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Published: October 18th 2016
We said goodbye to Brasov and set off on the road to Sighisoara where we would be spending the weekend. Almost immediately we saw the ruins of a large castle perched on a hill at the back of a small town. We drove through the town to a castle in the final stages of restoration. This scene was to repeat itself all over Transylvania. Every town and village has a castle or a fortified church, or sometimes just a beautifully painted shrine at the entrance to a tiny nondescript village.
We drove on through the countryside to Viscri where there is a famous fortified church. We passed a colorful gypsy village but the people didn’t look so friendly and we were starting to get a bit nervous. Google maps was directing us up a very badly rutted and potholed road. The few people about were standing and frowning at us so we turned around and didn’t go down that particular road. Our landlord in Sighisoara told us that the road is only like that at the beginning and he said the people are very friendly and helpful.
This area gets a lot of help from the Prince Charles Foundation
Another impressive castle
I am not even sure where this is. I think it is on the way out of Rupea.
to encourage conservation, farming and sustainable development. He has set up guest houses and training centers. One sign we saw from his foundation had us puzzling over the meaning for quite a while. As you have already seen from my photos, the villages of Transylvania have brightly painted houses, they look like the colors have been chosen at random and some of the colors are really garish but you don’t see two houses in a row of the same color and the overall effect is very nice -- the houses all blend together in a dazzling rainbow of color.
So we are looking at this sign and it has two columns of photos of houses. Both houses are almost identical. The sign was in Romanian and seemed to be before and after photos but we couldn’t see much difference. The left column was the wrong way to paint your house and the right column was the right way. It all came down to the shade. It was the difference between a ghastly shade of green and a very slightly less ghastly shade of green. The same with the orange, pink, purple and blue. So it seems that there is
Sighisoara has the best windows
I take more photos of windows, doors and even walls these days because of Instagram. But I also see things in more detail than once and I notice things that I didn't notice before.
a sort of master plan to all these colorful villages or at least a suggestion.
We got to Sighisoara in the early afternoon and the landlord came down to meet us in the parking lot at the bottom of the citadel. We were supposed to drive our car into the citadel, unload the luggage and then return the car to the parking lot. There was a parking spot and the landlord told us we could leave it there. So we did. We didn’t move the car again till we left two days later. We usually have one place that we really like on our holidays, often an old village, not terribly exciting but with charming streets and houses and wonderful views all around. In this case, Sighisoara was our favorite.
Sighisoara was founded by German
craftsmen and merchants known as the Saxons of Transylvania in the 12th
century. The old town is in a walled citadel with mostly 16th century houses, churches and towers. It is a UNESCO heritage site and is one of the best-preserved Medieval citadels in Europe that is still inhabited. We walked those streets, up and down, around and around, all directions, several times,
Put your sunglasses on now
This photo has not been edited -- in the late afternoon light the colors seem even brighter
taking photos of the houses and cobble stone streets, the crooked windows with their flower boxes. Taking photos! I took so many photos and was surprised to see that I took several of the exact same photos – it was just all so lovely and not very big and we didn’t get tired of it. Most people only stay a few hours but we were very glad that we were staying the weekend. Another day there might have been pushing things, but two days suited us perfectly.
But before we hit the streets we had to check in to our apartment. A lot of stairs in Romania, sometimes a lift, sometimes not, sometimes a lot of stairs just to get to the lift. In Brasov there were about 20 very steep stairs before the lift. The landlord, a big healthy looking young guy just ignored us struggling with our suitcases and played with his phone. Not in Sighisoara – the landlord took our suitcases one in each hand and bounded up the steps. He then insisted that we have some of his home made plum brandy, left at the entrance, and filled up again when empty. He said that
the brandy makes him strong and that’s why he could carry our bags so easily. Well, I don’t know about that but we had a few drinks while we were there. Certainly added a happy dimension to our visit.
He seemed surprised that it was just the two of us. We had rented the large room and we had an entrance and sitting place but the best was that we had two very big bedrooms with ensuite bathrooms. I said if we argue we won’t have to share the same room. But we don’t argue on holiday – why should we? We are usually having such a good time. We certainly were in Sighisoara, having two bathrooms and all that space was very, very nice.
The young woman that was on the premises of the guest house most of the time, cleaning and fixing and doing washing, was extremely nice and we had some nice chats with her. Wages in Romania are very low and life is hard for a lot of people. They have good schools and many professionals but there is not enough work for everybody. I saw that a lot of countries, particularly Germany, have
set up big factories there and although they provide more employment, the wages and conditions are not good. I really wanted to give her a tip but she was adamant and wouldn’t take it. When we left, she hid herself somewhere in the building and I couldn’t find her. I left her a good tip in the room anyway. Did I say that the Romanian people are very nice? They are also modest and very proud. It is sad that many Romanians have to leave their country in search of a better life and they can be founding working all over the world.
Can you write about an old village in Transylvania without mentioning Dracula? I guess not. I got the impression the Romanians are quite ambivalent about him. On the one hand, it is a big tourist draw, probably the biggest, and on the other hand, he isn’t real, he’s just a fictional character and the Romanians seem almost insulted that anyone would think they are foolish enough to believe in vampires and other such nonsense. Sighisoara actually looks like the sort of place that Dracula might hang out in. Its claim to fame is that the inspiration
for Dracula, Vlad Tepes, also known as Vlad the Impaler, son of Vlad Dracul, was born there and spent his first four years in a house just off the main square.
We ate most of our meals in the main square which lies at the center of the citadel. In the old days public executions and witch trials were held here. Today they have markets and fairs but none while we were there. There is a nice gift shop on the square, famous for its blueberry pie. The old clock tower is just off the square. It is a museum and you pass the various exhibits on your way up to the top to see the view.
I got up early one morning to take some photos in the morning light and before the tour busses arrived. The village was still in shadow and the air was fresh and cool. I walked up the covered stairway to the church on the hill. Built in 1642, it had 300 steps and later it was reduced to 175 steps – did the hill sink? – and apart from the church there is an old German graveyard. In the afternoon we
walked around the walls from the outside and walked up to the church from the back through the graveyard. Until the Second World War most of the houses were owned by German Saxons. After the war about 70,000 ethnic Germans were deported to Siberia and over the next 50 years thousands of them willingly emigrated to Germany leaving entire towns and villages empty. But not for long. The Roma soon moved in.
The old citadel was taken over by the state and mostly neglected and forgotten as the houses were not in demand as they were old, humid, and cold, and they lacked plumbing so had no indoor toilets. Eventually the poor gypsies were pushed out by the town administration and Hungarians and Romanians from neighboring villages moved in. Since then there has been many claims, changes to the law, new legislation and it is all so complicated that I could not work out who the owners are now. I don’t think restitution has ever been paid to the heirs of the original owners who now live in Germany.
I have seen many beautiful villages in Europe, all lovingly restored to their former glory and this is thanks
to the age of tourism. In Sighisoara’s case (and much of Transylvania), the German Saxon culture and their architectural heritage that was in danger of being lost has been saved by tourism. So even during the months when these places are overrun with tourists, it is worth remembering that and even better not to visit at all during summer and go in the spring or autumn, if you can. Sighisoara has been completely restored and the Romanians are busily working on the rest of Transylvania. I don’t know if the position of the Roma has been improved by all this – I know that they moved into empty villages and towns and that many organizations are today encouraging them to preserve the traditions and architecture but I don’t know if it has been successful. In this part of Transylvania I really couldn’t tell who was a gypsy and who was not. Later around Sibiu, I saw Roma women with red skirts and head scarves and the men wore big black hats.
Back at the German cemetery, I was getting a bit nervous because there was no one around and there was a big dog darting around through the trees
and cemeteries are usually sort of spooky places – although this one was peaceful under sun dappled trees. The lower part of the cemetery had new Romanian graves and by the time we got to the top there were a few more people around. The oldest grave I saw was from 1880 and the last ones were from about 1970. Not terribly old. What was interesting was that many of the graves had four or five generations of the same family buried in the same grave.
The weather forecast for our time in Romania was very bad. Every day dropping temperatures and rain was forecast. But in reality the weather was warm and sunny. Every day there would be threatening clouds in the middle of the day but they would go away after about two hours. We were still sitting outside eating our dinner at the end of September. It got progressively hotter all week until on the last day in Sighisoara it must have been around 28 or 29 degrees. It was cool at night so comfortable inside but I wouldn’t like to be here in the middle of the summer with no air conditioning.
great weekend we set off for Sibiu. The bad weather had finally arrived but it was a light rain and we drove on a nice country road to our first stop of the day at Biertan.
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