My name is Nige Burton and, apart from being a director of Freebird New Media Ltd, I’m also a freelance writer and photographer, specialising in travel, classic horror films and celebrity interviews. Some of my writing, such as my novels Joe and Me and Beyond the Forest, are written under my pen name, Ethan Lee. I am a regular contributor to One Nation Magazine, CNN, Schmap Guides and many local and national publications, including Photo Pro Magazine. My work has also been used by Random House and the musician Susan Gardener. I am chairman of the charity Chernobyl Heart, which I founded with my partner, and a trustee of Fleetwood Museum. I have worked professionally as a lecturer at Blackburn University, and teach landscape photography at Aspire Photography Training. I’m also a contributor to Getty Images.
A few years ago I made the decision to visit a place which had fascinated me since childhood – Transylvania. When I announced this is where I was bound for my summer holiday, strangers thought me eccentric and friends thought me mad. Transylvania? Isn’t that in Russia somewhere? (They had no idea of what was to come further down the line! Wait ’til they hear about my planned visit to Chernobyl later this year!) What would you want to go there for? Etc, etc… I’m sure you get the picture.
Now, up until this point in my life, I’d pretty much visited the usual old places we all do – you know, Spain, Greece and more traditional European destinations – save for an eye-opener of a trip to communist Bulgaria with my school way back in 1979, after which I got a ‘damn good hiding’ on my return for literally selling the clothes on my back on the black market. Mind you, I did get twenty-five quid for an Adidas t-shirt (a small fortune for a teenager in the late 70s) and even £15 for an edition of Motor.
My trip to Transylvania, that beautiful land beyond the forest, rewarded my sense of adventure beyond my wildest dreams. Once the 24 hour journey was under my belt (believe me, by the time I’d been in a taxi, a train, a plane and then a private minibus for a four hour trek up into the Carpathians, with all the associated waiting around, that’s exactly what it was) and I’d got over the shock of Tarom Airlines and the fact that they still allowed passengers to smoke on board, I thought I’d arrived in Paradise. Well, almost.
I fetched up at a place called Poiana Brasov, a little tourist spot about eight miles above Brasov, nestling quietly in the majestic mountains. It wasn’t so much the place itself, although I did love it despite its man-made lake – it was just the whole experience of being in such an organic, unspoilt land with its simple, charming folk. And I mean simple in the best possible way – these people know how to live off the land, relatively stress-free and – in my opinion – all the better for it. They may not have all our western material riches, but they possess a strength of spirit and values which could teach us all a thing or two about true happiness and how to attain it.
Life in Poiana Brasov is a quiet affair, as it basks in its 90 degree summer sunshine. There were a surprising number of tourists milling about, but the pace was most definitely unhurried. Even the bear rummaging for food in our hotel bins wasn’t particularly fussed about anything. I figured that as nobody else seemed to bat an eyelid, he probably wasn’t about to eat me, but equally I wasn’t going to offer him one of my crisps.
Strange too are the indigenous packs of wild dogs, once tame pets who had been cruelly cast into the streets by Nicolai Ceauşescu as he ousted their owners from their homes and resettled them in concrete tenements; they weren’t allowed to take their beloved pets with them. The resulting packs that roam and forage can be quite daunting, but in reality they do little harm, resembling more a motley cast of Disney characters from some bizarre cartoon existence. That’s sometimes how life feels in Romania.
You can read more about my travels in this incredible land in my Romania section, but the most important thing to acknowledge here is just how much this whole experience whetted my appetite for travel which was – let’s just say a little off the beaten track. In the ensuing years I have grown to love Eastern Europe, and whether it’s been Romania, Poland, Russia, Hungary, the Czech Republic or Lithuania, I’ve found each of these amazing destinations has its own charm and culture, each as fascinating and educational as the others.
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