Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Off the Grid in Transylvania and Moldova

Lots to catch up on. We spent most of three days with the indefatigable Albert Kozma (in Hungarian, Kozma Albert), the minister of the Unitarian Church in Magyarsaros with whom Matt made contact through means too tortuous to recount. That's Albert and Matt bracing the maple-leaf flag sent by Magyarsoros' partner church in Victoria, BC, as we honor all things Canadian. The Magyarsaros Church dates back to the 13th century (yup, you read that right, though it was RC for a few centuries), and today has a bell tower from 1600.

The first day with Albert was a combination of Unitarian history and an introduction to Romanian roads from the inside of a car driven by a true Romanian driver. Albert is definitely in the top decile of drivers in this land; he makes the impossible seem commonplace on the roads. We viewed the church in Turdu (unfortunate name) where King John Sigismund proclaimed Unitarianism in 1568, as well as his crypt in Alba Iulia. We picked up some perspective on the king's conversion process. Instinctively, I have thought of the event as a victory for enlightenment and wisdom, which is certainly part of the story. But the king also managed to pick up all of the land previously controlled by the Catholic church, as well as the lands owned by nobles who declined to convert to Unitarianism. Think Henry VIII of England and the Anglican Church. Also, when the Unitarians took over all the churches they tore out the artworks, which is still somewhat resented as a form of vandalism. Interesting to look at things from another perspective.

Then there was the day honoring Albert's father, also Albert (actually, he is Albert IX, our Albert is Albert X, and his son is Albert XI; the Kozmas are serious about the name Albert). His father was retiring as minister of the Bullon Unitarian church (spelling?), so we caught the ceremony, the party, and the after-party party. The second photo is of Kozmas, in addition to us -- Rosie (Albert X's sister), Albert IX, and Ericka, wife of Albert X. We had a great Sunday morning breakfast with the Kozmas listening for the different calls to worship in the town: the Unistarian bells, the Reformed church bells, then the Orthodox drum (!), and bells. The Kozmas were amazingly hospitable and warm -- and are now friends.

Next day we were off for more sightseeing and a train ride to Iasi ("yash") on the Moldovan border. The Romanian train stacks up well against anything Amtrak has to offer.

Yesterday was a long day in the saddle. We rode for 85 miles from Iasi -- 55 of them were in the correct direction! We crossed the border into Moldova and swiftly discovered a serious flaw in our guidebook from Lonely Planet, which describes Moldova as "flat as a board." WRONG, WRONG, WRONG. We scaled two giant hills, one paved and the other, well, let's just say that there was a team meeting halfway through a "shortcut" as to whether to turn back because of the wind, rain, mud, and general uncertainty as to where the hell we were. The power line, the team noted, ended right there. The team, however, followed the message of the Pete Seeger song ("Waist deep in the Big Muddy, and the Big Fool said to push on"). We passed through two towns that I would swear were in the Borat movie, and finally found pavement again.

Because of some misinformation that led to our erroneous travel, we had to stop for the night in Calerasi. This was, it must be said, a new low in hygiene and food opportunities. I will go light on details, since today we checked into the finest hostelry in Chisinau, washed our clothes, and had a major lunch.

Tomorrow is the Big One. We go from here to Odessa . . . or bust. Hold us in your thoughts.
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Geri said...

John II Sigismund Zápolya passed the 'Edict of Torda' also known as the 'Patent of Toleration', first broad decree of religious freedom in the modern history of Europe (1568), and supported the establishment of the Unitarian Church in Transylvania. Practically is the earliest known general attempt to guarantee religious freedom in Christian Europe.

Geri said...

In the Orthodox Church before the bells it was an instrument so called ‘Toacă’. It appeared in the first century and it’s made out of wood. It symbolizes the wood of the cross on which Jesus died. Practically it’s an instrument that is beaten with one or more small hammers (just with the right hand and the left one has to be on the wood), following a rhythmical tact. The purpose is to call the people to the church. The dimensions are 2-3m long and 20 cm wide and it can be of two types fixed and mobile one. Every Romanian orthodox church has bells but not everyone of them has a ‘Toacă’.

infinitelyintrepid said...

I'll be heading to Eastern Europe soon for my own bicycle tour, by myself, from Greece to Turkey, Bulgaria and Romania... after that I haven't decided where me and my bike will head.

Any suggestions?