Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Brasov Aug 23 to 27

Brasov to Bucharest
August 23: The bus trip was long, and the two-lane road wound through woodlands, fields, and small towns. Several places in the forested areas we passed families picnicking on blankets at the edge of the woods or on small meadows overlooking the fields. Some of the roads followed the ridgelines and had beautiful views of the towns and fields below--like a green patchwork quilt. We saw carutas (wooden horse carts ) with passengers along the roads and field workers with sickles harvesting hay or just trimming the park areas in town. Workers wear red or blue overalls--someone told us they are made in Germany. They look very comfortable and functional--love to get a pair! The bus driver played episodes of a sitcom series about Doctors and Interns in a hospital-- apparently a very popular and show. The actions translated pretty well and I was able to follow it fairly closely--Dorina interpreted now and then.
We were at the Moldovan/Romanian border at dusk-- passed through the Moldovan side fairly quickly--then spent a long time at the Duty Free store, waiting for a couple of passengers who took a long time in the store. I'm sure the bus drivers gets some perks for leaving us there so long! He was a friendly and helpful person--he offered to drive us to the hostel when we get to Brasov--as it will be very early in the morning. There were some delays at the Romanian border--we never found out why, but we probably spent almost two hours, all total, passing through. We left the border at dusk and made our way up and over several passes with twisting switchbacks--our driver was very careful--slowing way down on the curves, thank goodness! The towns were lit up when we passed through--familiar architecture and Alimentaras (mini-marts). After dark the movies began---three of them, all, of course, in Romanian! The first one was pretty bloody, set in the Medival Times during the Black Plague (it was titled "The Black Plague")--we all agreed later that it had no discernable redeeming features. The next two a Russian action movie and an American comedy (no English)-- not bad, but it was very late by this time, and I don't think anyone would have minded if they just turned off the shows and music. We all managed to grab a little sleep despite the high volume. Arrived in Brasov at around 4:00 am. George and I woke up just out of town, so were able to see the large white letters above the town on the ridge spelling out "BRASOV!"
The mini-bus let most of the passengers off at the bus station and then dropped a few others at places, leaving us for last. It was a good thing, as we had a bit of trouble finding the right hostel--they took us to the Kismet Hostel at first! Then we called the Rolling Stone Hostel and got confirmation and some directions. Our driver flagged down a local police car, and they didn't know exactly where this was, either! We finally found the right street--our driver had to back down a very narrow road at one point--we were very impressed with his skill! Checked into the Hostel with the host, Deanna, who was friendly, knowledgeable, and helpful! We got into our rooms and fell into bed immediately--sleeping in to around 10:30 am.

Had a lesurely brunch at the Cafe Romanesque-- Wonderful soups, chicken dishes, mamaliga, and hot peppers.

We visited the Nicola Church in our own little square beside the hostel. We all lit some candles for relatives and placed them in a recepticle outside the church. It is a small metal structure with a panel with holes for the candles, set in water---the candles are allowed to burn down inside out of the wind. The candles are made from natural yellow beeswax and come in two sizes-- really skinny and not-so-skinny!

The hotel across the street looks like it belongs in Germany.

We set out to find "Europe's narrowest Street"--as billed in our tourist literature--and were successful! We passed many interesting 18th and 19th century buildings and government structures along the way--and found "Strada Sforii"translates to "thread" or "rope" street (depending upon the source). It was, indeed, narrow-- varying from 3.6 to 4.4 feet wide! George tried to "chimney" it--someone with longer legs probably could do it... We traveled the whole street--local lore blames it on a mistake by the city planners of the day--but we enjoyed the cobblestoned passageway along with the local folks just getting on their way.

The gardens at the edge of the shopping area were colorful and arranged very artistically!

The main town square, Piata Sfatului, was spacious with a three story museum (Muzeul Judetean de Istorie) and watchtower in the center--which doubled as a stage for outdoor theatrical presentations. Numerous restaurants and open-air cafes line the square--and ice cream stands! Great place to people-watch and rest. The children chased pigeons--they really seemed unconcerned--they would fly up, wheel around, and settle in behind the running children--so it made for a busy and happy place. The buildings around the shopping area are restored beautifully and it seems to be a thriving community. The street is closed to cars-- so
there is plenty of room to roam with tables in the center of the street.

We explored the shop area--the street (Strada Republicii) is closed to cars, so there are places to sit, eat, and have a beer in the center of the street. The shops are varied-- those of us on a budget could find things in antique shops and smaller merchants---and there were high-end stores available, too. There was a spinning wheel in an antique shop I loved--but, obviously couldn't bring THAT home! We did find a couple of carved German pewter tumblers to add to our collection.

George and I went back to the square to have some ice cream and watch the 6:00 pm evening ceremony--with authenically dressed folks from the last century march around the square and perform a couple of musical numbers from the balcony of the museum---very enjoyable!
Radu (Dorina's oldest brother) and Octavian (the same young man who picked us up at the airport when we arrived) joined us that evening. We had dinner together at the same restaurant--great time!!

August 24: Up fairly early--it's great to have a car!! After a good breakfasat of fruit, cheese, tomatoes, and salami, we drove out of Brasov to the Castel Bran. Prince Vlad III of Muntenia, better known to the world as Dracula, captured this castle for a brief period in 1459, impaling 40 merchants just as a warning to those who would oppose him. The castle is perfectly situated on the top of a ridge--naturally protected by sheer cliffs in some areas. It was first built in 1377--improved upon over the centuries. It's ideal location for protecting the valley below made it a lasting structure. The last assault recorded was an unsuccessful attempt by the Turks in 1787. In 1920, the city of Bran gave it to the royal family, who used it as a summer palace. It is now a popular tourist attraction--we explored every inch of the place---the center courtyard held a small terraced open area and a well. The many floors had surprising nooks and many rooms--most furnished with heavy dark carved furniture and photos from the 1860 through early 1900's.

Many rooms were furnished with fireplaces and sleeping area combinations and with the heavy ceramic tile which held the heat and dispersed it throughout the night--good design!
There was also a very good display of shields, weapons, and armor---and chain mail--all looked pretty heavy to wear.
Larisa at the cross near the Bran Castle
Female Monk doing handwork for sale at the market in Bran below the castle
Romanian Mask

Romanian Plates at the Marketplace--wonderful artistry!
We toured the market area and I found a mamliga pan and stirring stick to bring home--I bought the smallest one so I could get it in the pack.
We grabbed some food for a picnic lunch and drove back toward Brasov to Rasnov--an ancient fortress which is being restored. At the base of the hill there was an open-air bar/restaurant that we brought our food into--buying drinks to go with our cheese, salami, bread, grapes, and berries. We hiked up to the fortress--what an incredible view of the valley and the forest lands behind the fortress! At the first opening in the wall from which we could see over the town, we noticed a funeral procession winding through the streets toward the cemetary. They were led by a band of musicians--very reminded me of the music played during funerals in New Orleans described in the mid-late 1800's and were the genesis of modern-day jazz.

The fortress was designed as a safe place for the peasants to run to when the valley was under seige, so contained many small medieval houses, garden spaces, shop areas, and work areas. It was built by the Teutonic Knights, a military order of monks, in 1215--and only conquered once in 1612. The Tuetonic Knights were invited to southeast Transylvania by the Hungarian King Endre II in 1211 to protect the region's borders from nomadic Turks, the Cumans. The fortress looked like a village inside, as well as a being a safe haven when under attack. The private company that owns it now is restoring the structure--and is about 75% complete. What a great day! The weather was cooler--as in we were not melting in the heat--nice breezes in both areas today.

Back to Brasov and walked down to the square again, visiting the Black Church (St. Mary's Evangelical Church) and grabbing dinner and drinks. This huge, imposing church was built in 1383, burning in 1689, giving it the charred appearance and the current name. The painted icons on the church are fading, but the inside was restored and contains a collection of 119 Anatolian rugs.

Radu took us on an evening stroll on a roadway which was above the town a bit--great views and nice temperature to walk.

Dorina, Larisa, Octavian, and Radu outlasted us--they headed out for one more round and we headed for bed!!

August 25: Slept in a bit and enjoyed the hostel in the morning. Said goodbye to our wonderful hostel host! The Rolling Stone Hostel is painted purple-and really stands out in the neighborhood during the day---looks white at night--??
Packed up and drove toward Bucharest to Sania-- Sania was founded in the 17th century at the site of the Monastary, but many of the buildings are from the 19th century, which is nestled in the valley along a river, with forested hills rising steeply from town. Houses are built into the hillsides and the streets wind up in switchbacks with scary turns and steep driveways! This is located in the Carpathian Range and developed into a mountain get-away and spa area.

We walked uphill to visit the Castelel Peles (Peh-lesh)--a summer palace built by King Carol of Romania in 1866. The interior is the most lavish and varied that I have ever seen--it is now a national monument.

The grounds include a statuary garden--Roman style figures, a statue of Queen Marie, and several dogs, lions, and flower arrangements-something for every one!

Queen Marie (1875-1938)

We joined an English-speaking tour, beginning with being issued felt slippers to put on over our shoes to protect the wood floors and valuable carpets. This castle is fully furnished--and there are a variety of styles depicted in the rooms: French, German, Venetian, Moorish, and Turkish. There were whole apartments for the Ladies in Waiting for the Queen and other folks who supported the castle functions. Two apartments were reserved for George Enescu (violinest and composer b. 1881 d. 1955) and a poet whose name I cannot remember now!! These places provided an inspirational place to create good works and there was a theater for performances and another music room for gatherings or just a practice area. King and Queens have it good..... Every inch of this castle was covered in carvings, artwork, rugs, stitchery, and period wallpaper or fabric. It came complete with the secret passageway opened up by moving a certain book on the King's library shelf! King Carol and Queen Maria had one child who died of diptheria at age four. They adopted a niece to carry forward the line, but only lived together at the castle for four or five years. King Carol built a smaller adjacent castle for Queen Marie, where she spent most of her time from 1902 until her death in 1938. She was an accomplished woman, published poet, pianist and composer, painter, and spoke seven languages. She commissioned artwork for the music room and other areas throughout the castle. Some of her works hang in the private lodging areas, as well.

Queen Marie's mansion

After we toured the castle and the Queen's mansion, we stopped at a pub for a rest and a glass of wine. We were serenaded by a wonderful guitar player! We also posed with a cannon....just for fun!!

On the way down from the castle we passed through more market places-- Larisa purchased a beautiful tablecloth with traditional Romanian stitchery in red, green, and black and gave it to us as a gift! It is wonderful and will be in our family forever. What a great way to remember the good times and valued new friendships!

One last look at the Peles Castle as we hiked down the hill.

We stopped at the Manasteria Sinia (Monastery)-- and listened to the bells ringing a call to worship. The Romans helped to build the monastery during the reign of the Byzantine emperor, Justinian. We were able to take pictures in the sanctuary--and toured the living areas, as well. We learned that all monastaries will take in travelers if they have no other place to stay--so that's a really good thing to remember. We all spent some contemplative time in this peaceful place.

We made our way back to the car and began asking around for places to stay for the night. Within a short time we found a very cozy villa up the hill with a great view of both the mountains across the valley and the town below. There were workers taking down a huge tree below us, which provided us with a bit of entertainment! Our host made us a dinner of chicken, mamaliga, peppers, and vegetables--we ate out on the terrace outside our rooms and watched the moon rise. We all lingered late, visiting, acutely aware that tomorrow would be the last day. Wine was shared, toasts made, and we finally turned in for the night.

The villa across the street
The moon over the Carpathians

August 26: Up relatively early and packed up. Coffee on the terrace and really enjoyed the morning--not too hot today.

Had breakfast on the first floor in the villa--then drove up to the base of the gondola lift above the castle. Took two gondolas up to the ridge above town and hiked this spectacular area. We could see a Shephard's summer house down on the plateau below. Many people had spelled their names out using rocks in a certain meadow--nice environmentally friendly way to leave a mark! The wind was chilly, but it felt great! Mountain flowers were gorgeous and the panorama was majestic! We hiked down through a herd of sheep and a shephard, and through the ski area to the first gondola. Long steep hike and we all really enjoyed it.

George, Octavian, Radu, Larisa, Sunny, and Dorina on the Gondola!

Sheep in the high country-- this is on the ski slope! The shepard was up the hill taking a break, leaving his flock with three capable dogs

Dorina by her name in rocks!

Octavian and Radu Sunny--Windy, too

Dorina and Larisa on the ski slope.

We took the gondola down and found a great lunch of soup waiting for us!
Here's Radu--we think he looks like Putan!!
We said goodbye to our hostel hostess--here's Dorina and Larisa with her! We reluctantly left the villa and headed toward Bucharest, passing through villages, fields, and finally the edge of the city. Took a while to find the hotel, but Octavian was good and persistent! Saying goodbye was so hard--I know we will see each other again, but it won't be soon enough for George and me!! We repacked our packs, hoping nothing will break on the trip. Enjoyed a long shower and washed a few clothes, drying them with the hair dryer!!
August 27: Up early and had breakfast in the hotel. Caught our shuttle on time--was a short hop to the airport (as planned!!). We ended up having to pay for the third piece of luggage--oh, well. Found our gate easy enough and boarded without problems. Nice flight to Amsterdam, where we had a short time (again!) to find our gate, go through security again, and board--and made it with no time to spare. We didn't even sit down. This KLM flight had personal viewing screens, a remote control and access to movies, TV shows, games, etc. all for free!! We watched the latest Shrek movie, "It's Complicated," and I watched one called "The Yes Man." Pretty good way to pass the time quickly. We dozed a bit, but were trying to stay up as long as we could as a way to really sleep when we got home at 9 pm. Got into Atlanta around 5 pm and went through customs without our luggage--it didn't arrive from Amsterdam with us--so we waited until the last minute to get through customs and race for our flight to Seattle. We made it, but were among the last to board. On THIS flight, all the movies and games had a price attached-- we were even charge $2.00 each for the ice cream served late in the flight--- jeez. Got into Seattle on time-- had the luggage tracked and caught the shuttle home--- stumbled upstairs to bed....what a great trip................................!!! So---we are already planning the next trip!!!!

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