I think Beej and I should start calling ourselves “The Wedding Hunters.”
After decompressing for a couple of days at the Avenue Hostel in Budapest, we made our way by train to Cluj-Napoca, a comfortable 8 hours across the Hungarian border in Romania. The train was delayed so we didn’ t arrive until 2 am.
We flung ourselves into a taxi with a suicidal driver who sped at 100 km/hr around 30 km/hr corners through the town center. Then he dropped us off on the darkened street of our lovely friend Ilinca, with whom we spent several nights last year Couchsurfing. Ilinca is a night owl, luckily. She had just returned from a year abroad at a training/internship in Holland and was still readjusting to life in her home city.
In Cluj, we had a couple of days to re-center ourselves: brush up on our rudimentary Romanian (thank you, good day, where is the toilet?, etc.), tea at Papillon, stop by the Iulius Mall for last minute supplies. We rented a cheap bubble car (a tiny Ford Ka), and bob’s your uncle, we were off.
We bobble and meander up through the Romanian countryside while figuring out how to navigate crazy Romanian road customs. Here are a few rules:
1. Center dividing lines are just a suggestion. Many times we had to brake and get over quickly to avoid an accident so that oncoming traffic could pretend they were in a Bond film.
2. On the bigger highways, keep one half of your car in the shoulder when you can’t see who might be passing in the opposite lane. Cars passing dangerously and unnecessarily is a way of life here, even around blind corners, so driving halfway on the shoulder is the safest way to help you avoid a head on collision.
3. Watch out for cars that stop in the middle of the highway and park there for no reason. They’re just sitting there. I cannot tell you why.
4. Always remember that people with BMWs or Audis are higher in the pecking order than you. If you are stopped at a stop sign on a narrow city street, they will pass you to show their superiority. Or if they need to make a right turn and you are in front of them, instead of waiting for you to turn first, they will speed up, pass, then jam on the brakes and turn ahead of you. It’s macho posturing, but you just have to accept that you and your cheap car are inferior and they are important…until you buy (or rent) a more expensive car. Then you are worthy to join their death race.
Luckily, we survived the roads and now had two weeks to explore the countryside in search of weddings.At the Babou Maramures hostel and campground in Breb, we are given advice by a Romanian artist: go to churches and community halls, because that’s where everyone registers and schedules their weddings.
We hop from village to village asking at churches and then spread out to stores and people on the street. “Existe nunta tradicional this weekend?” (Are there traditional weddings this weekend?) we ask again and again in broken Romanian.
At one store near the monastery in Barsana, the cashier made phone calls to friends and family. No luck – all the weddings were in the summer. She showed us pictures of she and her husband at a traditional wedding in August. Then she invited us to drive up the mountain to meet her herd of over 100 long-haired sheep; but after glancing at our car she realized that the road would be impossible for us.
At an open-air market in Ocna Sugatag, a woman sold us goat cheese and then yelled out our question to sellers at other stalls. The consensus so was that we’d missed them in this valley. They were all in August or the beginning of September. We moved on farther east into the highlands, spreading our search into other river valleys.
Finally, at another open-air market near the village of Glod, a twinkly-eyed, mustachioed man addressed us in English. His name was Bud, and he was a teacher in Oncesti up the road. Our conversation turned to our wedding search. We’re in luck, he said. He knew of two: one this Saturday and the next. He invited us to his guesthouse in Oncesti for coffee later that week to discuss our options.
TO BE CONTINUED…