SALiNA TURDA A long, salt encrusted corridor stretched before me as far as the eye could see. The resounding chill that I had felt as soon as I entered the mines deepened as I neared the dark interior, my careful footsteps echoing on the damp walls. The floors were neither rough nor smooth, but glistened with brine that had collected over the ages. When I had nearly been convinced that it would never end, the tunnel led us to a room the likes of which I had never seen before. The walls were magnificent, swirled with shades ivory and charcoal, making them seem not unlike my favorite kind of Nutella. Small, white ridges were trying to creep up these walls from both sides, like powdery, snowy mountains of salt. As I ventured deeper into the mine, I discovered an echo chamber, and a large anteroom with strange, wooden machinery in the center. I also found an area with abandoned mine carts hidden behind a wooden fence, and a wooden staircase that seemingly led to nowhere. It made me wonder about when the mine was last in use. Was there anyone around who could still remember what was at the top of those stairs? Nothing that I had seen could have prepared me for what was waiting at the end of the salt maze. I found myself at the mouth of a gigantic cavern that stretched 90 meters underground and was nearly as wide. Underneath me I could see a large recreational area, with a mini golf course and even a Ferris wheel! Further below I spied a black lake, glistening at the bottom of the grotto like a hidden gem. We chose to avoid the long lines for the elevators by using the stairs for our descent. According to the notices on the walls, there were 13 flights of stairs leading to the first area and another 13 from there to the lake. It is easy to lose count when you are watching your footing, but the toil of the steps was manageable enough to be forgotten as soon as the majesty of my destination was in full view. Lovely wooden structures haloed with light rose above the dark surface of the water, with bridges branching out to connect them.
The entire scene looked like it belonged on an alien planet or in a sci-fi movie more than at the bottom of an old mine. The moment I noticed the small yellow rowboats bobbing in the water, I knew that one of them was meant for me. I climbed down the steps to the wooden dock, excited at the thrill of doing something new, but simultaneously nervous at the prospect of falling into a lake, especially an icy underground one. Stepping onto the boat without slipping was easier then I had expected, and then before I knew it, we had left the safety of the dock and sailed off into the great unknown, without so much as a life vest or rowing lesson. Managing the little boat proved to be quite simple, despite occasional minor troubles in maneuvering and a near collision with fellow rowers. This allowed me to enjoy the sheen of the dark water lapping on our oars, the magnificent mineral formations on the walls and the aura of joy reflecting off the faces of fellow travelers. The 20 minutes were short but satisfying, and well worth the 10 lei they had costed. Coasting through a black, shimmering lake with such an amazing upwards view felt truly priceless. After my brief underground boating experience, I joined the queue waiting for the elevator that would take me to one of the upper levels. There was no time for underground ping-pong or any of the other amenities offered by Salina Turda- the second leg of our journey awaited us! We exited the mine from a different area then that from which we had entered, and were led to a building-this time above groundand sudden immersion in the stifling summer heat. My visit to the salt mine was possibly the most remarkable experiences that I had enjoyed so far in Romania, and definitely one that I would like to relive. My only regret would be that I was unable to write my initials on one of the wooden underground structures, where they would join centuries of writing; to my great despair, I had left my pen at home.
I t’s a sunny July morning, the twenty fifth to be exact. We have just left the salty giant tubes and caves of Salina Turda, and have just finished eating our pizza slices from the last lunch break. It was finally time for some medieval action.
W e finally arrive to the city, or village, of Sigisoara. Certainly, the first thing to notice is the amazing Ro-
manian architecture of the houses all around, and in the distance you can see a medieval scent in a castle’s towers, which was breathtaking. As we took the way up, hungry for a close-up view; we stopped to purchase the most needed and mandatory thing in existence, bottles of water! Along with some ice cream, but that’s not as important.
H igher and closer to the castle, we realized there was a 10 Lei fee to enter (Everything is 10 Lei!), we knew it was
definitely worth it even though we haven’t seen anything yet. A little bit higher, and the first thing I see is the thing I wanted most.. MEDIEVAL ARMORY AND WEAPONS! It was another 10 Lei to try it on, but didn’t matter AT ALL to me.
While wearing the armor and switching weapons
from sword to two-handed sword to battle-axe; people all around were taking pictures of me, including my team mates. And I felt like a famous and cruel Viking warrior.. It was perfect. As we went further into the medieval world, several booths; or tents, piqued our interest.
T he booths contained a variety of items and activities, ranging from ancient artifacts, to medie-
val armors and weapons which were portrayed by people who wore them. Also, an interesting object was a wooden pillory, you know; the thing you put your head on for it to be chopped off? Yes, that thing. A few meters forward was enough to reach a wooden stage that goes back to the middle ages, a band stood proud on the stage, clothed with antique Romanian traditional dresses in order to give an amazing performance for the whole gathered crowd to enjoy. More booths took place on the way, a few of them sold expensive but irresistible souvenirs, I couldnâ€™t resist two to be exact, a wooden tooth bracelet and a metal revolver gun necklace.
A fter a few minutes of wandering in the Middle Ages we finally ended up meeting with our team mates,
then we decided to have a drink in a cafĂŠ-bar nearby, the bartenders and everyone working inside were dressed in ancient clothes, which gave the bar a lovely medieval theme.
Ihome, t was finally time to meet up in order to get back we saw some more medieval beauty on the way
down, something we could never tired of. A few hours trip was waiting for us but we didnâ€™t care. We were certainly tired; but also certainly satisfied with our trip back in time.
fter spending more than a week in Cluj, Sighisoara struck me as calm and beautifully conventional. Everything about it was charming. The houses, the streets, the people… they all had a certain aura of peace and tranquility to them, easing a visitor’s mind and getting rid of the stress and anxiety his everyday life causes him; urging him to slow down his otherwise fast-paced life and take the time to appreciate his surroundings and the sense of serenity only a quiet town like Sighisoara can offer. With its cobbled streets and small, coloraful houses, this city reinforced the saying “beauty resides in the simple things”. It’s not walking down the alleys as much as it is the feeling that comes along with it. You’re welcome and safe in those streets and you feel it. That’s what makes them so inviting.
here arenâ€™t many tourist attractions in Sighisoara except for the clock tower, the house of Vlad Dracula, the citadel itself, and of course, the annual medieval festival. We were lucky enough to visit the town while the festival was still ongoing and the citadel streets were filled with booths showcasing medieval armors, weapons, clothes, music, as well as a sword fighting competition. You could even try on armor and have your picture taken if youâ€™d like.
side from the material aspects, the other appealing (and much underrated) side of the city is its locals. I got the chance to meet American writer David Blum who in turn introduced us to a traditional Romanian family who happily hosted us in their home, offering us corn and traditional home made alcohol. This experience was by far my favorite part of Sighisoara. Not only did I get to spend time and talk to a writer (who proved to be one of the most interesting people Iâ€™ve ever met), but I also got a glimpse of the real Romania. This couple took Romanian hospitality to a whole new level and even though we didnâ€™t speak the same language and we had barely met, they made me feel comfortable and at home and I knew they were two of the nicest, most genuine people I would meet during my stay.
his city seems to be the perfect destination for someone whoâ€™s looking to spend some time away from the stress that comes from an everyday life in a busy city. Its landscape is exactly what anyone would describe when asked to picture a relaxing place to live in. With its small traditional houses and inviting streets, Sighisoara is an expert in the art of tempting visitors to stay the night, which I almost did.
I went to Sighisoara with a single goal in mind: meet David Blum. Which is why when the time came, I happily traded the cobbled streets for a hotel lobby where we were supposed to meet him. It probably doesn’t make sense to most people. Why would anyone abandon charming alleys animated by the annual medieval festival? It’s definitely something you don’t see every day. With its display of weapons, tools, clothes, and even sword-fighting competition, the festival is quite an attraction. And was it on a different day, I would be more than captivated by it. But something else had captured my attention and wouldn’t let go. Daniela had mentioned a while ago that David Blum was in Sighisoara and that we will meet him when we visit the city and this was all it took for me to forget about the festival. Here I am two days later and honestly still not over it. Had you told me a year ago that I would meet an American writer in Romania, sit in his apartment and talk about books and writing and history before walking around the city meeting people and visiting a synagogue together, I certainly wouldn’t believe you. But it happened and I couldn’t be more grateful. Let’s start from the beginning, shall we? It had finally arrived. The day we would visit Sighisoara and I would meet David Blum. I didn’t know what to expect so I googled him before leaving for the city. Let me say it now, it didn’t help. No search engine could have prepared me for meeting him. Daniela and I had been waiting in the lobby for a while when she went to check if he was inside. While she was gone, an old man walked in, passed by me, and went to the reception desk. I barely spared him a glance. That was until I heard the receptionist address him as “Professor Blum” and watched her motion towards me. Saying that I jumped to my feet is an understatement. I went over to him and introduced myself. Daniela came back soon after and we were on our way. He invited us into his apartment (a very traditional-looking apartment) and we sat down to talk. We talked about everything and nothing.
The project, Lebanon, Romania, America, writing, books, you name it. I was fascinated by how genuine he was. Not only is he immensely cultivated and open to everything, he is kind, smart, modest, and what I would find out later on, incredibly generous. I learned that he renovated a synagogue in Sighisoara and soon enough, we were off to visit it. To do so, we needed the key which was in the possession of the Romanian couple who tended to the synagogue. We stopped by their house and they immediately invited us in even though they only knew David. They were traditional people in a traditional home and they took the famous Romanian hospitality to a whole new level. We didn’t speak the same language and needed Daniela to play translator for us but they were some of the nicest people I’ve ever met. In the time we spent with them, I learned more about David Blum than I did while talking to him or through the internet. All I had to do was watch them while they were talking about him and even if I didn’t understand a single word, I knew they were speaking highly of him. The way their faces would light up makes it obvious that he’s done so much for them and for people in general and it was one more reason for me to admire him. I believe that talent can get you far in life but if you don’t have compassion to complement it, you will get lost. I found that David has both along with the eagerness to help others without looking for credit or anything in return. He’s using his platform to give back to society and if there’s a quality that I value the most, it’s this one. I could seriously speak about him for hours and still have a lot to say. I honestly can’t wait to go back to Sighisoara to meet him again and have more time to talk. When he offered us to stay for the weekend, we almost did. I wanted to. Admittedly, it would’ve been irrational but I was too awe-struck to care. But we did the reasonable thing and went back to Cluj with the promise to come back in the near future. He gave me a copy of his book and I can’t wait to start reading it so we can talk about it the next time we meet. I am literally counting the days till we get on a bus and head to Sighisoara again.