Soars, Viscri & the obligatory Charles rant

To Soars, a small village just over the hills from Fagaras, a village in which Mother-in-law of Bucharest Life worked (at the mayor’s office) for a time in the 1980s. Some friends have a house there, and as we were at a loose end this holiday weekend we decided to go: we hadn’t been for getting on a decade.

Soars
Soars
Soars
Our rather agreeable accommodation in Soars

First thing we noticed is that mobile phones now work in the village (those of the Orange variety at least). On our last visit there was no signal of any real strength via either of the main networks, and making a call quite literally meant waiting until the wind was blowing a bit and then climbing up on to the church roof.

Soars – like almost all of the villages in the area – was a Saxon settlement all but abandoned in 1990 when the population upped sticks and fled to Germany. Few have returned. The village (like most in the area) is struggling. Although it’s just 12 kilometres from Fagaras the extremely poor state of the roads turns the journey into a bone-crusher that can take a good half an hour or more. And as we were to discover, the road from Fagaras to Soars is – by the standards of the area – relatively good.

Soars, you see, is not far from Viscri, currently the most en vogue village in Romania. It has been made famous by none other than our eternal nemesis, that great friend of Romania, Prince Charles, who owns property there.

Indeed, it is difficult to even mention Viscri – not least if you are English – without the name of the heir to the British throne cropping up. He is almost invariably mentioned in glowing terms, and when we proffer our own views on the man, offence is sometimes taken. Quite why, we have no idea. As we have said before (many, many times) the man is no friend of Romania, nor the Romanian countryside and absolutely not the Romanian peasant. His entire world view is based on the simple idea of ‘know your place’. To Charles, peasants were born peasants because that’s the role they were assigned in the grand scheme of things, just as princes, kings and queens were born to rule. The notion of social mobility, of peasants becoming kings, queens, princes or astronauts is one Charles rejects. His work in Romania is therefore all about keeping peasants exactly where they are, ensuring that they know their place and obey their betters.

Anyway, being so close to Viscri (at least we thought) we decided to pay the place a visit, to see what kind of fame and riches the patronage of Brian has brought the village. We are alas inclined to report (not without a slight hint of ‘we told you so’ in our voice) that the place remains more or less as it was pre-Charles: a bit of a dump.

Viscri
Viscri
The Fortified Church at Viscri
The Fortified Church at Viscri

Certainly, the village’s fortified church is impressive and worth a visit if you can get there (more on that subject later). A couple of houses have been renovated and offer accommodation, and the village pub appeared to be doing a roaring trade. Outside some of the village’s houses locals had put handicrafts and such like on tables in the hope of attracting the odd buyer, yet the overall impression you get visiting Viscri is much the same as that you get anywhere else in the Romanian countryside: poverty and desperation. If this is a showpiece, Potemkin-village, woe betide a few other places (such as Rotbav, a village through which we drove – at 10kph, the road does not allow you to go any faster – the following day. We’ve not seen such utter, grinding poverty since we climbed aboard the wrong bus while visiting Teotihuacan and ended up in one of Mexico City’s most desperate favelas).

As it is, Viscri today is the Romanian countryside in the image of Charles. For him, Viscri is more or less as good as it should get for a Romanian peasant. A home made of traditional materials, some land to farm (using traditional, back-breaking methods of course) and a regular stream of visitors to keep the village’s pensions in business. Why would anyone want more? Why would anyone aspire to the kind of life that, oh, Charles himself enjoys? A life of unadulterated privilege and luxury? No, dear peasants: such things are not for the likes of you.

No indeed they are not. For while Charles might want to make the life of the Romanian peasant (or at least some of them) a little less uncomfortable, he would be horrified if the population of the entire Romanian countryside decided en bloc to down tools in order to demand something better. Like the troopers sent to wipe out the Diggers’ claim on St. George’s Hill he would tell them to know their place and get back to work else they feel the wrath of their masters. So spare me the ‘friend of Romania’ bollocks. Charles is a reactionary determined to conserve the existing social order. If he genuinely cared for the Romanian peasant he would be trying to turn that order upside down. Yes, he may bring in a few tourists, but then so does Dracula, and you’d hardly call him an agent of progressive social change.

Viscri then, is not yet a model for the for the future of the Romanian countryside, neither is it the kind of place we could ever see ourselves settling down. For what it’s worth, there are plenty of other villages and churches in the area far more worthy of your time: Cincu and Mosna in particular. Even Soars – though its fortified church is little more than a ruin these days – is a far nicer place in our opinion than Viscri. And all of the places we have mentioned offer far better access than Viscri. The newly restored fortress at Rupea is also worth a look.

Which brings us to perhaps the biggest problem facing the old Saxon villages: the roads.

For all our objections to the happy peasant ideal, we have no doubts whatsoever that there is a genuine, special charm to the entire area. We by and large loved our time there. We are convinced that agro-tourism is a genuine alternative to working the land, and a way out of poverty and subsistence farming. Where we do have doubts is with the idea that such a route is available to anyone: right now it certainly isn’t, as although there are plenty of visitors, there simply aren’t enough. (There are also a number of other bureaucratic obstacles facing anyone wanting to open a pension. One is the need to obtain a ‘fire evacuation route’ certificate from the county fire brigade. Even if your property has just one room and one exit, the certificate – without which you can’t legally operate a pension of any kind – costs €1500).

Yet the biggest reason there aren’t enough visitors is that the shockingly poor access puts them off coming. Even celebrated Viscri is accessed via a terrible road (the DJ104L) from Bunesti or an even worse road from Rupea, via Dacia. Taking either route risks seriously damaging your car. The kind of potholes on the road are not the kind you see in Bucharest or other Romanian towns: these are more like bomb craters. With the exception of the DJ105 from Cincsor to Agnita, and the DJ141 from Barghis to Medias – which are OK – every road in what should be ground zero of Romanian agro-tourism looks as though it has suffered from a prolonged shelling campaign by an enemy army. The roads we have marked on the map below are all but impassable. In most parts of Europe they would be closed to traffic. Driving the 30 km from Soars to Viscri takes 90 minutes. Even in the unhurried world of the Romanian countryside, it puts you off.

Finally, by total coincidence, as we were enjoying our rural experience this weekend another of those ‘Romanian-travel-pieces-by-numbers‘ appeared in the LA Times. The usual suspects wet themselves.

You probably know our views on the subject (we have, after all, more or less outlined them all above).

For us, the clue is in the title of the piece: ‘Europe as it once was’. Now ask yourselves: Why? Why is the rest of Europe no longer like rural Romania?

Answer: (For the zillionth time) Europe long ago realised that it doesn’t want to live like a peasant. It doesn’t want to be sentenced to a lifetime of back-breaking agricultural labour using only medieval-era tools.

If other Europeans long ago decided they don’t fancy a lifetime of subsistence farming, why should Romanians be any different?

Answers on a postcard please.

  • Mr Rearguard

    ‘In Romania, slavery existed for almost 500 years, but there is nothing in the history books, no memorials’, Craig Turp………………..That’s because slavery still hasn’t been abolished. Instead it’s taken on a new form called, going to work, paying taxes, paying back the bankers, paying back for your motor you need to get to work to pay your taxes, pay your bankers. It’s a vicious circle that needs to be broken asap. And then after that you will get your memorials dedicated to slavery, amen.

  • Lease a Dacia Duster, Craig, like I am doing if you can’t handle Romania’s roads!

  • Romania is a goddamn backwater. That’s what makes it interesting!

    • CommonSense

      So are parts of American Davina. You’re just here because of the women, it’s cheap and you can get away with your “street photography”

      Nothing wrong with the women and cheap side of things though!

      • The reason I originally visited Romania in 2000 for the first time was actually because I knew it to be an inordinate East European backwater. I wanted to see the effects of the legacy of a diabolical dictator on unassuming people.

        • CommonSense

          And why are you here 15 years later?

          What’s the truth of it?

          • Mr Rearguard

            He’s spent the last 15 years saving up for his airfare home by selling his arse. Only a few more punters to go and Davin will have his taxi fare to Otopeni airport.

            • CommonSense

              It does make me wonder why the likes of Craig and Davina who aren’t Romanian, slag off the country so much and yet choose to live here?

              Bizarre.

  • CommonSense

    Can anyone name a single heinous act Prince Charles has ever done to Romania?

    He’s hardly in the same bracket as Ponta!

    Attack those who need challenging, not a bloke whose one of the countries few friends in UK upper classes.

  • CommonSense

    Craig

    I’ve still yet to see you, or anyone else, make a salient point as to why Prince Charles is number one enemy to Romania – what exactly has he done that is so heinous?

    He’s invested and speaks highly of Romania, so what exactly are you complaining about?

    Surely there are far more deserving of criticism, land owners in Romania, who’ve done far more for themselves, than Charles ever has.

    You’re really trying to suggest Charles sole intention is to make a village in Romania solely for peasants and he’s the number one enemy of Romania?

    I suppose you’re equally opposed to the preservation of Victorian Workhouses (Styal Mill) for historical and educational purposes or perhaps the Tower of London (slaves and torture happened) is equally as bad as Charles investing to help tourism and preserve Romania’s cultural past.

    You’re politics and social skills are all over the place, but often liberal loons are!

    • When have I ever said that Prince Charles is number one enemy to Romania?

      He is not a friend of the Romanian peasant, that’s what I said. Why? Because he supports a long-expired social model.

      As for opposing the preservation of Victorian Workhouses… that’s a straw man argument. Nobody still lives and works in a Victorian workhouse. They are museums. It is my wish to see the Romanian village become just that: a museum.

      • CommonSense

        Craig

        • CommonSense

          Craig

          So basically you don’t like Charles because he invests in parts of Romania to preserve and enhance rural life?

          It’s not as if he’s single handily forcing people into becoming peasants – you’d be far better attacking the Romanian authorities than a well meaning but out of touch member of the Royal Family.

          Can you please give just one example of where he’s made the life a misery or forced Romanian people into becoming peasants?

          I’d say he’s actually improved areas and enhanced tourism and exposure for this way of life – some of which you’ve been a tourist of yourself … All rather hypocritical one could say !

          • Phil

            I think the model of what Charlie – or rather, Kalnoky – is doing is quite sensitive and potentially helpful, ie the tourism doesn’t overwhelm the village. What Craig writes above, though, is that in Viscri this isn’t making any serious difference to the wealth or wellbeing of the village. So is it really improving things?

            • Things will not improve until something is done about the roads. That should be the number one priority of everyone involved.

            • CommonSense

              Craig

              So if Prince Charles used his own money to build new roads (which the Romanian authorities should be doing anyway) … He’d then be given praise by you instead?

              In other words, you make pretty damming attacks on a bloke whose well meaning and I’m quite sure he doesn’t want to ensure peasants stay peasants – but he does have a passion for the rural life, and seeks to invest and preserve its values – aren’t people in the village paid to act as old rural life peasants for tourism purposes?

              He’s not the man you should be attacking Craig – try Ponta and many of the corrupt Romanian land owners …

            • CommonSense-Less

              ‘ aren’t people in the village paid to act as old rural life peasants for tourism purposes?’

              HAHAHAAHAHAHA, Roger, you’re a f-ing idiot.

            • CommonSense

              @anon

              Why the abusive language and personal attack, can’t you debate properly or like a mature adult?

              I see you’re copying my name again, are you going to impersonate Geronimo again?

              I assume you’re picking up on a typo by me, a bit like when you couldn’t spell lynx properly lol – but hey it’s only a typo and I asked a valid question – you’re just choosing to once again try and ruin a decent thread.

              Why do you always try and ruin this forum?

              Haven’t you got 2 luxury cars to enjoy instead, or some homosexuals to degrade?