Last year’s winter remembered from Canada

Amanda Barnstaple and her fiancé Jon spent several weeks last winter housesitting in Magura, keeping the house warm and four cats fed and entertained. Here Amanda looks back at their experience of a snowy Magura.

A year ago, my fiancé and I hopped on a plane that would ultimately take us to Bucharest, Romania . . . a place we had never been.

We were very excited about this adventure. We had accepted a housesitting opportunity in the mountain village of Magura, which is  in Transylvania. We knew very little about this place, other than it was surrounded by Piatra Craiului National Park and ringed by mountains.

From Bucharest we took a train to Brasov, where Arabella, whose house we would be caring for, greeted us. Very warm and welcoming, she drove us to her house and fed us homemade soup and bread. Exhausted and excited, we went to bed, but not before meeting the 6 cats who we would live with for the next 10 weeks.

We spent a few days with Arabella, meeting the neighbours, picking up food and supplies, and becoming more familiar with Magura, Zarnesti, and even a bit of Brasov.

The adventure really started when Arabella departed and we were left alone to make ourselves at home in this beautiful new place. We immediately fell in love with our surroundings. The village of Magura is situated on a series of high ridges that look over deep valleys, all within a bowl created by the surrounding ring of mountains. From our ridge, we had breathtaking 360 degree views. After the view, the next most attractive thing was the sound. The local farm animals would wander through the idyllic setting – cows with large bells, sheep with small – and there was a constant musical ringing as a result.

We quickly made friends with the animals on our ridge – the sheep, chickens, horses, and dogs. If we had a few scraps of food to offer, they would visit us daily.

We took great pleasure in walking through the mountains. Our favourite hike was to head up onto the saddle to explore. Trail networks for the National Park made it easy to find our way and showed the best routes around steep faces and deep gullies. Around every corner we would find a sight worthy of a painting – rustic shepherd’s huts, horses pulling logs, shepherd’s herding sheep, amazing views of Magura . . . and even a few deer. One day we walked all the way to Bran Castle and then had the most exciting taxi ride home on the winding mountain roads. Another day, we followed the river through the valley bottom and encountered picturesque homes nestled into the hillsides, complete with ducks and geese.

Every weekend we would walk down into Zarnesti to go to the outdoor market. This was our favourite time of the week. We would sample and buy delicious fresh cheeses and then visit the Honey Man to get a bottle of honey. We would buy fresh produce from the stands, and anything we couldn’t get we picked up at Veronica’s fruit and veggie store. It was always a pleasure to see her and she would make us practice our Romanian. We also discovered the best Langos at the shop next door to hers! We would carry our load of groceries back up the mountain, and often, kind villagers would give us a lift.

We enjoyed the company of the cats at home, and also regular visits from our neighbour’s daughter. We would teach her English in return for the freshest milk from their cow and sometimes cheese from their sheep (as well as numerous generous delicious homemade treats that her mother would send over frequently). Georgiana tried to help us with our Romanian and we played hours of card games together. Once the snow came, we had great thrills tobogganing together!

Our neighbours on our ridge made us feel very welcome and often invited us into their homes for wonderful traditional foods and drinks. We would be fed so well, we could hardly walk when we left! The warmth of our neighbours made us feel like we were a part of the community and we took great joy in the community events – going to the Town Hall for the traditional Craciun singing and dancing, having carolers come to our door for Christmas and to crack the whip for the New Year. New Year’s Eve we were able to sit outside our house and watch fireworks go off around us for the full 360 degrees. It was like nothing we had ever seen before!

We also became friends with Oana and George at Pensiunea Mosorel 2. We would spend time in the kitchen with Oana, baking cookies or biscotti together, and George took us out snowshoeing in the winter – sliding down into the gorge was exhilarating! He also taught us to play Rummy, a favourite Romanian game. Diadora, their baby, was always smiles. It was lovely to be welcomed into their family.

Before our 10 weeks were up, we also did some short tips on the train (Georgiana would feed the cats for us). Train travel in Romania was very easy. On our first trip to Brasov, we were nervous, but our close friend Roxanna took us with her family and arranged for us to stay with her friend Oana. We had a magical time in Brasov – the Christmas market was on and we ate mici with mustard while drinking hot wine or hot tsuica. Afterwards, we skated in the evening in front of the Olimpia. In the morning we took the funicular up Mount Tampa and took our time walking down. The old walled city with its cobblestone streets and narrow alleyways is like something out of a fairytale.

After gaining confidence in travelling to Brasov, our dear friend Cristina helped us organize short trips to Sibiu, Sighisoara, and Praid, all of which were definitely not to be missed. Upon returning from each adventure, we would visit with Cristina and her family, and her mom would fill us up with delicious homemade food. We must say that we missed all of the Romanian food when we returned home.

We had many other adventures and made many more friends before our 10 weeks were through, all of which created wonderful memories that will last our lifetime. Sometimes it is difficult to make a decision to go to another country and live in another person’s house for 10 weeks, but when this trip was done, we realized that it could not have been any other way. It was a life changing experience and we will always cherish our time in Magura.”

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