We rose early to make the most of our last day in the Carpathians, parked up on the outskirts of Valea Lavardi, and enjoyed a gentle climb up to 1250m, passing what look like Hungarian holiday homes along the way.

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We were both tired from lots of walking over the last two weeks, and hadn’t slept so well last night thanks to even the small wood burning stove pumping out enough heat to turn the cabin into a hothouse. With the sun shining though there was absolutely no need to rush, so we enjoyed watching the usual array of horses and carts, and receiving the bewildered looks we’ve grown accustomed to. That we love to walk in the hills confuses plenty of people in the UK, so there’s no reason why it should be any different anywhere else.

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This walk was the perfect way to mark the end of our stay in the Harghita mountains though, with its profusion of wild flowers and butterflies. The bears stayed well hidden unfortunately. Or maybe they’d decided that Rich was too stringy to eat, and I was too leathery.

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We stopped off at a mini-market for some pop on the way home, giving a young supervisor the chance to practice her English on Rich, and were home in time for lunch. Thunder and lightning hit late in the afternoon but the sky had cleared by 5pm so we sat on the verandah waving and smiling at villagers as they strolled past. Judging by the look of shock on their faces, they’re definitely not used to tourists, but they always waved and smiled back once they’d composed themselves.

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At 6pm we walked over the the main house to say goodbye to Julia, and to meet her pigs! They were huge buggers – protected by a dog on a leash and pulley so that he could move around to access food and his toilet area. Thanks to urbanisation, in the UK we’ve largely forgotten that many people need to rear their own food, and to guard this food fiercely. Wolves and bears would love to get hold of a big, fat, juicy piece of pork, but these two pigs would feed Julia and her family for months, as well as providing much needed income. It turned out that the lovely man who rescued us on day 10 is Julia’s gardener and odd jobs man, so he let us watch him feed the piggies.

As expected, Julia wouldn’t let us return to the cabin without feeding us, so we sat down for a big bowl of soup, followed by boiled potatoes and hard cheese – they don’t eat meat on a Friday, and chocolate biscuit cake for pudding. She works extremely hard for her money, and seemed so grateful when we paid for Rich’s birthday meal that I felt really pathetic for ever having wanted superficial things. It’s all too easy to forget that despite all the moaning, many of us have it easy compared to millions and millions of people, and that the UK really isn’t all that bad a place to live. When she gave us a pressed edelweiss flower each to take home I had to bite my lip to stop the tears from flowing. But like she herself said, she’s a mum and thrives on mothering people, so she’d been in her element having two guests with good appetites and a willingness to learn everything they could about the area.

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Not long after we’d returned to the cabin, the little doggy bounced his way down the track and launched himself onto our laps from the top of the verandah steps. I take it as a very good sign that we seem to attract dogs wherever we go. This one sat happily receiving cuddles and salami chunks for a few hours before we sent him home so that we could pack. By 9.30pm he’d decided that he couldn’t stay away any longer and returned for ‘cwtches’. Hopefully he wasn’t too disappointed the following day once he’d realised that we’d left for Snagov.

What we’ve seen and experienced in Romania has done us the world of good. We’re humble people anyhow – we know full well that we have a lot to be grateful for, but it does travelers good to be reminded of poverty and hardship every so often. And not the not being able to afford the latest iphone upgrade poverty. The real deal – when you don’t know where your next meal is coming from. The fear that the communist regime propagated has also been tangible – on a few occasions we’ve sensed that people are still afraid to say what they really think. This is not a surprise, and since our return to the UK I’ve tried to read everything I can get my hands on about life in Romania. I’ve also started seeking out Romanians where we live – thus far we’ve found a dentist and a barber, but the search continues.

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