Today was a very long travel day (approx. 9 hours). Early in the morning, we departed by bus from Eger to the pleasant town of Debrecen (approx. 3 hours). While there, we had time to explore Deri Square with its fountains and colourful buildings before continuing on by train and private vehicle to Romania (approx. 6 hours).
It was quite an interesting trip. First, we had to walk to the metro station with our heavy luggage. As usual, I have the biggest pack (about 43 lbs.), except I think Brad's even tops mine because he decided he needed to bring his own blanket and pillow, along with a portable fan and enough snacks to feed an army. Of course, we had to lug it down a few flights of stairs and back up again until we got on to our old dilapidated train. The nice part is that we can help each other with our luggage. We were told to get on the first carriage, but lo and behold, there was only one carriage and it was full of locals and very hot and stinky. We started out so slowly, we thought we could probably walk faster, until eventually, the conductor realized he had forgotten to take the brakes off on the old diesel train and then we finally got moving. We then crossed the border into Romania. We were stuck on the train until all our passports were thoroughly checked and stamped. No major issues. After getting off that train, we transferred to a very modern train, but it was only about an hour long. From there, we boarded our own private mini-bus and took a long windy switchback road into the mountains of Maramures.
We arrived at our homestay in the local village about 9:00 PM where dinner was waiting for us. We were very impressed with this beautiful home that was just recently built out in the country and had a lovely home-made meal (bean soup, pork and rice). Unfortunately, three of us (including Brad and I) had to stay at the "other" house because there wasn't enough room for all of us and it was a very old home which wasn't nearly as nice as the other place. There was an elderly lady who couldn't speak English who took care of the "other" place, but knew a bit of French, so I tried to recall my high school French which obviously didn't work well because she tried to tell me to take the key out of the door at night so that she could come in early in the morning to light the fire so we could have hot water. I left the key in the door to lock us in. We discovered that we had no hot water the next morning which was rather annoying especially when the rest of the group had their own ensuites with hot water. However, we survived. The other annoyance was the barking dog next door which kept us awake most of the night (I felt right at home!) On the positive side, there was an exercise bike at this place which Brad took advantage of. He's still looking for a gym to work out at every day ... we're not having much luck with that.
Maramures ('mah-ra-moo-resh'), is a land that seems to be frozen in time. It is often said that Maramures contains Romania's heart and soul. It is a region of tradition, customs, rich folklore and ancient superstitions that have remained unchanged for hundreds of years. One of the last peasant cultures in Europe continues to thrive here with hand-built wooden churches, traditional music and costumes and ancient festivals continuing to flourish. Each village has its own colours for outfits and their own style of straw or felt hats.
Maramures is particularly famed for its wooden churches, many of which are World Heritage-listed sites. The next day we had breakfast at the homestay which included potato pancakes and then explored the region with a tour. We visited the Merry Cemetery in Sapanta which was quite interesting. It had painted pictures of the person's lifestyle and a description of how they lived and/or died on the gravestones. For example, if that person was a farmer, they had a painting of someone sitting on a tractor or they may have a painting of someone drowning, etc. A few of us went to the village museum in Sighetu which showed how people lived way back when. Brad ended up in prison instead. Actually, he and the rest of the group chose to go to visit a prison where many political people were tortured. After that we went to the supermarket and made ourselves some lunch and headed out to the country for a picnic lunch where the view was absolutely magnificent. It's very lush and green here, hilly and reminds me a bit of Austria. We went to visit an old wooden church and then visited a distillery where they make some very potent stuff. We had a lovely dinner again back at the homestay (dumpling soup, chicken and potatoes). Then back to the "other" place to spend the night with the barking dog next door.