Romania was quite a surprise to us. When we booked a river cruise down the Danube, we had no idea just how beautiful and interesting Romania was. The cruise did not include any of the country, it just finished at the end of the Danube River, and dropped us off in Bucharest. Ah . . . Bucharest, formerly referred to as the “Paris of the East”. . . but that’s another story.
The cruise included one night in a hotel in Bucharest, then they expected everyone to fly home. Not us . . . you know . . . while we’re in the neighbourhood . . . soooo . . . before we left on this cruise, I researched the country a little and booked our own ‘private’ tour for several days after the cruise. It was through a small, wll respected tourist firm in Bucharest, and covered many of the desired tourist sights around the country. We were driven around in a private car by a very knowledgeable, well educated, English speaking guide. There were only three of us, Diana and myself, and one other adventuresome lady from New York.
Without a doubt, it was one of the best travel adventures we’d ever done. The beauty and culture of Romania was a pleasant surprise to us. Where else can you get the wonderful mélange of culture, new and old world architecture, art, folklore, food and wine that Romania provides. One can drive down a modern street beside a colourful Gypsy wagon pulled by two horses with big red pom-poms decorating their harnesses. The food is delicious, organic and straight off the farm. And the music . . . don’t get me started!
But, back to my subject . . . the “Merry Cemetery”. I know, sounds crazy, but it’s a real place, very popular, both with the tourists and the locals. Even though the words “Merry Cemetery”, (Cimitirul Vesel in Romanian) sound like an oxymoron, you can’t help but smile when you visit this place, completely opposite to what normally happens in a cemetery. From what we discovered, it all started in the 1930’s, when one of the locals in the village of Sᾰpânţa, decided to carve a colourful cross with a few words describing the deceased person’s life, usually in a humorous manner, but never irreverent. Even if you can’t read Romanian, the pictures painted on the crosses tell enough about the person to bring a smile to your face. Instead of having dull, depressing stone markers, the residents of this cemetery have beautifully painted blue crosses (for the blue sky). The tradition has been carried on in recent years by another artist, a man who has taken over from his mentor and carries on the tradition.
We visited his shop at the cemetery, where he was busy turning out another masterpiece of tongue-in-cheek biography/obituary. The following photo is a good example:
It is interesting to watch the visitors and tourist who visit the cemetery, they all leave with a smile on their face, something you don’t normally see in other cemeteries, around the world. After that visit, we looked forward to many other surprises in this beautiful country.
Here is an example of one of the pieces of art, a small souvenir ‘gravestone’ we bought at their tourist shop, something that continues to remind us of this place, and never fails to bring a smile to our face.
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