30 August, 2011
I visited Săpânţa today, a village 18km from Sighet. There is no public transport there, but my hostel suggested hitch-hiking. I met two other guests who had done it with no problem. Apparently it is a recognised custom. You just offer to pay the driver 5 Lei (about A$1.50, or what a bus fare would have been). I made an early start at 8.00am and headed down the road looking for a suitable place to solicit a ride. I remembered advice not to stick out a thumb. Apparently that is considered a rude gesture. Some sort of flapping motion with the hand is preferred. I feel awkward about hitching. I have never done it before in my life. I soon found myself on the road out of town, and being a lovely day, not too hot, I just got on a roll and kept going. I ended up walking the whole 18km. It took me five hours (about 1.00pm when I got to Săpânţa), although I stopped at cafes several times, for breakfast, coffees and soft drinks.
The first place I visited in Săpânţa (a kilometre off the main road) was the monastery with a wooden church which is said to be the tallest wooden church in the world and the tallest wooden building of any kind in Europe (75m). The Maramures region is famous for its wooden churches, with brightly painted interiors, with Biblical scenes painted directly onto the wood. The oldest are from the 14th c. This one was quite modern though.
The second place I visited was the Cimiterul Vesel, the “Merry” (or “Cheerful”) cemetery. It was full of graves with wooden “headstones” with colourful paintings depicting a scene from the life of the departed one, together with some irreverent ironic or humorous doggerel verse, peppered with local slang. This style was started by a guy with the surname Patras in 1935 and it snowballed from there. I can’t read Romanian, but from the paintings you can generally tell the occupation of the deceased and sometimes the manner of death. The crosses are carved out of oak. Over time the paint fades, never restored, and the wood weathers, gradually rendering the poems illegible.
I was fortunate enough to get a lift back to Sighet. I didn’t even have to hitch-hike (so I’m still a virgin in that respect). I was having lunch at a restaurant in Săpânţa when three obvious tourists (from Spain) walked in. I was bold enough to approach them and ask if they had a car and were going back to Sighet. That was the case and they invited me to accompany them in the spare seat. I left 10 Lei (about A$2.50) on the seat when I said goodbye. They tried to give it back but I insisted. Enough for a couple of coffees or 3-4 beers. That was twice as much as I would have given a local, but a meaningless amount for them. But I was so grateful I really wanted to give them something as a gesture.