Published: July 16th 2008June 20th 2008
Brasov City Wall
A piece of the original city wall
Citadels, Castles and Restored Villages
Transylvania, known to many of us as the home of ¨Dracula,¨ was for many years a German colony. King Geza II of Hungary invited the Saxons to develop towns and cultivate the land of Transylvania during the late 12th century 13th centuries, fortifying and defending the borders of the territory during the onslaught of the Ottoman Empire. The Saxons enjoyed a privileged status and denied the Romanians citizenship and access to practice their crafts and arts - now the domain of the Saxons who dominated trade and mercantile routes.
Brasov (Kronstadt in German) is where we started our trip around the area. The old city is fairly well-preserved and on our first day we took the cable car up to the top of Mount Tampa to get a view of the old and new cities. Mount Tampa has a 'Hollywood-esque' sign on its hillside which says Brasov (obviously) in case you weren´t sure which one of the nearly identical Saxon-influenced towns you wandered into. There are several old squares and a very social vibe especially because we were there during the Euro Cup and everyone was going mad in the evenings drinking beers and
A view of Brasov from the hillside
watching the game on flat screen TVs in the streets and terraces.
While there, we hired Gabriel (see photo of Rasnov) to drive us into the outskirts and visit a few sights: Rasnov Fortress, Bran Castle, the Sinaia Monastery and Peles Castle. Rasnov was mostly restored and certainly had a great location for a fortress and point of defense for the region. Historically, three neighboring villages used the fortress during raids, retreating with supplies and living there full time until the coast was clear. Bran Castle was beautiful in its simplicity. White plaster, smooth curves, and dark wood beams and furnishings. However, it was flooded with school children and nearly impossible to navigate or photograph as a result. I didn´t get any shots of the Sinaia Monastery, but it was absolutely gorgeous with gold trim and ornate altars. Peles Castle is a decadent summer palace built by King Carol I of Romania. We were unable to take pictures inside, but the ornate detail and decoration of the exterior should give you a good hint of the elaborate wood and incredible sculptures and weapons collections inside.
From Brasov we made our way via train to Sibiu. We initially chose
Up and Up
Sibiu because it seemed like a great jumping off point to visit neighboring villages and get a real sense for town life. Sibiu itself has been lovingly restored and was declared the Capital of Culture in 2007 for the EU. As a result of the influx of visitors, the city was generously geared towards tourism. However, the highlight of our time in Sibiu was our stay with 'Padre' who turned the front room of his home into a pensione which we rented for a few nights. 'Padre' is an enterprising, 50-something year old, chain-smoking, musician who served in the military during the Ceauşescu years and isn´t shy about offering his opinion on any topic. What a trip! He also distills his own 'Gin Varse' which is a potent prune brandy as well as a suite of other liquors made from various fruits. The first night mom and I stayed up with him until 4am wandering through his cellars, telling stories and drinking his potions and a good amount of his mom´s wine. Dad begged off a few hours earlier and he was much better for it the following day. On our last night, Padre made us a home-cooked meal from
All that way
deer he hunted last season which he made in the hunter's style. This meant a stewed meat with vegetables and tomato, served with mashed potatoes and some tomato and cucumber salad. The flavors were complex and interesting. The meat was not like the venison we are used to in the US and after much description and pointing at mountings on the wall we determined the animal is more like a mountain goat with reddish coat and small horns. Mom and Dad could barely choke it down as they found the meat tough and the flavors 'off'. I quite liked it, but I'm fairly certain the meat chunks I had were more tender as I didn't need to do nearly as much chewing as either of them did. Either that or having a jaw and palate that are 30 years younger actually makes a difference! =P
The next day involved yet another adventure when we hired bicycles and attempted to cycle out to a neighboring village. We had been told the road was quiet and comfortable and it was implied the ride would be scenic. Our definition of comfortable and scenic differed greatly from that of the young man who
Glimpsing the city through the hillside city sign
hired out the bikes to us. It was a country road alright (read: narrow) and all kinds of vehicles flew down it at 120+km/hr. It was pretty enough, but once the hills kicked in and the rains started we decided to call it quits and go back to town before we got run over by another honking and cursing local. I got soaked through and ripped a gaping hole in my skirt, but I got to sport dad's jaunty hat while he bundled up in his waterproof northface. What a sight we made! When mom gets her pictures in order I'll ask her for evidence of our motley crew and add it to this post.
From Sibiu it was off to Sighisoara on the western edge of Transylvania. The cool thing about Sighisoara is that is a well-preserved citadel with city-walls and guild towers mostly intact, and is the only fortified town in Romania that is still inhabited. Yet another Saxon settlement, over time it became an important cross-roads of trade and craft for Central Europe and artisans from the Roman Empire. German artisans and craftsmen dominated the urban economy and contributed heavily to its development, including the building
All in a row
The Ferros =)
and maintenance of all the guard towers as well as the cathedral and other government buildings. Most of the houses and structures within the city walls are excellent examples of a craftsmen's town.
We spent a couple days there, wandering the narrow streets and taking lots of pictures. We also celebrated Father´s Day with some great steaks and delicious Romanian red wine at a little restaurant in town.
As for Romanian food: It is dominated by grilled meats, stews and polenta. Yes, polenta. Sometimes as a plain gruel, cooked with a fresh white cheese, or at other times fried into cakes. Potato and rice are nearly absent. They also have sour soups. The local star is a tripe soup which mom and I both enjoyed, served with sour cream and horseradish on the side. As for meats, the most common were pork and beef with game a distant third. The occasional piece of chicken or fish might be found a menu, but was almost never the most appetizing and usually represented an 'international' option for the non-locals. As for snacks, they are all about grilled sausages which made me a very happy woman. Afternoons people wandered around the
Brasov closer up
piatas with fried dough, ice cream, or strands of couvretes which look like a series of soft pretzels on a string but are crisper and slightly different in texture and taste. Carbs & sugars - YUM! Between all the eating and the wine we drank, I think all three of us happily put on a few pounds.
There are more photos below