Romania still unknown, even to Romanians

Before going on a holiday in Romania I distributed on facebook the photos posted by an old friend from Timisoara. These pictures were taken around Easter, with particularly hot weather this year, in the region where the Danube River enters Romania, creating spectacular scenery.

It was not only the Cazane Gorge, with the wide riverbed, where the waters run so fast and deep that they resemble the back of a dark, silent dragon, what caught the eyes of my English friends and family “liking” the photos. Some of them were drawn by the image of an old, traditional house, as seen from up the hill, with greenery growing wild, very idyllic.

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With this in mind, and determined to take some good pictures of my beloved places back there, I defied the bad weather in Banat, the region where I was born and raised. Got my brother driving me, sister-in-law and the kids (nephew and foster brothers) to Ocna de Fier, a small village in the county of Caras-Severin. I’ve wanted to visit the place for years, and although during University and later on, before I moved to Bucharest, I was always visiting the area, I never got to this village. Why is it so special, anyway?

That part of Caras-Severin was an old mining region, now quite deserted, with almost none of the old industry still working, if I know correctly. If I’m wrong, it means it’s all shut down by now.

Ocna de Fier translates, literally, to Iron Mine. To get there you have to pass through Bocsa, a town where a Metal Works Factory had worked since 1781. There were about 6.000 employees working in the factory in 1989, and all the tower cranes in the Romanian industrial ports were produced here, as well as parts of the only Nuclear Plant that functions in the country. It went bankrupt and was shut down in 2005, due to political fights behind the scene over who was going to control it.

Passing by the old structure, dull, but still impressive during the communist times, all that’s left to be seen is a gruesome image. Rust and decay have overtaken everything, holes punched through the long walls reveal the fossilised intestines of the big halls, some staircases barely stand in between. One could expect zombies to crawl out at any time, tired and sad and helpless zombies.

The whole mountain part of Banat is mostly forgotten in today’s Romania, despite its great touristic potential. Investing in diary industry has also proven a good economical idea in some of the most deprived places in the region. Life for people here gets really tough, there’s nothing to do, other than grow your own vegetables, care for the cow in the yard, which gives your family milk, maybe work a patch of land with corn for the chicken and other birds you grow to fill the freezer later, and hope for better times. Maybe go to work abroad, dreaming you’d come back and open your own business with the money you’ve exhausted yourself working for.

Anyways, there are a lot of good things in Caras-Severin, waiting to be discovered and appreciated as they worth. One of them is the Museum of Minerals in this village that’s barely on the map today, Ocna de Fier, where the old mine greets you as you reach the settlement like an old creature, still dignified, but melting under the teeth and claws of some unseen beasts.

If you think museum, don’t picture anything like the National History Museum. Of course you wouldn’t, I’ve already told you it’s in a more or less deserted area. Don’t even think of the Motorcycle Museum in New Milton, although I shouldn’t say it, as I haven’t managed to get myself together to visit this one in my already two years spent in the area. Maybe it is a bit like the Motorcycle Museum, then.

Our trip to Ocna de Fier was as pleasant as a lovely lazy afternoon chilling out with a book in the garden. The fields here, spotted with villages, trees and some new silos (mostly owned by an American company, as I’ve been told), shows Banat as a region where nature has been tamed and turned into a sweet friend, offering images to sooth the eye and relax the mind. What somewhat surprised me is the short time to drive there, I remembered it longer, but it could be just the fact that I used to go by train, a slow old dusty train, full of students and a few commuters.

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Once we’ve turned the car towards the intended destination, at the statue of the miner in Bocsa, the sweet tamed scenery gave way to a completely other panel of images. The quality of the road changed significantly as well, pot holes and patches gave quite a rural feeling to the whole 15 minutes’ drive. Nevertheless, we didn’t mind too much, as the freshness of the forest woke us up a bit.

I have to say that there’s one thing that really annoys me when I drive in England: there’s no visibility. In the small towns and villages, almost every corner has reduced visibility by some hedge or bushes or other types of vegetation blocking the view. Between them, it’s the same, and the roads are very winding. Yes, I realise England is on an island, and it’s highly populated, and trees are good, and it’s only me being used to the sense of openness which growing up in Banat flat lands gave me, but still, it annoys me.

Well, there really is something special about the countryside in Banat: German order. One can see that this was once a flourishing Austrian province. The houses aren’t built just next to the road, but with a good strip of green lawn in front, owned by the community and administered by the local authorities. So the eye can see without obstructions, but not too far. The houses are close to the pedestrian pavement, the gardens and yards behind high fences (nowadays, concrete, bricks or metal sheet), so that the owners can still keep their privacy. Funny enough, neighbours can meet at the fence separating vegetable gardens, which is usually made of metal net, and they can chat while tending for their tomatoes, potatoes and strawberries.

But driving towards Ocna de Fier, the branches of the trees were invading and narrowing the space above the road. None of them was cut and removed for traffic, and this might seem unacceptable for an English person. One reason is there’s not so much traffic at all, and there’s no high buses. I even doubt any buses go to this secluded place.

The image of the thick forest all around us, the music of the trees written on the land, sound after sound, in a rhythm known only to nature, made me rejoice, taking me out of my relaxed state. This was nature, close to its original state, not completely kneeled down by humans.

Next thing I need to do whenever I have the chance is go up in the mountains hiking. I’m not sure I’d be able to do mountain climbing soon, as my partner would for sure love to. If I’m ever going to, it will be with his support.

I’ll get you to Ocna de Fier with me in my next post here.

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