Published: September 14th 2011September 11th 2011
Church found during our morning walk
Rooming with Leslie means early rising. :-) She woke up at 6:30 and opened the drapes. I got up at 7, and did some yoga while she went for a walk. It's a very pretty day, warm with blue sunny skies, so I started on the balcony, but the concrete was a bit hard -- I moved inside for floor poses. Leslie came back and at 8:15 we headed out together. We walked to Old City, which was completely deserted except for some unhealthy looking street dogs cleaning up after last night's revelers. It was fun to see the same place again, in the light. We explored a few more blocks than last night, and found an old Greek Orthodox church at the dead-end of a torn-up street. Today is Sunday so there was a service. We saw mostly elderly women, with heads wrapped in scarves, and alongside the church was an outside altar with many candles lit. There were several stations near the outdoor altar, where the women would cross themselves, kiss an ikon, and pray. We wanted to take a photo but it seemed overly intrusive.
We also passed by a modern-looking but pretty building, built in an
old style, surrounding an original structure that looked like an old church. The signs were only in Romanian, said it was built in 1979, and said it was Spitalul Coltea, so I'm thinking hospital, but it looked nothing like my view of a communist-era hospital. Will need to check on this at home. [Did some research: this was the first hospital built in Romania, in 1704; destroyed by an earthquake in 1802, rebuilt in the neo-classical style in 1888, and selected as an UNESCO national heritage site in 1979 - hence the sign. Amazing what insight a bit of research can give.]
We stopped at a small cafe, had good cappuccino and decent croissants. Sat outside at a little table in the sun; it was quite warm. Beautiful blue sky day. I do love blue skies!
Met up with Linda and Carrie in the hotel lobby at 9:30. We took a taxi to Gara du Nord, bought tickets and sat for a bit in a station cafe. Suddenly realized it was time for our train! Rushed to track 6, found our first class car. (Only 25 extra lei -- about 8 bucks -- for first class.)
feel as if we are on the Hogwarts Express, in our own little compartment. There are 8 seats, but with our large luggage we fill the whole compartment. Luckily we have the compartment to ourselves. There is a large window on one side, and a window into the corridor, and the corridor is all windows --- we can see out both sides of the train. Gypsies come on the train at stops to sell things ... first coffee, then chips, then fresh berries, and then a woman selling stationery and trinkets. So far, no chocolate frogs or bernie bott's every flavor beans.
[note: I kept the little laptop on (thanks mom for lending it!) during the train ride and typed notes occasionally - that's why much of this is in the present tense. ]
After about ½ an hour we were past the outskirts of Bucharest, and the mountains came distantly in view. We passed a farm, with a sheepdog herding sheep towards feeding time ... tiny sheepdog puppies followed. We have seen many small haystacks, with sticks holding the sides stable, and with a bit of plastic or fabric on the top, like funny little hats.
We passed many closed factories and a few piles of discarded steel beams from dismantled buildings.
Then we started to pass through small villages; we just passed a tiny cemetery on a hill with ornate crosses for gravestones, then a pretty, tiny old church. Many of the villages have picturesque Bavarian style houses, built into the increasingly steep hillsides.
We are now seeing the beginnings of the very impressive Făgăraş mountain range. Just left the Sinaia station. The Orient Express was stopped at the station as well! Looked exactly as it looks in the movies :)
Wow! The view just keeps getting more stunning. Soaring white-gray cliffs against brilliant blue sky.
The stops have a decided lack of signage, and there are no announcements. Some of the stops don't even seem to have platforms. Leslie turned on her iPhone 3G so we could find ourselves on the map. We are now at Predeal; we are getting close. If the predicted arrival time is correct we will be in Brasov in 35 minutes.
Almost all of these town names sound familiar to me, either because they are mentioned in my language book ("Intre Bucuresti si Pitesti
sunt o suta de kilometri") or in one of the novels I have been reading in anticipation of this trip.
Wow! We just went through two tunnels, one rather long, in complete blackness other than the glow of Linda's iPad. Total Darkness!
Thoughts from folks we have talked to:
Christian, the young porter who brought our luggage to the room... very enthusiastic about the fact that we had chosen to visit Romania and conveyed in reasonably good English his clearly earnest wish that we fully experience his beautiful country.
Carrie & my cab driver to the train station ... guessed that we were from France and when we said no, we are from America, his one-word response was an enthusiastic “Obama!”
Linda and Leslie's cab driver – chattier but not so positive of an outlook: unable to enroll daughter in school; no room. talked about closed factories. pointed out a hospital where “children had burned”. also talked about incessant road repair. called the train station the “communist train station” because Ceausescu built it.
[note: I plan to add impressions from several other people we have met and talked to, in coming journal entries.]
arrived in Brasov exactly on time, despite leaving Bucharest 20 minutes late. Carrie phoned the company we are renting the apartment from; the woman said she would meet us at the apartment, so we began the purported five minute walk from the train station,pulling our large suitcases. We got to the correct corner, and there were actually street signs, bonus! But still we were unsure how to find our apartment because the address was hard to decipher. A woman approached and said “buna zuia!” Carrie asked if she was Roxanne and she enthusiastically nodded, “yes”. She then proceeded to tell us that she can speak 8 different languages but none of them were English. After two minutes of very confused "conversation" (a combination of charades, German, and French) it became apparent that she was not Roxanne. But she was kind enough to help us find someone who did speak English; she directed us to cross the traffic circle. At the intersection was a tall communist-era concrete apartment building. We walked past it looking for 110 Aurel Vlaicu. We very quickly noticed that the numbers were going down and back-tracked to find that yes, we are staying the tall communist-era concrete
We had to wait another 15 minutes for the real Roxanne, during which time we saw a family in tuxedos and formal gowns ... must have been a wedding. Adventures of entering the building: all hallway lights turn on just slightly *after* you enter the area. Carrie and I chose to use the elevator, which was very old and very small, with interior and exterior doors that you had to close manually. And it absolutely refused to stop on our floor. We went back and forth between the ground floor and 2nd floor several times, then decided going down a flight was easier than going up, so we got out at the 2nd floor. The hallways were clean but dingy; some doors looked to be left from the 70s, but other doors were very formal. For instance one has dark mahogany with inlay and frosted windows and an ornate brass door knocker. These doors make quite a statement in the dingy hallway. The apartment is nice. There is a roomy kitchen with a table for four' there are four moderately sized bedrooms, enough to sleep 10 – we each get our own bedroom. Two bathrooms, one with
a shower. New floors, new kitchen. Cabinets by Ikea. The toilet paper and towels that are provided appear to be throwbacks ... narrow rough toilet paper (inexplicably mauve-colored) and the towels are thin, coarse, and small. The beds are fine but no boxsprings, just mattresses. The furniture is sparse, and there is no living room, but the apartment will serve us well. We each have our own bedroom, we can have coffee and breakfast here instead of needing to go out, and we can hang out together in the kitchen in the evenings, drinking wine and rehashing our day. It is, however, quite a change from last night's luxurious accommodations at the InterContinental! In the book I am currently reading, The Dean's December by Saul Bellows, the antagonist is in Bucharest in the late 70s with his wife whose mother is dying in a People's spital. He appeals to a journalist he knows for help, by meeting him at the bar at the InterContinental, then returns to his wife's family's sparse, unheated apartment. This is clearly not the same contrast, but at least gives me a better ability to imagine it.
After settling in a bit, and sadly finding
that the promised free wifi does not work, we headed towards Centru – the city center. It was about a half hour walk, with the buildings gradually changing as we walked back in time towards the 14th century Black Church. We reached Strada Republicii, another pedestrian-only cobblestone street filled with cafes. This one is a lot more touristy than Old City in Bucharest ... schlock shops (and tattoo/piercing shops) line the street. The center is all seating areas for cafes ad bars. The strada ends at the Piata Sfatului, which is a beautiful historic square --- but today it was filled with very loud music and the aroma of stale beer, sweat, and fish. Today was both Oktoberfest and Festival Peşte. Beer vendors aside fish fryers. Long tables under pavilions filled with groups of men and families drinking beer and eating fish, while listening to highly amplified music with an Irish sound but Romanian words. We could only bear a few minutes of this cacophony, and headed back up Strada Republicii until the sound receded, then found an outdoor restaurant. Randomly, it was a Jamaican-themed restaurant serving pizzas and salads. Tomorrow we will eat at an actual Romanian restaurant :).
After eating an early dinner (we had missed the lunch hour while on the train) we walked up Strada Julius Romer to reach a flight of steps to a trail above the fortified walls. It was a paved trail full of families and strollers and tourists, and provided a perfect view of the old city. After a bit we came to a playground, full of mothers and fathers pushing copii on swings, in the shadow of the medieval walls. Just past that was a tennis stadium, right next to the Weavers Bastion. I love the juxtaposition of old and new.
To avoid the commotion of the dual festival, we chose the roads less traveled. We walked through a soldiers cemetery, with gravestones from WWI and WW2. Then we came to a church that we do not know the name of, where an older gentleman spoke to us in a mixture of Romanian and French and encouraged Carrie and I (we were peering in through the iron fence) to come in and take pictures. He pointed out the clearly well-tended grave of someone who must have been a well-loved Romanian. He repeated the name several times: Andreiu Muresianu. Flowers
decorated the grave, and the cross above it bore the words “Laureatului Poetu 1816-1863” [Googling has shown this to be the author of the national anthem.]
We walked back into the city through the Schei Gate. As we were walking, Leslie noticed some writing on a door that was in Hebrew. She said aloud “That's in Hebrew,” and a man standing near her read it aloud, and translated to English ... Leslie happened to say "that's in Hebrew" while a group visiting from Isreal was walking behind her. They talked with her for a while, asked if she has been to Isreal and she said “not yet”.
We returned to the main pedestrian way for one more drink, at an outdoor cafe with saucer shaped cushioned seats, called “Friends Cafe”. We took a cab home because by now it was dark, and the cab was only 5 lei --- about about two bucks! We tipped him another 5 lei and it still felt like a bargain. We found a minimarket that was still open and bought coffee and yogurt for the morning, and a bottle of wine and some beer. Returned to the apartment and drank and laughed in our cozy kitchen. I was asleep by midnight again.