Tuesday, November 6, 2012

On the Road to Sighisoara

After Bucovina, our driving tour took us southwest through the forests of the Carpathian Mountains to the medieval town of Sighisoara.  We always hate to leave our Poconos when the leaves are changing, but this year we got a full dose of fall foliage splendor in Romania.

Courtyard of the charmig Popa Museum
Anne is a loyal member of Fodor’s Forum (a travel discussion website), and a fellow Fodorite strongly recommended a visit to the Popa Museum.  Even our guide Andrei had never heard of the place, so it was a bit of a crapshoot, but we were all impressed by this gem of a collection dedicated to the peasant way of life. Neculai Popa was a sculptor and a collector of all kinds of local artifacts and especially anything related to the old Romanian peasant traditions.  For those of you familiar with the Mercer Museum in Doylestown, Neculai was like the Henry Mercer of Romania. 
One of Neculai Popa's folklore sculptures
The museum consists of several traditional Romanian farm buildings, and the courtyard displays Neculai’s whimsical sculptures inspired by Romanian folktales.  Neculai spent 19 years in prison (one of many people arrested for political reasons) and his passion for collecting helped him to recuperate from that horrible experience. 

Collection of village masks at the Popa Museum
One of his favorite collections is a strange and unusual group of masks.  In a traditional Romanian village, no one talked about or criticized their neighbors or the whole village would turn against them.  However according to Neculai’s son (who gave us a heartfelt tour of his father’s work), on one day of the year “the gates of heaven opened,” and people were allowed to tell each other what they really thought. To encourage people to really open up, the “advice” was given from behind the anonymity of a mask.  So once a year, the entire village donned masks and told each other the truth.  The intention was that people would learn and improve, but we have to wonder how many hurt feelings (and personal grudges) may have resulted.
Collection of irons and other household items
 at the Popa Museum
The rest of the museum consisted of a series of small rooms displaying farm implements, household items including an extensive collection of old irons, pistols, and family Bibles.  Sadly, the museum has no funding and is struggling to survive – if you ever go to Romania, we highly recommend a visit here.

Late afternoon rays of sunlight on the
Izvorul Muntelui, a lake in the Bicaz area
Our scenic drive took us through the craggy Bicaz Gorge.  This was a peaceful drive that gave us the opportunity to ponder everything we have learned here in the countryside.  As much as we might want to romanticize it, these people have hard lives struggling to survive.  And yet, we can’t help envying their simple existence and their strong attachment to the land. 

Cavernous Praid Salt Mine
We made another stop at the Praid Salt Mine.  Lonely Planet (who seldom lets us down) described the ride into the underground salt mines as practically apocalyptic, but for us, the site was a disappointment.  The salt mines have been turned into a playground for children, a great place if you are under the age of 12.  It was interesting to see the giant cavern carved out of salt, and the kids having a ball on a salty “rock” climbing wall, equipped with rope harnesses, helmets, and carabineers.  We also got a kick out of the incongruous sight of fathers working on their laptops as their kids played in this immense gymnasium !
We said la revedere (goodbye) to our fabulous guide Andrei in Sighisoara and struck out on our own.  The small town atmosphere of Sighisoara offered a perfect spot to relax and wander on our own.  In addition to its medieval charms, Sighisoara is the birthplace of Vlad Tepes, aka Dracula. 

Here are pics of us having fun in Sighisoara:

On top of Sighisoara's ancient Clock Tower

Frank finds himself a wench
on the streets of Sighisoara

Anne offers up her neck to the statue of
Vlad Tepes (aka Dracula)

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