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Published: August 14th 2015
On first impression Bucharest reminds me of Paris without the dog poo on the pavement and the people here are able and willing to speak to you in English. The cobblestone streets are not as narrow as in Paris and wind though the old quarter creating a setting for tourists and locals to enjoy the balmy summer evenings and we did exactly that, making ourselves known at one wine bar in particular, where we sampled some very good Romanian wines of varieties that were mostly unknown to me. The two waitresses there adored Nathan and he had a ball playing with them. We didn’t realise that our drinks came with free babysitting! At the same bar we met Daniel and Hillary, a couple from Brisbane, also travelling through Romania. It is amazing how far we go to find fellow Aussies.
We visited Ceausescu’s monstrous Parliamentary Palace, which is the third largest building by volume, the second largest building by floor space and the largest by waste of money, estimated at 3.3bn Euro so far, and it's still not complete! It has giant hall after giant hall and the tour guide told us what all of them are used for. But
One of the many in the Parliamentary Palace. This is where Nadia Comenici
she often let slip that they had not been used for these purposes for years or decades. The most impressive room was used for Nadia Comaneci’s wedding in 1996, but there was no mention of other occasions held there since.
Bucharest also has many parks with welcome shade in the middle of summer, some lakes and heaps of kids play equipment. You can hire a row boat to meander around the lakes or just get an ice cream and stroll along the walkways.
An interesting lingual oddity is the presence of triple letters in some Romanian words. I have seen ‘iii’ a few times. Romanian seems to have something in common with English, French and Italian. They use our alphabet and in many cases you can guess what words mean. When we couldn’t speak Romanian with the attendant at the ‘Athenaeum Roman’ in Bucharest and he couldn't speak English, he just spoke to us in the languages that he knew something of; Italian, French and German, and we seemed to understand enough of what he said to even accept his congratulations on the Wallabies beating the All Blacks the day before. This theatre was most impressive for two
Grand downstairs foyer. One of four marble staircases to the theater upstairs.
reasons. The downstairs marbled foyer covering the whole level with four spiral staircases going up to the theatre itself. The theatre is in a circular room, to improve the acoustics, with frescos and gold leaf on the walls and roof. It all seemed very posh to us.
The local car manufacturer is called Dacia and I think they outnumber all other models on the road put together. Most taxis are Dacias and from what I can tell they are 80% as safe as the cars I am used too. Four of the five seats come with seat belts.
The first towns on the train line to Transylvania with any significant altitude are the common short-break getaway destinations for the folks from Bucharest. We stayed one night in Sinaia, just over an hour and a half by train and saw the impressive Peles Castle in the surrounding hills. See the pictures we took from the outside but we took none inside as they have a common tax here to take photos inside museums and other attractions. In this case the price of taking photos was more than the ticket to enter. And they have so many spies watching you
Inside the circular auditorium.
that it is impossible to sneak a quick shot of something that takes your fancy. We might have stayed longer here, as it really is a scenic town, but our hotel didn’t give us the room we had paid for and after arguing with them we were glad to head to Brasov, just an hour further into Transylvania.
As we approached Brasov, we entered the outskirts of a grungy post-communist concrete jungle. But in the car ride to our Air BnB apartment we noticed a dramatic improvement in the architecture. The old town is pretty and historically interesting. Here is the ‘Black Church’ dating from the 12th
Century and rebuilt after a fire in the 17th
Century which blackened the walls. No effort is made to clean the outside of this one. They would have to come up with a new name. However, there is work being done on the surrounding pavements, which is currently a gravel expanse after archaeological works were carried out to examine layers of graves in what used to be a cemetery for the town. In here the photo licence is five times the cost of admission and the interior was without much artwork so
Row, row, row your boat!
In one of the parks in Bucharest.
we didn’t bother paying for it.
We caught up with our new mates from Brisbane, Daniel and Hilary, and discovered that they were recently engaged. On the first day of their trip he popped the question at a restaurant before the Acropolis in Athens. We drank some more Romanian wine with them. This time a bottle of Sav Blanc followed by the most common red variety here, Feteasca Negra. There are more wines that I want to source in Australia now!
Food here is hearty and a good mix of meat and vegetables for mine. Some favourites include bean soup, like a pea soup with smoked ham in there too and sometimes served in a hollowed bread loaf for a bowl; Brasov pancakes, savoury crepe like thing filled with mince & mushrooms, rolled into a cylinder and drizzled in ‘brown sour cream’ sauce; Goulash, just like they have in Hungary; Gorgonzola sauces on most meat dishes are common too.
Tonight is our last sleep in Brasov and we spent the day doing a tour of two castles and the Libearty sanctuary for abused bears. The sanctuary take in bears that have been horribly treated and often abused
as pets and by circuses or need to be rehoused because zoos have new restrictions on the enclosure sizes. Romania takes pride in the number of brown bears in the wild and has a conscience regarding their treatment in general. The sanctuary is 69 hectares in size and houses 80 bears at the moment. They cannot be returned to the wilderness as they have been caged for so long that they would probably not survive. The risk is that they may seek out humans as a source of food. So each bear is treated in the most appropriate way given its background.
Bran Castle is the one known as ‘Dracula’s castle’ because Vlad the Impaler (on whom Bram Stoker based his Dracula character) stayed here for 3 nights … as a prisoner!!!!! But it is the closest match to the description in the book of a castle on a rock at the border of Transylvania and Wallachia. Hence it has become a vampire tourism mecca. The castle itself is very impressive from the outside in particular and was used by the second king and queen of Romania.
Our third stop for the day was Rasnov, which was a
The best one in Transylvania. It is also grand on the inside.
defensive fortress built on a steep hill and used as refuge against Ottoman invasions. Like Brasov, it has a Hollywood style sign on the hill to tell you where you are.
We are not finished with Transylvania yet. Tomorrow we move on to Sighisoara.
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