The one other region of Romania I wanted to see was Maramures. This beautiful area is filled with old, wooden towns that I associate with medieval Europe. Baia Mare is a relatively small city in the region and I chose it thinking it would make a good base for an excursion out into the rural towns. Hello me 🙂
Here too I sorted a couchsurfing host with a local, though he wasn’t able to spend any actual time with me. He did wedding photography and was double booked for that weekend, which meant he would be busy with the ceremonies and their all night festivities that followed. He just gave me the keys to his apartment so that I could come and go freely. There was a slight misunderstanding about his brother meeting me at the station, mostly because I had no idea he was coming. My host, explained that I should have told him what I was wearing – again, I had no idea someone would be looking for me… While walking I came across a massive church undergoing construction. I didn’t know they still built them like this.
Not knowing I was making someone wait, I walked over to the cafe of another potential host I had been in contact with who sorted me out. After talking for a few minutes, the brother fetched me from there and brought me to my luxury sweet. By this time the sun was down, and I only ventured out to get some local wine plus my usual feast of bread has and cheese at the supermarket.
The next morning however, I went over to the bus station to figure out how I could get myself to Budesti, a really small UNESCO registered village. This was very rural, so there was no direct transportation, and it wasn’t even looking like I would be able to return the same day. This was problematic, but of course it was what I had come for, so I at least needed to roll the dice and try.
The 11:30 van was the next to depart, and it wound 50 km into the Romanian countryside. There wasn’t a great deal of elevation but the road still found reason to snake back and forth to take the maximum amount of time to get there. The only speaker of English asked me ‘”Why you come to this shit country?!” I offered that ‘I can see the beauty in anywhere’, to which he defended that there is lots of work in this country, but no money. Along the way were a surprising number of people scouring the woods for mushrooms.
I hopped out at the driver’s cue and after sorting my directions, started walking in hopes that someone would give me a lift. I hadn’t gotten 3 minutes down the road before a crazy Nicholas Cage doppelganger came up to me and started speaking gibberish. I told him where I wanted to go, but he continued talking at me at and then led me towards a little corner bar. This is when things got interesting.
He stopped a car going by to shake down the driver for money. With some requisitioned lei in hand, he sat me down and bought me two beers and a coffee with it. I had no complaints with this of course, but….what?! I paid the guy back, but he just went right ahead and spent it on even more beers and coffee. Then he sat down, started smoking and seemed content to watch me drink all them. Of course there is no logic in having three cups of coffee going at once, nor four beers, but that’s just how this guy rolls. The picture I took of the guy is one of my favorite so far this trip.
At this point I just had to laugh aloud at the absurdity of my situation. No one here spoke any English, I was sharing the space with my host and a number of other yokels, and at the end of the day I had no idea how I was even going to get back home. Rolling then dice was truly a great idea – surely, this is traveling in its truest form. There was a group of younger kids playing cards, and for a while I just watched and tried to understand the rules. Honestly, it looked like euchre, but with six tricks instead of five.
After a while I just walked around in the vicinity of the bar because to go any further into the rabbit hole meant that I wouldn’t likely get back to Baia Mare before dark. There was still plenty to see here though, so I wasn’t really disappointed about it. The churches and houses were largely made of wood, and every woman young and old was dressed in the same traditional clothes. Their bonnets and dresses were all cut from the same one or two fabrics.
I still had to sort the adventure of getting myself home and Mr. Cage was following me around trying to help flag down a car. He would stop every car, regardless which which direction they were driving. I sensed that the reason I was having no success was because he was scaring them all away. I parked myself next to a “Baia Mare” sign and after about a half hour of waving and pointing at it, two guys picked me up.
They were two Romanians, living and working in The Netherlands back home for a week. Obviously they were intrigued by the curiosity of me being in such a place and were really surprised to hear that I was American. These two actually spoke English well enough to carry a conversation. The driver offered to stop off at a nice rest area to take some pictures and stretch out legs.
They were even kind enough to drop me back at the station and then refused any sort of reimbursement for their help. While there I sorted out my train for that evening and then chatted with a girl who helped me at the window. She offered to show me around the city a little bit, and since I had copious amounts of time before my 1am departure, I took her up on it. We didn’t go anywhere too special, but we walked, talked about Romanian culture, and then I shared with her America’s by going to a McDonald’s. I treated her to a McFlurry and then we went our separate ways. I got a sort of chicken burger, unique to the Romanian menu.
Back at the homestead, I had to rouse my host from a coma to let me in. He had equipped me with a key to his place, but seemed to forget and locked it from the inside. He slept through through about 100 doorbells dings, and a lot of door pounding before staggering over to let me in. We chatted just a bit, but then I opted to get some rest before my train trip. A couple hours later, I jogged over to the station and was on my way.
Romania was a fantastic country for me because I was able to see a few different sides of it. Cities large and small and a few different terrains. Also, I was able to add in a genuine experience with some locals. One of the things that I found interesting was that the country speaks a language not too far from Latin. As a Romance language it is isolated geographically from the others, which are all more towards the west.
One of the other things that I sorted out was their 2nd largest building claim. Apparently they were referring to the size of the buildings footprint. OK.