#visitBogata

Of course, this is old news for Romania, but since it’s just now hitting the American news, I wanted to make a post about it.

Romanian people are fantastic – they see the opportunities in unlikely places (see: Bernie Sanders Internet Speed Test). For example, when Snoop Dogg accidentally checked into Bogata in Maramures.

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Mr. Dogg was in Bogota, Colombia doing what he does best – rapping and smoking – when he misspelled Bogota and instead checked into Bogata. Of course, Romanians (particularly the ones who know who Snoop Dogg is) loved this and immediately used the opportunity to make a beautiful website extolling the virtues of traveling to Bogata. Proving once again that all publicity is good publicity.

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Snoop later realized his mistake and called himself out (he “steve harvey’d himself”), but because he seems like a genuinely nice guy, he left us with a #visitbogata hashtag and said he’d be there himself someday soon.

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and I’ll just leave this right here…

 

updated to add:

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I love the internet.

Day Two – Maramureș

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The second day of our road trip was much warmer (still like, ten degrees below freezing, but I’ll take what I can get), and we were excited to drive to Sighet and see Elie Wiesel’s childhood home. Elie Wiesel is a holocaust survivor and author. He also won the Nobel Peace prize in 1986 for his human rights work. As a former literature teacher, I’ve had the pleasure of sharing his novel Night with my classes, and getting to actually see the places I’ve read about is a real treat.

I’m not going to lie, I was surprised when I found out Elie Wiesel was Romanian. It never occurred to me what country he was actually born in – I guess because European countries were changing so much back then? Or maybe I should have paid more attention in world history class. At any rate, I’m glad I learned that Mr. Wiesel was Romanian because it makes me happy that two of my favorite things are so closely connected.

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We arrived at the Elie Wiesel memorial house, and we were shocked to discover that it was closed. The hours on the door indicated that it was supposed to be open, so we were pretty confused. Thankfully, Claudiu called the number on the door to see if he could find out why, and he was able to get in touch with the man who worked at the museum. The guy was at the dentist – and he apologized profusely and said he’d be back in about thirty minutes.

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So we went to Lidl, which isn’t usually very remarkable, but it took us the entire thirty minutes – even though it was only  a short distance away. The traffic in Sighet was insane. I don’t even know why it was so backed up, but no one could go anywhere. We probably could have walked there faster. Lidl was completely packed. I think this was one of the first days after the holidays, and maybe everyone was out of food? Thankfully, we only needed a few things (road trip snacks, holla), and so we got in and out in a timely manner.

We headed back to the Elie Wiesel house and finally, it was open. The man who was working there was so incredibly nice. He apologized again and offered us free admission and gave us a wonderful tour.

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It goes without saying that the Holocaust is an incredibly sad part of our human history. However, hearing about how the gentiles of Sighet treated their Jewish neighbors added an entirely new layer of terror for me. In Sighet, they had two ghettos where they made thousands of Maramures Jews live. After they were taken by train out of the city, their gentile neighbors went into their houses and stole everything. In fact, the furniture in the Elie Wiesel memorial house isn’t original to the house. It’s furniture collected from the area that had previously been stolen from Jewish households.

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I think back to a book I read by Lois Lowry called Number the Stars. In the book, the family of the protagonist regularly maintains the apartment of their Jewish neighbors. The Danish people helped almost all of their Jews escape to Sweden, despite being occupied by Nazi Germany. In Number the Stars, they were certain their friends would be returning after the war. I don’t think the gentiles of Sighet were as confident about their neighbors returning.

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In the museum, there are pictures of a beautiful synagogue that used to stand in Sighet. After the Jews were deported, citizens of the town razed the building. I think the destruction of this religious building shows either the contempt the locals had for the Jews in the area or the influence of the Nazi regime on the citizens. I’m not sure which. Neither option brings me comfort. Instead of repurposing this building for something else – a government building, a church, apartments for living – they chose to raze it to the ground. They erased the presence of the Jews. Out of the 30,000 Jews that lived in Maramures, only about 3,000 returned. Most were murdered in concentration camps (Wiesel’s family died in Auschwitz). The rest immigrated to other places.

 

 

After the visit to the Memorial house, the town of Sighet had an entirely different feeling to me. It was much darker, disquieting – these old buildings had stood witness to so much. It wasn’t hard to use my imagination to think what it must’ve looked like back then. The train tracks are not very far away from the location of the ghetto.

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After a solemn morning, we started down the road that would take us back to Brasov. On the way, Claudiu pointed out the Ukrainian border to me. It was another incredible moment for me because I didn’t think I would ever see Ukraine, and there it was just on the other side of the river. You could also see the border line through the mountains. We drove back to Brasov on the bumpy roads of Maramures. It took longer to get home because near Sighisoara it started snowing heavily. Hardly any cars were on the road (with good reason). Thankfully, we made it back safely.

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Snow capped mountains in Ukraine

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You can faintly see the border here – the light brown line that runs through the woods

 

I loved Maramures. I hope to return this summer to ride the Mocanita and to see more of Baia Mare area (including lacul albastru/the blue lake). I’m sure it’s just as beautiful in the summer.

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Day One – Maramureș

 

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Our drive to Maramureș took several hours. One big difference from America is that Romania does not have the same kind of highway infrastructure, so you sometimes end up on some very windy, bumpy roads. I don’t think it’s too unlike where I’m from in north Georgia. We have lots of country roads. Usually, it means that you get to enjoy the trip because you go slow enough to appreciate everything you see. This is definitely the case for the drive to Maramureș. Every road has some redeeming quality – either it runs through a beautiful village or has an amazing mountain view. Sometimes we would drive for miles besides a frozen river (which is a totally new thing for me and frankly, a little scary to see people doing ~things~ on top of the river, but I digress).

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Before we went to dinner, we went to visit the Mocanita. The Mocanita is a narrow gauge railway train that uses steam. I don’t really know what that means other than the Mocanita is pretty cute. We were pressed for time, so we weren’t able to fit it into our itinerary this trip, but I hope we’ll come back in the summer to ride. The entire trip takes about five hours – it leaves at 10:00am and you ride until 3pm.

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We found an awesome hotel in Viseu de Sus. We had reservations at a different pensiune, but we found this this other place…and well, it was much better. Not to mention cheaper – we ate like kings (yes, I photographed all my food).

And this new hotel didn’t play Manele 😛

 

Hotel Gabriela (above, the dining room on the left and the front of the hotel on the right – not my pictures) was our home for two nights. We made plans to wake up early, eat breakfast, and get on the road to Barsana, but I guess we didn’t plan on it being like, -20 celsius and our car was frozen. A man from the hotel came out to help us, and together they tried every trick in the book. At one point, it was pretty hilarious – I mean, Claudiu had the hood of the car up, and all of a sudden there were these guys that just appeared. And of course, they were all car experts. I’m not laughing so much at the guys, they were pretty awesome and helped push the car – it’s really just that as soon as the car hood was up, they appeared out of nowhere. Ten minutes of standing and looking at the engine, they all had an opinion on what to do 🙂 Thank you, random dudes.

Finally, we were on our way. And of course, we were wearing giphyas many layers of clothing as possible. My goal for that morning was to dress as closely to a human burrito as I could get.

Barsana Monastery

Here is some pretty good drone footage of the Monastery (not mine):

and my pictures from the ground…

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The great thing about Barsana is that it is still a working monastery. The monks that live there make everything – the hand carved details on all the buildings (every shingle is carved by hand), and they weave rugs and textiles to sell. The location of the monastery was just perfectly nestled into the side of this valley, giving kind of a magical storybook feeling.

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Săpânța – Merry Cemetery

I’m glad Claudiu was with me to translate, although he said some of the inscriptions weren’t very merry. Like they said in the video, there were a lot of children’s graves. Many were killed by automobiles or bikes. The cemetery itself is very vibrant. The colors are vivid and still bright after many years. The graves are very close to one another – it was difficult to walk through the gravesites just because of their proximity. Like a lot of places in Romania, it wouldn’t be very accessible for someone with a physical disability.

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This picture is from the side of the church that’s being renovated next to the Merry Cemetery. I love how the shadow was falling across the gold mosaic pieces. After visiting the cemetery, we drove back to Viseu de Sus (well, okay, Claudiu drove back and I fell asleep), and we had another great meal at Hotel Gabriela. I loved that place. It was so affordable and the service was outstanding.

 

A Road Trip to Maramureș

I’m going to have to break this post into several smaller posts because we were able to do so much in just two days. I had wanted to go to Maramures for a few months, and when Claudiu suggested that we could do it (and that we should do it), I was incredibly excited.

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It was everything I thought it was going to be: bucolic, serene landscapes filled with rural villages, monasteries built seamlessly into placid landscapes, a colorful necropolis teeming with mirth, an homage to the souls lost to the Holocaust, and a train that will take you through the countryside to see it all.