Transylvania where Cluj is situated was described by Bram Stoker as ‘one of the wildest and least known parts of Europe’.
Last week our team, a group of 35 nervously excited first seat trainees, boarded the plane to embark on Addleshaw Goddard’s fourth annual pre-induction trip to Romania. The week long visit to Cluj is run through Habitat for Humanity, an international housing charity, and we were tasked with building a house for a family in need. Given that we were a team of novice builders, our apprehension was no better once we arrived on-site and the reality of the building project hit us.
We were assigned tasks ranging from digging trenches and mixing cement, to roofing and a range of other building jobs which we would ordinarily only observe from afar.
The temperature remained consistently hot reaching 41 degrees and the two onsite doctors were certainly kept busy ensuring we took on enough water. Our confidence grew as we developed the requisite skills and despite the lack of building experience and exhaustion, our enthusiasm did not waver.
Early in the week we met the Bote family for whom the house was being built. It was at this point for me that I realised the enormous benefit of our helping hands. The Bote family lived in a very small second floor flat which they shared with two other families. The mother of the family was reliant on a wheelchair and this made access to and from the building very difficult.
The ‘work hard, play hard’ philosophy was lived to its fullest. There wasn’t a single night when we didn’t venture out to the local musical haven, aka ‘Club Janis’ and it is probably best not to mention the time which some of us ended our nights. The drinks were cheap with ‘Redds’ being favoured by the girls and ‘Ursus’ by the boys. We were also treated to a bowling night and the sounds of our own delightful voices at ‘My Way’, a karaoke bar with an amazing live band. Amongst the packed crowd, we were given the special treatment with the singer buying us a large bottle of Jack Daniels.
The local cuisine consisted of copious amounts of beautifully presented cheese. Thankfully, there were other enticing things on the menu such as sarmale, mamaliga, and papanasi, which are all tasty Romanian delicacies.
A tourist trail beckoned educating us about the historic province of Transylvania, which included fascinating stories other than those of Dracula! Cluj itself is pretty with historic buildings, charming churches and having four universities, the city has an engaging vibe. Travelling a short distance out of the city centre is the peaceful rural setting, which Bram Stoker alluded to.
We also made a visit to the cold Turda salt mine which was extraordinary to see first hand and to taste. Within the mine there was a huge lake and being a competitive bunch, we attempted a boat race, but having a few experienced rowers amongst us gave some teams a clear advantage.
Most importantly, we completed the house we were building, and the keys were handed over to the family by the local mayor in a very moving ceremony at the end of the week. A priest blessed the house and we all celebrated with donuts made by the family. Clutching onto our certificates presented to us by the mayor we returned to the UK, extremely proud of our achievement and most importantly with 34 fantastic new friends who we shared the experience of a lifetime with.