5th – 10th August 2013
Our nip into The Ukraine was pleasantly surprising, we were expecting there to be a lot more Soviet influences and for the buildings to be more…well, grey. Instead the architecture in L’Viv, the countryside, the immaculate Lada’s and the eclectic mix of transport on the roads made our hearts sore, not to mention the surprisingly hip, not-at-all-communist-feeling city center.
Cobbled, pedestrianised streets lined with funky cafes and restaurants and small boutiques on every corner, I could have stayed a week and mooched around people watching but as always, and not regretfully, we had a wedding to get to.
We had to get back across the Ukrainian border into Hungary and then into Romania in a matter of days, a good 500km schlep, 9 hours driving without delays.
Of course we were delayed getting out of The Ukraine. We had a thorough examination of our personal selves and Peggy, including cavity searches (on Peggy only thankfully), the bed being taken up and the storage trunks emptied, behind the wheels and inside all of Peggy’s lining. Apparently cigarette smuggling is a big issue at that border crossing.
We had merely a quick paperwork check getting into Hungary and then into Romania and we were 2 hours away from Cluj Napoca, our next wedding destination.
After 9 hours solid driving we found a perfect spot to wild camp, up a hill overlooking all of the twinkling lights of the countryside next to a huge monument.
The weather was absolutely scorching and the clear blue sky turned a million shades of colour before darkening to a perfect indigo glow. We slept with the curtains open knowing we wouldn’t be disturbed and looking forward to being awoken by the first light.
The scenery on our final leg into Cluj was beautiful, a perfect mixture of farmland and bulging green forest, the sun was so hot and we felt like we were on a summer holiday, driving with the radio on loud and the windows down.
We zipped through quaint little villages and fought our way through the thronging four legged traffic. Sunflowers bobbed their happy heads at us and the sky reflected the golden barley like a mirror, making everything glow.
We arrived at our pre-arranged campsite (not our doing of course, but Alida’s) and found a spot under a tree in the shade. We strung up a washing line and sat in the minimal breeze made by our drying sheets, eating salad and enjoying the warmth on our skin.
We had a couple of days to relax after our long drive and we really enjoyed it! The sun shone hard, we picnicked every meal on a blanket on the grass and we were excited to learn more about our upcoming wedding.
Alida came to meet us, after making plans for months and months via email and took us up to the village where we would be having our Romanian peasant wedding. The village was up in the hills along a winding road about 30 km away from Cluj Napoca. We chattered all the way and Alida told us more about the village. She explained that as times have changed and Cluj has become a modern city all of the young people move away from the villages to attend school, get jobs and raise their families nearer to the centre. This leaves the village with only the older generation who still live in times gone by.
Since the Romanian revolution in 1989 so much has changed but you wouldn’t believe it when you arrive in the small village of Lapustesti.
The couple that Alida introduced us too are in their 80’s. They live in a simple home with a wood burning stove and oven, they grow and produce all of their own food and even brew their own Tuica, the local spirit made from plums. They are also probably the most adorable people I have ever met.
They both immediately hold us by our cheeks and look into our eyes with HUMONGOUS smiles on their soft lined faces. They are so thrilled that we are there, that we are to be married at their home and that we want to share their traditions with the world. I was overcome by their welcome and sat quietly worried that I might cry, kidnap them or feel the need to start helping with the chores.
We were seated in their front room, poured Tuica’s and fussed over like we were closest family. Plates of food appeared in front of us at a rapid rate and placed in our hands when we didn’t help ourselves.
Freshly laid and boiled eggs, just plucked peppers and vegetables, fresh bread ripped into chunks and salo, small cubes of white lard that the Romanians eat raw with a sprinkle of salt or pepper.
Alida told us more stories about life before the revolution. She told us how her life at 13 changed overnight, from living in a communist state, having only rations of food, only ever having tried terrible cheap chocolate and only on the rarity that her parents could get it, and then the world was suddenly at her fingertips…but so was the responsibility to families to fend for themselves.
She told us of the changes in the city, the rise of poverty, the struggle to gain wealth and the problems and the great things that came with the tides of change.
We both realise that wars have been waged throughout history, we know that a lot of our family have seen war but to speak with people of our own generation that have been through so much turbulent change, through actual war, it is a shock that kicks like a mule.
Our ignorance, or lack of understanding, or lack of experience with conflict on our very own doorstep is something I had never considered. I have never watched the news avidly due to media hype, fear mongering and depressing tales of our failure as a nation to care for our elderly, or our young, or our workers…or anyone for that matter, but when all is considered and I meet someone like Alida, the same age as I am, and consider that she saw a revolution, she saw the oppressed win the war and grab their future with both hands, it makes me think how lucky I have been and how proud I am of the people that break away, that won’t stand for the nonsense that is being forced upon them, that fight for their right to a future.
I felt privileged that Alida would talk to me about something I deemed as so personal, I felt proud that I had been invited into the home of such lovely people and I felt proud that they had instantly found a way into my heart, and under my skin, not only because of what they had overcome, but because they still had the purest smiles on their faces that I have ever seen!
We were so very excited to be sharing our wedding day with such special people!
How do you perceive communism? We would love to hear your thoughts, about your experiences or how you think you would feel if your world changed so suddenly.