In Romanian villages – it’s all about the bench.
While the Bulgaria seems quiet and sometimes a little introverted, Romania is the complete opposite. By and large, Romanians are outwardly friendly, noisy, curious and incredibly welcoming. In fact this openness is almost built into the fabric of their towns and Villages. Unlike Bulgarian villages which are arranged in clusters away from the main roads, houses in Romania line the streets and outside every house is a bench under a tree. This bench is where people sit, talk, gossip and argue, but mostly it seems that the bench is simply for sitting on and watching the world go by.
In this region, where the houses have columns and arches forming a patio area at the front of the house, I noticed that the benches often have circular iron wheels at the end which acted as both legs and armrests. They were not all the same, but there were so many that it must be a local design or perhaps made in the same factory.
Anyway, as we cycled through dozens of villages, we passed literally hundreds of houses and where people were on the bench they shouted, waived and smiled. It wasn’t always clear what they were shouting, but it was clear that they were being friendly. Occasionally it was just a single word ‘Romania!’ ‘Salut!’ ‘Ciao!’ or sometimes ‘Hello Hello’ (mostly from the kids who learn English) and ‘Drum Bun’ which means something like ‘Bon Voyage’.
The workers driving tractors or horse drawn trailers were the same and two or three times some kids ran out to to the side of the street to ‘high-five’ us as we rolled past.
Ariana and Sarah were given free apples and all day as we weaved in and out of Romanian villages we were treated to real genuine hospitality. Many of the elderly people, often in their 80’s and 90’s have probably lived in the same village for all of their lives and I wish I could have sat with them and asked about the changes they’ve seen over the years, or listened to stories of local achievements and scandals.
Stopping for a drink was often my favourite part because, like in the UK, the pub/bar is clearly a focal point for the village community. Outside every village bar, half a dozen old bikes would be leaning against a fence and sitting around tables the villages would all be drinking, smoking and making fun of each other (not unlike Wendlebury). Having three foreigners from England, France and Canada was always provided entertainment and we always left with lots of handshakes cheers of encouragement.
Back on the road, we were just another moving animal as we weaved through cattle, sheep, geese (which really are the dumbest creatures), goats, pigs and every other kind of farm animal you can imagine.
Romania is a friendly place and, I think, easily as warm and hospitable as Serbia. The people are different, often a lot poorer and speak little English (to understand why you need to understand the differences between Tito’s Yugoslavia and Ceausescu’s Romania) but what they lack in material wealth, they make up for in many other ways.
The only thing that’s missing, and no doubt this affects villages across Romania, is young people. We didn’t see any. They are totally absent. There are kids, old women, older workers and old men (much more than you see in Ukraine), but no 20-40 year-olds. Life in the village would almost certainly mean working the land in order to eat and survive and with so many decaying factories around, I assume that most of the communist era industry has collapsed too. So the young adults have left.
Where they are or whether they will return to live in the villages is anyone’s guess, but as modern technology and industrial farming take-over the remaining farming jobs I wonder if these small rural communities will survive or if -like in the UK- villages will slowly changes into commuter dwellings?
…and what will happen to the benches?