Village Life was founded by Alexandra Vasiliu in 2011 and in part, focuses on connecting travelers in southern Romania with local families in a variety of small villages (much of Romania’s population still lives in villages). Village Life has developed close relationships with residents in these particular villages and visitors will experience a slice of local life often not experienced during one’s travels.
Travelers are encouraged to participate in local traditions – visits are good for not only the travelers but also the hosts as their perspective often is limited to what they see on television or their immediate world around them.
My discovery of Village Life was quite coincidental. Several years ago I found a quote on a travel blog maintained by Alexandra and her husband Greg.
“I believe now that the richness of a travel experience is given by the ability of switching perspectives. We live in a world of cliches, where our image and feelings about a place usually come either from a sensationalist media, or from a greedy tourism industry, which both thrive on our ignorance”.
That quote inspired me to write them at that time.
During a recent stay in Bucharest I saw a flyer at my hostel that mentioned home-stays in small remote Romanian villages. I went to the website and checked out their ‘about us’ page and immediately recognized the photos of both Alexandra and Greg. When I first contacted them several years ago, they had not yet founded Village Life.
After a few last minute phone calls my village home-stay was arranged. A local agronomist engineer picked me up at the station platform as the train from Bucharest arrived promptly. He spoke very little English but hand gestures and a few select words go a long ways towards communicating the basics.
The village of choice was a region near the town of Golesti – well known for its amazing museum. It is rare to have a museum of this size (40 hectares) in such a small town. The museum focuses on two aspects, ethnography and viticulture (wine making) and fruit growing.
While there are a number of valuable historical items inside the museum, the outdoor living museum provides more of a hands on experience for visitors. It is a large collection of authentic Romanian homes that have been moved here – each unique to various parts of the country.
After the museum stop, my visit was like being with family. Next up was a visit to a friend whose livelihood is farming – the table grape harvest is just beginning – the “freshness” of his farm was presented for sale (grapes, tomatoes, honey) on a small table in front of a swinging metal gate next to the side of the road.
We visited another friend who was spending his lazy late summer afternoons fishing on his private lake. He offered beer perfectly chilled by the cold waters of a spring, followed by a tour of his personal distillery. This involved a tremendous amount of hand gestures culminating with a tasting of the high alcohol spirits!
Part of the immersion in the village for travelers is with families who have children. The Village Life program allows the children to practice their English when often their parents or grandparents do not speak English. This was certainly true of my visit.
Activities that are mundane and just part of daily life to the villagers often are exciting and new – especially to urban travelers. How often do city dwellers get to help with milking cows – and then enjoy the warm milk with the cream not yet strained off the top – for breakfast.
The end of August is an ideal time to visit the countryside. The prune season is just wrapping up, apples and pears are on the way, table grapes are starting to ripen and the most delicious watermelons can be purchased on the side of the road. I enjoyed one of the top three watermelons I have ever tasted – it is sad that I can actually remember this and count the number – one was from a road side stand in Mississippi another from a garden in Red Bluff California and now from a small village in southern Romania!
As Alexandra mentioned, “we strive to always find a balance between sending too many travelers to stay with a family and too few”. Part of what makes a visit and a stay with a family unique is the curiosity that both the villagers and the traveler have for each others different lifestyles. Too many visitors breaks this curiosity down, too few visitors doesn’t financially justify the home-stay program.
Homestays like the ones offered by Village Life make a trip more memorable – and and certainly allows travelers to connect with another way of life often dramatically different than ones’ own.
www.villagelife.ro lists a number of villages currently available for home-stay. Each village listed is somewhat unique ranging from geographical setting, to activities offered, history and type of agricultural products grown.
The host family I stayed with
Taking the cow back to the barn after grazing all day
Dan, our extremely knowledgeable tour guide at the Golesti Museum and Mr. Saure, our host for the day
Beautiful wine grapes, about three weeks away from harvest
Dirt road leading to the village I stayed in
One of only three wine presses from the 1300’s still in existence in Romania. In the museum in Golesti.