Some friends of ours, for reasons best known to themselves, decided to get married recently and were kind enough to invite us along. The wedding was to take place in Romania. Afterwards a select group of friends and relatives would join the couple on a three day tour of the countryside. Having never been there it sounded like an opportunity not to be missed so we booked a week off, bought the plane tickets, packed our bags and set off.
The wedding was to take place in Oradea which sits in the northwest part of the country very close to the Hungarian border. The Belgian delegation, that is Belgian in the loosest sense of the word as we consisted of a Dane, a French lady, two Brits, an Argentinian, a Rwandan and one Belgian, flew into Budapest Airport on Thursday evening. Our arrivals were a bit staggered with the first couple having to sit around the airport a few hours waiting for the rest of us to show up. The journey from Budapest was delayed a little longer because a budget airline, which shall remain nameless, managed to send one piece of luggage to Marseilles. Finally, with the lost luggage paperwork completed we climbed into the mini van at 12:30am and set off on the four hour journey from Budapest to Oradea.
The two cities are only connected by country roads so the journey was a slow, weaving, and bone rattling trek through the darkened country side. Sleep was impossible. Finally, at 4:30 in the morning we pulled up at the substitute hotel, the original having been over booked, to be greeted by a warm smile and a very comfortable bed. Those that made it to breakfast were treated to a hearty start to the day.
Friday was a free day so after swapping hotels we all split up to relax, recover and enjoy the day. The Brits decided on a walking tour of the city and found a curious mixture of relics from history, a central square being redeveloped and beautiful parks.
We finished the day by enjoying a very nice dinner on a terrace followed by a leisurely stroll through the park and sleep, glorious sleep.
Saturday dawned and we climbed into our formal gear. Romanian weddings start with the groom and his representatives presenting themselves to a delegation of the bride to request their consent. The bride’s chief negotiator turned out to be a pretty hard bargainer and took some convincing before the groom was deemed worthy but finally he relented and we trooped off to city hall for the civil ceremony
which was followed by the religious ceremony in a church across town
and finally the party. Unfortunately I can’t remember much to report about the party itself, only vague impressions of dancing far too much, a wonderful midnight swim, and strangely coloured drinks coming at frequent intervals.
Sunday was a free day in which we woke up too late for breakfast, went for a walk around the town fortress, took pictures of some water lilies, dozed by the pool, tried to read but failed to focus and had another excellent dinner in town.
Monday arrived and once some final preparations had been completed we clambered into the mini van for another weaving, bone rattling journey through the country side to a remote hotel in the Romanian mountains. The day ended with a barbecue, a rousing game of Thumper followed by an intriguing game of Charades (you try miming ‘Cats don’t fart’) and a walk to the cave. Well, not all of us made it to the cave as the trail was exceedingly uneven and we were exceedingly unsteady on our feet. We were treated, however, to a beautiful view of the night sky and a glimpse of the Milky Way something I hadn’t seen for over 35 years and I miss it.
Tuesday, before setting off to visit the underground glacier, the Brits headed back up the trail, steadier on their feet than the night before, to visit the cave entrance. It was worth waiting to visit in the daylight. The path was alive with butterflies.
After brunch we hit the road and headed for the Scărișoara Cave.
Once back at the hotel we tucked into a traditional Romanian dinner and, having had more late nights in the last three days than in the last three years, this correspondent went to bed.
The following day, before setting off for the salt mine, a few of us decided to climb the mountain behind the hotel to visit the waterfall and lake on the other side. The climb was steep and we were all ill shod for the journey. Nevertheless we made it to the top. Unfortunately we didn’t get to the waterfall. Once at the top we found out we would have to descend rather more than we were prepared to climb back up again so we settled for an admiration of the view from the top.
Once down from the mountain, fortified by a robust soup and watermelon, we climbed into the mini van and headed off to the salt mine. Childhood memories suggested salt mines were odious places where people were sent for a life time of punishment and misery. A Romanian salt mine is anything but. The walls were surreal and inside there was table tennis, a miniature golf course, a bowling alley, an amphitheatre and a small lake where you could take a boat ride.
Once out of the mine we headed for Cluj Napoca where we would enjoy a last dinner together before setting off on the seven hour train ride to Budapest. As we sat over dinner the clouds opened offering an absorbing view of the heavens. Later the clouds dissipated leaving us with a memorable sunset. We took taxis into the town centre and were given a lovely tour of the city by our hosts
before heading for the train station. Our train was set to depart at 2:12am so it may come as no surprise that we were all a bit exhausted as we waited on the platform. The thought of first class accommodation gave comfort as we waited. The train pulled in and our comfort was shattered with the news that the first class carriage was broken and we were flung into whatever seats were available with the threat that we may have to move throughout the night as passengers with reserved seats came aboard to claim their rightful place. Needless to say at least one of our group started to get a little grumpy.
The journey felt endless. The train would stop for no apparent reason and then shuffle off. It was slow, very slow, cars, bicycles, kids on skateboards and at one point an elderly man with a zimmer frame zipped past us as if we were standing still. Slowly, in one case, panic set in as the thought of missing the flight home became too much to bear. However, we made it to the airport on time, got on our flight and were home in time for dinner. After a refreshing shower this correspondent began to feel more than a bit contrite towards his attitude at the end of the train journey and reflected back on a picture he’d taken earlier during the holiday. Sound advice.