With the Paramotor above the Churches of Transylvania – Day 1

How it all started

It all started with a chance encounter in the parking lot. I was heading home on my home-built recumbent bicycle, Barni was working on one of his businesses or hobbies. These two overlap for him most of the time, and one of them included building a paramotor trike to take passengers with him in tandem flights. I love the company of passionate people with sufficiently crazy ideas, and he needed someone with creative welding skills. We knew each other remotely from the paragliding scene, but a partnership and friendship quickly evolved of these mutual interests.

Excitement in the garage when the trike started to take shape.

We built the trike in less than a month using his design ideas and my technical skills. It all happened in a small garage, the way other great ideas are born. The maiden voyage in a foggy October morning was an adrenaline rush. We both knew that it would work, but taking off on something we have just built with the weld seams still warm definitely gave me the strongest combination of thrilling attention and joy. The trike quickly became a taxi for many, but we had some more ideas with it for sharing another adventure.

Before the first takeoff.

We started discussing about going on a paramotor trip of several days. We would take up in the morning, fly for several hours, get down, refuel and fly some more. The theory was simple. We chose to explore a region in Transylvania once inhabited by German (Saxon) people who fled in the Communist period of Romania and in the chaos that followed immediately after the regime change. The Saxons left behind a beautiful network of tidy villages with precisely crafted houses and fortified churches.

We chose the triangle between Sighisoara (down, right), Agnita (down, left) and Medias (middle, top).

Except for a few touristy areas like Sighisoara or Biertan, most villages in this region are frozen in time. They are located in side valleys with the access road in a very bad shape, very few tourists reaching them and the Romanian and Rroma population left behind living off subsistence farming.

Fortified church in Biertan (DE: Birthälm, HU: Berethalom)

Note: All place names are given in three languages: Romanian first because we live in the present, then German, because they built these villages, and then Hungarian, because this region was under Hungarian administration for most of the time when the Saxons lived there.

The fortified churches in the village centres are beautiful combinations of a fortress and a church. Each of them is different. They are obviously the result of the effort and ideas of a closed community without a central authority directing them using force, taxes or subsidies. There are similarities, especially in neighboring villages, but each of them is very unique.

So we set off to explore this historic area. On Google Earth I created a kml file with all the sites worth visiting and the petrol stations in the area. This was all the information we used for planning our day trips each morning. As Barni had some tandems to fly on the day we were supposed to start our expedition, we arrived late in the afternoon to Agnita (DE: Agnetheln, HU: Szentágota) in the middle of our target zone. It was just right to do a one hour of flight before sunset. We visited the village of Iacobeni (DE: Jakobsdorf , HU: Jakabfalva) and Agnita.

At Iacobeni we got low in the calm evening air, and made rounds around the church tower. It was exhilarating, like flying around 800 year-old pilons in a paramotor competition. People in the village were cheering and waving at us. Visiting these untouched and innocent places with a paramotor trike and getting low above the villages felt very intense. To keep the intensity of the experience, we decided to sleep in Barni’s van instead of looking for a motel/hostel.

Having an open fire and barbecuing in the dark felt intense indeed. Even more, the sub-zero temperatures that made our beers freeze. The next morning we waited for the sun to melt and burn off the frost and off we went to visit Medias (DE: Mediasch, HU: Meggyes), some 50 km away.

I had to add this pic below, because it was imprinted in my mind when getting to sleep in the car (whenever I was not focused on keeping the cold out of my sleeping bag.)

With the Paramotor above the Churches of Transylvania – Day 2 – from Medias

Flaying back from Medias

Medias city centre.

The takeoff from the patch of grass surrounded by everything you don’t want to crash into was anything but normal. There was no wind to help us. With his competition-pilot skills, Barni managed to cruise around in tight circles to avoid all obstacles and still get enough lift to climb out and above the cityscape. No filming, sorry for that, I was terrified enough not to care about the camera.

As we checked out in Medias while having a coffee, there were enough empty spaces without overhanging cables to land in the city center, so we went back to visit it again, this time in the air.

On the ride back we could fly low and get personal with a few villages with an outstanding architecture. These are still in the mainstream, with tourists visiting the fortified churches and generating income to the villages. Biertan (Birthälm, Berethalom) was the first with its castle-like church, which is the most elaborate and poetic rural fortified church in the region.

At Biertan we got down and close to the church tower again, so after visiting the village, we had to climb up again with the paramotor. We were quite heavy and the motor had a hard time pushing us, so to climb out from the valleys we needed to hitch a ride on thermals too to help us get high.

Above picture: getting some height in thermals after Biertan. Next stop: Malancrav (DE: Malmkrog, HU: Almakerék). At Malancrav they have an almost Spartan church, the complete opposite of the romanticism of Biertan (Ok, I did it, I used this word in the non-historic meaning). There is also a manor house of the Apafi family (then owned by the Bethlen family, then by the communists, then by the Evagngelical church and now by the Mihai Eminescu Trust, which renovated it properly).

Our track at Malancrav. By this time we had a pattern to our visit: arriving high, burning some altitude in spirals and wingovers, next the tour of honour around the church tower and leaving low, almost scratching the roofs.

On the way back we visited Iacobeni again. I enjoyed this low-level approach so much, that I need to share the video here too. I have a feeling that there are too many churches and towers in this post already, but hey, that was our focus here on this trip.

Landed at our base camp. That’s me, signing the picture in the lower right corner with my shadow.

With the Paramotor above the Churches of Transylvania – Day 2 – Sighisoara

Flying to Sighisoara and back

It was already late in the afternoon, but we did not stop after our trip to Medias. We refuelled, ate something and off we went to visit Sighisoara (DE: Schäßburg, HU: Segesvár), another major attraction of this region.

It was a magic flight with the setting sun flooding every building of Sighisoara with orange light, but it did not end there.

On the way back we made a small detour and flew over Noiștat (DE: Neustadt, HU: Újváros). Check how the roof on the building next to the church has collapsed.

We were after another hidden gem, however, the small village of Movile (DE: Hundertbüchlen, HU: Százhalom). They didn’t even have an asphalted road leading to the village, just some gravel full of potholes. The village is misnamed even on google maps/earth (it is called Iacobeni, which around 10 km from here).

But the church in the village has two towers spaced exactly like pilons in a paramotor competition. On the approach to the village, we came up with the brilliant idea to fly figure 8-s around the two church towers just like at a competition. Barni did not shy away from the task.

At the end we moved our camp from this lovely field to Sighisoara and stayed overnight simply in his van in a parking lot. Plain and simple.

With the Paramotor above the Churches of Transylvania – Day 3

Flying above Rupea Fortress

After spending the night in the van at the walls of the Sighisoara fortress (Burg in German) and some butter croissants at the supermarket, we headed off to do the final leg of our paramotor trip around the Rupea fortress. When we found a good field to serve as our takeoff, the early morning mist was still rising in the whitish light. It was a deafening silence as we had breakfast sitting on toolboxes, only interrupted by my phone chirping that I had new e-mail and his customers calling him to supply them with coffee.

It was time for us both to confess that neither of us could hold a regular job for too long. Getting ready for takeoff on Monday morning when everybody is in an early-hour frenzy is an experience that you cannot have if you care too much about your 9 to 5 job.

The fort at Rupea (HU: Kőhalom, DE: Reps) was the first on our trip, followed by the fortified church at Homorod (same name in all other languages).

We left the main road then and climbed across a few hills to get to Roades (HU: Rádos, DE: Raddeln). It was a completely different site cut off from the busy motorised society.

We found a fortified church with a collapsed tower. I was wondering while filming from above: how much time would it take for the German locals to rebuild this tower two hundred years ago? But it would have not collapsed back then because they maintained it properly.

We had one last stop on our journey at Viscri (HU: Fehéregyháza, DE: Weiskirich). It was a beautifully preserved robust church with thick walls and towers, a UNESCO world heritage site.

I really enjoyed that we still have so much wild beauty in this country and you can still do whatever you like to experience it. We have almost complete freedom of handling, just not hurt anybody or cause too much damage.