I am a huge advocate for experiential travel because I believe experiencing a place means more than just showing up to a monument or landmark and snapping a photo. Travel is all about learning, when it comes down to it, and one of the best ways to learn from travel is by immersing ourselves into the culture of the area we visit. Of course, it does not always happen. Sometimes I explore a city for days and feel as though I learned a lot about the place but have no authentic travel experiences. In my opinion, the people make the place so I’d prefer to learn from them. However, when it does happen, I often feel like I gain so much more from authentic travel because it really throws me into a country’s culture.
Authentic Travel in Sibiel
Recently, during a Press Trip to Romania, I traveled to a small village called Sibiel located just outside of the more well-known town of Sibiu and Northwest of Romania’s capital city, Bucharest. The village is quaint, surrounded by farmland, and filled with very kind and generous people. They’re very proud of their heritage and cultural resources while being more than willing to share it all with a visitor or fifty. Visiting the village was very exciting because I was eager to gain a better understanding of Romanian village life and to explore the Museum of Icons on Glass. The museum has one of the largest collections of religious icons painted on glass in the world and demonstrates excellent examples of glass painting artistry from, pretty much, every region of Romania. It’s even earned an award or two! But, even more exciting, was the moment presented an opportunity to have an authentic travel experience by participating in a traditional Romanian village wedding. That’s right! I went to a wedding in the town of Sibiel.
Now, before you start thinking I crashed some unsuspecting people’s big day, the wedding is an event put on by the entire village so tourists can really gain an understanding of one of their most important customs. At some point, the village of Sibiel decided it needed to do something in order to survive as a village. Therefore, the villagers decided to put their rich cultural resources to work and it’s certainly paying off. As you walk through the small town, you can see improvements happening left and right. It’s certainly not in a state of disrepair and it’s wonderful to see a small village have such agency and self-determination in a world filled with big dogs. It helps bring tourism to the town which in turn facilitates the town’s improvements and increases the quality of life for the villagers themselves.
Was it really an authentic travel experience then?
Absolutely! If you ever find yourself in Sibiel and have the opportunity to participate, be prepared to spend the entire day being heavily involved with the wedding. Of course, no one actually was married that day but every single aspect was an authentic experience right down to the clothes we wore for the event. What makes it even better is every single villager from the elders to the youngest children are involved in this event. It literally takes a village and everyone who lives in the village participates because it benefits the entire town. That being said, the wedding process was simmered down to a shorter more digestible event for us as visitors. Some of the villagers let me know weddings usually last anywhere from 3 days to a week and the events are often spread out.
But overall, this really gave us a better understanding of the customs and traditions surround traditional Romanian weddings and offered an authentic travel experience which, short of attending an actual wedding, could not have been any better.
So, what was involved?
The first thing we did was follow our guides, riding horses in traditional clothing, to the town’s school where we were all fitted for the proper clothing to wear to a wedding. That’s right, we all put on traditional Romanian outfits before we even began the wedding process. And yes, trust me, a Romanian village wedding is quite the process. The really neat thing about our outfits is that every outfit came from a different region or town in Romania. Our clothes for the day were very representative of the diversity of culture found within Romania. For instance, my outfit was in the style of region of Romania called Maramureș located in the far North of the country nearly in the Ukraine. Meanwhile, some of my companions were dressed in outfits from Sibiu, Bucharest, and other regions of Romania. It really added a level legitimacy to our authentic travel experience.
Finding the Groom
The first major step in the wedding experience was finding the groom. We walked through the beautiful village as participants shouted and chanted searching for the groom. When we finally came to the house where the groom was “hiding,” we entered the small compound and were greeted by bread with salt. The tradition of eating bread dipped in salt when entering someone’s home goes back hundreds and hundreds of years and indicates friendship, safety, and hospitality towards the guest. We also were treated to a bit of house made wine which was quite delicious as we enjoyed the music played by local musicians. Soon after, we began to parade out of the home, groom in tow, as the villagers sang and shouted a song of sorts which I wasn’t able to comprehend.
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The Godparents Home
When we left the groom’s home, we headed through the village to the home of the godparents so that we could take them to the bride’s home. As soon as we arrived, we met the owners of the home and enjoyed an incredibly delicious pear cake. I cannot explain in words how tasty this cake was to me. I’ll have the recipe up on the blog soon enough. The same general process occurred at the godparents home as at the grooms home. Wine and a snack were served, words were exchanged, music was played, a bit of dancing took place, and then we made our way to the bride’s home. At this point the procession was definitely more of a parade.
The Bride’s Home
As soon as we arrived at the bride’s home, they’re was quite the commotion of people, a few farm animals, instruments, and such. As music played, we entered the bride’s home small group by small group to see the bride and groom together and also to catch a glimpse of what a villager’s home is like in Sibiel. We drank wine and ate another delicious cake while the bride and groom were brought outside where the ceremony would take place. A few prayers were said and a couple of songs were sung as we and the village women and men stood around the bride and groom. Then it was off to our final destination!
The Community Center
The village of Sibiel is home to its own community center which serves as a sort of town hall as well as an event’s space. We paraded down the main street of the village until we reached the community center. At this point, we all gathered just outside the community center to watch the villagers engage in some very lively traditional Romanian dancing. Then the village elders said certain prayers and blessed the bride and groom (as well as everyone else) with sprinkling of water as we entered. The center was set up for a feast which we enjoyed as we watched the bride and groom dance with their wedding party, listened to live Romanian music, and some of us even engaged in the dancing too (not me).
Why do authentic travel experiences matter?
As cultural experiences go, this was a pretty authentic situation. It’s not everyday you get to participate in the wedding of strangers, so this is the next best thing. For me, these types of participatory events really give me a better understanding of the culture and the opportunity to spend some time with locals. Experiential travel leads to a more authentic travel enlightenment and, in a way, makes our world smaller and smaller which is a good thing in my book. On top of this, the funds from this experience definitely go toward improving the lives of the villagers and the village itself. It helps empower the villagers, while increasing their agency, to improve their own lives while giving them the opportunity to share their cultural resources with travelers, such as me, in an effort to preserve that same culture. In a world where younger people are leaving their hometowns by the droves, this is so important. Otherwise, the vibrancy of these smaller villages could be lost forever.
Things to Remember:
- When you’re offered wine, you don’t have to accept. But if you do, you should drink the full glass. It’s offensive to leave wine in a glass when you’ve been offered.
- If you’re offered bread and salt, accept. It’s a symbol of friendship.
- At a wedding, don’t begin eating or drinking before the bride and groom eat.
- Be prepared to eat A LOT and drink even more. There were 4 courses plus dessert and the wine was ever flowing.
- If you go to an actual Romanian wedding, it’s typical to give money as a gift in an envelope (to cover the cost of you and your family’s attendance).
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How does a traditional Romanian village wedding sound to you?
What’s your favorite authentic travel experience?
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