Cluj Napoca, Romania. The Parcul Etnografic Romulus Vuia is on the edge of town, associated with the Muzeul Etnografica al Transilvaniei in the city center. Visitors can hike between homes, churches, and other examples of regional, traditional Romanian architecture. On this visit I was lucky to have a personal emissary, my new local friend, who helped me "break through" to a real experience here. Where there is sparse and dry signage, the power of a personal exchange with people can not be overestimated.
The only other visitors we saw were on a photo shoot.
A general rule: When museum staff see a local escorting a foreigner, they want to join in. Thanks to my new friend's contagious enthusiasm, a staff woman took us "under her wing", leading us to some of the best sights, literally unlocking doors for us using an ancient wooden key. Like this church, where the ceilings were so low she encouraged me to lay on the dirt floor to take a photo.
Studying this garden, we exchanged memories of our grandmother's cooking, and Romanian recipes.
The inside of the homes all have that eerie air of missing people. My friend made it come alive with her own perspective. Proof that a museum visit can be a vehicle for people to socialize. Being the same age, we were interested to share and compare life stories, before and after the revolution.
These tiny thatched houses were under reconstruction by Romanians from the Carpathian mountains. Because my informal emissary could translate, they were excited to describe their elaborate and sustainable building techniques, still a "living" art thanks to the museum.
Later, another man appeared out of nowhere, and offered to open the central church for us, still actively used for services.
Mediated tours would be the best offering at a museum like this. Human contact is the critical glue. But an informal personal emissary is even better! Spontaneous chats with staff are fundamentally different than organized tours. There's a natural generosity that comes from this connection. Spontaneous humor and honesty. And after we left the museum, my emissary took me for a hike in the haunted forest....