Good question. Part was scheduling. We had a commitment in Germany early in the month and a plan to go sailing with friends on the Dalmatian Coast the end of May and needed a destination in-between.
Now, there are lots of places to visit in that part of the world, but for some strange reason Romania kept popping up on blogs, social media and and random web sites. The photos were compelling.
The images of Transylvania and Dracula and preserved Saxon villages with eyebrow windows drew me in. It didn’t take long to locate a Romanian travel agent and hatch a plan.
I really like the idea of going places that have been closed to tourists. Rampant tourism changes a place, making it more of a “vacation” than ‘travel.” Nothing wrong with that, but I like to go to the places BEFORE they are transformed and overrun with Starbucks.
Other travels to areas closed to tourists include Cuba in January. (Posted four blogs on this trip). And on the Croatian sailing trip. I particularly enjoyed the island of Vis—long unavailable to travelers because it was a military base.
Romania was basically closed to tourists during the Soviet Union control. When the Iron Curtain disintegrated, it became more open but still under a dictatorship. Now it is making its way back….getting the attention of a traveling world.
While progress is being made in Romania, I sometimes got the sense of time standing still. The next few blog posts will be about what we observed and experienced.
I was particularly intrigued with the Fortified Churches. In almost all cases, the church is situated in an easily defendable position, generally on a hilltop. The Transylvania region has more than 150 well preserved fortified churches out of an original 300 from the 13th to 16th centuries.
When our new friend at Atlantic Tours sent the first draft of an itinerary I noticed several Fortified Churches on the list, several of them World Heritage sites.
Hmmm. What’s the big deal? What’s a Fortified Church? Well, I learned it was significant.
Dotted all over the Romanian country side are churches with walls around them (many in process of being restored) because the church was the place where people went to be safe in case of an attack.
I found it interesting because in England, Ireland and may other countries, there are castles with walls around them (think moats) where people could retreat to be safe.
And for centuries, towns had walls around them. In places like London and Paris, you can go look at remnants of these walls. And in cities like Luca (Italy) or Dubrovnik (Croatia) you can walk on the city walls and imagine what life must have been like.
What’s interesting about Romania is that the walls surround the churches. Tells ya something about the priorities. The church was the center of village life. It’s where you went to be safe.
We particularly enjoyed climbing to the top of the towers, eating an authentic snack in a 1000 year old room in the wall of a fortified church and seeing where the villagers stored their smoked hams. They were locked in a special upper level room during the week. Once a week the townspeople could come and hack off a slice for their own use.
Lest you think visiting the Fortified Churches was a big organized touristy deal, it’s not. In several cases, we meandered around what felt like an abandoned yard, knocked on a side door to find someone who would unlock the church. No visible uniformed guards. No elaborate shops. One had a small museum. It was an exception.
Romanian Travel Agency
Our trip to Romania was organized by Atlantic Tours. We were particularly pleased with Mr. Alin Belini, our online agent, at Atlantic. He did a great job meeting our needs and interests. We particularly enjoyed our guide: Mr. Sorin Bucsa who was extremely knowledgable, fun to be with and a good driver.