Mine and Robert’s trip started in the early morning of the 27th with a 6 hour personal train ride to Sighetu Marmatiei, which is the city next to Kevin’s site. We arrived at the train station at noon where we were met by Kevin and Anthony and after checking into our hostel, headed to the center to see the festivities that were taking place for the winter traditions festival. When we arrived to the center, there was a parade going on with groups from many parts of Romania representing their local area’s traditional dress and customs for this specific time of year. The groups were also caroling from time to time and the group from Botosani, the north eastern county of Romania, came dressed as bears and goats and performed traditional dances that go with those costumes. We continued walking through the center and saw some dance performances while feasting on a piping hot bowl of gulas. After we had finished with our meal, we walked around some more an then headed to Toma’s house (Kevin’s counterpart). We spent a few hours hanging out with Toma and his wife while enjoying some sarmale, aiutura, and homemade wine that Kevin and Toma had made earlier in the year. We ended our day rather early since we had barely slept the night before and had 2 more days to explore Sighet.
On our second day, the first order of business was Ukraine. Sighet is on the border and after a 20 minute walk, we were at the customs point. Many Romanians go into Ukraine to shop because things are so much cheaper there than on the other side and what we encountered was nothing but Romanian. We barely heard any Ukrainian being spoken and the main difference was the much poorer quality of infrastructure. We hung around across the border a little bit and explored the shops and bought some delicious chocolates. Once we got back to the Romanian side, we headed to the hostel to meet up with another PCV, Whitley, that had just arrived. We hung out at the hostel for a while and then headed to a very traditional Romanian restaurant which sits right next to the childhood home of Elie Wiesel, the famous Jewish author and Nobel laureate. We spent quite a bit of time at the restaurant where we enjoyed meals such as tocanita, paprikas, and mamaliga cu branza. We ended our night there with some live populara music and great company.
Our last day in Sighet was our most eventful. We started off by heading to the communist museum which is situated within an old communist prison and gulag. It not only had a lot of info about Romanian communism but also about the regime in other countries as well. After the museum we roamed around the Russian market and then headed to Sapanta where the Merry Cemetery is located. The Merry Cemetery is kind of what it sounds like. All of the tombstones are a vibrant blue and have pictures on them with a rhyming story about the deceased’s life and the way he/she died. The reasons and stories are obviously fairly somber maybe even more than at a normal cemetery because you feel a closer connection to the people because you know more about them. After making it back to Sighet in the freezing cold, we chilled at the hostel for a while and then finished off a great trip to Maramures at an American karaoke bar.