Escaping the civilization we live in has been sort of a trend lately. All those things around us giving us the feeling of necessity, all those people requiring our attention and all those items we might find completely useless at some point, no wonder we feel overwhelmed and tired. If you are looking for the perfect place to shut down all the stress and pressure there is no need to be Alexander Supertramp and travel Alaska. You can find your paradise closer than you would have thought.
Before coming to Romania I made a list of places I wanted to visit. Couple weeks before going back home the list was almost over, except for one place. The time has come and I was ready to go south and visit the place where almost 200 years ago people from my home country – Bohemia – emigrated to, in order to escape the Austrian-Hungarian empire, settle down and wood mine. I had heard before that they still speak the Czech language, cook the Czech meals and even use the Czech currency but honestly I did not really believe that. The second I stepped out of the car on the dirt road of village called Svatá Helena (Sfanta Elena) local salesman Mr. Štěpnička prooved me that I was wrong. Trust me, after almost 6 months of living and working outside of my homecountry using all different languages it feels special to have a real conversation in your mother tongue.
Svatá Helena is an incredible place. The largest and most populated of all those six Czech villages placed in the area called Czech Banat close to the Romanian-Serbian border. The population is cca 400 inhabitans and all together with the other villages (Gerník/Gârnic, Rovensko/Ravensca, Bígr/Bigăr, Eibentál/Eibenthal and Šumice) the total population rises up to 2000 inhabitans. In the past the possibility of feeding the family was mainly provided by local mines but after the closing couple years back most of the households are fully depending on agriculture. Because of the tourism and great support of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Czech Republic and Czech non-profit organizations this place is still able to offer a virgin nature and a sneak peak to the simple life of simple people whose mentality has not been affected by materialism. To cut a long story short if you consider yourself an active tourist interested in learning about different cultures, tasting different food and finding out a little bit of history, this is a place to go. If you just want to relax lying in the meadows on the peaks of Carpathians watching the sunset over the Danube river and the sheeps, cows and horses living their peaceful life you might appreciate this place as well.
For me personally visiting Banát was one of the most incredible experiences of my life. Staying in a house where people still heat the rooms using tiled stove, sleep under feather duvet and cook 100% homemade traditional meals that you can hardly find even in the most „traditional“ restaurants was very refreshing. Walking down the dirt roads with no cars around, listening to the ringing bells tied around the sheeps´ necks and barking shepherd dogs felt so different. Different in a very positive way. During my five-day-short stay I got a chance to walk all the touristic paths around Svatá Helena, talk to the locals, drink draught beer with them and buy some homemade honey from them. The very last day I also got a chance to visit local elementary school in Svatá Helena and in Gerník where I surprisingly ended up teaching three Czech language classes which was another unforgettable experience of my life. Spending the day with Czech teacher was very interesting and I discovered a lot about this place. Words can not describe how thankful I am for people being so naturally generous and big-hearted with me.
The situation there doesn´t look very positive, young generation tries to use the advantage of speaking Czech and moves to Czech Republic. Schools are emptier and emptier year by year and even though the tourism and interest of the supporters keep increasing, nobody dares to guess how long are these special villages able to survive and keep their unique atmosphere. I honestly hope that this was not my last visit and whenever I will come back these places stay as breath-taking and special as they are now. If you want to find out more about this area and check all the touristic information visit www.banat.cz or www.clovekvtisni.cz.