This article requires a special introduction. Just to tell you: I have NOT married anyone. Not yet. Who knows. 😉 But let us start from the beginning: Today, my beloved brother and his girlfriend Christine, both ‘real journalists’, share their debut article with you here on my travel blog. Back in the summer of 2013, they have joined their friend Alex on his wedding trip into breathtaking Romania. Alex has married his Romanian fiancée Cristina there – and made a point of “booze & culture travelling” Transsylvania, Cristina’s backyard, with his happy friends from Austria for a week. Quite some storytelling here then. But let us not get in the way of the story any longer:
“Let’s go to Bulgaria”, our friend calls out and laughs, waving his fifth beer in hand. The fact that our rented out wedding bus from Austria to Romania has no toilet at all, is something still ignored by everyone. At least, most of us know that we are going to Romania, not Bulgaria. Into the land of Dracula, Transylvania, that is – in order to celebrate a wedding. The first one in our circle of friends. Moments like these make you feel older than you really are, which is why many go back to behaving like 16-year-olds. During the drive, nobody really asks for much about Romania yet. It is the alcohol and fun that rules, making the ride feel like a school ski outing back in the days.
We: Some twenty odd people. The front of the bus is not ruled by teachers, like back in the days, but by the “real grown-ups” – just as it should be. Mum, dad, granddad and some aunts & uncles of the Austrian groom are “in control”. In the back: The groom himself, his Romanian bride and us, some ten loud mid-twenty party people travelling with beer & gin tonic. How many there were altogether, is probably lost in memory. We play drinking games, talk about things we cannot remember and write a wedding diary with best-of-booze-phrases that turn out to be illegible the day after. It must have been some 15 hours on Austrian, Hungarian and Romanian streets altogether: What else happened in the bus, needs to stay in the bus.
Waking up is hard and full of surpises. All of a sudden, we are in Transylvania!
Mountains covered in fog, gloomy little villages and some horrible figures out of a novel is what we half-expected of this country. But no. Sibiu, also called Hermannstadt, only reveals itself to us at second glance (after the booze has subsided), and what a glance: “It looks just like home!” A beautiful old town, thanks to the Saxons who have lived and worked here for a few centuries leaving behind a large number of attractive mansions and housing estates.
We then move on to another highlight of the trip: Dracula Palace in Bran.
At first sight, here is where finally meet with previous clichés about Romania: The palace is located high on a hill, towering in all its mightiness. Narrow passages, small towers, secret doors – feel free to dive right into Bram Strokers famous novel. But we learn: The author of Dracula has never been here! Only a photograph of the palace taken some 100 years ago is said to have inspired him to his horror story. The consequence: Everybody now thinks that Romania is a dark, scary country.
The large number of tourists and all the ridiculous souvenir shops selling heaps of Dracula cups and garlic have however somewhat de-mystified Bran Palace in our eyes. We much preferred the romantic Peles Palace. Being the court of the ruling Romanian kings at the time, it has been constructed by a Viennese architect and owes much of its charm to its pretty forest location. All around, there are several mansions: Wealthy Romanians continue to live here today.
Meanwhile, the entire wedding travel group is enthusiastic: About the land and its people and the local hospitality. Travel guide & bride all in once, Cristina leads us through her home country. We discover a black church, the birth house of Dracula, a Saxon cemetery and the best cabbage roulades in the entire world. After another night spent partying at the hotel terrace (we recommend: Cuic beer & shanty!), we do feel like after a rock festival but have reached our final destination: Targu Mures, or Neumarkt am Mieresch, Cristina’s home town.
Here, we meet Cristina’s family: Mum & dad, sisters & brothers, uncles, aunties, cousins – warm-hearted, beautiful people. Hardly anyone speaks English, but who needs language skills if what you share is drink and dance?
Wedding day around here starts with … plum schnapps.
Palinca is what the Romanians like to call their spirit, with pride. Quite something to start it off with breakfast, but after six days of our culture-wedding-booze trip through Romania, we are ready. Also, we learn, this is only the beginning. The first schnapps is being offered at the hotel room of the groom, where all the wedding guests have to come together. Some gypsy musicians and a ceremony master make for a great atmosphere. Soon after, the second round of schnapps is offered. Naturally.
Then, the same kind of gathering and celebration is repeated at the house of the bride, before everyone goes to church for the real ceremony – in the best mood possible, of course. The wedding couple have decided on a one-hour short version of the traditional ceremony: A round-up at the altar, crowning & bible-kissing wedding ceremony. It is all very beautiful to watch, a pretty couple, mums and grannies in tears, that is what you like to see. Unfortunately, though, we do not understand anything at all – it is all in Romanian, of course! The groom has the same problem, by the way.
What follows now? Right. You may guess: More schnapps. And good food, a first dance, a huge wedding cake, a folklore group, a groom in high heels, strippers and other legendary happenings. It was a day, a week, a trip that we will all remember forever. Despite the big hangover on the way back, all of us are able to say: “Romania, we’ll be back!”