Day 1 – 5th May
Arrival in Cluj Napoca, transfer to accommodation in Aiud.
Discussion about the programme.
Julie: Having already met Martin (Martin Clark www.grampusheritage.co.uk) on the flight we were greeted in Arrivals by Monica (Monica Oprean Satul Verde: www.satulverde.ro/en/) and taken out to the awaiting cars; one to be driven by Monica and the other by her father. Once we got all our luggage and ourselves into the cars we set off for our hotel in Aiud.
The journey was to take about an hour and whilst chatting with Monica we were also taking in as much of the landscape as possible. What struck us all was the fact that none of the ground was fenced and in some areas we saw shepherds with large flocks of sheep. We learned that each person/family knows the boundaries of their ground; for example there will be a rock or a tree marking a boundary.
Once we arrived in Aiud we checked into our hotel and then enjoyed a late lunch. It was at this point the group was together for the first time as Chris had travelled by train and had arrived early that morning.
Following our meal we set off to explore the historic town of Aiud where we looked at the varied architecture dating back to Roman times. We wandered round Aiud Citadel which was built in the 14th century. It was the only place where locals could seek refuge when under attack by the Tartars as it was a secure fort. There is currently a restoration project underway so we were able to talk with the workmen and were shown some of the beautifully carved stones that had been preserved.
From there we walked down past the Orthodox church and crossed the river taking us down into a residential area. Each house was quite unique and we were able to see into some gardens where there were fruits, vegetables, flowers and vines all growing.
As we walked the houses started to change and we found ourselves in an area built during the communist period where there was a small shopping area and blocks of flats. Here we were almost on the outskirts of the town and could see the countryside beyond.
Beside these flats was a cemetery and the Crosses Monument, built to commemorate the Martyrs of the communists prisons. We were permitted to go into the monument where a local man told us the history behind the monument and we all felt incredibly moved by the experience.
Grant adds: text on the Martyrdom of Aiud taken from http://www.romguide.net/
The Martyrdom of Aiud was erected to commemorate the victims of the communist oppression from the Aiud prison. The list of the 1945-1989 deceased prisoners, put together with approximations by the AFDPR(Association of the Romanian Political Detainees)-Sibiu branch, (as the archives were not made available), amounts to hundreds of political martyrs. The bodies of dead prisoners in the cemetery could not be identified, as most of the times they were dumped in common landfills.
We headed back to the town centre and it was time for coffee and cake - definitely well earned after a long day of travelling and walking!
After taking us back to our hotel Monica and Martin left us but not before ordering breakfast for the morning!
Lesley: Monica and Martin, trip organisers, leaders and interpreters walked the group through the small but historic town of Aiud on our first evening here, Monday 5th; tired after our flights but keen to get a flavour of the place. Walking along by the 3 to 4 metre wide rain-swollen river which comes off the mountains and flows through the town, we took in the mixture of old and new architecture. Old: the early mediaeval Saxon towers and walls of a fort, with the occasional piece of Latin-inscribed stonework and slim red bricks recycled into the walls from when the Romans were building here, to the newer: curlicued and swagged plasterwork on the exterior walls of Austro-Hungarian Empire era town buildings, to the more recent, hard-edged, Communist-era blocks of flats.
One thing is immediately apparent when strolling past the houses which line the banks of the river and front the main road: the local people's evident sense of pride in their house frontages and gates.
The use of up-cycled and recycled items in a country where people are hard up but clearly have a sense of pattern and design is just both inspiring and cheerful. From hand-made gates; very old, made of wood and incredibly detailed, to modern welded extravaganzas of painted metal scraps.... and then to windows dressed with hand-crocheted lace. A memorable experience for the visitor and something which gives such a strong and individual 'sense of place' adds much to a holiday experience, while demonstrating local art and craft and sense of individuality.
We found masons in Aiud repairing the mediaeval Saxon fort with corner towers near the centre of the town, with oolitic limestone from nearby. (Same yellow colour as Cotswold stone.) Some of the stone from which this structure is made is recycled from when the Romans built here to be close to the local salt mines in around 100 AD. (Salt in blocks is still cut from these mines and can be seen being sold in chunks for cattle and sheep mineral licks from the back of a pick-up at the local farmers’ mart.) There is very little interpretation for the visitor of this important range of Saxon buildings and their massive enclosing walls, apart from a single board pointing out the town’s major buildings with dates.
The replacement lintels and window embrasures being shaped by the small group of masons are of high quality but piecemeal. The visitor is left wondering if the slow pace of restoration will save the buildings from collapse.
There is no donation box to allow visitors to contribute to the restoration work.
This is a relatively modern orthodox church in the centre of Aiud, built 1920s. Shuttered concrete plays a large part in the construction of a beautifully kept and much used building.
Day 2 – 6th May
Village of Girbovita: Visit a traditional farm & surrounding land. Meet members of the community to talk about issues facing the village community & exchange ideas about how to address these issues.
Community organisation and land management;
Wood fuel production – logs and faggots.
Lunch at the farm.
Village of Girbovita: visit a traditional farm and surrounding land. Meet members of the community to talk about issues facing the village community and exchange ideas about how to address these issues.
Focus: Community organisation and land management, traditional fencing, use of herbs and other botanicals.
We take a guided tour of Monica's family farm and other small farms in the village which range along both banks of the river Gibrova, a strongly flowing stream at this time of year which slows to a trickle in high summer.
None of the farm houses and smallholdings use river water for their household needs despite its close proximity because they each prefer to use the old, reliable, deep wells for cold water, especially in the heat of summer, though purity must also be an issue.
The houses do have hot and cold running water (heated usually by woodfired boilers) indoor toilets, showers and often a washing machine in the bathroom/utility room.
The yard directly around the farmhouse is populated by the usual hens with their chicks, ducks, guinea fowl, cages with eating rabbits and a shed with a pair of pigs, all of which take full advantage of the household scraps, none of which are wasted and are easily distributed from the farmhouse even in the snowy winters. A single haystack in the yard will provide bedding and food for the cages of rabbits.
Wood fuel and animal feed (dried corn-cobs in the photo below) are stored under cover in the yard, close by for handiness, along with locally hand-made wooden ladders, the fruit presses and tools. A vine trails between sheds to give both shady patches in the summer and fruit.
Animals needing close attention like this new mother of twin calves are housed close to the farmhouse.
All the farmhouses have a range of barns and sheds to use for all of the above purposes plus for the storage of old horse and oxen carts to cannibalise for repairs and old yokes and harness. Little is thrown away.
In-bye land is intensively cultivated with root vegetables among the occasional apricot and peach tree, and neat well-weeded bean rows supported by cut hazel pole, stacks of which are already stripped of bark ready for use in the veg plots. The poles are used also to support the grape vines which are tied to them with twists of willow wand on any available south-facing slopes.
On the farm we visited, owned and worked by Monica’s mother, father and grandmother, animals stocked included a few cattle, one or two goats, some milk sheep and until recently, a pair of oxen for pulling the wide wooden ox carts. Oxen work in a matched, well trained pair and when one died it was too hard for those on the farm to train up another pair. This was a great matter of regret to Monica’s grandmother.
Chickpeas and cucumbers among a wide variety of vegetables and herbs, peach, apricot, walnut trees and 6 different variety of grape vines vie for space - all weeded and well cared for - and this seems typical of most of the local small farms.
Bottled and preserved for the depths of winter, enough food - including wine, simple brandy and oil- is stored in their cool cellars to see families right through to spring - with even a surplus sold in the local markets. Monica’s father worked full-time at a local carpet factory leaving Monica’s mother, grandmother and another older male relation to work the farm, so the ability to be more or less self-sufficient on food and fuel depends on enough family members staying on the farm to work it. It would be interesting to know exactly how much money they save by not having to buy food and heating fuel.
The farms all have a share of the outbye land surrounding the village and they all pay a tax to the locality office to have the encroaching scrub cut, which spreads from the light forest encircling the whole village.
It is believed locally that the company employed by the local town hall is not doing this job properly, but few complain, according to Monica. She says that this hesitation to complain about poor return for these taxes paid, is a result of years under corrupt communist officials.
Large farm machinery is the exception rather than the rule – but there were a few old but working (and much decorated) tractors in sheds around the village and we saw small diesel generators in use.
The markets do a brisk trade in scythes, sickles and whetstones, and we saw crews of men scything hay in quite large areas. They create stacks by hurling swathes of hay on to an upright dead spruce pole with its bark and twigs left on, creating the typical tall, narrow stack. Some farms can take 3 crops of hay off some fields per season. Much use is made of wild foods from the pastures and light forest around the village. Mushrooms are used fresh and dried along with a range of herbs.
Meet Ionel , local herb and plant expert around Gîrbovita. Villagers know the plants to pick and use for flavouring food and as simple tonics and medicines. Thyme, tansy, 'mouse-ear' and various worts are among the very many plants used. One particularly delicious-sounding tonic was the following: take an empty litre container - plastic pop bottle will do- and cram it full of the heads and stems of cowslip flowers. Then pour in white wine nearly to the top and a couple of tablespoons of light brown sugar. Put the top on the bottle. Leave in the fridge, shoogling contents up occasionally for two weeks, then drink. A lovely spring tonic, says Monica. Along the way we meet an older woman out filling her bucket with mushrooms to use fresh or dried. Walnut seedlings which have appeared in these upper pastures/common grazings have been protected with hawthorn or dog rose brash allowing them some protection from grazing cattle and roe deer.
The vineyards are laid out right up the slopes above the village and the views down the valley are breathtaking.
There are regular problems with wild boar coming out of the forest above the village and marauding - and we could see areas where they had been rooting, but not too much damage was apparent.
We noticed the astonishing rate of regeneration of broadleaf trees in the margins of the forest, despite browsing wild animals, so we concluded that there was little overgrazing by deer – numbers are being successfully controlled by hunting.
Monica’s father uses an old section of combine harvester as a shelter for when they work among the vines in the heat of summer.
They grow at least 6 types of grape.
Chris: A gypsy basket maker demonstrated the process of weaving a willow basket. This was normally not a skill taught to others except family members who will continue the trade. The basket weaving techniques were very similar to those used in Scotland although all areas have slight regional differences in their designs. The finished baskets sold for up to 40 lei (9 euros) despite taking a day to make. Due to the cheap labour costs in Romania there is great potential for them to export more of their produce.
The local orthodox priest came to meet us at Monica’s parents’ farmhouse. Church here is regularly attended and seems very much the social and pastoral focus of the village.
Huge amounts of voluntary time and skill are put in to the decoration – and sometimes the building- of their church by local people in this part of Romania and the interiors are not rich in expensive ornamentation, but marvellously rich in something worth much more, in hand-worked painting and woodcarving.
The priest found it hard to believe that the majority of people in our communities are not church-goers. He recognised the mutuality of problems such as keeping young people in so-called remote areas, and the problems of an aging demographic. He agreed that a strong sense of community helps with these problems
Day 3- 7th May
The village of Rimet: thatched houses, huts & barns. Meet the mayor of the village for discussions on how EU projects can help such a village.
Afternoon: return to Aiud for a basket making workshop.
Traditional thatched mountain houses.
Issues facing remote rural communities.
Lunch in Rimet.
Wednesday morning sees the group heading out to the local mart situated just outside Aiud on a grassy hillside. Pigs and piglets, cattle (including one young water-buffalo) milk sheep, duck, hens, guinea fowl and a series of stalls selling high-quality leather horse harnessing, reins, strapping etc together with cattle bells, colourful whips, grooming items and hardware of all sorts - axe heads, scythe blades and whetstones, pumps, knives, torches... A cornucopia of everything the small farmer with a horse and cart would need... Most horse headbands are decorated with a red woollen tassel at each side below the ears. It is said that the devil will not harm such a beautifully decorated animal, so the tassels are a traditional 'protection' against harm and stallholders do a brisk trade in them. We were the only foreign visitors at the market and there were no special 'tourist' items on sale.
Haggling prices in a friendly way seemed to be the norm.
Then to Rimet:
Aging demographic and 'remoteness' challenges to community sustainability. A meeting with Rimet village Mayor Vasile Raica to discuss the challenges to his area, some of which have such resonances for us in Coigach and Assynt - and to some extent, the West Highlands in general.
A single track, unmetalled road (easily drive-able in summer but in winter in this snowy region must be very difficult) winds us slowly up a lightly forested series of valleys and very high steep sided hills with clear areas of hill pasture and very spaced out small wooden farmhouses and barns; almost all with the very particular acute-angle thatched roofs which are designed to throw off snow. Vasile talks about an ageing population, far from the variety of social and medical services that population increasingly needs. How hard it is to attract young people back to the area once they have left for college even to use the relatively productive land which is currently good enough to grow on beef cattle.
How to increase visitor numbers to the area to provide jobs without spoiling the essential nature of this quite stunningly beautiful landscape? Alcohol affects many.
As always, Monica of the organisation Satul Verde provides translation services, but so much more - giving context and additional information and insights to the meeting.
Vasile clearly cares deeply about the predicament of his village area.
He is fascinated to hear that there are some similar problems of falling school roles and ageing demographic in the group's local areas which go from Knoydart, through the Kingussie area up to Coigach and Assynt.
The school in Rimet itself boards during the week the decreasing numbers of local children drawn from the whole area. Incidentally, it must have one of the best views from its windows of any school in Europe apart perhaps from Achiltibuie School! Just fewer and fewer children to see it. Ditto in Achiltibuie.
A small shop with a couple of tables for coffee or a beer, opposite the Mayor's offices, does a bit of desultory trade. Everyone we meet is hospitable and interested in the meeting and the sort of communities we live in. Vasile says ruefully that the farms are so sparsely scattered that getting the community physically together is difficult, with older and elderly locals reluctant to venture out over the dodgy roads when it has rained heavily or there is snow. The woman who cooks a light lunch for us all has a teenage daughter who says she will soon have to leave Rimet for study or work.
Most houses have electricity across these hills and valleys. There is clearly an opportunity for much increased tourism, but younger people are needed to take this forward as the older population generally are largely not willing or able to embrace change at a late stage in their lives.
We could see no visitor accommodation at all in the areas we drove and walked through. As the beautiful old wooden, thatched and cellared farmhouses fall vacant through death of the owner, or the elderly owners can no longer cope with the upkeep of such buildings and their roofs, you can now see quite a few with a tarp spreadeagled over the thatch to keep the rain out.
The community is hugely proud of the church standing a little way out of the straggling village. The interior painting is just a marvel. The twice or thrice yearly church festival days draw back, for a few days, many former residents and family members who have moved away. Church in Romania seems to provide a real focus for the community as most are churchgoers. Next to the church is a tiny shop where we are offered the usual hospitality of the region: a tiny but very strong glass of home-made plum brandy.
A teenage lad with a big personality was delighted to practise his English with us, and we all felt that in this bright lad, who for the moment at least was actively choosing to stay in his home area and work on the farm, there was a big spark of hope. One of the other hindrances to community sustainability there is that many of the farm boundaries/land ownership had not been legally well-recorded in the past and that buying or selling property was mired in a bog of legal uncertainty.
Vasile has a project going now, through the EU, to work through these beaurocratic problems in a more organised and purposeful way than heretofore.
Despite the obvious problems for the community, the Rimet area is an incredibly beautiful place with an extraordinary built heritage. There has been a project to build from scratch a traditional-style wooden thatched house in the local vernacular, involving our other group leader, Martin, and students from England which has resulted in a new traditional house built near the church.
Fresco in Rimet church
Typical thatched building
Day 4 - 8th May
Today it’s market day in Aiud – we’ll have a short look around before heading off to Alba. On the way we stop at a tree nursery near Aiud to see varieties of trees they graft.
Alba Iulia: Meet a representative of the Hunters’ & Fishing Association Alba to hear about wildlife management & national hunting laws.
Orchard management and preservation of fruit varieties;
Overnight Alba Iulia.
Day 4 - 8th May: Market Day in Aiud. See tree nursery preserving many varieties of fruit tree then go to Alba Iulia to meet representative of The hunters’ and Fishing association of Alba county to hear about wildlife management and national hunting laws.
Aiud market is held every Thursday and is in full cry by 8am. Aiud has a permanent, covered market with rows of individual stances and stalls, some manned by professional greengrocers who have imported goods such as bananas plus a huge, well-displayed range of vegetables where it was difficult to know how locally-produced they were.
However there were a great many stalls being set out and looked after by the people who had produced the goods as surplus from their own smallholdings and farms and had come in to this thriving market town to sell their surplus.
Branches of the herb tarragon in vinegar, bottled cherries and other fruits, jam, and similar products were not labelled or marked with weight and contents or a sell-by date always, but the contents obvious through the glass. Other produce such as sunflower oil was bottled in plastic and professionally labelled. Some local honey had full labelling but with a handwritten section with the name and telephone number of the producer. Other honey was just put into clean pre-used jars often just 2 or 3 on a stall, the excess produce of the farmer, with no label at all. See photos. One woman had made, dried, labelled and packaged her own pasta and caraway pretzel-type snack. She had made a very professional job of this. Her stall sign said her produce was 'Bio' but not strictly organic. She said that she found the few foreign visitors who came to the market often bought her produce. The small local stallholders and their simply bottled and packaged goods most resembled Women's Institute sales in Britain.
The market was mostly food and hardware-type goods with a small but high-quality selection of hand-made baskets and wooden goods such as cooking spoons and wooden herb cutters... plus a few smallholders selling a variety of poultry.
The target market of all sellers was local people; there was little sign of goods specifically aimed at visitors from home or abroad: I saw no tourist knick-knacks at all: and while that meant someone had possibly missed a trick, one felt as a visitor that the market was all the better for the virtual absence of 'tourist tat.'
To the capital of the province of Alba in Transylvania, Alba Iulia to meet a representative of the Alba region Hunters and Fishing Association at their headquarters near the centre.
Hunting and fishing in this region is NOT controlled by large estate landowners or private syndicates who may live elsewhere than the land they hunt over, because land there is not held in that way. The land is held on behalf of all the residents in an area who have rights to cut a certain amount of wood and hunt, if members of the open Association, a certain number of animals per year.
Local Hunters and fishers pay a fairly hefty yearly sub to the Association, which in the case of the hunting (wild boar, bear, deer etc) goes to pay association employees to constantly estimate and keep a count of numbers of species and keep a track of their rough whereabouts by personal knowledge of the hunting areas and by receiving feedback from farmers who report instances of animal marauding in their fields.
Hunters must take a written exam and be assessed by the Association for fitness for membership.
Deer stocking densities are considerably less than densities in the deer 'forests' of the Highlands of Scotland, with no apparent loss of hunting sport and enjoyment, according to the representative of the Alba region's Hunting and Fishing Association.
The accessibility and response of the Association officials to the local farmers’ complaints of marauding is interesting but such communications must help alleviate instances of destruction of crops and gardens.
Day 5 – 9th May
Apuseni Mountains: Drive from Alba to the village of Albac, in the heart of the Apuseni Mountains. Meet Mariana for traditional textiles and loom weaving.
Meet Traian, a craftworker who makes wooden buckets, alpenhorns, churns, cups, etc. Meet Lucian, a woodcarver & hear about his work.
Tools/ crafts/ utility items made from wood;
Products from single trees;
Food from the forest and preservation techniques.
Day 5 – 9th May. Apuseni Mountains. To the village of Albac in the heart of the mountains to meet a woven textile worker and a craftworker in local wood.
We looked in on Mariana the weaver - and Alpenhorn player - in Cîmpeni in the foothills of Apuseni.
As usual, hospitality was first and then a tour of her small weaving workshop. Her granddaughter studied at University but is now taking hairdressing courses as she reckons she has a far better chance of work with a practical qualification.
It looks like no-one in her family intends to learn all the skills of spinning, dyeing and weaving local sheep's wool, though her granddaughter also plays a mean Alpenhorn when pushed!
A warm morning sun saw us leaving the large town of Alba Iulia and drive on increasingly narrow and less metalled roads until the cars, even the battered 4x4 we have, must be abandoned and we have to take to Shanks's pony to hike up to the scattered smallholdings of the hamlet of Bãdãi in the commune of Avram Iancu, in the Apuseni Mountains - to Traian Bãdãu's house and workshop.
How to describe the scenery here! Forget how we know the Scottish Highlands 'works.' You know, the higher you go the more the over-grazed vegetation thins and the trees peter out and it all gets even more barren, eroded and windswept. Not so in the Apuseni Mountains, where there is little or no evidence of overgrazing and erosion. You stand by a stream on the floor of a valley and look up very steep, green, lightly-forested slopes and see clear areas studded with sleek, contented looking cattle-beasts - numbers are low, matched well to the availability of pasture - usually attended by a languid cattleman and his dog. You easily spot a wooden house here and there with sheds and wooden-fenced areas of crop planting as your eye travels up. You notice there is no tree line. The trees grow right to the topmost areas of the very steep, green, round-topped hills. You are astonished to see a large field clearing among the mixed forest near the very top of one of the hills, with the acute angle of the snow-averse roof of Traian's house just visible (see below) -
Then you know you are in for a good hike from bottom to top to see his woodworking workshop, where he makes wooden items such as butter churns, what in Orkney would be called 'cogs' - staved, one or two handled wooden drinking or storage vessels of various sizes - and real Alpenhorns from a foot long to 2-3 metres long. All of which items he makes from his own timber and sells locally and at fairs.
Traian has walked all the way down from his house at the top to meet us by a place to leave the cars. He joins us for a picnic of soft sheep's cheese, a sort of pork pastrami, slices of air-dried venison, local, homemade tomato and red pepper spread slapped on brown rye bread and white sourdough. Hearty and good.
Then with the steady pace of a local mountain-born person he leads us upward for nearly an hour to his Apuseni mountain eyrie. An unforgettable visual and aural (birdsong, distant sawing, cattle and horse bells) feast the whole way. This must appeal to so many eco-travellers/tourists, but none around.
So how do Traian and his elderly parents- his mother now has a quite serious health problem- cope with the often hard winters which can last for 6 months with no other way off the mountains but well over an hour's journey on a horse and wooden cart just to get to a metalled road where he might catch a bus.
And no way off at all in deep snow. Their plan is to live in the valley over the whole winter and spend the summer on their mountain-top farm. This decision is made with much regret. Their hill top neighbours are well spread apart and there is not much opportunity for get-togethers, particularly in the snows of winter. Monica says they love their life deep in the hills and we could all see why, but the realities and attractions of being close to health care and neighbours are pressing. We wonder how many younger people will stay on such farms. Traian is in his late 30s. He was married but things didn't work out. Isolation was a big issue.
Chris: Traian, craft worker near Campeni.
"Traian lives with his elderly mother and father in the hills of the Apuseni near the town of Campeni. He has followed in his father’s trade as a craft worker making Alpenhorns, buckets, pots, tankards, bottles and jugs from the spruce that grows in the hills above his home (in fact he is the 4th generation to carry on this trade). Using traditional tools such as a shaving horse and draw knives and assembling the finished products with strands of hazel rather than using glue or nails. Traian does not have a car and walks 4 miles to the bus stop to take his crafts to markets, fairs and festivals to sell".
Day 6 – 10 th May
Meet Dumitru (Tutu) from the village of Horea who will be our guide for the day around the hamlet of Matisesti. He is a typical entrepreneur who gets things done. We look at wooden house building, sawmilling and ski resort development as well as some beautiful churches.
Traditional Romanian dancing & singing– subject to availability of folk group.
Tree felling, and extraction by horse;
Forest grazing regimes (wood pasture);
Small scale sawmilling;
Timber building techniques;
Day 6 – 10th May. Last meetings. Looking round the hamlet of Matisesti in the heart of forestry in the area. Focus on horse extraction, wooden building, small-scale sawmilling.
Chris: Tutsu, entrepreneur from Horea.
Tutsu showed us around the hamlet of Matisesti high up in the Apuseni Mountains. This was a very rural area where most residents had strong family ties to the area, lived as extended families and produced most of their own fresh food and preserves. Tutsu himself claimed his family only needed to buy sugar, oil and coffee. While this was very similar to many other rural villages such as Girbovita, Matisesti was different in its vibrant feel of activity, business and new houses including the recently built church.
The hamlet was surrounded by Norway Spruce forest which grows from between 1400m to 1800m above sea level. At this altitude it grows with a close grain and makes a very good building timber. While much of Romania has woodland cover and access to hardwoods these tend to be used solely for firewood while the Spruce is a rarer and more valuable resource sold mostly domestically although some is exported. Tutsu claimed 100% of the villagers were involved with forestry in some capacity either extracting it, milling it, building with it, transporting it or selling it. Small scale saw-mills were abundant throughout the hamlet typically being operated by two men who could mill around 4 cubic metres of timber a day. As the timber was being extracted and milled using only small scale equipment it was having a very minimal visual impact on the surrounding forest and presumably a greatly reduced ecological impact in comparison to industrial clear fells too. As well as being largely self-sufficient the revenue from timber sales gave the area sense of vibrance, development and ‘progress’. While villagers were not necessarily wealthy by western standards the revenue from timber allowed some of them to buy cars or improve their homes. This sense of progress and being able to improve your day-to-day life maybe key for encouraging younger people to stay in rural villages.
Another development in the area was a small ski resort aimed at domestic skiing. Development of the resort had started but then a change of the minister for tourism resulted in planning permission being removed. While this has now been granted again the developer has pulled out and the community needs capital to continue with the project. The runs would make use of existing clearings within the forest which are grazed in summer and would aspire to be a low impact resort though it was not clear what further steps could be taken to minimise its impact as skiing is relatively energy consumptive in getting skiers up to the top of the pistes. One option could be to develop the cross country skiing industry by developing back country huts for touring skiers to stay in.
Went deeper into the Apuseni Mountain district of Alba to the Matisesti hamlet area to look at how they log and extract timber from these very steep upland areas, often using horses.
The forest here is punctuated by clearings for houses and farms each with a couple of pigs, a few cattle and hens... and always a very productive and carefully nurtured garden plot for fresh food for the whole family.
Below is a typically sleek and very well cared for pair of ponies with their skilled teamster and his son pulling a loaded cart smartly up a steep winding road in the village. A beautiful sight. And not a diesel fume or screech of tyres in sight.
To see how timber is extracted from the very steep forestry and milled locally in the area around the hamlet of Matisesti. Extraction of timber is accomplished more slowly than with heavy machinery but horse extraction allows valuable timber to be harvested in steep or awkward situations where machinery cannot cope or would be too
It is low tech and relatively job rich.
Knowledge of horse handling and health goes hand in hand with the work for these foresters.
Everyone who lives in forested areas has the right to cut a certain amount of timber for their own use as timber or fuel or both. The timber is mainly spruce.
Here is a close-up of the cart rig and cleated horseshoe.
The milling of the raw timber into useable planks and lengths is done by a couple of workers using a small generator to operate a simple mill.
It is not immediately obvious how sustainable this level of extraction of timber is, but there is evidence of young plantations being created.
All over the region is example after example of extensive local skills in the use of wood in buildings, including internal and external finishing and decoration. There may be real opportunities for the sharing via training courses on 'live' building projects, say, any or all of those skills with visiting/exchange students. Below is a small selection of photos of local wood skills ‘in action’ from the area of the hamlet of Matisesti alone.
Day 7 – 11th May
Scenic drive from Horea to Cluj Napoca alongside Ariesul river. Visit Turda gorge, situated in a limestone area.
Day 7 Sunday 11th May - Horea to ClujJulie: This was our last day in Romania and it started off with breakfast and packing. Before leaving Albac we had the opportunity to attend the monthly market in the village of Gîrda de Sus. Some of the group stayed behind to explore the village.It was a glorious day and for the first time we saw people dressed (in their "Sunday Best"), standing at the roadside waiting for the bus or a lift to the market instead of going about their daily work. As we approached the village we could see stalls lining the roadside and side streets selling an amazing variety of items and foodstuffs. Once we were dropped off it gave us a chance to explore and buy essential items such as handmade herb choppers, enamel jugs, vintage linens, axes, cow bells, belts... and the first cherries of the season.Here was also an animal market with more of a variety than we had seen at any previous market. There were also people selling sacks of potatoes, corn, salt, lime and various items for animals. Due to the heat some people were taking their horses into the shallow river to cool down.Over loud speakers we were able to hear the service taking place in the beautiful Orthodox church. The village had an amazing atmosphere about it, the people were so friendly and you knew how important a social occasion it was for them. Sadly our time there was over too quickly and it was back in the cars for our return to the hotel.We got the cars packed and said our goodbyes to our hosts and started our long journey to Cluj. As we started to come down from the mountains we were aware of the reduction in numbers of horses and carts which were being replaced by horse power of the man made kind. The roads became busy with faster more expensive cars giving us a sense of more wealth the closer we got to the city.
The landscape started to change as well with the hillsides becoming covered by more hardwood varieties. The houses became less alpine and more like the ones we had seen in the other villages and towns. One thing that struck me was the amount of litter we saw along the river's edge - all the plastic was a startling contrast to the natural environment. Gone too were the small saw mills that featured in the mountains and these were replaced by fewer more industrial operations.As we were to have a picnic lunch we decided to stop in a small flower meadow with a traditional thatched barn. It was so picturesque and the perfect place to enjoy our last lunch in Romania. The wildflowers were all in bloom unlike those in the mountains that were just starting. Whilst eating our lunch we watched a pied wagtail taking food into the nest in the barn roof.After lunch it was back into the cars and onto Cluj. As the mountains were left behind the ground became much more open and a colourful patchwork of grass, crops, ploughed soil and small areas of woodland and orchards.As we entered Cluj we passed large blocks of flats that were a throwback to the communist period. There were soulless dwellings that had seen better days. Our hotel had a lake on one side and a massive shopping mall on the other. The mall was such an enormous contrast to the wonderful village market we had visited in the morning. At the beginning of our trip we were told that Romania is a nation of producers and Britain is a nation of consumers. Here we witnessed consumerism at it's best - designer shops, trendy cafe/bars and the appearance of wealth. It seems that people in the city are trending to be consumers and no longer producers.We spent our final evening together enjoying good local food and company and it was with much sadness that we had to say goodnight to our wonderful hosts Monica and Martin.At the end of the day I wondered who was happier - the people we had met in the mountains and in Gibrovita or those in the city? I know who I think had the best quality of life.
Day 8 -12th May
Early morning departure from Cluj.
This is a map of Romania showing roughly the area where we were in the first 4 days.
This is a more detailed map of Alba county showing Aiud, Rimet, Alba Iulia, Cimpeni, Albac, Horea- the places we went.