Sights on drive to Sighisoara
When you think about Romania, one of three things probably comes to mind: (1) Nadia Comaneci’s perfect 10 in the ’76 Olympics; (2) the draconian rule of Nicolae Ceausescu1 ; or (3) Dracula himself.  (After all, the count who was the inspiration for the evil character is said to hail from Transylvania, an area in central Romania.  His name was Vlad Tepes, or “Vlad the Impaler,” a name bestowed on him in recognition of his preferred method of punishing his enemies.)
Sights of Sighisoara, a Saxon village
We spent some time in Transylvania during our visit to Romania, and while we can’t testify to any close encounters with a blood-sucking monster, we did stay in what used to be a serf’s cottage on the grounds of a true Romanian Count’s former residence.  Located at the edge of a village called Miklosvar, which is so small that it didn’t even make our map, the cottage made a great base for exploring the area.  One day, we drove to the medieval town of Sighisoara, where we saw Vlad’s supposed childhood home, as well as the charming, cobblestoned Old Town, a bustling local market and a lovely Gothic church wherein lies a fresco of the Holy Trinity in which the Holy Spirit is depicted as a woman.
Cows coming home!
We also spent time exploring the countryside near the Count’s residence.  The area is peppered with tiny villages that seem to have remained largely unchanged over the last few centuries.  The progress of our Peugeot on the single, dirt road that led through each town was often hampered by slow-moving, horse-drawn carriages carrying hay and a couple of weather-beaten farmers.  Old women gossiped in front of what was often the only store in town.  Kids rode their bikes nearby and cast suspicious glances at the strange car with foreign plates.
Incredible Voronet Monastery in Guru Humorului
No matter what we did during the day, we always tried to make it back to Miklosvar by the time the cows came home.  And I mean this literally.  In that village and, as far as we could tell, in most of the surrounding ones as well, the cows come home at 7:50 on the dot.  That is to say, just a few minutes before the magic hour, the resident cowherd rounds them up from the pasture just outside of town and parades them slowly down the street.  Each cow seems to know where he or she lives and so, with no prompting from anyone, will turn off upon approaching the right house.  I think it’s one of those things that you have to see to believe.
Beautiful Humor Monastery
The painted monasteries of Romania’s Southern Bucovina region also fit into the so-much-more-amazing-when-seen-firsthand category.  Listed among the greatest artistic monuments of Europe, the monastic churches are covered inside and out with colorful, biblical-themed frescoes that were rendered in the 1500s. They are located inside fortified monastic complexes designed to stave off the attacks of Turkish invaders that were all too common in those days. During the attacks, the complexes sheltered both armies and peasants, many of whom were illiterate.  The frescoes were intended to educate and entertain this audience and, centuries later, they certainly delighted us.

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  1. A communist who was president of Romania for more than 20 years, from 1965 to 1989, Ceausescu brought Romania to its knees with idiotic and often cruel policies.  In an attempt to eliminate foreign debt and look good in front of the world, he exported Romania’s food while his own people were forced to ration what little remained.  In hopes of increasing Romania’s birth rate, he instituted a tax on childless women and men over the age of 25 and gave significant benefits to mothers who had at least five children.  Finally overthrown by revolutionaries, he and his wife were executed, after a two-hour trial, on Christmas Day in 1989. []