July 30. After losing my car key and the search that followed, I headed to the ASTRA Museum of Folkloric Traditional Civilization in the Dumbrava Forest. I’d hoped to hit it in the morning. It was already 1:30pm, and the skanzen closed at 6 pm. That may sound like a lot of time, but the skanzen is home to over 35, 240 objects in over 400 dwellings and outbuildings. It spans over 237 acres. The first historical-ethnographic museum in Transylvania was founded in Sibiu in 1905 and closed in 1950 for ideological (aka threat to communism) reasons. The museum in its current form has functioned since 1963 and hosts original monuments representative of Romanian villages from various regions of the country.
In addition to the dwelling exteriors, it features interior decorations preserved in their original form, traditional means of transportation, various kinds of mills (both wind and water) and other village industries. The museum includes examples of villages based on agriculture, livestock, apiculture, fishing and hunting with such practical examples as sheepfolds, wine cellars, candle making, and other cottage industries.
I rushed through, practically running from one dwelling to the next. My experience at skanzens was that there was never enough time. I met a German couple who were intently examining mill stones. They told me about a catalogue of all the exhibits, free at the information center. I rushed back to the main gate and procured one. I didn’t really have time to read each entry, but figured I could look back at it later. Reference material. I’d never found such thorough documentation at an open air museum. My favorite exhibits were the wind and water mills. I think I was a miller in another life, because I delight in the mechanisms of both types of mills. They had examples of all types of water mills (overshot, undershot, turbine) as well as horse-driven, manual, and various types of wind mills (including one with sails). Apparently their collection of wind mills is one of the best in the world. I’m not surprised.
Near the windmills, I found a reconstructed fishing village from the Danube Delta complete with a reed ice house where ice would be packed between reeds and last all summer. The ice was used to keep fish cold. Some fish would be smoked as well. Normally, the curators act more like guards who keep things from being vandalized. But the curator of the fisherman’s house was different. I asked a Romanian also there if he spoke English, and he did. He told the man I was from California, and asked whether we could see the inside of the house, my request. Apparently my being from the US merited a special tour, with privileged access into the interior of the house and sauna. We sat in the sauna, where the man told us that not all houses had saunas, but that this man wanted to please his wife, as he was very jealous and afraid she’d leave for someone else. So he built a sauna and carved doves into the bed headboard per her request. Apparently women would give birth in saunas, and would go there during their “time of the month” to ease menstrual pain. Herbs would be hung and dried in the antechamber, and various leaves, flowers, stems, and seeds would be burned on the hot stones to ease respiratory and other ailments.
He showed us the fishing equipment, all handmade and beautifully crafted. What a shame that handicrafts like that are dying out. There were cork net lures, hemp nets, crab pots, fish traps, spears, clubs… you name it, it was here. It made me excited about visiting Tulcea and the Danube Delta in the next week. My phone, which doubled as a camera, was a limiting factor, and at some point it died. I had to find to a power source, and chose a traditional Romanian restaurant to recharge. This took time, and I had to run to see the Transylanian region, including the houses of potters, miners, and wood workers. I saw a lovely Carpathian style wood church from the 1700s with painted interiors. Murphy’s law, my phone died again just before I got there. So I didn’t get photos. I ended up going back Tuesday but to no avail. The museum only opens the structures on the weekends. During the week, only the exteriors are visible.
But I got a lot in, and I was happy about that. I made my way back to Sibiu to the Hugs Cafe, and told my new friends the crazy story of the lost key. They were amazed, and I stayed and wrote until late, decided to camp locally rather than tackle the Transfagarasan highway. I headed up toward Rășinari and camped just past the village on a grassy meadow next to a stream. It was right on the road, but no matter. I didn’t have any other ideas, and I’d seen people camping there the other night. There were a few tents and I felt reassured. Safety in numbers.