The Maramures Museum is located in the very middle of Piata Libertatii, in the center of Sighet. This museum is dedicated to the cultural and pastoral history of the region, and features a wide variety of handicrafts made in the areas surrounding Sighet. You can see masks and costumes used in local festivals, gorgeous textiles (and the looms used to make them), large-scale wood carvings and other local products. Like most European museums The Maramures Museum is closed on Mondays; Tuesday through Sunday the opening hours are 10:00 to 6:00. Admission does not exceed five lei and there may be a similar photo tax.
While the Roman Catholic Church may be the second-largest in Romania, the Roman Catholic Church building in Sighet is easily the town's largest and most imposing church. Built in the 1700s, this Baroque church looms over Piata Libertatii and features a unique sun clock inside its entrance. Explore its more opulent interior (with paintings, sculptures and stained-glass windows), and contrast it with the nearby Hungarian Reformed Church.
The Hungarian Reformed Church (also called the Calvinist Church) in Sighet is the city's oldest surviving original building. Today visitors can enter the building to see it's simple interior. As I mentioned in an earlier tip, control of Sighet has, throughout history, been passed back and forth between Romania and Hungary. The Hungarian Reformed Church's members are mainly of Hungarian descent, and even within Romania Hungarian is the church's main language. Make this church a stop on your tour of Sighet, followed by a visit to the much larger Roman Catholic Church.
Located at the west end of Piata Libertatii, the Hungarian Monument is a stark black and white reminder of the city's history. From the 1300s to the 1700s the city was passed back-and-forth between Transylvanian and Hungarian hands. After World War I it became part of Romania, and then during World War II it became part of Hungary again. After the war the city was once again returned to Romania. I believe this monument commemorates the contributions of Hungarian city residents who were killed in the world wars.
The market ("Piata Agroalimentara") in Sighet is a great place to explore. And I recommend you go while you can, because the whole place seems to be sinking! I visited after a prolonged period of heavy rains in the summer, and there were dangerous-looking sinkholes all over the place! The first thing to catch my eye was a large basket of white eggplant, which I had never seen before. There were lots of other locally-grown fruits and vegetables, in addition to meats, cheeses and baked goods (this is a great place to try placinta for the first time!). Signs at Cobwobs Hostel suggest there is also a great bean soup stall here- I didn't find it but I did end up having a great meal at La Ilisca. I always like to put tips about markets in Things to Do, rather than Shopping, because I think exploring a local market can be an experience in itself regardless of whether or not you make a purchase. This is especially true of Sighet's market, which is definitely worth a visit while you're in town.
Sighet's city center is a mere two kilometres from the Ukrainian border, meaning intrepid travelers can WALK to another country! Coming from Canada, where you can be 2,000 kilometres (or more) from the nearest border crossing, walking to another country seems pretty cool!
To get to the Ukrainian border, just head north on Str. Titilescu (far west end of Piati Libertatii). You'll arrive at a border crossing which exists almost entirely to funnel vodka and cigarettes into the EU... which means the wait is looooong. Have no fear, Occidentalism is here! Just smile, wave your Western passport around and shout, "Tourist!" Within minutes you'll be escorted to the front of the line. This works all "four" times- out of Romania, into Ukraine, out of Ukraine and back into Romania. I felt a smidgen guilty but was assured by MANY locals in the line that this is normal procedure and that I shouldn't feel bad. The day I crossed it was POURING rain and everyone seemed pretty surprised by and interested in a twenty-something girl braving the elements to walk to a vodka- and cigarette-running town! Popping over for the day is free, so you shouldn't need to pay anyone at the border.
Once you're on the other side you'll be in a town called Solotvyno (Slatina in Romanian or Солотвино when written in Ukrainian- you might need to know that for your immigration card). Right away you'll see the large number of minimarkets, providing vodka and cigarettes to Romanians carrying it back to the UK. If you do choose to buy these things (and it might be worth it- I don't smoke but bottles of vodka go for less than two dollars) you may be asked to wait in the regular line when you return to Romania. I couldn't find much to do in Solotyvno... I ate some pierogies, looked in a church or two, climbed up a hill to a cemetery, bought a silly school book, looked at vodka and wandered around some apartment blocks. If the weather had been better I might have considered going further afield, as I believe there are therapeutic springs and/or salt mines nearby (as well as some crazy Ukrainian village nightlife!). Banks in Solotyvno won't change Romanian money, but a back-room currency exchange operates on the top floor of the two-story general store near Laura Minimarket (use the exterior stairs).
While you're visiting the Merry Cemetery and its carver's home in Săpânţa, make sure to take a wander up and down the village roads. This is a great opportunity to familiarize yourself with some of the area's unique architecture. Some of the stand-out features of local architecture include gorgeous wooden gates (see the third photo), decorative exterior hangings (second photo) and spectacular tile work. You're apt to pass horse-drawn carriages and stray livestock while you wander, and all of the local residents will greet you with a smile.
Only a few blocks from the Merry Cemetery in Săpânţa (oh, and that's pronounced "sa-POONT-suh") you will find the residence of the cemetery's current carver- Dumitru Pop. The exterior of the house is beautifully decorated and features a traditional wooden gate along with lots of carvings by both Pop and the cemetery's creator, Stan Ioan Patras. Admission is three lei and I wasn't able to determine hours of operation- nobody (but 'em chickens) seemed to be around when I visited.
Twelve kilometres down the road from Sighet lies the little village of Săpânţa, famed internationally for its Merry Cemetery (Cimitirul Vesel). This cemetery is a must-see stop on your tour of Romania.
All the way back in the 1930s, Stan Ioan Patras began carving and painting tombstones that celebrated the lives of those who passed in a humourous manner. The epitaphs are written as short poems, and often describe the way the person died in addition to the highlights of their lives. The cemetery is a resting place for many commoners from the local community, so you're just as likely to read about the achievements of a housewife as a general. Wandering in between the grave markers is heartwarming and truly celebrates the universal human experience.
There is a small admission fee (about five lei) to enter the cemetery, and no information is available in English. The ground seems to be sinking a bit, so wear shoes that you can get wet. To reach the cemetery you can drive, take a morning bus (which leaves obscenely early and doesn't get you back to Sighet) or do what I did- ride-share from Sighet (about two blocks west of Cobwobs Hostel on Str. Avram Iancu there is a corner where passengers can connect with drivers. It's also easy to hitch back.
Elie Wiesel is a Nobel Peace Prize-winning writer, activist and Holocaust survivor. He was born in Sighet, and today his childhood home is a museum that exhibits memorabilia from Wiesel's distinguished life. When I visited I was the only guest, and a young employee was happy to provide information in English. The museum is closed Mondays and has a small admission charge.
"Communism = bad." Here in Canada, sitting peacefully beside an Obama-led America, that seems to be the message we get from Republican politicians in the media every day. Sadly, visiting the Memorial to the Victims of Communism and to the Resistance won't do much to change your mind (don't tell Glenn Beck!).
When the Communists took control of Romania they took over the historic prison in Sighet, and used it to hold anyone they suspected might possibly one day oppose Communist leadership. This included former government officials and religious leaders, as well as intellectuals such as journalists, academics, economists and historians. In four years nearly two hundred great thinkers were brought to the prison, and more than a quarter of the inmates died inside the building.
Today the prison is one of the most important museums in Romania. When you enter you will be offered information in English, and you can travel through the prison exploring the prisoners' actual cells, nearly all of which have been converted into miniature exhibits showcasing different topics. Exhibits cover topics such as communist repression, how the rule of law crumbled, and how Romania's former totalitarian system gained traction. If ever a building held the spirits of its former occupants this is it; the museum here is infinitely more eerie and distressing than its more-famous Budapest counterpart (Terror House). There is a sculpture garden in the courtyard, as well as a tranquil candle-lit memorial.
The museum is normally open seven days a week from 9:30 am, with closing hours varying depending on season. Admission is an affordable six lei (or less) with an equivalent photo tax (worth it!).