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Come Fly With Me To Transylvania

There is a ferocious argument raging in my living room, yep that’s right, a ferocious argument and why?

Let’s rewind about 30 seconds.

Grandma: I am not going to slave away carrying 66 bags all the way to the airport on PUBLIC TRANSPORT!

Dad: You will not have to slave away! Public Transport here in Budapest is extremely efficient and we do not have 66 bags! It will only take us 45 minutes tops to get to the airport!

Grandma: I want to go by Taxi!!

Dad: We have a monthly pass for Public Transport! We can save so much money! No Taxi!

So this is what has been playing on replay for the past hour while my Mum, my  brother and I try to squeeze in some final items into our carry-on luggage. “Of course we do not have 66 bags” as grandma asserts (in case you are not aware, 66 is a big number in emphasizing things amongst Transylvanian Hungarians.) We actually only have 10 and considering all of the gifts and clothes we are bringing for relatives plus our own essentials, we’re actually doing quite well. We might even have broken a record somewhere. Then even more havoc breaks out as Grandma makes a dive for the phone, to call a cab. Dad tries to reach the phone first but when Grandma wants something, she can be as fast as lightning. In a flash she whips out the phone number and presses the button to call. Dad watches, head in hands as Grandma smugly calls an airport van to come and pick us up. After about two minutes Grandma finishes the phone call and puts down the phone. Dad shakes his head sorrowfully.

Grandma: Well, that wasn’t so hard was it?

The rest of us can do nothing but laugh. We finish packing, lickety-split and take all our bags out to the front gate where the shiny white van pulls up. We load everything on and pull away from the curb, tires screeching. It seems even the driver is somewhat anxious. There is an air of excitement amongst all of us and we are bouncing off each other in antici—pation. Where are we going you ask? The breathtakingly beautiful Carpathian mountains in Transylvania are our destination!  The birthplace of my mother, AND of my Grandmother. 

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This is not the first time we have traveled here. Our first time as a family was in 2007, but that now sits as a hazy blur in my memory, as I was only just six years old. What I remember from then is just a mix of images from the photos of our family gatherings. Earlier in the year, in January we came for a short ten-day stay.  It was somewhat magical with the picture postcard, silver pine tree forests, ladened with snow with wintery wonderland snowscapes as far as the eye could see. It was so enchantingly white and crisp that anyone could get lost in natural beauty.

Transylvania in Winter

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But this time a couple of things are different.

  1. It is now summer.

  2. Grandma is coming with us, making this trip an extra special visit as three generations are returning to the Motherland.

  3. We will be spending two months, not ten days.

The trip to the airport goes lightning fast and before we know it we are standing in line, ready to check in. But there is one problem, one obstacle still stands in our way. We have too many carry-ons. But don’t worry, we have a plan. Just as the attendant steps towards us, Lalika and I expertly step in front of three carry-ons, blocking them with our backs. The attendant nods and smiles at us, beckoning us to move on to checkpoint number two. At this next checkpoint, we do the same thing, except now we are aided by Grandma. We pass through once more but now at the final checkpoint there is nothing we can do. We cannot block any more bags. If the attendant realizes we have too many bags we will be relegated to discount airline hell! This is where they discover you have exceeded the number of allowed luggage and they revel in charging you three times the cost of your airfare for each bag that you are over the limit with. This is it, the moment of truth. The attendant steps forward and takes our passports. Nothing yet. Then we place the two big suitcases onto the scale for them to be weighed and transported by conveyer belt to the plane’s hold. We have five extra carry-ons left, two of them oversized. The attendant looks over at them. As deft as  Obi Wan Kenobi, we use the Jedi Mind Trick flashing a smile and waving our hand saying, “You don’t need to see these suitcases”.

“We don’t need to see these suitcases” the attendant repeats.

“Here are your boarding passes,” we say.

“Here are your boarding passes,” she repeats.

“Have a nice flight!” we say

“Have a nice flight!” she repeats.

“Move along.”

“Move along.”

This gets us all into Mos Eisely without The Empire’s attention…UH! I mean on the airplane.

The attendant actually prints our boarding passes and without even a glance towards our bags, she wishes us a nice flight. Who knew that these Jedi Mind Tricks actually worked!? We then pass through security and ticket checking. Finally the pink and purple jet awaits us. The gates open and the people pour out, a zombie hoard, scrambling to get into the plane. With such short flights (only 45 minutes) they do not allocate seat numbers that is, unless you pay some ridiculous amount of money and there is no one amongst us who has chosen this option. Instead it is a mad flurry to see who can get into the plane first to get the best seats. With Lalika’s speediness and Grandma’s guile we secure five seats for us all in a split second without having to knock too many people over. I do feel bad about that old lady with the walking frame though…Just Kidding! Now we can finally enjoy the flight. And so we do.

Our flight takes us over plains filled with wild horses, towering mountains and rivers are sparkling with the reflective light of the sun shining down on them. The 45 minute flight, speeds away like the birds below us and well before expected, we are descending into Marosvasarhely (Tirgu Mures). We collect our bags and burst out of the doors, straight into the arms of my godparents, who have come to pick us up in their van, which is almost an exact replica of the airport van back in Hungary. As we loaded all our bags into the van all I could think about was “I am so excited! I can’t wait to see everybody!” After initial greetings and conversations, Lalika and I plugged in joint earplugs and listened to our favourite tunes as we drive past beautiful scenery that includes rolling green hills, dancing sunflowers, corn and wheat fields. As we drive through the picturesque villages it feels like we have travelled back in time for all around us horses and carts are driven through the streets by village people going about their daily business. A lot of children are riding either upfront or in the back and there are children playing in the streets and on the dirt roads, dressed in frocks and smocks with straw hats. This is not a scene you would see in Australia or America, but there is also a strong contrast here, as expensive European cars zip past us pulling up to towering mansions that line the highway. The one thing that really pulls me back into the 21st century is driving past a group of old ladies sitting in a high-end cafe and all of them are tapping and texting on their tablets or iPhones! Grandma ogles at this and makes a comment that she never thought these old ladies, who had probably grown up barefoot in the fields, would today be spending their time Snapchating. It was certainly a very interesting ride and we are enjoying it immensely.

We are getting close now as we approach the city of Segesvár or Sighișoara. It is a beautiful city with a classic 12th century citadel castle overlooking it, centered at a very strategic crossing of roads.

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It is the birth place of Vlad Cepes, otherwise known as The Wallachian Prince, Dracula. This is the one major thing that irks all Transylvanians, that the tales of an inventive Irishman are to most people the only thing they know of this rich land. When I think of what Hollywood has done to portray this myth, it is less than a joke and more a sign of ignorance that the significance of the people and the places here can be brushed over with one simple overexploited story. While it is a well-written book, it does nobody justice to think of Transylvania even for a moment as the land of Dracula and if you are part of the crowd who is interested, I would encourage you to look beyond the cheap clichés.

We continue along. While the major roads here are now well maintained, the fact that they travel up through a number of mountain ranges with little chance to overtake, all it takes is a truck or two to turn a 90 km journey into a two hour ride. Thankfully our ride is just an hour and a half long as we pull up to my cousin’s house, which is located in the small town of Alsóboldogfalva (“Lower Happy Village”) in the province of Hargita.

The moment we step out of the van we are once again smothered by loving arms as our family greet us. My grandfather (on my mother’s side) had seven brothers and sisters so you can imagine that we have a pretty big family here in Transylvania and I haven’t even mentioned my grandma’s side yet! We shut the door on the cool breeze and enter into the living room where Grandma is already in deep conversation with her sister-in-law about whether they should bake the potatoes or fry them. It shouldn’t be a hard decision because for Lalika, any potato is a good potato.

I know we have addressed the Dracula thing, but really, Transylvania should be known as having the best potatoes and potato bread in the world! I have tried them from Tasmania to Idaho, all the way to their place of origin in the Andes Mountains of South America and it is the Transylvanian Csik-i (pronounced ‘cheeky’, this denotes coming from the region of Csik) potatoes that take the cake…the potato cake that is!

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Lalika and I make our way upstairs where we catch up with our cousins. It has been a few months since we last saw them and so we pass the afternoon talking with them and playing games of Uno. Soon dinner is ready and we are called to eat a three course meal that my great aunt put together to the dismay of grandma who insisted we don’t need a big meal. These arguments are part of a well defined ceremony of guest reception here. This involves a complex set of too-ing and frow-ing of compliments, mixed in with the customary number of “OHHH You shouldn’t haves!” followed by sayings such as “Have some more, don’t starve like you do at home,” with conclusions of “I don’t think I will ever eat again, I am so full.”

We all sit down for a delicious dinner where we talk, laugh and go back for second and then third servings. The whole experience brings a warm feeling into my heart and it stays there for the whole remainder of our stay. 

Stay tuned for the next instalment of our travels through Transylvania.

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