When I was told that we would be staying in Călimănești, a health spa resort near to the route to Transylvania, my imagination piqued. Transylvania for me is synonymous with Vlad, Dracula, Nosferatu, vampires, shapeshifters, the cult Hammer House of Horror movies featuring Peter Cushing, Blade, 30 Days of Night, so I said to my husband, Vincent, I need to take a cross with me or some garlic, or both. As I did my final case packing check the night before departure, Vincent presented me with a cute wooden cross he had made. Phew, for those with my imagination, I would be safe and also it was something made from love, so also nice to keep close to me. For those without imagination, have you got a sense of humour then? Passed on the garlic idea, although good for deterring vampires and colds, it would just pong too much in my bag.
I also thought of the traditional Romanian dancing and liked the idea of that, of staying at the base of the mountains in a more remote part of Romania, surely picturesque, and well, if there was snow, it would look pretty, of exploring the natural area around us. I thought of meeting people from other countries and exchanging info on their cultures and about where they worked, their hobbies, would there be similarities or differences. I tried to learn a few Romanian phrases beforehand, just the simple stuff to try to get by and show willing. I was excited about the whole prospect and hoped that we would give it our best shot for Manchester. Also, I took some Blackpool Rock and postcards to show off Blackpool Tower, which was designed by Manchester architects. I didn’t really know my co-travellers, Linda, Lee and Ray and so thought, it will be nice to get to know them during this shared experience in a country unknown to me….
So, post Romania, I have happy memories of a different cultural experience. I enjoyed the International Lunch, the entertainment and amazing variety of food from each country. How we all take the same ingredients globally, but yet turn them into different recipes. I enjoyed the hospitality of Rux, the wonderful Romanian co-ordinator. She is so informative and goes out of her way to explain so much. Oh yes! I loved the traditional dancing every evening, linking arms and dancing in circles and being whisked away to the rhythms and tempo of the music. We all joined in, amazing how music can break language barriers, on the dance floor the dance was the language. I enjoyed visiting the medieval Cozia monastery, circa 1388, so well preserved and atmospheric, the trip to the Salt Mines. I was enthralled by the chapel down there, the dance areas with quaint bars, go-karting, sculptures, eating areas and the natural displays in the walls of the cave, left by the sea eroding away into the caves.
I enjoyed visiting the Vâlcea County open air museum. Real ancient farm and domestic buildings from all parts of Romania have been reconstructed to great detail in the museum, complete with original artefacts inside them. So interesting, and the sun shone down on us so gloriously, overall the temps were not that bad during our stay. I enjoyed the meal and dancing in the former toppled Communist leader, Ceaușescu’s personal villa. There were some gorgeous contemporary artworks on display. It felt strange to be in there, given the political connection, but then it felt moving to be there, not many English people could say they have done that and to just know now that ordinary Romanian people now have the freedoms that many other citizens of other countries have, and we all sometimes take that freedom for granted. I had a huge laugh from the Dracula rehearsals and the genius of the person who came up with the idea to make Dracula fangs from flip-chart paper, spontaneous improvisation should not be knocked.
I did get to know a little more about cultural differences from the participants from the other countries, a little about that area of Romania, even in that short space of time and I did get to know a little more about Linda, Lee and Ray. We had some laughs and there were some organisational difficulties out there, which can be expected hosting an event for different nationalities. But, the good times made up for the slip-ups. I also came to know, that when put together, people from other countries can get along well and share some good times together. I am glad I went to Romania and have been part of the Grundtvig experience. By the way…I can still see my reflection in the mirror, for those who know and yes! I aim to return one day so I can visit Castle Bran, Dracula’s hang out and of course, monument of historical significance and take in the beautiful surrounding countryside and more of traditional Romania.
Pam Armstrong, March 2014