This programme has been written by the culturalOnce upon a time, in 1284, the tiny town of Hamelyn (Hameln) in Westfalia was invaded by rats and mice. Nothing worked - no traps, no cats, no poison. Till a stranger came and offered to rid the town of the pest. A price was agreed and the stranger played a magic tune coercing the rats and mice to follow him into the river Weser, where they drowned. The happy inhabitants started to sing and dance, forgetting about payment. The Piper left the town only to return one early morning, very early. He played a different magic tune and 130 children rose in their nightgowns and followed the Piper to a near-by hill, Koppenberg, which opened up to receive them, then closed.
" Association of the Children of the Pied-piper of Hamelyn", Romania, for
"Company of Mysterious Joruneys", licensed tour-operator, Romania
THE CHILDREN OF THE PIED-PIPER OF HAMELYN: the ROMANIAN END, in TRANSYLVANIA
This metaphor of the departure of groups of Saxons, Luxemburgers, Flanders to faraway lands in eastern Europe - is a treasured legend of mankind.
One day, though, in 1819, the brothers Grimm announced - in their "Deutsche Sagen" - that the Children did not perish, they surfaced somewhere in Transylvania. "In their relative seclusion, the Lower Saxons who have emigrated to Transylvania about 700 years ago, preserved the oral traditions purer and more folk-like than us (in Germany)" - said Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm.
Then a Transylvanian priest serving with the Black Church in Brasov, Friederich Mueller, followed Grimm's advice to write down the oral tales while people still remembered them. He toured Saxon communities in Transylvania and published a little-known book, "Siebenburgische Sagen" (Tales of Transylvania) which mentions, under Tale No. 141 (in brief): "We, Germans of Transylvania, are the children taken by the Pied-piper from Hamelyn, and we traveled a long time under the ground (in the unknown) and emerged in the middle of Transylvania through the cave of Meresti in the Varghis Gorge - then spread to our seven cities and many villages".
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900 years apart, "Company of Mysterious Journeys" re-discovered the cave of Meresti in the middle of Transylvania, Romania - in a wild place, a karstic area with 125 other caves. The Meresti is the longest (over 1 kilometre), in its primeval state, with mounds of bat-guano and fallen rocks from the ceiling. The enormous entrance, which can room a church, narrows to a trickle, then broadens up again, inside. The remains of a mediaeval wall at the entrance show that the villagers sent their elderly, women and children, and cattle, inside the cave - whenever the Turks or the Tartars roamed in the neighbourhood.
Follow into the footsteps of the Children of Hamelyn, as they emerged in the middle of the Varghis Gorge, Transylvania. Blinking, weary and dirty, they must have washed in the clear waters of the Varghis stream, then rested on the grass, in a meadow. Then they spread to their future seven cities and many villages.
Some, nevertheless, surfaced in the winter. In the village of Nades, for instance, the Saxon children - dressed in robes, with a rope tied around the waist, march every February toward their church, led by a drummer (leader, piper). When asked what they are doing, they say they re-enact their arrival 850 years ago, crossing the river on ice, as there were no bridges at the time.
What has become of the Children of the Pied-piper? Let's enter the legend.
DAY 1: GATHERING DAY
DAY 2: The Cave of emergence: MERESTI, in the middle of Transylvania
The rocky gates of the Varghis Gorge will stop our bus. Prepare to walk along the shore of the stream, over mossy pebbles and boulders, changing shores at times - into the geologic marvel of 3-storied caves, 125 in all, as the stream had cut ever deeper into the lime stone walls. The Meresti is on the second layer of caves. You will never find it alone, behind clusters of trees. Climb an iron ladder to its enormous entrance, enter the legend. You will be invited to step inside the dark halls of the cave, past guano mounds, listening to dropping water, to the occasional flutter of a bat's wing and to your heart beat. Then to emerge - just like the Children did 900 years ago - in the middle of Transylvania.
That afternoon you'll set up camp on the meadow at the gate of the Gorge - tent, mattress, sleeping-bag, wood for the camp fire, basket-food, watched - no doubt - by the curious eyes of the deer, bears and wild-boars. Shepherd dogs might wait for a treat, in dignified posture. If the time is right, pick your berries and fish for your trout in the Varghis stream. That's what the Children must have done.
DAY 3: the first village of the Children in TransylvaniaThe Pied-piper settled the Children in parts of southern and central Transylvania. A handful of them founded the village of Viscri, watched by the curious Romanians and the first Szecklers who had just arrived there, too,- as they marched in the dusty road toward their location. The population were small at that time and much of the land laid virgin, baren.
Take your rooms in traditional Saxon houses, with tall beds, painted furniture and those wall-hangings praising the virtues of a good housekeeper. Descendants of the Children will attend to your needs, then serve you dinner, and show their fortified church. Find out survival rules and solidarity at its best, legends, beliefs, superstitions, hopes and fears in this timeless corner of Transylvania.
Overnight in Viscri.
DAY 4: CHILD of the PIED-PIPERToday we shall put you to work. Some may choose to cut or turn the hay in the field, to dry. Others may choose the care of horses, cows, sheep, geese. Others still may wish to learn Saxon cuisine, helping with the meals. There is something to do for everyone - knitting socks, sweeping fallen leaves, gathering fruits in the orchard, repairing tools, cutting wood or tending tombs in the cemetery of the first Children, under the walls of the fortified church.
The evening is for play and song and dance, or meditation, and more legends. Overnight in Viscri.
DAY 5: the best-preserved mediaeval town in Europe belongs to the ChildrenTransylvania has 140 villages and 7 towns inhabited by the Children of the Pied-piper of Hamelyn (generically known as Saxons).
The best-preserved 15 century walled-town in Europe is called Sighisoara - and lies in the middle of Transylvania (UNESCO heritage). The early Children, 900 years ago, found there a small Romanian village with "floating mills" on the bank of Tarnava Mare river. The Saxons settled near-by, and placed high walls (and 14 towers) around their 150 houses, on a hill - especially after the damage done by the Tartar invasion of 1241.
Many and great are the secrets of a mediaeval town.
Overnight in Sighisoara.
DAY 6: the "WITCH-TRIAL" and other marvelsThe Catholic parts of Transylvania had their share of witch-trials, in the hundreds (the last took place as near as 1753).
After a sightseeing tour (museums included, especially the genuine prison-cell), witness the re-enactment of a witch-trial. The script abides by the documents.
You may wish to dine in the very house in which prince Vlad Dracula, nicknamed The Impaler, was born - in 1431 (that was also the year his princely father returned from Nuremberg as knight in The Order of the Dragon).
Sample the spirit of the Children as you explore the cobblestone streets, the antique shops and that ineffable air of history proper to stonified Time.
Overnight in Sighisoara.
DAY 7: the GLORY TIME of the CHILDRENFrom humble villages and towns, through hard work (privileges helped) the Children rose to economic and political pre-eminence in Transylvania. Their manufactured goods reached far away markets in the Middle East. Such riches attracted attacks by Turks and Tartars, leading to sophisticated defence systems.
Welcome in Brasov, one of the wealthiest towns of the Children. Princes and kings and emperors sought the friendship and alliance of Brasov.
Visit this magnificent city - the ancient parts (mentioned on Roman maps), the mediaeval and the modern.
Overnight in Brasov or Poiana Brasov (the resort above the city).
Optionals: dinner with folk show and wine-tasting; other theme restaurants and bars; night clubs; casino; disco; cabarets.
DAY 8: Crown your tour with a Nobility TitleYou have crossed 900 years of history in one week.
Today you are invited to see Castle Bran, built by the Children in 1377 to defend the Transylvanian end of a Pass to Valahia (optionally - also the fortress of Rasnov).
The afternoon is free - unless you wish (optional event) to add a nobility title to your name (there is a difference between Mr. or Mrs. Johnson and Sir or Lady Johnson, wouldn't you say?). This title cannot be bought, it is based on personal merit. You will be initiated into Knightly Orders, then taken to the Citadel in Brasov, a 16 century fortress, where the Castellan and his court of knights, ladies-in-waiting , pages, jester will see if you can pass 6 chivalry tests: archery, strength of arm, walking on a beam, jumping through a fire, answering a riddle, dancing a minuet. If you can pass them - and many could - then investiture ceremonies will be activated : oath, sword-on-shoulder, knighthooding diploma, medallion.
DAY 9: Romantically yours
The Company of Mysterious Journeys will penalize the tourists who renounce their bookings as follows (subtracting bank-transfer charges):
1) for cancellation of 30 and more days before the tour start: full refunding (minus banking charges)
2) for 29-21 days cancellation: 30% penalty
3) for 20-14 days cancellation: 50% penalty
4) for 13-7 days or less cancellation: 100% penalty in favour of the CMJ.