The Magical Mystery of Sibiu Romania

Streets of Sibiu Romania - Anika Mikkelson - Miss Maps - www.MissMaps.com
Folk Singers performing on opening night of Sibiu's International Film Festival - by Anika Mikkelson - Miss Maps - www.MissMaps.com
Folk Singers performing on opening night of Sibiu’s International Film Festival – by Anika Mikkelson – Miss Maps – www.MissMaps.com

Sibiu, of course, is much more than two wooden chairs and a small round table, as I referred to in the previous post (which if you missed, must go back to read the poem and watch a great acoustic version of Somewhere Over the Rainbow!) Named as 2007 Cultural Capital of Europe, Sibiu is a small city with much to see and do. When I arrived, a market was set up on the main square, aptly named Grand Square, with vendors selling homemade fudge, cookies, jewelry and the most luxurious fur coats and hats. I was drawn to them, dreaming of picking one off its hanger and swaddling myself in it, parading around town like a proper princess. For many Romanians and Eastern Europeans, this dream is a reality, as not a day goes by that I don’t see someone robed in a real fur coat or topped with a cap appearing to be taken straight from the trapper’s hands, rolled into a ball, and placed upon a waiting customer’s head.

Some day I may succumb to this trend, if ever I move to Russia or Finland, but for now this ultra luxurious style doesn’t match so well with my lifestyle, so instead I picked up a pair of fuzzy woolen boot liners to help add an extra barrier between my soles and the soon to come frozen grounds.

Content with my purchase, I continued to examine all the goods for sale until the lights glowing overhead began to darken, signaling the day’s end. As merchants packed up their goods, I walked slowly around the square and stopped for a bite to eat on a terrace looking out toward the action. An order of traditional Romanian mici with a roasted beet salad, bread, and a Ciuc beer left me with a satisfied stomach. And for just 15 lei (less than 3.5euro), a satisfied wallet.

Several streets lead from the Grand Square toward different areas of town. I chose the one best lit, and found myself on a pedestrian street surrounded by shops, cafes, bistros, and ice cream stands. Out of all the shops I walked past, just one was tourist-focused, and the woman inside was kind enough to donate a sticker for my laptop. “I (heart) Sibiu” is now lovingly displayed to all who see me sitting at a cafe typing away, and it really is true. It’s a lovely little city!

 

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I returned to my hostel a short distance from the main square, up a skinny set of stairs and past a bar so filled with cigarette smoke that walking past its closed doors left me smelling like I’d just chain smoked a pack myself. The stagnant air was soon relieved as I stepped onto an open air patio, where fresh air was waiting to greet me home. I called it an early night and noticed in a room of eight beds, only two others were occupied: one guy and one girl.

Midway through the night, a treacherous noise woke me and the other girl straight out of bed. She was clear on the other side of the room, but we could both sense the other person was also wide awake from the sound. It stopped and we both readjusted our positions, in the process making a bit of noise ourselves by haphazardly slinging blankets and pillows into the ‘perfect’ position. No luck. The noise continued. She got up for a glass of water while I tried to ignore the racket scratching at my eardrums. Neither of us said anything to each other, but even if we had, our roommate’s clamorous snoring would have overpowered our voices. He was down for the count, and our peaceful night’s sleep drifted right out the window.

The next morning, we each woke bright and early, some more bushy tailed than others. Had the hostel been full, ten of us would have shared a bathroom. Luckily, there were only us three and two more in a separate bedroom, bringing the count down to five. For someone in a hurry, it may seem like a hindrance but for those with a little extra time on their hands, like she and I, it’s the perfect excuse to strike up a conversation. And so it began, Sibiu’s first round table discussion.

Like me, she is also traveling throughout the world by herself. Unlike me, she’s doing so with a Chinese passport, which throws a curveball at ease and potential as it’s not nearly as easy or budget-friendly for her to procure visas as it is for me. Still, she spoke of many magnificent places she’s been to and people she’s met.

Then we got to talking about the deeper things. Reality beyond buses and hostels and money exchanges. Why are we traveling? What are we hoping to find? What about our friends and family back home? What about our futures? Relationships? Husbands? Children?

It was like I was writing in a diary, and my diary was answering back. Giving advice, asking questions, making me really think. It was such a powerful conversation, and when she left that afternoon to travel south to Bucharest, we both agreed that it was the first time anyone else has really understood what it is we’re doing and why we’re doing it.

 

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After she left I again hit the streets, following a sound more brilliant than the previous night’s snoring sleeper that slept one bed over. Yes, this sound was more deliberate, more authentic, more Romanian! Yodels, fiddles, shrieks, and women singing Romanian folksongs. Nothing gets me out the door faster than these authentic experiences, so I hurried past the smoke screen, down the skinny steps and found a small tunneled alley way leading from the Grand Square to another smaller square. Here at Piata Mica was a large stage set up to promote the city’s upcoming International Film Festival. At the time, five women and three men were filing the air with their songs while locals and tourists danced together to the rhythm. Even as a light rain began to dampen the streets, singers kept on singing and dancers kept on dancing.

I continued on my way, walking over the Bridge of Lies on my way to a more secluded area of Sibiu. Legend has it that a lie is spoken on this bridge will cause it to collapse, leading many romantic truths to be told here, ensuring the couples’ honesty and commitment to one another. I had no truths or lies to tell, so kept going and soon found a surprise I never imagined I’d see.

Like finding a dragon in a castle or a needle in a haystack. Like watching Rudolph fly through the night accompanied by a unicorn: I had heard of them but had no idea these people really existed. Three men dressed in black bell bottomed pants with suspenders cinched tightly over white button up shirts were enjoying the afternoon sun making its way through the shadows of a side street. I stopped. I just had to know. Who were they and what were they doing?

They were Journey Men, each around my age and staying in Sibiu as part of their Journey. They told me that during this time, they are not allowed to return or call home. Instead, as they travel from place to place, they help locals with construction, woodworking, iron working and anything else that needs to be done. Each chose to embark on a Journey on his own accord, not from religious or familial influences. One was soon to finish his journey, just two days after our conversation. After three years and one day on this waltz of a journey, it was his time to go home. They were extremely interesting lads, and I was nearly embarrassed at how enthused I was to meet them.

As we spoke, a family of tourists came up and their surprise was equally as great as mine. They stopped only briefly and slowly made their way down a wide set of stairs to Lower Town. I followed soon thereafter and found even more brightly colored buildings, cobblestone streets and whispers of happy simplicity amongst locals of all ages.
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Returning to the hostel that afternoon, I found yet again two other beds were occupied. Having just arrived from Germany, one newcomer was sound asleep and the other was just getting ready to go out and explore the town. We introduced each other and found ourselves yet again seated at the round table. Our conversation was eerily similar to the one I’d had early in the day. At the same table, in the same chairs, we sat together and discussed all of life’s at a level much more genuine and insightful than most typical conversations with a stranger. It would make perfect sense if I was leading the conversation and asking all the same questions. But that’s not how it worked. It just seemed to be something about the time and place and people involved that pulled these words out.

We continued our conversation over a meal in Piata Mica and I was shocked when a small Roma girl came up to the table offering flowers in exchange for a few lei. Guilty as charged, I nearly always say no. But my accompaniment said yes, then quickly handed the flowers to me. Yes? Flowers? I have never in my life been handed flowers like this, and it was another surreal moment, no matter how simple.

After dinner we found his friend had woken from his nap, so the three of us set out to see what Sibiu’s night life was all about. We weren’t looking for clubs or dancing, just a relaxed atmosphere where we could talk and share more stories.

 

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Hidden away in a side alley, we found a small bar in the basement of a building centuries old. Once a storage cellar, the brick walls and arches created a unique atmosphere for some acoustic music, and we sat for some time enjoying songs in Romanian and English, and were even joined by the singer during his set break. He shared with us his love of the city and offered the guys a tour during their stay. As I was set to leave Sibiu the next day I wouldn’t be able to join, but it was just as well.

Sibiu is most certainly charming, most certainly a cultural hub, and most certainly a special gem. Even through smokey walkways it’s easy to find its magic.

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