Holidays are very important to me.
All my holidaying life I have very rarely travelled to the same location, except to visit friends in foreign places, and my husband and I attempt to give our children ‘experiences’ which they will remember – and also hopefully ones which shape and change how they view the world.
Every year we have the same dilemma, where and when to go and how much to spend.
With three growing kids it’s hard to balance the cost with the right experience for us all, and in an attempt to match my ‘green credentials’, I’ve also always tried to ‘do the right thing’ – buying local products, using public transport, being responsible etc. It can often be difficult to balance these green aspirations within the mix.
But last year we found that rare thing – a holiday experience which met all of our expectations and more !
I’ve always tried to book destinations which are a little off the beaten track, offer some kind of engagement with the locals – avoiding at all cost the high-rise, the fight for the beach beds, the noise and glitter of a ‘resort’ . . . much to my kids’ disappointment. I hear them now . . . ‘ please mum can we just go into one arcade for candy floss and kiss me quick hats’ . . . ‘NO’ I say, ‘we must have an experience !’
The destination that managed to make us all happy last year was Transylvania.
I can honestly say that Transylvania was by far one of our best experiences to date. Our initial concerns about vampires and dark dangerous forests were soon dispelled upon arrival. Apart from the usual ‘what a beautiful country’, ‘great views’ etc – what made it special was seeing how sustainably many of the locals live.
Romania joined the EU in 2007 and you would think that they would have embraced all the EUness of their neighbouring countries. While the rest of Romania, leaving behind its communist history, may be on this route, hopefully Transylvania will remain one of the hidden gems of the world.
The first thing I have to mention was the food – divine ! Everything was handmade, the jam, the yoghurt, the elderflower and raspberry juice and not a plastic bottle in sight. The wine was produced in the neighbouring valley and was perhaps the best wine I have had anywhere – and it was organic. There is something quite special about seeing the food being grown on site and watching the cook hand picking fruits and vegetables from the plot for that evening’s taste sensation. All the villages had gardens full of fruits, vegetables and flowers.
We stayed in the small village of Miclosva for a few nights, then moving further into the Carpathian Mountains, to an even smaller village. There was no TV, no mobile phone signal, occasionally no electricity and there was no phone, as the copper had been stolen from the overhead cables. . . and where were all the cars ? How would my husband and kids survive ? I was worried, I wanted us all to have that ‘experience’, but I didn’t want us to be bored! I needn’t have worried.
Usually one of my children would do anything to avoid the ‘countryside’ but even they were excited by the nature walk. Our guide, Garbor (fantastic name and fantastic guy) was very knowledgeable and engaged with the children, showing them a multitude of wildlife, exploding plants, fields of butterflies and bear trails, including their ‘poo’. We all shared a scary moment in the graveyard late that night when Garbor took us bear watching. We had to remain as quiet as possible lying on a bank and listening and focusing on the clearing in the woods. I couldn’t believe the children were able to remain quiet for so long, not a sound, us all waiting in anticipation. We heard grunts, gruffs and heavy breathing getting closer . . . then all of a sudden Garbor jumped up shouting and screaming, the bear had approached from the side and in fact was worryingly too close! Thankfully the bear was sent on his way and the kids thought this was one of the highlights of the whole holiday and told the story many times of how we were nearly caught by a bear !
We spent our days on horse and cart visiting the charcoalers, the sheep and goat farmers who had to milk their 200 strong herd twice a day every day, the Ferrier and their work horses, the farmer who worked the land by hand with the help of their children, the baker who baked real bread, the shopkeeper who sold nothing which the kids could relate to – all working together as part of their village community.
Perhaps as close to a truly sustainable way of life as perhaps it’s possible to get these days ?
Early one evening my daughter and I were taking a gentle stroll along the dirt track through the village; all the villagers were sitting out in front of their houses chatting with neighbours, their children playing with the dogs, puppies and ducklings. Everybody we passed spoke to us and smiled, many inviting us to chat and offering us drinks. On our way back my daughter, who was then 12 – and like all 12 year olds loves her shopping – said, ‘these people don’t have much money do they, they don’t really appear to have anything?’ ‘No’ I said pondering on her remark. We walked in silence for a few seconds and then she said something which put all the rights and wrongs of the world into perspective . . . ’but they are all so happy and friendly’.
How meaningful I thought from a 12 year old but how true. It’s sparked many a meaningful conversation since and when she asks for a new designer sweatshirt, I remind her of this experience.
I hope for their sake the EU, with its regulations and policies, does not change them too much . . . . . unless they want to be changed of course.