If this trip to Romania taught me anything, it’s the need for patience. We turfed up at the guesthouse to find it empty. Not a sinner. No one around. We walked about, hollered our howayas, and then tried to explain our quandary to a toddler who didn’t speak either Hungarian or English. Some time later, a woman appeared, very surprised to see us. A phone call was made and it turned out that yes… we had booked in. Oops. That’s Romania. You take it as it comes. There’s little point in fussing or getting upset. It makes no difference.
Răchiţele (Havasrekettye), our home for the night, is the birthplace of the Romanian Prime Minister Emil Boc. I didn’t know this then, and even if I had, it wouldn’t have enticed me into the village. And no, I didn’t see the waterfall, the village’s one main sight to be seen and the one thing that everyone asked us if we’d seen when we mentioned we’d stayed the night there. I was tired. For some reason my sleep was restless and my dreams zapped me. I was sleeping but waking up even more tired than when I went to bed. So I took the afternoon off and worked, giving thanks, yet again, for having a job that only needs an Internet connection. With regard to seeing the sights, I contented myself looking at the colourful houses across the road. Later that evening, after discovering the joys of a local blueberry liqueur (a bottle of which I managed persuade the woman of the house to part with so that I could take back to Budapest), we popped next door to the pub. Women don’t really go to pubs in this part of the world but there was only one chap in there and he didn’t look much like he cared. I might well have been in Ireland, in an ould shebeen. Where else could you by a shot of brandy or a pair and a rubber gloves at the same time.
The plans the next day were fluid. We’d decided to get the bus to Heudin (Bánffyhunyad) at 10am and catch the market. The lady of the house called the bus driver and told him that we’d be waiting. There are no bus stops. You’re very much dependent on local knowledge. So there we were on the side of the road, waiting for a bus that never came. It would come at 11, they said. So we decided to chance walking and hitching – again. And this time, it didn’t work. No one stopped. Perhaps we looked a little too strange. Perhaps we were a little too far from anywhere. Perhaps we looked like trouble. So we tossed a coin and doubled back and waited. And the bus came: a blue transit van that had a couple of benches in the back. The neighbour across the road was waiting to pick up some motor oil the bus was delivering (it doubles as a courier service) and he assured us that yes, it would take us to where we were going. Along the way we picked up more people, stopping randomly wherever someone was waiting. All pre-arranged it would seem. I didn’t read this in the guidebook (that said though, I didn’t read a guidebook at all).
Back in Heudin (Bánffyhunyad) the best of the market was over. The ladies with their embroidery had left already and what was left … well, think fruit and veg and clothes and everything you could need from a fishing rod to a padded bra. Clothes on the second-hand stalls were going for 25c a piece. What appealed to me most were the people – little old head-scarfed dears in from the surrounding villages selling their veg and their cheeses. Tough women. Women who have had a tough lives. Women who know what hard work is. I was suitably awed to be in the presence of the sisters. And wished I had some way to talk to them. They seemed like a feisty bunch.
Those who were selling sold. Those who were buying bought. A steady stream of conversation. Perhaps it was the only time that week that they would have something to chat about. Market day seemed to be at the epicentre life, a day out for many. I wondered if there was an age when you got to wear the headscarf – did you have to be 50 or 60 or older? And when I voiced this thought I was told that these women would have worn them all their lives. They even have a Sunday scarf, one they use for going to church, and in one of villages in the area, a woman hand paints them. Now there’s a job. A craft, like so many others, that is in danger of dying out.
We stopped at the local church to have a look-see (and the regulatory three wishes) and once again, there are few words that can properly convey how stunning these places are. The ceiling was hand painted, what looked like ceramic tiles of some sort. And the decoration this time wasn’t made of wheat but of flowers, cleverly crafted to look like a bell. The church doors were open and it was empty. It looked like we had just missed a service. Someone had left their laptop open on a table in plain sight. I can’t think of anyplace else I
know where this might happen.
Plaques and pictures had embroidered frames, this time in black and white. So simple and yet so stunning. A traditional take on what the Jazz Bar in Cluj had done by framing their flat screen with a large, old, ornate wooden frame. I don’t think I could ever tire of these churches and well impressed so far, I had no idea that the best was yet to come. Huedin is on a direct train line to Budapest – there’s no excuse for me not to go back.