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When we decided to go on a holiday trip to Romania, our friends asked: Do you want to go there by car? And with the children? Are you not afraid? We were not afraid. Although their questions caused a slight unease. Wrong.

Our goal was the northern part of Romania, the closest to us, but probably the most forgotten by God and people, the northern part of Romania, the mountainous land ofMaramures.We found there beautiful mountains, soaring churches, kind people, a huge construction site, holes in roads and complete carelessness about rubbish.
The seat of the Maramures County authorities isBaia Mare , a large city near the Hungarian border, with a nice, recently renovated old town. Around it, there are socialist blocks, a reminder of the industrial dreams that made the city one of the main mining centers in the country. A noisy place, full of traffic and rush. It's hard to part with him, because the signposts, even if they are, lead in "raspberries".

In the shadow of the prison wall

The real, traditional capital of the region isSighetu Marmaţiei . It is located in the very north, on the Tisza, as if away from the events happening in the wider world.
Surrounded by Orthodox churches and churches (the oldest, 15th-century closed-back) market square in this Eastern European town is teeming with life. The streets are full of cars and people. Among cars, immortal dates reign, and the concentration of exhaust gases resembles the smells of our cities in the era before the catalysts. But here and there we will see new cars, straight from the showroom. Romanians are slowly catching the wind in their sails. And they build. They build roads, so far the main ones, they build houses, not forgetting, surprisingly, the traditional architectural shapes developed on this land over the centuries. Finally, they build churches, huge, domed, nicely fitting into the landscape and climate of villages and small towns.
At the time of the construction of socialism, Sighetu Marmaţiei had a dismal fame. Here, at the very edge of the country, near the Soviet border, enemies of the regime were sent. This is recalled by the massive machinery of the maximum security prison. Fortunately, today there is only a museum there.
On the southern outskirts of the city, on a hill, the most interesting examples of local wooden construction are gathered in the open-air museum. Steep roofs of houses and farm buildings, covered with a specific local shingle, woven fences and huge gates to go around, and above them, on a hill, a soaring church - this is a good introductionbefore the trip to the foothill villages.

It's fun at the cemetery

West of Sighetu isone of the most famous villages in Romania - Săpânţa . It is like the others, but it is full of tourists, stalls, there is a place to spend the night. And the cause of the confusion isCimitirul Vesel - a cheerful cemeterylocated in the center of the village. Life revolves around him.
Because it is also an extraordinary place.The tombstones in the cemetery are wooden, carved and painted crosses . The bas-reliefs on their bases tell about the deceased. So we will see a shepherd with sheep in the hall, a firefighter with a water pipe, a housekeeper at a pot or with a reel, a pharmacist among vials, a clerk behind a desk, a forester with a rifle and a dog, or a butcher with a quarter of a piglet on a hook. Sometimes the deceased is distinguished by his hobbies (someone liked to ride a bicycle or fishing), sometimes the cause of death (someone died in a car accident, another was shot murderously from behind a bush). Below, epitaphs in verse characterizing man. Supposedly witty, but it is difficult to get a taste of poetry without knowing Romanian.
The tombstones started to be created by Ioan Stan Pătraş , a local artist. After his death in 1977 (he is also buried in this cemetery), the work was taken over by his student Dumitru Pop. The new tombstones are created in the same spirit, maybe only in an even more decorative form.
In the village, near the cemetery, there is a museumPătraşa.The walls are full of reliefs by the master, and the continuators we can order his works … a wooden tombstone with your own image. Anyway, we will buy miniatures of crosses from Săpânţa at stands around the cemetery. Lots of wool products - bedspreads, shepherd-style bags, which the area is famous for. Nice and affordable.

along the church trail

The valleys of the two rivers Iza and Vişeu flowing east of Sighet are a living museum . We will see the same buildings as in the Marmarosh open-air museum, sometimes, unfortunately, spoiled with an asbestos roof, the same, and even more beautiful, because they lead to the gates bustling with life. In fact, traditional, carved gates lead to completely modern houses, which are now being built. But the greatest decoration of the valleys are unusual wooden churches, unlike any other in the world. Soaring, high towers tower over the small wooden churches built on a rectangular plan. The interiors are richly decorated with paintings on the walls, most of the iconostases have been preserved.Marmarosh churches we will see, among others in the villages of Bârsana, Rozavlea, Botiza, Ieud (the oldest, from 1364, now under renovation), Bogdan Vodă, Borsa. The highest of them, in Şurdeşti (near Baia Mare) hastower 54 meters high.Until recently it was the tallest wooden structure in the world, but it was beaten by the newly built towers in the monasteries in Bârsana and in Săpânt.
There are carts on the roads, people push handcarts, carry the crops on their backs . Ox-drawn carts are not very rare. In addition, cars parked in the middle of the road, not lit at all at night, or trucks blocking the traffic because two friends of the drivers going in opposite directions decided to stop just to talk for a moment. All of this makes the journey interesting, but quite slow.
Because you also have to explore the villages of Marmarosh without haste. Especially if we manage to hit the market day (especially interesting in Ieud), we will see newcomers from farms located further from the main road, often dressed in traditional clothes, selling products of the earth, animals, and finally tools and utensils there that are still in everyday use, at us, which are rather decorations for summer houses in a rustic style. Wooden spoons, knots, rakes, bast baskets, and handicrafts, as for the locals, not tourists, really for pennies.

A bit of practicality

As for fear: I felt safe there. Nothing bad happened to us, people treated us kindly, they tried to help, prompt and guide us.Only language difficulties sometimes disturbed the conversation a bit . Because people generally speak Romanian. In better hotels and restaurants, we can count on communication in English, although there is no such guarantee. On the other hand, in the lost villages in the Marmarosh Mountains, we can even try … Polish. The locals understand a bit, and we understand them a bit too… How is it on the border. Either Ukrainians or people who understand the speech of their neighbors live here.
In the northern part of Romania, those who need comfort, hotels and restaurants of a high standard do not have to feel good. But who knows, if they entrust the organization of holidays to a tourist office …On the other hand, those who need just a roof over their heads or travel with their own tent, can move freely around the country.There are some hotels with the standard of a former home holiday resort FWP. There are some new guesthouses already adapted to modern expectations. There are also private accommodation, in new homes, even with bathrooms. The same goes for pubs.There are no campsites, however, . On our route, we only found one in Săpânt, and it was the lawn by the local entrepreneur's house. The fact that it has a shower and a eatery. However, if we travel with a tent, it is enough to turn off the side road a little and spot the farm witha sufficiently even and spacious meadow behind the house. Certainly, the owner will agree, for a small fee, that we will put up a tent there, and he will also look after the car and belongings while we set off to the mountain peaks.For such a circumstance, apart from money, it is worth having cigarettes (probably all Romanians smoke) or small sweets for children.
The shops have everything you need to live, although not as cheap as we would like. The prices of groceries are on average lower than ours by approx. 10 - 15 percent. Even in the most sunken villages, we can count on even a small shop, open from dawn to dusk. It often plays the role of a local club (by the way - Ursus beer is the best, and wine - if it is done). We will always buy bread and something for bread there.
Traveling - the most convenient way is by car . The trains run, but they look quite gloomy and the punctuality of the buses is hard to believe. However, you can hitchhike perfectly, especially on side mountain roads. It can be a cart, it can be a huge load, driving for a tree. One of the few places in Europe where they can "pack" without any problems.

You have to sleep at night

Most guides and guides advise against traveling at night. And rightly . And that's because of potholes in the roads, marked, for example, with blocked branches, or - I don't know what's worse - concrete barriers, unlit of course. Additionally, vehicles parked directly on the road … Better not to risk it.
Money? Unfortunately, you have to have them.Romania, although cheap, is not for free . Local funnels count in the hundreds of thousands, and filling the tank with gasoline is already over a million. We will only exchange money in large cities - in hotels and exchange offices. It is very difficult to find a bank in this area during its opening hours. You have to remember this in time. Guides advise to take dollars because of the more favorable rate. However, even in the hotel we had problems with their replacement. There would be no trouble with the euro.

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