Saturday, August 11, 2012

Sighisoara and the eventful return drive to Cluj * Friday, July 13

Friday was to be our last day driving through Transylvania, and our plans were rather modest.  We wanted to find the nearby village of Sighisoara, tour there a bit, and then return to Cluj by 5 p.m.  We’d hand back the shiny red car to Daniel our car rental agent, and then – okay, this was my unspoken plan, one I hadn’t shared with my calmer, irreligious partner – I’d let out my breath in relief at being safe and sound, and fall on my knees at the nearest cathedral.  We loaded the car and went merrily on our way. 
Sighisoara photo from a website
promoting monastery life
We chose to stop in Sighisoara because it is a UNESCO world heritage site, so chosen for this august distinction because it is a village on the top of a steep hill surrounded by 16th century walls – they call it a citadel – and in it are all these equally old and charming buildings, towers, town squares, and so on.  Were you to be flying through the air like a carefree stork, you can see from this photo how Sighisoara appears from afar.  We drove up the cobblestone road to the citadel walls, squeezed through a narrow archway, and on the other side was a charming late medieval tourist trap full of souvenir booths.  Everybody wants to see this place because it is so beautiful and well-preserved.  Let’s not forget to mention that Sighisoara can boast of being the birthplace of Vlad the Impaler, the creep who was immoralized as Count Dracula.  On the car ride to the town I read about the horribly sadistic real acts of Vlad, and it still puzzles me why this is such a draw to people.  But Sighisoara is gorgeous when you peer over the teeming hoards of visitors, for you can see picturesque scenes of the town square, wiggly narrow streets, colorful buildings, and a view toward the cathedral and school buildings that sit even higher up the hill. 
normal Sighisoara
a passive-aggressive fish-eyed photo
We climbed the clock tower.  This one contained display cases on each floor filled with tools, vases, and other daily items; and the clock on top was cleverly designed so that a different figure emerged out of the window every day of the week, such as “oh there is Mars the god of war so it must be Tuesday!”  We went to the very top to see the terrific view. 

the well-dressed tourist
We passed up a visit to the Torture Room Museum.  Instead, we walked around the square and searched the souvenir shops for something worthy.  Lucyna had gotten into her head the idea that I needed a patterned shirt or blouse and was determined to find it in Sighisoara.  My clothes were pretty boring, consisting entirely of plain colored shirts and plain colored capris or pants.  She, in contrast, had these lovely flowered or plaid tops with coordinating bright necklaces.  I imagined that people saw us together and thought “butch and femme,” but it was still no reason to buy a shirt decorated with the picture of a vampire.  Walking around the square we found a team of artists who work in wood and finish each other's work – this one carves, that one paints, the other one calligraphs. They are devoted Christians and so, sadly for us all, I passed up all their beautiful bowls decorated with the words of John or Luke about keeping the faith.  We did buy some of their beautiful carved wooden spoons, though.  We were hungry after viewing these eating implements, so we compared the menus of the village square's restaurants and ate in the place that served cherry pie.   

always a teacher
It was very hot and sunny, and at first it didn’t seem so daunting to climb up the hill by way of the covered long staircase.  I remember it being nearly endless.  A little gypsy boy with a sad face whisked up and down the staircase trying to sell little bunches of wilted white flowers to everyone who stopped to take a breath.  At the top of the stairs sat a gypsy teenaged girl who begged for money, a little baby in her lap.  I didn’t pay much attention to the church that was up at the top, though I found an avid student in the museum memorializing the school that used to be there. 

gypsy king's house
Time to go back to Cluj.  We drove down the hill to the main road, once again encountering road work, once again establishing ourselves as the slowest-moving car in Romania.  We passed a memorable site, a house, all bright and glittering in the sun, unlike any other structures we’d seen.  Lucyna surmised that it must be the house of the leader of a gypsy clan, and sure enough a man guarding the front door came lurching toward us when he saw my pointing camera.  Lucyna managed to press down the gas pedal without hesitating to ponder how to change gears, and so we got away in time. 

Nevertheless, a different authority put a shocking halt to our car a few miles later.  To our astonishment, the police waved us over for speeding.  “Radar – 81 km per hour,” the man in blue said.  That's 50 mph, according to my handy dandy cell phone conversion program.  Frankly, I was amazed that we had reached that speed.  But we had been going down a long hill, and four other hapless drivers were pulled over right in front of us, the same cars that had zipped past us, so it was clear that we had all gotten caught in a speed trap. 
countryside full of hidden snares

The policeman listened patiently when Lucyna explained our experience of being the foreign tortoise pressed from behind by the Romanian elephants.  Although he seemed a bit sheepish after hearing her story and looking us over, he did, after all, have a quota to meet.  While he filled out about 5 different papers in triplicate, we sat and tried to keep our exclamations of incredulity quiet so we wouldn’t be thrown into a Romanian jail.  I called Daniel and told him we’d be late, and we agreed to meet next to Hotel Melody where we’d originally picked up the car.  After making our 210 lei donation to the Romanian state, we drove away in freedom.  For a few minutes Lucyna actually followed the posted speed limit (30 kph = 18 mph), causing a great deal of distress in the drivers behind us and not a little terror in me that they’d roll right over us in frustration.     

The last part of our road trip was less costly but even more harrowing: the drive into Cluj, that city full of cars zipping around one-way poorly marked streets divided by confusing round-abouts.   At every intersection, Lucyna asked me which of the three options she should take, and I frantically tried to match the street markings with the map.  Good thing we could see, miles away, the central cathedral in the middle of the town square, and we remembered that because every single vehicle that enters the town zooms by Hotel Melody, it would be inevitable that we’d get there, too.  As we neared, Lucyna wisely ignored my ambitious but highly unrealistic driving suggestions of stopping by the side of the street – surely we would have been mashed to bits. 

Cluj cathedral from the square edge
Instead, she coolly steered us to the parking area next to the cathedral in the midst of the Cluj town square.   How convenient for my plan to fall into worshipful thanks!  But no, although I let out a big sigh of relief, the sight of an actual cathedral dampened my religious fervor, and I called the car rental agent instead.  He arrived a few minutes later and drove us to the hotel we would be staying at for the next two nights, Hotel Central.  

This new place was a vast improvement over Hotel Melody.  On a quiet street, each room looked out on a leafy tree.  Every room had a separate air conditioner that was controlled by a remote, and the desk clerks were very nice.  We showered and got dressed for dinner.  Lucyna nearly fainted when I appeared without my t-shirt and capris.  In honor of Shabbat I wore tailored long pants and a cream-colored jacket.  “Butch and femme,” I thought, when she walked into my room with her pretty top, twirly skirt, and necklace.  It seemed like a good idea at the time to eat dinner at Cafe Andalusa, the place we had dined our first night in Cluj, until I heard again those two Romanian folk songs that continued to play unremittingly through the meal.  But there was that little glass of vodka, and this time I managed to get it all down.  I got back to the hotel room, changed into my PJs, and exhausted from the day, I slept so soundly that I didn't even hear the thunderstorm that crashed through the night.      

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