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 – to Medias

Flying to Medias

Day 2 started with frost covering everything like snow. We crawled out of the van like lizards and waited for the sun to heat us up. But we rather felt like butterflies. Carnivore butterflies after the beers and the barbecue of the previous evening.

Preparations before takeoff

We had some very nice places to visit en-route, and had to land at Medias to refuel before getting back. As we took off pretty late, thermals have already started. We had to fly high above the forested ridges and inhabited valleys to avoid the rough air and occasional sinking air near the ground.

The bird’s eye view from high above gave a different understanding of the region. The most striking difference was the reduced mobility of the people who built these places, and even of those who live there today. There is very little arable land in these narrow valleys, so I can only wonder what people lived of here centuries ago. It is striking from far away that these Saxon villages had very special rules of living together.

Bethlen castle at Cris (DE: Kreisch, HU: Keresd) built in the 15th century, now mostly in ruins. It has been given back to the Bethlen family (nobles and historic governors of Transylvania) in 2007 and restoration work has been started and the castle is given a new life and purpose again after decades of Communist neglect.

Fortified church in Valchid (DE: Waldhütten, HU: Váldhíd). It is in a state of disrepair (according to the news; we could not go down to check with our own eyes because of the turbulent air) after the Saxons leaving the village, and its South tower has collapsed. Even Prince Charles intervened about the lack or bad quality restoration work done in this area.

Passing over another fortified church at Brateiu (DE: Bretai, HU: Baráthely). The village is already in the main valley of the Târnava Mare river (DE:  Große Kokel, HU: Nagy-Küküllő) with the main road connectiong Sighisoara with Medias. Brateiu is best known now for its Rroma population of artizans manufacturing copper distillers and building intricate palaces in their own style.

Arriving at Medias.

Medias is a town of regional interest, with more urban structures, especially fuel pumps that we were interested in. At the first fuel pump we could not find a proper landing place, so went on to the town centre, where there was a fairly decent grass field (in the above picture in the middle) surrounded by high and low-voltage cables, cranes, houses, and trees. Barni landed effortlessly and I was grateful for his high-level professionalism. Together with crazy ideas, it makes an excellent package.

The gas station was only 400 metres away from landing, but we still managed to gave local people a great show cruising to it. People shot videos of us riding our wheeled hovercraft on the ground to the gas station. What could be less normal than that? We parked our strange craft at the gas station and went for a light stroll and a strong coffee in the city centre disguised as normal people.