14 Nov 2017 Going Local in rural Romania
“I just got the best idea: You have to go and see my father! This juice is made with his organic vegetables and he makes chutneys from the bottom as well as other typical dishes from Western Romania.”
Andrada stands in front of us and waves eagerly with her arms. It’s got dark since we came to her guesthouse Casa ȚaraBeiușului, but the lamp in the sealing casts a light over her cheerful face. Framed by leafs and clusters of grapes, the outdoor kitchen we’re sitting in has a deeper shade of green now. We´re about to finish a huge local goat cheese and a bowl of chunky chili jam, the latter of which was cooked in this very kitchen a moment ago. The food is served together with homemade tomato juice, a local red wine and the airiest bread buns you can imagine. Still hot and ashy from baking in the antique oven behind us, as it was us – the visitors – and the hostess that made them two hours ago.
“My father grows vegetables as a hobby. He´s so funny and friendly, and would love to have you over. He even has black tomatoes! And amazing peppers!”
Andrada catches her breath, looks at us and takes another bite of the bun with chili jam. Then she turns to our tour guide Diana and talks quickly in Romanian. We soon understand a visit to Dad will be squeezed into our already tight travel plan the next day. As told in my previous post (*LINK), I´m on a four-day long trip in the mountain range called PădureaCraiului, which is a rather unknown part of the Apuseni mountains yet located in the popular region Transylvania (I know – lots of beautiful names, right!). Among a series of blog posts about the experience, this is the second one covering my cliché-like, yet fearless statement that the journey made me feel like traveling in time.
“He also makes many kinds of Pálinka, obviously. Oh wait! I´ve completely forgot to serve you Pálinka. I´m so sorry!”
Running for the bottle of Pálinka on the kitchen bench, Andrada shakes her head over having forgot the mandatory liquor of the region. We get each our ceramic glass filled up with the famous 60% fruit brandy, while our hostess impatiently describes the piece of wood inside of the bottle as an experiment by her husband. These particular drops are supposed to taste a bit like Whiskey, and I must say: Husband nailed it. Up until this point in the country, I´ve had my fair share of Pálinka, but it never tasted anywhere near Whiskey.
Speaking of nailing things; Andrada is one of these rare inspirational hosts you meet; a person you quickly want to know better. First of all, she speaks English very well, which makes communication easy. Secondly, and a lot more important, she acts as if hosting visitors is her biggest passion in life. Already when walking up to her guesthouse (among geese, stray dogs, grannies and kettle) we felt welcome; because there she stood with her toddler on the arm and greeted us. Thirdly, her role in the accommodation business is quite unique given her young age and passion for history conservation.
While touring the property earlier, she explained how her grandparents lived here for decades, and how much she loved spending time here. After their passing, Andrada and her husband took it over and renovated and decorated it into a holiday-friendly space. Always cautious about not adding anything modern, they´ve instead aimed at furnishing the rooms and outdoor area with all kinds of old gems from her grandparents´ era. These include handcrafted wooden tables and chairs, beds with hay matrasses, century old colourful costumes and embroidered, woven textile carpets. As the couple grew tired of the busy city life, they soon decided to start hosting visitors in the protected house.
Although an ongoing project, Casa ȚaraBeiușului opened in 2015 and offers an authentic experience for guests who want an insight into traditional Romanian village life. For the ones unfamiliar with the emphasis on cultural heritage in destinations, it´s an important feature of Responsible Tourism, and understood to stimulate respect and understanding of other cultures and consequently promoting peace and understanding. Ethical Travel Portal is a tour operator who takes these matters seriously, and thus made sure my trip included both PădureaCraiului´s rich traditions and diverse activities related to eco-tourism. The latter will be explored further in the next blog post.
“Our focus is to offer a place for people to enjoy slow tourism, but we do have electricity, hot water, wifi and heaters! Such a standard is important nowadays, although young travellers from Romania and surrounding countries aren´t very interested in an old guesthouse. They tell me they rather visit their grandmother if living traditionally is their desire, Andrada laughs followed by a sip of Pálinka.”
As huge parts of rural Romania still are old-fashioned per definition, this makes sense. But to me (and probably other travellers from Western Europe), a place like Casa ȚaraBeiușului is a gem. Our guide Diana who couldn´t try the Pálinka due to driving, poor thing, reminds us it´s way over bedtime and that Mrs. Pálinka will be uncomfortably present tomorrow morning if we don´t call it a night. As we walk onto the pitch black street, we repeat comments about the delicious meal and lovely company in between goodbye kisses for the hostess and her still awake (!) daughter. Last thing we hear before driving off is the chirp “Go see my dad!” Shortly after I rest a spinning head on my pillow, full of enthusing impressions about lives I didn´t know a few days ago. Attended by an intense starry behind the curtain and that special feeling of freedom you only get when on an adventure; I gratefully fall asleep…
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