On July 2, 2015, after a year of planning, I returned to the Muranska Planina region of Slovakia with several members of my extended family. On July 3 we visited our ancestral village, Muranska Lehota, and had experiences beyond anything I had imagined for the trip. Our adventures the following day were no less magical.
Saturday, July 4, 2015: Our guide Samuel led us to the heavily forested back entrance to the Muran Castle park. Jergus, Samuel’s forest ranger friend, proceeded to lead our caravan into the park further than tourists are usually allowed to travel by car. We slowly crept up a dirt path barely wide enough for a single car, let alone Jergus’s Land Rover. There were few guardrails and many steep drop offs. So when we reached a clearing, a large lush meadow, I exhaled.
On July 2, 2015, after a year of planning, I returned to the Muranska Planina region of Slovakia with several members of my extended family. Seven of us traveled from Budapest; the rest met in Bratislava to embark from there. In all we were eighteen Americans representing three generations – could we pull this off? As the organizer of this family reunion adventure, I wondered and worried – would this journey live up to everyone’s expectations?
Other than setting dates, sending a few emails to book lodging and a translator/guide and making a rough itinerary, I didn’t do much homework. I went with all of the leads from my scouting trip in 2013. The rest I left up to fate and modest expectations. I would roll with whatever transpired. Having traveled to this part of Europe 11 times, I knew the deal. This was how I always travel.
It started with a walk in the Carpathian Mountains from my living room sofa. Late one night, I typed “Muran Lehota, Slovakia” into Google maps. Having recently discovered the many cool features of Google maps, I had been meaning to check out the village that my Grandma Pauline had once quizzed me on how to spell. Muranska Lehota first appeared as a pink raindrop upon a green and sparse landscape. A closer zoom showed a lonely highway. Another click revealed a long access road leading to a village of two streets. With a swipe of my finger, I found myself in the village via “street view”. I started a virtual stroll down the street and a house caught my eye. It resembled a house in a photo I had scanned to digital format at a family reunion. The story is that Grandma Pauline had snapped that picture of house 29 in 1981 during her first and only visit to her parents’ village. I pulled up my electronic copy of the photo, and except for a new roof and peeling stucco, it was a perfect match with the house on Google maps.
I’m happy to see that Transylvania, a place my husband and I first traveled to in 1999, is now considered to be “the world’s best region to travel in 2016” by Lonely Planet. We knew it back then. Dracula legends and connotations aside, Transylvania is a mountainous wonderland of history and nature.
In the Transylvanian villages of Mera, Buza, Szaszcsavas, Parajd, and Szek, warm, friendly people opened their homes and fed us like kings. We hiked, danced, drank wine under a full moon, swam in a salt lake, enjoyed a folk concert in a salt mine, hunted for snails with our hosts, and explored the ruins of the Bonchida castle, which has since undergone restoration. We even attended a village christening, carefully dressed in traditional garb by the family who hosted us.
I was forever touched by my first journey to Transylvania. My yet-to-be published novel “Circle of the Silver Birch Trees” draws heavily on my experience exploring this unique European destination. It makes me smile that this special place is gaining recognition in the wider world.
I’ve recently rediscovered running and finished my first 10K. I say “rediscovered” because I did a brief cross-country stint my sophomore year in high school. (I admit now that 20 years ago I was motivated only by cute boys and the cool preppy windbreaker that came with being on the team.)
Write what you know…this is the sound advice that every new author hears along with write the story that only you can write.
So here goes.