This week I lost a friend.
I first met Monica Popovici in her newly opened craft shop in Sighisoara, the small medieval citadel in which I’ve spent so much time over recent years. It was late 2014 and I told her I was looking to bring people to visit Transylvania from the UK. She insisted I visit her house in Mesendorf as soon as possible; she might like to cook for my guests there, under a walnut tree in the plum orchard.
Within minutes of us meeting she closed her shop and we were on the road to Mesendorf. What I found was a perfectly proportioned blue cottage situated on the edge of a village of timeless beauty: wildflower meadows, untouched beech forests, flocks of sheep and buffalo. Monica had recently restored the house using only traditional methods. She even managed to persuade HRH The Prince of Wales to come and have a look when it was done. She told me he was impressed, and he had good reason to be.
We walked onto the hill above the house and took in views of the entire valley. I fell in love with the village and its surroundings in that moment. A year later my wife and I found ourselves driving out to Romania to spend six months living in Monica’s cottage, cooking on log-fuelled ovens, walking, indulging in Romanian rural life and working hard as we began hosting Slow Cyclists.
Our working friendship thrived. Monica poured her soul into the most extraordinary picnics, every detail considered and all delivered with authenticity, style and a relaxed charm that our guests appreciated. Visits to her orchard were always a highlight, and have remained so ever since. In 2016 she began cooking for us in a kitchen in Sighisoara, at first opening only for us but slowly for other visitors to the citadel, a place wanting quality, home-cooked food.
By 2018 Monica was running two beautiful craft shops in Sighisoara, two bed and breakfasts and a kitchen bistro; all while looking after her four children. And she was a campaigner for all sorts of things, working with like-minded local people to save monuments and ancient buildings from demolition, all because she loved the place she had chosen to call home. Her impeccable taste and infectious romanticism will be missed in Sighisoara and the villages that surround it. Quite simply, the place will not be the same without her.
A few weeks ago I received an email that put a smile on my face. Monica wrote to tell me she had been cured of one of the strains of cancer that she’d been fighting so bravely and felt positive about her chances of defeating the illness once and for all. She was excited about the coming year and was busying herself with refurbishing new, larger premises where she planned to open a new bistro.
That was the last I heard from Monica. She succumbed to her illness on Tuesday in Germany where she was undergoing treatment. When the dust has settled I’d like to think that we at The Slow Cyclist can do our little bit to make sure that Monica’s efforts to protect and preserve the way of life in this very special part of the world are not forgotten. But that is for another time.
For now, all that remains to say is that we’ll miss you Monica. Thank you for being the heart and soul of so many happy times.