Not knowing where to go next we decided on Transylvania because of all the great reports and it sounded so different from where we had already been. Our train arrived at the Sighisoara Station at noonish. We hailed a cab and made our way across the river to our home for the next three nights, 'The Joker' hotel. A few minutes walk from the centre of the old town for $30 a night it proves to be a great place to wind down for a few days. After a rest we walked around the small town. We instantly fall in love with the new and different architecture and the many colors of the buildings.
Sighisoara is a Unesco world heritage site. This well preserved medieval town has buildings dating back to the 13th century and quite different from what we have seen so far on this trip. The clock tower and churches are at the top of the hill in the old walled city so we make our way up the cobblestone road to look around. There are not many tourists here and it is all so laid back and relaxed.
Dinner was a hearty vegetable soup and bread. Bread is a staple everywhere in Europe it seems. They have little take out windows here on a couple of storefronts that sell these round bagel/pretzel looking things that people line up all day for. We had to try some of course and were immediately hooked.
The roofs of the buildings are very steep and have the rounded red tiles. Home owners take great pride in their homes and gardens with many flowers in bloom and tomatoes, grapes and corn ready to be picked.
Day 16. A short hike back to the top of the hill to the walled city allows us to explore the many buildings.
This is the birthplace of Vlad the Impaler, AKA Dracula. The real story is that Vlad's father was given the order of the dragon for bravery and dragon in Romanian is Dracu. There is a very long story about Vlad, but the short version is that he became a very good but brutal fighter against the Turks. He killed and tortured up to 100,000 men women and children burning entire villages. He became very feared by the Turks as when they were advancing upon a town to conquer, they would find people who had been impaled by Vlad lining each side of the road and so the invaders would quite often then retreat.
Bram Stoker did a story and movie loosely based upon this and in fact he had never even been to Romania before.
The walled city is all hilly and difficult to walk on the narrow roads with uneven cobblestones. I feel drunk. No high heels are worn here.
People are still living inside the walls and there are two schools. The high school is at the top of a covered walkway which has 176 steps. We climbed to the top and found a lovely old church and a very informative and friendly young man who explained about the area for us. Under the church was a crypt. I asked who would have been buried there and he said the rich. That is where the saying 'stinking rich ' comes from. The rich would be put under the church and the congregation would have to endure the smell of rotting bodies during the church service.
A graveyard adjoined the church and dated back many centuries with family plots that still have residents buried there now, condominium style I assume.
A large Catholic Church rings the bell at 7AM, noon and 7PM daily. It rings and rings and rings, maybe 25 or more times a go. This is a tradition that has carried on from days gone by so that people knew when to stop and have their meals.
Later in the evening we went out for dinner again. There are not many restaurants here as it is a small town. There seem to be a lot of coffee houses where you can get alcohol as well, but other than pastries no food. Everyone seems to smoke and inside the restaurants as well. The non smoking area appears to be outside.
DAY 17. Last night we arranged to have a local guide, Peter,our guide and driver, picked us up at the hotel at 9AM for a day out in the country. Peter is around 35 years of age and the name of his company is Wanderlust, which I thought was appropriate. He had a great deal of information to share with us about Romania. There are a lot of German speakers in Romania and communities of people of German ancestry. For that reason Romania was not bothered too much by the Nazis in the Second World War until 1944, (unless you were a gypsy). The EU so far has not been great for Romania. Farmers are paid an allowance of so much per hectare for farming their land. More if they let it go to grassland than farm it. They want France to provide most of Europe with produce so a lot of farmers and factory workers have been displaced in Romania. It sounds like there really isn't much of an export business here at all any more.
During communist occupation, which similar to Hungary was after the war until 20 years ago, everyone was working but the factories were not profitable so after the occupation many of them closed down.
70% of the produce that the farmers grow are organic. There are monsanto and fertilizer companies but most farmers can't afford to buy it and figured out pretty quickly that the old fashioned way was better anyhow. Most of the farming is done by horse or hand. The miles and miles of corn are all picked by hand. Most farmers around here can't afford tractors and the cost of gas is high. The farms are on hillsides and they find that horses are better to traverse them than tractors anyhow.
Our first stop is an old church in a small village. On the hill we see a fortress. At one time there was a tunnel to the hill from the church so that people could escape from approaching invaders. These churches are both a place to worship but also a place to hide and fight the enemy.
When an enemy was coming the church bell would ring to warn everyone. There were three kinds of rings. One to warn of enemies attacking, one for a fire and one for church.
The woman, children and large animals would head up the hill to the fortress. The men would go to the church.
At the back of the church, which dates back to 1300, there is a stone circular staircase. It is narrow, dark and difficult to climb. Circular stairs always cork screw the same way. They are designed for defending. The soldier coming down the stairs could fight with a sword in his right hand, however the attacker is unable to use his sword because of the angle of the stairs. I suppose most were right handed back then.
We arrived at the top and were in a room above the church. There are small windows and holes in the floor where the residents would defend their church from. They could pour hot oil, water and drop rocks onto the attackers with ease. They also would shoot arrows and crossbows (and later muskets) though the windows. These men were not soldiers but farmers and town folk. It is amazing that this church still stands, relatively in tact as it was centuries ago.
The next town was down a very long and badly kept road. We pass many shepherds with their flocks of sheep. It would be a very lonely and boring job to be a shepherd I would think.
Prince Charles has a home in the town we arrive at. A very modest home in a town of only a few hundred. He likes to come here for a couple of weeks in the year to get away from it all and just be a regular person. The towns people leave him alone and he gets to walk the hills, hunt and ride the horse and wagon around. It is a very peaceful place.
We tour another church /fortress which has a museum in it. We are learning about the life of Romanians from early times to present day. Transylvania is a melting pot of religions and cultures. There were never any wars over religion here during the past few centuries. I find the Romanian language sounds a lot like Italian to me. They sing when they speak, it is quite lovely.
Lunch was waiting for us in another small town at a farm. Everything was from the garden, or in the case of the meat, shot by the sons of the owner. Doug had a plate of beans with Venison and Wild Boar. I had beans, vegetable soup, sour cabbage and macaroni with sheep's cheese. We were offered a fruit liquor, like schnapps , that everyone has a shot of for lunch. When we politely declined we were brought a pitcher of wine. We declined that as well. Drinking for lunch and dinner is the norm. I sit and eat my lunch in a lovely room decorated with antlers, skeletal heads of big horned animals and taxidermy on the walls.
The owner was redoing the roof of the building. The clay roof tiles will last up to 300 years, only the wooden struts need to be replaced and the tiles used over and over again.
A final church was toured, each one different from the last, and then we started our journey back home after a long but interesting six hour tour.
Day 18. The train to Brasov was supposed to leave at 11:30AM but we did not board until 1:30PM. We splurged for first class seats for an extra $10 but find that there is not much difference from second class really. The costs here are very inexpensive. We are living on around $50 each a day, but this will quickly change when we reach Italy I am sure.
Upon arrival at Brasov we arrange a taxi to our hotel. For the second time we are charged four times what it should be.Funny thing is that the driver gave us some great rates for day trips while we are here, but because of the rip off we won't use him now.
Our hotel is in the old part of Brasov and the nicest we have stayed at so far. New and clean we are happy to rest here for a short while before exploring the old town.
A wall surrounds the main area which we followed past a small creek with the white and black towers on top of the hill.
Brasov is another lovely medieval town and we are instantly captivated with the old colorful buildings with the various architectural styles.
Transylvania was part of Austria in the past so there is a definite Viennese style once again. Many outdoor restaurants are found on the pedestrian walkway but we chose to eat inside as there is an unusual cold front right now. Everyone is in their winter clothes, I definitely did not pack enough warm clothes.
Day 19. Last night I emailed a fellow that was found on the internet and arranged a tour to three outlying castles. He website said 'tour guide' but alas he turned out to be only a driver who talked as we went from place to place. When we arrived at our location we were on our own which was a disappointment. While driving he was a wealth of information and very opinionated about the Romanian Government and politics in general.
A sunny but cold day we started off at Bran Castle, the one used as the castle for 'Dracula' movies.
Bran is located at the top of a hill and was given as a gift from Romania to the much loved Romanian Queen Mary and King Ferdinand. It is a very modest castle, as castles go, but I loved it.
One of the most interesting things at this castle was a weigh scale that they used in the Middle Ages to see if convicts were followers of satan or not. The prisoner would sit on one side and they would put rocks on the other. They believed that if you weighed less than they thought that you should, you must be a Satan worshipper. You were then tortured until you admitted being a follower of Satan. If, however, the convict weighed what they thought he should, he was then set free.
Outside the castle was an area of tourist souvenirs and food items for sale. This is a large sheep farming area and you could find slippers, vests and items made from sheep skin. There were a lot of tour groups here today. An older man was selling apples from his farm and I took one and asked how much. He said in gesture "only 1?" No charge. I insisted on paying but he was adamant that I needn't pay for only one apple. I got another for Doug and paid him a small amount. The Romanian's are so kind and gentle.
Our next stop took us through the Carpathian mountains and hills which are covered in deciduous trees of yellows oranges and reds. In a couple of weeks they will be an explosion of color and rival the East Coast of Canada I am sure.
Rasnov Fortress was perched high on a hill overlooking the farms and villages below. A young man asked if we would like to have a guide and we accepted his offer. This was a decision that we did not regret as he was full of interesting historical information about the fort and the area. In 2000 an Italian businessman bought the fort from the Romanian government and changed a number of things in the hopes of turning it into a hotel. He made up stories of historic events that did not happen and had no knowledge of restoring the fort to keep it's historical significance. Eventually the Romanian government realized what was going on and bought the fort back from him before more damage could be done.
Our guide informed us that in medieval times they used poison ivy to cover the meat in the cold area of the castle as this would help to preserve it as well as keep the flys off.
Peles Castle was the third stop and the Grand Palace of Queen Mary and King Ferdinand. Even the Hermitage in Russia was not quite as over the top as this. It was quite fantastic and rather than see if for the gaudy and opulent place that it was, I looked rather at the amazing work of the artists who contributed to it. There were walls, ceilings and furniture with intricate inlaid wood and marble pictures. Mirrors and glass work that must have been created by very talented craftsmen lined the walls and chandeliers.
We were at the end of a very long but full day and went for dinner before heading back to the hotel. Our guide did not allow us the time to stop for lunch so we were famished.
The food here is very good, but everywhere we have been thus far has a huge Italian influence with most of the menu being Pizza and Pasta dishes.
Day 20. Satisfied from our full breakfast we left our luggage at the front desk and spent the day exploring Brasnov. The city is the size of Victoria but we concentrate ourselves only in the old historic part. The pedestrian walkway is very busy, it is the weekend and there are lots of people from Bucharest and outlying areas that come for a holiday. A weekend market is set up with farmers selling their produce and locally made preserves and baking.
I found a pair of sandals to replace the ones I lost in Vancouver. They are not great but only cost $8 so will do if I can't find anything else on our travels. An art museum was on the agenda. The two floors of Romanian art displayed had virtually no light so the dark paintings, which I am sure were great, were very difficult to see.
Our last stop was 'The Black Church' which is called that because it was in a huge fire in the 1600s. We tried to visit earlier in the day but there was a wedding taking place. Someone was tuning the organ so we sat in the pews for a while and listened to some beautiful music. The church is very unique and magnificent
Our train left for Bucharest on time and took us through picturesque farmland, craggy mountains and hills ablaze with trees in transition.
The only problems we have had in any country so far with being ripped off has been in train stations by taxis so we arranged to have our hotel send a car for us.
Romanian people are very patient people, until they get behind the wheel of a car. We were originally going to rent a car but saw how they drove and the cost of renting a car and driver was not much more so glad to have made that choice. Lanes are just a suggestion and tailgating a national sport. It is not quite as bad as India but nerve-wracking for sure. Our ride tonight was with a man who had been a champion rally driver and it was very apparent. He was very skilled at weaving in and out of traffic with ease.
Day 21. To travel west by train proved to be quite an ordeal and was going to take 24 hours because you had to go north then south. To save time and money we decided to fly, but need to fly to Istanbul to then fly west. That is where we are now as I write this, killing time on our 7 hour layover in this huge and busy airport.
To sum it all up Romania was a wonderful surprise. The people, countryside and history was more than we expected. It was a very inexpensive country to visit and we always felt safe and hotels and restaurants were always clean and more than satisfactory. We are very glad that we decided to go.
Now onto find some warmer weather......