This March we had the opportunity to “win” a few days of vacation in Cluj-Napoca, the former capital of Transylvania. Our Hungarian tutor, who oversees the internship we are doing at the University of Pécs, was invited there to give some lectures on Fitzgerald and Joyce, and in a moment of incredible kindness she offered to bring us along. So, on a Sunday morning, too early even for the roosters, we jumped in her car for a strange road trip through the Hungarian Puszta towards the mountainous region of Transylvania, that once was a part of Hungary.
After a 10-hour drive, a different time zone, a fine for high speed given by policemen stationed in the middle of nowhere, and 515 km, we were finally in Transylvania, Romania. The trip itself was amazing: when people say that Hungary is “the Plain of Europe,” that is not a metaphor. Miles and miles of meadows and bright green, almost fluorescent fields, underpinned by hawthorn hedges and bushes in bloom against a turquoise sky (ah, spring!) Occasionally, we could spot groups of tiny one-floor “postcard” houses, typical of these areas, with colourful walls and roofs, surrounded by pink cherry trees and multicoloured tulips (there were so many tulips that it seems to be in Holland!). The most amazing thing? The storks! In Italy I’ve never seen them, but here they are almost as common as our blackbirds. They made giant nests on top of the concrete pylons along the road and lightened up our trip with their elegance.
Our last stop before arriving in Romania was the King’s Pass. Beware of the regal name, this place is simply a clearing on top of a mountain, entirely occupied by restaurants. To the eye of the inexperienced and ignorant stranger (meaning he who ignores how to read the bilingual signs in Hungarian-Romanian), the Pass may seem insignificant, a place as any other along the way, but actually it holds a delicious secret. As our tutor said, and here I’m simply quoting, “you have to pay homage to the Transylvanian sausage.” And we were happy to oblige! The King’s Pass offers the weary traveler dishes of tasty, super spicy grilled sausages, accompanied by whole loaves of bread still warm from the oven and bowls of mustard. What more could you want from life? It was surreal. The sun was high above the mountains, around us there was pretty much nothing, and we were eating junk food with our teacher in the famed land of Count Dracula.
Crossing the border was quick, and after a few meters a solitary flag stuck in the middle of a roundabout welcomed us in Transylvania. After that, we were struck by the ruinous shame of what had once been a factory complex in perfect, as well as sad, “regime style”. Welcome to Oradea or, as some call it, “the little Paris”. From what we gathered, at least when it comes to border towns, everyone calls them in a different way. And so what for the Romanians is Oradea, for the Germans is Großwardein and for the Hungarians is Nagyvárad (remembering the times when each of them took turns in governing the city). After the bleak greyness of the industrial zone and the periphery, Oradea seems to be very pretty.
Our stop in the town was remarkably short, just long enough to take a stroll through the beautiful gardens of the Bishop’s Palace. The building itself is not particularly impressive, but the gardens of magnolia trees that surround it are magnificent. We passed in the middle of two different photo-shootings, munching Pretzels while, distracted by the flowers, Silvia managed to bump into the only knee-high pole in the whole avenue.
After having chocked back the tears, we departed once again. Last stop: Cluj-Napoca.