Last week, we made our last official trip. We all decided to stay in-country this time-Romania is so beautiful and so incredibly green (it reminds me a bit of the Pacific Northwest), and I feel like I haven’t gotten to see much of it yet.Our group chose to go to Braşov, a beautiful city in the Transylvanian Alps with a lot of history.
Now, before I go any further, those of you who know me will be wondering if I made it to Dracula’s castle. And no, I don’t mean Bran, the castle Bram Stoker had in mind when he wrote his famous novel. I’m talking about Cetatea Poenari, the wilderness fortress that the man who inspired Dracula, Vlad the Impaler, built.
It’s much to my regret that I announce that no, I wasn’t able to make it out to the ruins on this trip. It’s a long story. But stay tuned-there will be a part two!
Anyway, upon arriving in Braşov, I did a little exploring and got my first wonderful surprise-midovik. For those of you who don’t know, midovik is Russian honey layer cake, and it’s indescribable. I’ve been looking back through some of these entries, and I feel like all I’ve described about my travels is food and pastries. You can take from that what you will.
We spent the rest of the evening in Piața Sfatului (Council Square), shopping for handmade souvenirs and enjoying mici (Romanian sausages, spicy and good with mustard).
The next morning, we decided to take the bus to Sinaia, which was just a remote mountain shepherding village before one of Romania’s kings, Carol I, decided to build the magnificent Peleş Castle there as his summer home.
One of our Romanian friends, Ruxandra, told us it would be worthwhile to hike up to the rock formations on top of a nearby mountain. We got all set to ride the gondola up the peak, only to find that it had been closed due to high winds. Luckily, there was a man on hand to assure us that he would take us and another family up for the same price. That may sound slightly sketchy, but maxitaxis are the way to get around in Romania. They’re basically fourteen-passenger vans, and they’re much cheaper and faster than the train. I’m not a huge fan, because I’m pretty claustrophobic, but I really wanted to go hiking.
And it was definitely worth it. As we got closer to the summit, we could see herds of sheep and their shepherds doing what they’ve been doing since before the Romans came. Flowers sprouted from every crevice of rock, and rivers ran in between the hills. There were no trees, and it was one of the most open spaces I’ve ever seen.
After a long hike that made me realize how out of shape I was, we came to the formations. One is called the Sfinx (named for the one in Egypt) and the other the Babele (Old Ladies). They’ve been created by centuries of erosion and are pretty cool, though the hike was my favorite part.
The next day, we went out to Bran. This was probably my least favorite part of the trip, because the town was choked with Dracula seekers, as was the castle. Even knowing the popularity of the Dracula legend, I wasn’t expecting it to be such a tourist trap.
The castle itself wasn’t bad, though. It’s smaller than I pictured it, perched on a cliff overlooking the valley below. Rather than being dedicated to the legend, the museum inside is mostly centered around the castle’s most famous inhabitant, the kind and beloved Queen Marie. She was a granddaughter of Queen Victoria who adopted Romania as her home when she married into the royal family. It was really interesting to see how she lived.
The last morning I spent exploring Braşov’s Old Town, which I loved because of all the history. I’m sorry about the nerdiness of this post-I’ll try to keep it to a minimum here, but no promises.
The first landmark I went to was Poarta Ecatarinei (Catherine’s Gate), which is pictured at the top. It is the only original medieval gate still standing, completed in 1559. It became the only gate which the Romanian-speaking population (who were forced to live outside the city by the Germans who lived inside) could enter by, and they had to pay a toll. The four turrets at the top represent the city’s right to administer capital punishment. Dark, right?
Later, Poarta Ecatarinei was partially bricked up, and the Poarta Scheii, another nearby gate, was used instead. When the Romanian population began to push for equal rights, the first Romanian-language school was built here, next to the beautiful Sfânta Nicolai church complex. My favorite church in Braşov, though, was the medieval Biserica Neagră-but more to come on that, as well.
Beyond the gates and the churches, at the side of Tâmpa Mountain, is the Tâmpa Promenade, where the remnants of the medieval city walls are still preserved. Each bastion or tower is named for a particular guild of the city, to whom its keeping was entrusted, like the Carpenters’ Tower and the Rope Makers’ Bastion. The plaster of the walls and towers was almost four meters thick in some places (see, I’m starting to talk like a European!)
The last thing I saw was one of the narrowest streets in Europe, Strada Sforii. I had to suck in a breath when I went through (claustrophobia, remember?)
Honestly, I’ve had so much fun on these vacations, but I’m glad they’re over. I’ve accepted the fact that I’ll be exhausted until I get home. The main problem is missing the kids when I’m away. I’m beginning to see a little progress in each of them-a word here, more social interaction there. I know now that helping people is what I want to do for the rest of my life.
Today marks exactly twenty-five days until we go home, and I’m determined to make the most of it.