After sleeping like babies we feasted Hungarian style on sliced tomatoes, peppers and spring onions; home baked bread, sheep’s cheese, salami, pig fat, honey, home made jam, and freshly brewed mint tea. We enjoyed it so much that Rich bought some jam to take home, and I bought some dried mint in a little wooden hand carved box decorated with the traditional Harghita motif for this region – a red and black tulip.
We said our goodbyes and drove through back through the village to see the church. Unfortunately it was being refurbished. We couldn’t even look around the grounds because of all the scaffolding, so instead Dervla (our sat nav) and I drove Rich to the thermal spa at Baile Homorod. Fortunately Lulu’s (our hire car) pride wasn’t dented by being overtaken by old clapped out motors. In fact she seemed to relish the fact that despite her size and engine capacity, she was making it, and she was making it in style. There aren’t many little Skoda’s that have climbed to 1801m.
We arrived at the spa a few minutes after it opened, and for £3 each and 45 minutes we had the whole place to ourselves. I’m not one for spa hotels back home, mainly because they’re usually quite busy and ridiculously expensive, and I get bored after an hour and want to go hiking or do summat exciting, but this spa was great fun. It was spotlessly clean, had a decent sized swimming pool, large jacuzzi, and lots of showers. And of course mineral water. Once dressed we filled a large bottle from the spring outside and swigged in the sun. The water is naturally carbonated and tastes slightly metallic, but in a good way.
As this is ski country we then drove up to the local ski resort – Harghita Bai, for lunch at a mountain pension. Goulash, bread, mineral water and chips for a grand total of £6 between the two of us, with a view of the ski slope and cows grazing on it thrown in as an extra. This is only a small resort, but it has the Romanian equivalent of the UK’s ‘Go-Ape’ and plenty of places to stay, making it a perfect place for a cheap summer break in the mountains. And Romanians certainly know how to keep their guests happy. We were always presented with large portions, copious amounts of tuica, and never had to pay very much. Which of course then made us feel guilty, being sensitive souls.
Rich drove us to Miercurea-Ciuc after lunch, stopping at the local equivalent of ‘Kwik-Save’ to stock up on supplies. For £26 we were able to buy a week’s supply of food and drink from the ‘Penny Market’. There was a Lidl up the road but we decided that it was a bit too upmarket.
We then headed for Lunca de Jos, and our hidey hole for the next 5 nights – The Lovely Chalet. We were surprised to find people waving and smiling at us as we drove through the town, and started to worry that there was something wrong with Lulu, hence the attention. But then it dawned on us that they were happy that tourists had made an effort to visit their neck of the woods, and were simply making us feel welcome.
We’d booked through airbnb and had been instructed by Istvan, the son of the house, to call at his parents to collect the keys. For half an hour I kept ringing the front door bell, then I tried phoning Istvan even though he doesn’t live in Romania, panicking slightly that we’d have nowhere to sleep tonight. With no answer, I simply stood by the car thinking “bugger, this is disappointing. We may have to find a motel”. But then a shepherd walked down the hill with his son after picking wild raspberries, figured out that we were trying to get hold of Istvan’s mum, and took me around the side of her house to the basement where she and her daughter were busy making jam. Doh. They simply hadn’t been able to hear the door bell. Panic over.
Julia, Istvan’s mum, and the owner of the chalet, doesn’t speak much English, but is an absolute whizz at using Google translate. I’ve never before conducted a conversation online whilst the other person is standing right next to me, but it worked a treat. As a gift, she insisted on cooking us dinner so we sat down to a gorgeous creamy vegetable soup; followed by rice and vegetables, cauliflower fritters and pork schnitzels; with coffee liqueur coconut rolls to finish. Instead of blueberry tuica this time it was flavoured with honey, and was delicious. Julia is extremely generous and warm hearted, and insisted that we ate and drank until we could barely breathe, but eventually we forced ourselves to return to the chalet to unpack.
The cabin is slap bang in the middle of the Harghita mountains. The views from the bench on the terrace are stunning, and on the inside the cabin is beautiful too. I’m always surprised at how much you can fit into a small space. Even though there’s only one separate bedroom; a bathroom; and open plan bedroom, dining and living area, it had everything that we needed, including several winters’ supply of firewood. It reminded us a lot of the Pumahuen chalet we stayed in in Chile – simple, rustic, cosy, out in the wilds, a bit of an adventure to get to, but so very worth it. With its knick knacks, cubby holes and curios, it was definitely our kind of place.
At 9.20pm the church bells started ringing. We had no idea why, but it was a beautiful sound. We’d discovered a bag full of felt slippers and with blankets wrapped around us sat on the terrace watching the light disappear, listening to the church and cow bells. Red roofs, wooded hills – who wouldn’t want to live in a place like this?