Category Archives: Transilvania

Romania – touring the interior, part 6 (final) – Bran, Zanesti (and bears), and Peles Palace in Sinaiao. REPOSTING DUE TO GLITCH!

Given a comment made by my friend David and other things I’d read (eg. The interiors are basic with no originals) I was not bothered about seeing Bran Castle (a fairytale looking castle where Vlad the Impaler hid from the Ottomans at one point). I decided to visit just for a photo and detour to some other interesting places instead. (It’s great for flexibility to have a personal guide). One look at the town and I knew it was a good decision- touristy, tacky and basically horrible – especially after all the lovely places I’d been. So here’s the obligatory photo of the castle but I thought the grilled sausages was the best bit!

Bran Castle and the best bit – the grilled sausages!

There are about 6000 brown bears who roam the Carpathian Mountains. I visited Libearty (get it:) which is a sanctuary of 100 bears who have been rescued from pretty awful conditions – zoos, circus, being the local pet, tied to a post, tiny cages etc. This is a not for profit company. They only allow three visits a day and max 50 at each time with a guide so that the bears don’t get stressed. Below is some views of the 29 hectares they have – so lots of room for them to roam.

Some of the 29 hectares that the bears now have to roam around in

The fences are only on the outer sections of three very large areas – they are electrified to keep the bears in and the visitors out. We all kept our voices low as we walked around. Many of the bears have had to learn how to live in the wild as they didn’t know how when they first came.

Love seeing those brown bears enjoy their freedom after all they’ve been through

Bears do climb trees ver fast – I saw this one go up there.

bear sees tree; bear climbs tree.

And watch this video to see how fast they come down again. So never climb a tree to escape a bear!

Unfortunately bear hunting still goes on so sometimes they are asked to take in younger abandoned cubs but mostly these were adults originally kept in cruel conditions. As a result they do not allow them to mate as the offspring would likely be genetically weaker due to the way their parents would have been held captive. Anyway they seem happy now – and seemed to love splashing in the pools (it was a hot day). Apparently it’s great to visit in Winter as these bears never learned to hibernate so at most they do so for a month and they they play in the snow.

Impressive initiative in a country that has only recently developed laws to protect animals.

They also rescue some wolves – some have been cross bred with dogs – not good for genetic survival. The lady below is actually the alpha of the pack and tells the others what to do!

In this pack – the she-wolf is the leader. As it should be.

Peles Palace has the Austria Hungarian influence in spades and was built to show case the best of everything that Europe had to offer just as WW1 was starting. It is set in the hills with lovely views everywhere. Well worth a visit.

Inside and out Peles is clearly Austr Hungarian in design

Real grandeur at every turn to impress the visitors

Love the detailed carvings and marquetry

I so want that Murano chandelier!

Now which throne should I choose today?

I’ve loved my private trip around Romania and it was good to dispel they myths about safety etc. I always felt safe and the people at friendly and helpful when they can speak some English! I am sorry I didn’t have time to see the Danube Delta – next time. It is a sad fact that all the areas outside of a Bucharest are the highlights of a visit to this country. Bucharest can be done in a couple of days in my view and does. It really reflect the real traditional Romania.

Romania – touring the interior part 5 – Viscri (and Prince Charles) and Brasov.

Over the past 6 days my lovely guide Laurensiu and I have circumnavigated Romania covering all the key parts (other than the Danube Delta which will have to wait for another time). I still have a few days in Bucharest but have come to realise already that I have seen the very best of the country outside of the capital.

I was very interested to visit the village of Viscri where Prince Charles (yes that PC) owns two houses which are also guest house you can visit. As he is not short of a bob or two the monies earned go to a charitable foundation of his. He fell in love with this part of Transilvania about 15 years ago and so bought these houses and likes that the locals live a lifestyle pretty much unchanged over the centuries – he is know for liking that kind of thing!

The place that Prince Charles owns in Viscri with his emblem on the rickety door – Ich Dien (I serve)

More houses in Viscri and a traditional garbage receptacle – still in use

Viscri also has a cool citadel – as usual at the top of a hill. This one is in great condition and was open so I was glad to look around the inside. Tiny rooms were available in case people had to stay over due to being invaded and I love the sloped roofing (deliberate to make it easier to collect rain water). The church is Lutheran and check out the narrow benches – no falling asleep on these!

The citadel and walled church at Viscri

Loved these picturesque doors and entry ways around the citadel

The citadel also had a museum showing how people lived during these times – the bed slept 4 – two on top and two in the pull out drawer!

Narrow benches in the church and the museum

The Viscri Citadel provides an excellent view of the surrounding areas so any marauders can be spotted long before they arrive

I overnighted in Brasov where I saw the Black Church – so named as it turned very black after a bad fire many centuries ago. It is not that black any more but the name stuck. Again a great public square where everyone hangs out and takes in the views.

The main square in Brasov plus the “Hollywood” sign in case you forget where you are!

The famous Black Church of Brasov

Brasov is also known for having the narrowest official street (rather than a nameless alley) called Rope Street. It acted as a connection point for the fire brigade to get from one part of town to another as quickly as possible and they built a narrow fire engine just for that street!

Rope Street with Laurensiu and the teeny fire engine

And of course as we headed south there was less focus on only the orthodox religion but much more variety on display including a large synagogue – again not accessible.

The synagogue in Brasov

Romania – Touring the interior, part 4 – Biertan Citadel, Wine Tasting, Sighisoara and meeting some Gypsies

The first stop was meant to be the walled church and citadel of Biertan BUT turns out if was Sunday and Pentecost so the church just decided not to open! So we could only get to see the central part of the village which was pretty and the outside of the citadel with its three layers of fortification (used to defend themselves from the invading Ottomans at that time) walls clearly visible.

Biertan in Transilvania with its three layered walls as defense

As we were deciding whether to hang around or give up on the citadel opening my guide got chatting to a local who made his own wine and he invited to go to the next village to visit his house and have a look at his renovations and taste his wine. This seemed like a good alternative to me so that’s what we did.

This seemed like a good idea and this young man showed us how he had restored the house and how they made wine using the oldest methods known from the area. It wasn’t bad – especially after the fourth glass and gorgeous house Reno’s too.

Wine tasting in Biertan

Impressive restoration of original furniture in Biertan private house

Saxon Citadels abound around here and this is another one we passed by at Rupea. They are always built at the top of a hill so visibility for marauders is excellent!

Rupea Citadel

We continued through the beautiful Carpathian Mountains to Sighisoara which is the first of a few Saxon towns (as in towns originally built by Germans from the Saxony region) – primarily Lutheran. According to the myth this is also the town that the Pied Piper of Hamelin took the children to after he and his music lured them out of Hamelin when their parents refused to pay him for ridding the town of rats!

Long walk up to Sighisoara Church on the hill worth it for the views

Sighisoara has an upper and lower town with two squares and we walked the very long scholar’s staircase to get up up to the upper part which has the citadel fortress – again closed as Sunday:(.

The easier and flatter part of Sighisoara to walk around

This town is also the place where Vlad the Impaler was born so there are lots of Dracula references all over the place. In fact Vlad was a cruel tyrant of a king who did impale people and do lots of other horrid things to keep strong control over his subjects as he was always under attack but he didn’t drink (much) blood but probably liked to suggest he did to keep his subjects scared. Turns out Bram Stoker never even visited Romania so his book his based on what he was told by a friend who visited often.

Dracula’s birthplace and maybe his restaurant!

Firstly I should dispel a myth – Gypsies don’t come from Romania – they just adopted the word Romany a long time ago when they migrated here to sound as if they were Romanian. In fact the originate from Rajasthan and the Punjab in Northern India where they were the lowest caste and as a result regularly kicked out of places and hence they become nomadic eventually living in various parts of Europe like Spain, Hungary and Romania.

Also gypsies don’t live in colourful caravans anymore – they have houses – they are still colourful as are the skirts worn by the women.

The maintain their traditions regardless of the law. This means that their children – especially the girls – often only have 2 or 3 years of school; they are betrothed very young and can marry from age 14. The first family we were due to meet cancelled as their daughter had been betrothed to a young man and part of the tradition is to live – chastely – together for a year before marriage. If the daughter is returned to the home it is a huge disgrace for the family of the bride to be. This had just happened in the family we were due to visit and the father had reacted by being permanently wasted due to the disgrace! Don’t even get me started…….

Anyway we met another family who are blacksmiths (6th generation). They were shoeing their horse when I got there – never seen that before (being a townie) and then one of the brothers made me a mini lucky horseshoe. Fascinating stuff but I am not going to run away with them any time soon……..

My friends – the Gypsies of Transilvania

Ps. I keep surprising myself by understanding the odd sentence in Romanian. Turns out Romanian is 70% similar to Italian and much more different to the other Balkan languages eg. Bulgarian which tend to be more Slavic in design. Who knew?

Romania – Touring the interior – part 3 – Cluj Napoca, The Salt Mines at Salina Turda and Sibiu

More lovely scenery as we headed south through Transilvania – such a lovely country to be driven through and the guide is great in taking the scenic routes which I love.

Never got bored of the Transilvania countryside and those haystacks

Then a brief stop at Cluj-Napoca – one of the former capitals of Romania and still one of the largest towns as it now houses a lot of the best universities. We only had a little time to walk around here but I really liked the vibe of the place and would have been happy to stay a night. It was currently housing the Transylvanian International Film Festival – hence the red carpet outside the opera house and I couldn’t resist photographng the Transilvania Bank sign. What is quite entertaining – to me at least – is that no-one here including my otherwise very knowledgeable guide has ever heard of the Rocky Horror Picture Show!

I want to bank at Transilvania Bank!

Great vibe at Cluj-Napoca

Then we headed for the salt mines of Salina Turda. Having enjoyed the ones in Poland near Krakow when I visited with Jo last year, I was looking forward to something similar as these are touted to be the biggest in the world! They were indeed deep but for some reason they had made the base into a children’s playground thing with a boating pool and Ferris wheel thereby completely negating the grandeur of the place. A real shame in my opinion but when I was not looking at that but wandering down the salt tunnels and then looking at the salt stalactites and sediment and the salt “waterfall” it was impressive.

My preferred part of the Salina Turda salt mine

The too kitsch for me interior of the Salina Turda salt mines

Finally a stop at the lovely Sibiu – a gorgeous old town that looks exactly like you expect it to. It was a Saturday night so was very busy especially as it was hosting an international street food fare in the main market. The bridge over the road which is the entry to Sibiu citadel is called the Bridge of Lies – those accused of witchcraft (women only of course) were asked to stand on the bridge while they answered questions; the belief was that if the lied the bridge would shake (I’m sure with some help from some hysterical villagers?!) and then you were declared a witch and thrown on to the road below. Delightful. The little three house bookstall is a place where you can leave books you no longer want and take those you want to read – very communal.

Close to the Small and Large squares

I enjoyed wandering around the food festival just for the fun of it including the giant skillet of sea snails and the ad for chicken wings that suggests even the chickens recommend them! This part of the world was formerly part of Saxony and so has a strong Germanic influence in building design and also in the food traditions. My meal in the local wine keller could easily have been served to me in Bavaria and so reminded me of things I grew up eating!

Sea snails, chicken and my oh so healthy dinner!

In the morning we took a walk around the small and large square of Sibiu which was much quieter by then as it was Sunday. Huge variety of architecture from Middle Ages to Belle Époque and an interesting “Devil pole” (actually it is an original gargoyle head and base filled with a wooden pool and decorated by the blacksmith’s Guild to show what kind of work they could do – nothing to do with the devil really!). Because of its history Sibiu has a lot of churches – orthodox, RC, Reformed, Lutheran to name a few. As it was Pentecost they were all very full.

My hotel was in that cute lane just behind the Devil’s pole

Inside the orthodox cathedral Sibiu

The Bridge of Lies and the colourful local Saxony style house