In praise of Romanian hospitality

Earlier this week, I hiked from Râmet Gorge to the tiny village of Întregalde. I knew in advance that there weren’t any pensions and that I would have to rely on the locals – which feels a bit scary for someone who likes to plan everything in detail. But I was in for a pleasant surprise.

I got lost somewhere between Piatra Cetii and Întregalde, so I decided to take a shortcut to the road. I was pretty exhausted by that time so I decided to wait for a ride to Întregalde. The second car stopped, and belonged to an older couple from Întregalde. The car was filled with fresh produce from the market in Alba Iulia, but there was still space for me in between the cherries and apricots. As we slowly drove through the Întregalde Gorge (the road was very bad), I asked whether they knew of any accommodation in Întregalde. They didn’t, but Maria, as I later found out she is called, quickly said I could come stay with them – which I gladly accepted.

We stop at a beautiful yellow house at the foot of Galdiţei Gorge (there is no end to the gorges in this area). Maria shoves me into a room with a sofa bed. I ask if I can pay something for my stay; she won’t have it. When I enter the kitchen a bit later, her husband, Clement, and her very cheerful brother Sabin who is visiting, are already busy devouring scrambled eggs and slănină. Maria asks if I’m hungry, and upon confirmation shuffles away to fry me some eggs in another kitchen – the one I am sitting in has an old-fashioned wood stove but doesn’t appear to be in use – there are shoes in it instead of wood. She reappears with three fried eggs, bread, tomatoes, cucumbers, slănină and sausage – everything homemade or homegrown except for the bread. They have two cows, a pig, sheep, goats, chickens and lots of bees. And a vegetable garden. Clement’s pension, as I later find out, is a meagre 1100 RON a month (less than €250), but they seem to be doing quite well nevertheless. I don’t know how they manage it.

After supper, Maria goes to make a fire in the bathroom so that I can have a shower, and instructs me to have a rest while the water is being heated. So I oblige, and snuggle up under a pile of blankets, guarded by a fluffy Father Christmas flanked by two equally fluffy tigers and a rather sad-looking unicorn. I rest for about an hour and then go into the shower. Maria gives me towels. A minute later, she knocks on the door again – with better towels. Bless her.

I sleep until ten. When I’m ready for breakfast, Maria – who has probably been up for a long time, busying around – fills the table with freshly cut bread, zacuscă (a wonderful aubergine-based vegetable spread),  a huge slab of slănină, two types of sausage, cheese, tomatoes, cucumbers, boiled eggs, and a cup of hot milk, which she places in a boil of cold water to cool. Later on, she brings in a bucket of smântănă and a bowl of their own honey. As if I’d starve. I eat until I feel stuffed. When I ask about their children, who live in Italy and Spain, she brings a photo album and proudly shows me pictures of her son, daughter and five grandchildren. In the meantime she pours me ţuică, which I don’t feel is a good idea at this time of day – I tell her maybe later. She pours it back into the Grolsch bottle. There are four clocks in the kitchen. All of them show different times. None of them the right one.

After breakfast, I go for a short walk in the Galdiţei Gorge. Afterwards, she offers me ţuică again – I tell her I have a bit of a headache. She immediately gives me a paracetamol. When it’s time to leave, I suggest we take some pictures together. Sabin jokingly asks if he is wearing the right attire for a picture – he is shirtless. I promise to send the pictures when I get home; Maria writes down their address. I get prickly kisses from the men; Maria walks me to the bus stop. She wants to give me their phone number too; then realizes she doesn’t know it by heart. She says I should just drop by again. She puts my bag on the bus and kisses me warmly.

The bus proceeds slowly for the first 6km or so; the road is very holey. Almost everyone waves as the bus passes by. The leaves of beech and hazel trees make a squeaking sound as they brush against the windows. What a country. I’m glad I got lost.

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