Transylvania: A Weekend With Vampires
We go on many excursions with my study abroad program. So far this semester, we have made day trips to Esztergom, Visegrad, and Eger, and a weekend-long pilgrimage to honor the Kids of Pest (Hungarian Revolution of 1956). This past weekend, we embarked upon our final and most involved excursion: staying with host families in an ethnically Hungarian village in Transylvania.
Although my title makes reference to Vampires, to no one’s real surprise, we encountered none. We did, however, climb a “mountain” to visit a medieval fortress, eat more delicious Hungarian food than I can possibly relay, visit many small villages, and bask in the unparalleled beauty of the Transylvanian landscape. For those of you who did not know until now, Transylvania is a real place located between Hungary and Romania, long contested by the two countries. For a large part of its history, the area was officially Hungarian. After the end of World War I, however, the land was partitioned and became part of Romania, though the majority of Hungarians remained in their villages. This is why there are many ethnically Hungarian villages in Transylvania; it was in one of these villages that we stayed.
Kalotoszentkiraly, which means “the village of the saint king,” is a Hungarian Reformed Presbyterian village of approximately 1,300 people, 200 of whom are Orthodox Rumanians. I stayed in an absolutely gorgeous home with my host mother, Kata, her husband, her in-laws, four of my fellow students, and our program leaders. Kata welcomed us into her home, fed us until we could eat no more, and patiently listened to us struggle our way through conversations in Hungarian, the only language spoken in Kalotoszentkiraly. Our host house also had a small farm, pigs, chickens, and even buffalo. Everything we ate came from our host family’s garden, including the rose hip jam for which our host mother is famous.
We stayed in Transylvania for two full days. On Friday, we went to a salt mine that has been renovated into a museum and recreational area. By recreational area, I mean that at about 200 meters below ground, there were pool tables, tables, chairs, wifi, and a lake with paddle boats. Of course we commandeered the paddle boats, and I—being the super obnoxious nerd that I am—quoted riddles from The Hobbit as we paddled around the underground lake. That afternoon, we went to a beautiful village and hiked up to the ruins of a fortress, where we played until dinnertime.
We spent Saturday morning in Cluj, the biggest city in Transylvania, before returning to the village to watch the Harvest Parade. Afterwards, we ventured to an artisan market village, where we watched a man hand-carve chess pieces. That evening, we attended the Harvest Dance, a celebration of the autumn harvest hosted in the village’s community center with live traditional music and dancing. Just as we had spent the rest of the weekend struggling through conversations, we spent the night struggling through dances. It was the perfect end to a fantastic weekend.