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Published: October 13th 2016
We left Brasov early one day and set off on a mini road trip to Rasnov, Bran and Magura. First stop was 13th
century Rasnov, a hilltop ruin built by Teutonic knights. We were using google maps and it was pretty reliable but not this time, nothing terrible, just an interesting detour. Instead of directing us to Rasnov town it took us by a gypsy settlement which was quite nice really. Everybody was out working in the fields with their horses and bales of hay, pretty clouds and mountains all around. We drove on a little further up an unpaved road into the forest. On the way we saw quite a few nice birds but nothing else except trees and suddenly google maps intoned “you have reached your destination”. So we turned around and retraced our route and reentered our destination and this time drove into Rasnov and a big old tractor took us up the mountain to Rasnov. Not many people there and we had a nice walk around the restored ruins. Great views all around to the farmlands and mountains in the distance.
On the way out of Rasnov to Bran we stopped the car for one more view
of the castle above the town and were surprised to see a cable car taking people up to the top. Don’t know how we missed it. Second time google got it wrong, took us round the back instead. In the middle of September Bran castle doesn’t have too many big tour groups but it does have a lot of stalls selling souvenirs clustered around the entrance, very commercial. Everybody visits Bran castle also known as Dracula’s castle. Bram Stoker based his novels on this castle because it most closely resembled the fictional Dracula’s castle. Vlad Dracul, also known as Vlad the impaler because of his delightful habit of impaling the heads of his enemies on sticks, may or may not have lived here briefly.
We decided before we went that if there were too many people visiting, we would just see it from the outside but there was a reasonable amount of people so we went in. The castle has a series of small interconnecting rooms around a central courtyard with a fountain. There are low ceilings and doorways, narrow stairs, and a secret staircase. I found it all a bit claustrophobic, there wasn’t much air and it was
quite hot but it was surprisingly atmospheric. Most of the furniture belonging to the Romanian royal family is still there. After 60 years in communist hands the castle was handed back to the grandson of Queen Marie.
Queen Marie was a well-loved monarch in Romania in her later years. During the first world war she nursed the sick and was very influential in shaping the post-war agreements in Romania’s favor at the Paris Peace Conference. In 1937 when she died she was buried next to her husband but her heart was kept, at her request, in a cloister at Balchik Palace. A time of changing borders and wars and revolutions, the area of Balchik Palace was returned to the Bulgarians in 1940 and the heart was transferred to Bran Castle. End of the story right? No. The saga of the heart continues … In 1967 the communists moved the two silver boxes housing her heart to Bucharest (I don’t know why there are two – maybe after all this moving about it split in two) and for many years, it was reportedly kept, gathering dust, in a shoe box in the basement of the national museum. Today you can
see the silver boxes with the Queen’s heart at the National Museum of Romanian History in Bucharest.
That would appear to be the end of it but no -- while I was searching online today, a Mail Online report from November 2015 popped up and it appears, the final resting place of the royal heart is not in Bucharest after all. The queen's family wanted her heart to have a resting place with a royal connection. So in a grand procession, the heart was carried out of the museum in Bucharest by two soldiers, accompanied by eight officers on horseback, to the tune of the national anthem of Romania and Britain and draped in their flags. So at this point I have to ask myself, what about the Russian national anthem? She was Queen Victoria's granddaughter but she also was, on her mother's side, Alexander, the Tzar of Russia's granddaughter. In history, there are winners and losers. It isn't enough that all the Russian royal family was murdered by the communists, now so many years later, they didn't play the Russian national anthem or other patriotic Russian song at the heart's final funeral. Shocking really.
Back to the
main story -- after the procession through Bucharest, the heart was once and for all laid to rest in Pelisor Castle, "in the room where it beat for the last time". which is on the grounds of Peles castle near Sinaia. In its latest appearance it was wearing only one silver casket. Pelisor Castle is the smaller castle on the grounds of Peles. It was Queen Marie's home and it was closed while we were there. So Queen Marie's heart has finally come home after an astonishing 77 year journey around Romania.
After Bran we drove into the Piatra Craiului National Park to Magura which is a little village of cute houses and farms on rolling green hills with hay stacks, sheep, chickens, cows, surrounded by big mountains. Very alpine-like, reminiscent of Switzerland. The scenery is really gorgeous and the area and national park is a very popular summer holiday destination for Romanians. The road wasn’t paved here so we didn’t go too far, just stopped for the view and a little walk around before going back to Brasov via Poiana Brasov, a popular ski resort in the winter and in the summer there are dense forests, hiking paths,
blue skies and beautiful views. Back in Brasov we drove up to the citadel to watch the sunset before going into town for dinner.
We mostly ate at the same restaurant. More of a bar really, with a lot of young people and relaxed atmosphere. The food was quite good there, the prices of food and drink very low. There is a lot of choice in Brasov – most dishes have meat but there is also a lot of pasta, pizza, vegetables and salads. The traditional food is a bit rich for me. They eat a lot of cabbage rolls with polenta. I mostly ate fish and vegetables, I particularly liked the asparagus and the mushrooms. There are a lot of stands selling hot sweet and savory pastries all over Romania. Mostly average but sometimes really fantastic – in one little town we had the best cheese pastry fresh out of the oven. We bought berries a couple of times from road side stalls – raspberry, strawberry and blackberry.
For our last two nights in Brasov there was a festival in the main square. On the first night there was a popular Romanian rock band and
on the second night there was Romanian folk dancing and singing. There were also many stalls selling handicrafts. Brasov is a very nice town of 250,000 people. The historic center is well preserved and very pleasant to pass time wandering the streets of brightly colored houses and little lanes and alleys. We had come to the end of our very enjoyable stay in Brasov. Apart from Brasov itself and the mountains and castles we visited, I loved the old villages that seem frozen in time with their painted houses and churches, horses and carts, around Brasov and Sinaia and we were to see a lot more of that around Sighisoara and Sibiu, our next stops.
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