In the 13th Century, when occupation cum colonization was more of a sport than the Geneva Convention violation that it is today, Hungarian kings encouraged German Saxons to move to Transylvania through a series of incentives that included tax breaks, cheap land, and free cable.
As the Ottomans began to tickle the region in a way it didn’t like being tickled, the Saxons worked up defenses by fortifying their churches, many of which still stand defiantly scattered throughout the Carpathians.
Despite the insistences that ‘you really need a car’ to see these UNESCO-protected churches, I committed to at least seeing the glorious Biertan, which is on the cover of my Lonely Planet and has been taunting me since I made the purchase in Istanbul.
After catching a bus from Sighisoara to Medias, I chilled out at the bus station and waited for a Biertan-bound bus that never came–the story of my life (at least as told in the first, unauthorized version of my autobiography). Undeterred, I decided to walk.
If I were better with maps, I’d get much less exercise. The beautiful meander ended up being about 25km and took the better part of the day, including a few wrong turns and stops at three-ish fortified churches before reaching Biertan about dusk.
On the way I met many Roma pounding away at their crafts, primarily copper liquor stills that were for sale roadside. I got directions from several men who didn’t understand why I was walking, which of course could only be conveyed in pantomime and my half dozen words of Romanian. “No car?” No, no car. “No bicycle?” No, no bicycle. “Just walk? Eine zwei, eine zwei?” Yes, I’m going to strap on my jackboots and march to Biertan. They’ll never see it coming.
About half the walk was along an eroded dirt road through cornfields and vast green humps of hills, where I didn’t see anyone for a few solid hours. It seemed anachronous when I came upon a paved road, like a 19th Century cowboy who discovers a four-lane highway in a Twilight Zone episode.
Eventually the fortified church of Biertan appeared. As I entered town, I came across the puppy in the photo at top, endeavoring to get out and see the world. Indeed, we all must chew the metaphorical front gate of our owners to see the world. And so long as it doesn’t give you cancer, days like today make me quite sure it’s worth it.