Well, a few short days after I departed my rainforest abode, I found myself in the Transylvanian countryside. Work was already well under way on the excavation of biological human remains associated with an 11th century church. The remaining architecture was evident and well preserved, and it was clear from the soil and building remains that the church had been burned to the ground and abandoned, somewhere during the 15th century. A new church was built closer to the center of the village, and a modern cemetery which is in use today was eventually established in the immediate area of the old church. To be perfectly clear, we were only excavating human skeletal remains whose lineage and identity were unknown, and all had been interred at minimum 500 years prior. All excavations were sanctioned by the European Union and the Government of Romania, and all remains exhumed are housed in Romania, under the control of their cultural patrimony, and curated by local anthropologists. I apologize once again that I can’t show you pictures of the actual excavations, or give too many details.
Compared with the jungle, this was a vacation. Transylvania is an idyllic countryside panorama of rolling hills dotted with sheep, shepherds and sheepdogs, cows who refuse to move out of the road, and some of the nicest people you might ever hope to meet. This area is predominated by the Szekely people of Hungarian descent, not Romanians as you might think. Transylvania, as some of you probably know, was not formally annexed to Romania until after World War I. The Szekely are renowned for their valor, strength of character, and kindness. Hospitality is next to godliness in this area, and it was a treat to trade the unforgiving rainforest for such a caring and friendly people. I was fed meat and potatoes, cabbage rolls, and cheese until I almost burst. Many days, the pastor of the village, his family, or members of the congregation would bring us refreshments at the field site, most notably plum cakes and homemade palinca.
Perhaps I should stop for a moment on palinca. Known by many names, this is a type of extremely strong brandy distilled from fruit mash, usually starring plums. The farmers drink it before going out in the morning, and throughout the day, though they still seemed to get more work done than us. It’s part of the heritage of Transylvania, and is absolutely delicious. Many families make their own, and there are infinite varieties.
Anyway, I digress. Following a great three weeks spent wrapping up the excavations, I explored a salt mine and some restored fortified churches on the way to Brasov, a town with great history and ski slopes (too bad it was summer) and visited a bear sanctuary, traipsed around ancient castles, and saw the largest mechanical pipe organ in Europe, true to my musical-nerdy self. I wrapped things up, said goodbye to friends, and hopped on a train to Budapest, preparing myself for a fast-paced, country-a-minute trip around Eastern Europe.