Hostelry

November 11, 2014

I have been on 15 planes this year. For me, that’s insane. Probably more than I’d been on my whole life up until now. But I’m back, with no real plans to be on another plane until April, and that’s not even a definite plan. But before I can move on with my life I need to finish writing about the Transylvania trip! We spent our first morning in Cluj much as planned, going to see the screening of Andrew’s short film and just wandering, going inside old churches and admiring the architecture of the Orthodox Cathedral. Here’s Andrew outside the Cathedral.

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I still hadn’t tried sarmale [rice and meat wrapped in pickled cabbage leaves, sometimes with sauce] so when we found a cafe that specialised in it we thought we’d give it a try, Andrew trying the pork sarmale and me trying the mushroom vegetarian option. We were amused when we were asked if we wanted chili and we said yes, expecting a dipping sauce or maybe flakes. They delivered us a whole chili pepper! We also found an ice cream cafe chain called Betty Ice and were surprised at the quality. I had a scoop of white chocolate and one of salted pistachio. I meant to go back the next day to try the chestnut ice cream, but time got away from us!

It was fascinating spending three nights in a hostel, especially one that attempts to foster such camaraderie between guests. Each day we woke up to find a new activity plus dinner plans on the noticeboard, so on Monday we went to Klausenburger; an outdoor rooftop restaurant which I thought specialised in burgers. It does indeed do burgers, but the name Klausenburg is what Germans call Cluj, so I guess it’s a multipurpose name! Andrew was watching a short film screening as part of the festival so I did that particular hostel jaunt alone, finding out more about the people and the lifestyle. I’d never before realised so many people were part of this… not an underclass, of course not, because even though they’ve opted out of the rat race for huge chunks of time they’ve certainly not opted out of life. If anything, maybe the rat racers are the ones missing out on life. Maybe a peripheral class? A parallel class? I don’t mean people who go on holiday for a week. I’m one of these people, and I’m fine with that. But there are people who hostel-hop long-term. They’re completely free. They book three days in a hostel but might extend their stay for another few days, as there’s no pressure to leave. The next step in their journey is completely dictated by them. Perhaps they’ll flat-hunt in a town they really like, and live there for a few months. Perhaps they’ll meet someone on a train, have a great conversation and carry on the next part of their journey together, simply choosing a place from a pinprick on a map. I spoke to Mick from Australia, who was thinking he might move to Romania for six months. Or a year. Just because. Eddie seemed to be practically resident in Transylvania Hostel. I’ve no idea how long he’d been there, but he seemed so comfortable there and embraced everything with gusto, teaching the newbies his zen-like ways. Richard [who everyone thought looked like Steve Aoki, mainly because he told everyone he kept getting told he looked like Steve Aoki. If someone didn’t know who Steve Aoki was, he would take them to the hostel computer and show them a Steve Aoki youtube] met some fellow Americans in a hostel in Bucharest and… well they just teamed up! I enjoyed the feeling of freedom that surrounded me when talking to them, yet I also enjoyed the anchor I had, knowing I had family and a job I like back home.

Tuesday would be my last full day so I had decided it would be filled with lovely things. In a nearby town called Turda I had heard there was a salt mine. Not just any salt mine, but a salt mine open to the public. I was public. I decided to go. As far as I could gather it’s still a working salt mine, but it has historical exhibits and active rehabilitation for respiratory system as well as a recreational area. Guess which area we spent most time in? Now we were quite lucky. Apparently there’s an old entrance and a new entrance. We just happened to get off the bus near the old entrance so we got to do the same tunnel walk the miners had been doing for… well, apparently a document in 1075 mentions these mines.10299512_10152413631671080_879095996404759587_n

The walls of the tunnel shone with salt. I quickly glanced around and on realising nobody was watching me, scratched some salt from the wall with my fingernail and touched it to my tongue. Unsurprisingly, it was salty! We studied several panels describing how the salt was mined in the old days, using horses to turn the mining wheels. Horses which died down there. Some say the unusual smell down there isn’t damp, or simply the smell of underground, but the smell of decomposed horses. The dead horses left our minds though when we reached Rudolf Mine, the central mine which covers I think seven floors which you can do on stairs or in a lift. Our cameras weren’t great underground, so here are some photos from the Salina Turda website.

Salty stairs!

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Salty stalagmites and stalagtites, and the Big Wheel.

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Boating lake four floors farther down, in Mine Teresa. Unearthly green lights shine from below the surface. Notice the marbled pattern the salt makes on the walls!

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And yes, we went boating. I got splashed a little from water from the lake. Yep, I licked my arm. Salty! Those of us on the boating lake were at the very bottom of this vast chasm and felt so isolated from reality down there that the young family in the next boat decided to try out the echo chamberness of the place, and were whistling and howling. I tried to stop myself but it didn’t last long and I managed a few howls and even a ‘Yodel-aye-ee-oo!’ I nearly ‘Ave Maria-ed’ but held it in. Andrew preferred to stay quiet, concentrating on rowing and worrying I would drop his camera into the lake.

Once we got back outside, we snacked, myself on a gingerbread cookie house I bought from a roadside stall. Andrew had read about a gorge/nature reserve which we weren’t sure if it was near, but it was called ‘Turda Gorge’ so it couldn’t be that far away… right? We started walking along roads with no footpaths, roads that seemed to be used solely by huge vrooming intimidating trucks. I was relieved when we took some steps down off the main road, although I admit I wasn’t sure if they were the right steps. The walk got increasingly more… I wouldn’t say rural exactly. We were passing shacks, things that resembled shanty towns. Vicious-sounding dogs barked from behind hedges and two stood in our path until their silent, staring owner called them off. Bags of rubbish appeared more and more frequently until getting off the path meant standing in things we might not want to stand in. I decided I might stop walking soon, but gave it a short while longer in case the gorge appeared. That’s my downfall, not wanting to miss out in case the gorge is just around the corner! We turned a corner on our narrow path only to find our way blocked by what may have been a bull. It didn’t seem particularly interested in us, but it had horns, and horns meant bulls, right? It also had rather low-hanging udders too so could have been female? We neared it and it swished its tail. This worried me, until I realised it was just swishing flies away. Then it released bladder and bowels. I figured this was a good sign though. I mean, what’s going to attack while having a toilet break? We quietly walked past it, trying not to move suddenly or anger it. Or giggle maniacally.

After cowstacle, we saw a nearby motorway bridge and thought that surely the gorge must be just beyond it, right? I walked under the motorway bridge with trepidation, seeing abandoned single shoes and feeling the uncomfortable uneven surface under my own shoes. I’ve never felt that comfortable around motorways anyway, seeing them as loud and confrontational, without the safety of footpaths. When we got close enough to the path we were planning to follow to see that it was actually a water drainage gutter, it was time for me to bow out. I didn’t want to be the next abandoned single shoe. Both of us were overly polite, me insisting I could call a taxi from a shop I could see in the distance, until we realised there was a river between myself and it, and Andrew being overly polite and insisting on walking me back to the town centre. I’ve never been so relieved to see a town centre in my life, and it took quite a while to get there, me feeling dreadful but minimising my dialogue to ‘yes’ and ‘no’ so I didn’t sound like I was in a weepy huff, which I was. I set him free when we reached town, figuring I could find the bus back on my own, and he could continue on his walk. I didn’t quite find the bus, but found a tourist information centre, in which the member of staff told me my bus was less than five minutes up the street. Win! I got the bus back to Cluj centre, found a bakery and got a caramel and almond strudel and struggled back to the hostel on sore feet and with fuzzy brain, collapsing into bed with my strudel and doing some packing for the next morning. Andrew appeared around three hours later, limping slightly with a tale of having to walk through some sort of briar patch and told me I’d perhaps been best to leave when I did, as the gorge was still quite some miles away and when he got there he’d missed the last bus back, and all taxis were busy. He had to then walk back into Turda centre and get a taxi back to the hostel. Yep, I maybe made the right choice. I think he’d even lost the will to take many gorge photos when he got there.

We still had a last wander round Cluj though, going to Toulouse for some raspberry lemonade and meatballs with sauce and dipping bread. We were too late for a last Betty Ice so grabbed some buns from a bakery at closing time, eating them on the street and thinking that we quite liked this Romania place. I knew the next day would consist of a taxi, two planes, a bus and another taxi, so I glady-but-sadly went to bed. And when I got back to Dublin and Belfast? Yep, it was raining heavily!

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