what if and imagine how well I might fit in, how I’d adapt. If nothing else, it makes me appreciate what I have. And while living the experience is wonderful, and being treated like royalty is something not to be dissed, the simple joy of sleeping in my own bed is one I’d not trade for the world.
Yet again, I’m grateful for the wanderlust, for the need to see new places and experience new things. I hope it’s something I never grow out of. As Mae West supposedly said ‘you only live once, but if you do it right, once is enough.’