We left Bran, Fundata Valley and Braşov knowing that nothing could ever match the magic of that experience,
When we entered the Citadel of Siguişoara (pronounced Sigi-show-rra) it seemed like they had given us a special E Ticket to Disneyland. Not just the Matterhorn, but to the to The Magic Kingdom itself.
Maria had walked down from the walled “Citadel” on high. Standing there in the trees near the stone gate, she motioned to us. “You Woody?” she asked.
I had called her a few minutes before. She had answered my cell phone call. “Vorbeţi Englesa?” I asked, (Do you speak English ?)
She said, “Un puțin,” (a little). I tried to explain simply in my elementary Romanian: “We want to stay at your pension, but we can’t come in gate.”
I could tell that Maria hadn’t understood exactly what I had said, but apparently this happens all the time. “I come to gate,” she had told me. “You wait.”
So we waited just at dusk while we saw taxis passing under crossing gate’s candy-striped arm that lifted in some magical way for them, (but not for us), then watched their red tail lights wind up over the cobblestone drive that rises in a clockwise spiral, through a vaulted archway, into the Citidel of the old town of Sighişoara. (Citadel in Romanian sounds like citadel in English except that the first syllable is pronounced “chit.”)
When Maria appeared on a brick pathway that meanders down from unseen insiders’ portal in the old Saxon walls above us, I got out to meet her. “I show,” she said. So I motioned for Maria to get into the front seat of the car. Rebecca had already made room for herself in the back seat, and Maria got into the passenger seat of the car, a bit awkwardly, as if she’s not used to riding in a smaller car.
Maria’s cheerful greeting in a Julia Child’s upbeat chortling told us, in spite of our inability to understand her exact words, that we were in good hands now.
I followed Maria’s directions up the guarded entry into the Citadel. It was like they had opened the Disneyland gates for us. The car chattered as we drove over the large cobblestones and entered the tunnel under the main watchtower, and we drove right through to Downtown Disneyland. Only it was empty, but the well-lit by 21st century lighing mounted at street level, bathing the brightly colored 15th century era buildings. A delightful dreamland Main Street, after hours. Except Disneyland is really just an immitation of this.
Maria directed us between the gift shops, restaurants and other pensions just closing up for the night, down to the right, right again, then right. And then down a very narrow cobble-stone alleyway and told us to park. “Aici?” (here?) I asked, wondering if they would tow away Alf before the Kingdom opened in the morning. (We had started calling our car that because of the license plate number).
“Da, da, bun,” she resonded. (Yes, yes, good.) I had to scoot closer to the left side of the alley to let Rebecca and Maria out on the right, then I had to repark to the other side to let myself out. I had only about 18 inches to open my door.
We followed Maria, carrying just our backpacks. (We would get the rest of the luggage later.) We passed through a small opening in a fence, up a narrow walkway, and into a kitchen at the back of a house that was at least 400 years old. Her husband, the equally robust and cheerful Ioan, (Yo-an) was there to greet us with homemade wine and palinca. I asked about the cost of the room, more as a formality; then I immediatly regretted it. What they were asking was a bargain and we were there to stay, anyway.
As we now had full glaring light, for the first time, to see each other, Maria took Rebecca in her arms, and welcomed her. “Welcome, welcome” she said to Rebecca and kissed her on each cheek. Then, she gave me a hug, “Welcome to your house,” she said in a way that made me feel that this was both a line she had well-rehearsed in English, but also something she meant it from the bottom of her heart.
We were given seats at the table in the middle of the kitchen, bright, yellow and blue neon lights overhead, and surrounded by cooking accoutrements, mismatched from different centuries.
A man from Nicaragua named Uva, (a pilot for a UAA airlines company) was seated at the table as well; he was another guest. We all introduced ourselves and tended to gravitate to English, as three out of the five spoke English well. Uva had lived in the Canada many years and spoke fluent English.
Ioan explained in his English and Romanian that the house has been here for five centuries. I wondered if it had been remodled in the 19th century because it had very old, cast iron plumbing that ran along the inside near the floor, (as I have noticed here) and a sink that was probably much newer than its 19th Century plumbing.
Ioan gave us a little of the history of the house. The pyramid shaped walls indicated the age of the house, he explained. It was then that I noticed that the walls were not “true” with the corners of the ceiling. They had a noticable tilt. The cabinets were customed made so that they hid the angle of the wall, rising up in a taper. Ioan told us that this shape of the walls indicated a design from the 16th Century, and would keep the building from being damaged in earthquakes.
We talked about our hosts’ grandchildren who live in Austria, how it’s a shame that so many younger people are leaving this country for higher wages elsewhere, how life is slower for them now that Ioan is retired from his mecanic’s job, and which cars he prefers and why. We talked about how life is so much better now after the Revolution, but now the population of the country has declined since the exodus of so many young adults to other parts of the EU.
It amazed us how much he was able to get across with our limited Romanian and his limited English. It really boils down to the effort on each both of the language divide. If people really try, a good conversation can be had.
They asked us about our plans for the next day, and we agreed to accompany them to a spa in an adjoining town about 30-40 kilometers away. So after a quick jaunt with the other guest, Uva, around the old town center after hours, Rebecca and I retired to our huge, antique room on the second floor.
It is an old house, really old. Ioan is the third generation is his family that was born in the house, that he knows about. It has high ceilings and odd corners and very deep windows sills, revealing walls that are nearly two feet thick. The modernization is pretty wonky, but our hosts are sweet as anything. This house is not for the most fastidious traveler, but we liked it fine.
There is a Nicaraguan of German descent who lived in grew up in Canada and now works as pilot the United Arhab Emerates. (Talk about cosmopolitan!) The three of us went out for a walk around the old town after dark. It has only cobbled streets and buildings that look a bit like Salzburg or Hallstatt. Woody said it looks like Disneyland after hours. Some gift shops were still open, but it’s only touristy stuff. Woody likes how the city is lit up by lights in the ground. There are churches and guard towers and a big wall around most of the upper town. It’s a true medieval town.
We headed back and Maria and Ioan had homemade wine and palinka waiting for us.
The next morning at breakfast we met the third guest, Selena from France. She will join us at the spa today. Woody will drive.
Woody and I walked around town a bit and saw that the clock tower is closed on Monday. So we’ll try to see it tomorrow before we leave.
Back at the pension we packed our towels and Woody realized that somehow he lost his bathing trunks. So Ioan loaned him a pair. We (all five of us) piled into the car and Woody drove us safely to the town of Bazna where the spa was. We changed in changing rooms and went to the indoor pool–the water was rust brown. The pool was filled with 30-40 old people, Woody and I were on the young side and poor Selina was way young.
We got in and found the water to be salty and warm. I floated around a bit and then a woman came in and lead us in exercises for about a half hour.
Later we all sat out in the sun. Maria had brought bread, cheese, and some meat slices. We showered, changed, and headed home.
That afternoon, Woody and I walked around the town. We saw Vlad’s birthplace, we hiked up to the big church on the very top, (climbing some 120 steps to the top), and lots of arches and winding streets. We had an early dinner seated outside at a place called the Rock House and had some beer and cider as we watched the light fade to night, then headed back to our place. Woody took several photos of the old buildings as the sun lit up their various colors.
They invited us in to their kitchen for more wine and palinka. We shared photos of kids and Ioan played some songs for us on his harmonica. We sang Christmas songs because that’s what he likes to play best.
The next morning, we packed up and then went downstiars for breakfast with Ioan and Maria. They pleaded for us to stay longer. “There’ so much more to see here.” I tried to explain that we just couldn’t do everything, but they had given us a wonderful experience here in Sighisoara. But Ioan agreed to accompany us on one last excursion to the “Cloktower” as he said. We agreed to make that our last exploration of the Citadel before we left.
Ioan came into the Clock Tower Museum and explained that we were his guests, and I think we got some discount on that account. We climbed several floors of the tower, each level was devoted to a different part of history of Sighisuoara’s history. On the first floor above the entrance level, there was a model of the city. Ioan pointed to his house on the model and told us how his family moved in sometime in the 19th century. Other floors included a collection of medical equipment from the 1800’s, various handiwork from each of the guilds over the centuries, wood, iron and copper, furniture from the early 1500’s and 1600’s.
On each floor, there were photos of local people of distinction. Ioan pointed various people he or his family knew.
Finally, on the top floor, you could see the actual workings of the clock, much smaller than I had expected. There was a window showing the metal statuary of the figures that turn on a display for special events of the year, month and week. Figurines that represent Truth, Justice, and Peace, and an Executioner has a hammer that strikes the bells at the turn of each hour. Seven figures rotate out of days of the week, rotating at midnight.
You could also go out and walk around the catwalk at the top of the tower, just below the cupola. From there, I watched kids on recess in the local “scoala” and tourists slowly coming into the various squares below.
We said our final goodbys to Ioan. It’s a meloncholy feeling to feel that you’ve been given a gift of friendship while at the same time realizing that it is highly unlikely that you’ll ever see them again.