When the Cows Come Home

Before we leave Sighisoara, there’s time this morning to explore a little bit outside the old town.  Marco takes us on a walk to the local markets, as has become our custom in these Romanian towns, guiding us through the streets with his long tall-Dutchman sized steps, his trail of merry travellers always a few steps behind.

We pass by locals fishing, cycling and sleeping, beating their rugs clean, attending christenings and just doing what locals do.  There’s a small graveyard for unknown soldiers, a dead rat in the river, a plaque marking the height of a flood against a pale pink building, and Romania’s favourite car – the Dacia – lining the curbside.

These markets are not dissimilar to those we’ve already seen, though the mix of locals is perhaps a little more diverse and there is more produce than clothing here.  I become the proud new owner of a locally made straw hat.

Admiring my new hat
Admiring my new hat
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It’s clear you have to be careful where you park your horse and cart these days!

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We return to the old town where we board our bus to the next town, which is only a short half hour (roughly 40km) drive away – Viscri.

The landscape becomes incredibly rural with little farm houses appearing by the roadside, the paved road giving way to a gravel road once we arrive in Viscri proper.  It’s one of the only Saxon villages remaining in the Transylvanian part of Romania, and although it was never a big town, there are only about 500 inhabitants here now.  There are animals roaming the streets all over, a little dog lays across a park bench watching us go by.

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We have another homestay tonight, and once more we are split up into groups for our lodgings.  Our host is Walter and his homes for us are deliciously rustic.  The home I am sharing consists of a large gated courtyard with a main house off to the left and another building to the right – the one I am staying in.  There are also sheds for ‘our sheep’, but they aren’t home at the moment – I guess we’ll meet them later.

We don’t have much time to settle in because Marco wants to show us the 12th century Saxon Church, which is the centre piece of Viscri.  The UNESCO World Heritage listed church was a Romanesque Chapel with a fortified level above, part of which now forms a museum to show you just how the Saxons survived attack.    The chapel was destroyed by the Tatars in 1241, but the Saxons were not to be deterred and built a new church, which is the one still standing today.  In the 16th century, the church was fortified to six levels with a defence tower so the Saxons could fight against Turkish invaders.  Each household had a garret in which their supplies were held for when they were required to fight.

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It’s a very interesting little museum for what seems to be a very quiet little town that’s off the beaten track.  If you are game you can climb up the narrow stairs to the top of the fortification where you get a fantastic view of the town and surrounding countryside.

There’s a lot of stair climbing involved (up and down) but it’s well worth it.

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Coming down from the church, a cobble stone street is lined with brightly coloured homemade socks, hats and slippers.  They are the products of what is known as the Sock Project.  The project began in 1999 when as a result of the town’s poverty, some of it’s womenfolk began knitting socks.  The socks were made from old unravelled clothing, as there was obviously no money to buy new wool.  Some of the socks were given to a couple of German residents in exchange for food items.  The socks were then sold to other friends, who sold to others and it took off from there.

Now there are 125 women who knit a total of about 10,000 pairs of socks in a year, as well as gloves, jumpers, hats, slippers and baby booties and all this money goes straight back into the community.  It’s hard to resist the funky socks lined up along little benches and strung against the fences, so a pair of socks and some nice warm slippers made it into my luggage.

After a few beers together at the local ‘pub’ – a small bar with a bench out the front, we head home for dinner at Walter’s.  Before the main course is served though, Walter tells us we should head out into the main street as the cattle are coming home from the hills.  We all jump up from our benches, cameras in hand and almost tumble over each other to get out the doorways in time.

As we reached the gateway, we could hear hooves and clanging bells heading down the street, along with some mooing.  Coming down the street, each animal would peel off from the group to head to it’s home, without prodding.  It was the most amazing sight, something I’ve never seen in my life and probably will never see again.  It was such a delight!

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Smiles still brightening our faces, we head back inside once the last of the cattle has returned home.

And dinner is awaiting us on the table.  I couldn’t contain my excitement (now I’m being facetious) when I spied the massive bowl of stew in front of me – pea stew!  I carefully tried to scoop out spoonfulls of meat and stew that didn’t contain any peas – which are my least favourite food in the world – but as you can imagine, it wasn’t easy.  The stew itself was absolutely yummy and the meat was perfectly cooked – I lumped it on pieces of fresh bread and it was in fact so good that I didn’t even mind if a pea or two made it’s way into my mouth!

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