Sunday, 22-03-2015 & Monday, 23-03-2015.
Day 214 & Day 215.
After a relaxing day where we didn't do much except for knock around Cismigui Park with our friends Rob & Tracy and their son, it was time to go to Brasov, where we'd booked a room in Hotel Vlad Tepes. Vlad looms large on the Romanian horizon, so why not?
After we had breakfast at Bucharest Boutique Accommodation, our host graciously drove us to the train station (if you book three or more days with them, you get a free ride to and from the airport or train station).
Bucaresti Nord turned out to to be a pretty typical train station.
Train 346. Car 410. Seats 101-104.
We found our track and waited there for a little while until our train rolled up, right on time.
As we got into our car, a man tried to help us. We weren't sure if he was an employee or not (no uniform and no badge or anything), so we declined. He insisted. We declined again. The cars were labeled pretty well, so it wasn't a problem to find our own seats, and soon enough we had our luggage stashed (a little more challenging than finding the seats) and were ready to depart.
As we waited to depart, a lot of vendors moved though the cars, trying to extract money from us. Some sold magazines, some wanted donations to "help the children," and some sold colorful cards with pictures of Jesus (we were visiting during Lent and Easter was coming up).
As we were sitting in our seats, our friend who tried to help us earlier came up with another group of people. He didn't speak English, but he gestured at our seats, then pointed at the group of people. We realized he wanted us to move. We'd bought our tickets online (they were cheaper that way), so I was worried the train seats had been sold twice. So we compared tickets. Ours were for car 410 (which we were in); theirs were for car 411. So I felt better about that, but the guy still insisted we move—until I pointed out that we were in car 410. He stopped for a moment, looked around, gave a little chuckle, and took his group to the correct train car. So, yeah, I don't think he worked there.
The ride itself was two and a half hours long and completely uneventful.
And then we were in Brasov. Our first order of business was getting a taxi. There were a lot of taxis lined up at the train station. We'd been told that these drivers would do their best to overcharge you—and that was true. Of the five drivers standing around, only one knew where our hotel was, and he wanted to charge us 35 lei for a ride to our hotel 2.5 kilometers away. If we didn't have all of our luggage with us, we would have walked. It's a 10 lei ride at the most, but we negotiated down to 25 lei (which is about $6.00 U.S.).
By the time we arrived and got settled in, we didn't have much to do but get some dinner at the nearby Bistro Millennium. Our waiter there was from Costanta (the oldest populated town in Romania), the same town as Romanian tennis player Simona Halep. We told him we were excited that she'd made the finals at Indian Wells (or BNP Paribas ... whatever). He said, with a tinge of sadness, "Ah, well. She will lose." Short version—he was wrong. But that verbal exchange summed up our experience with many Romanians we talked to. There was a distinct lack of national pride among many of them.
Walking Around Brasov
Brasov, Romania is the capital of the province of Transylvania. It's not a big town (only about 250,000 people), but it's pretty charming. It was built by the Saxons in the medieval era, and many of the features of a Saxon fortified village are still intact or have been restored.
Brasov sits at the base of a densely forested mountain (it's also a popular skiing town) and there were once many bears that would wander into town to scavenge for food. Apparently this doesn't happen as often as it used to—we didn't see any bears in the city.
We decided to do a little exploring around the town, so after breakfast we took ourselves on a no-agenda, self-directed walking tour of Brasov. Here's a few of the things we found.
As we walked down Strada Poarta Schei (toward the Schei Gate) we came upon Strada Sforii, one of the narrowest streets in Europe. Strada Sforii means "String Street," and it was supposedly once used for firemen. Today, it's better known for being a narrow street, and with a clearance of just over four feet wide at its widest, well, it's pretty narrow.
The Catherine Gate was once the main gate into the fortified city of Brasov, although it's not used anymore (instead the newer Schei Gate, which opened in 1828 and is just a short distance away, takes care of that job). The four corner towers over the entrance are one of its notable features. These immediately let would-be visitors know that Brasov claimed the "Right to the Sword," that is, capital punishment. So watch your step.
The Black Church
The Black Church, said by some to be the largest gothic church in Europe, sits just a few short steps from the Council Square. This imposing building is Brasov's most dominant structure, and it dates back to the late 14th century. It was built as a Roman Catholic church, but was converted into a Lutheran church sometime in the 16th century during the Protestant Reformation. Outside the church, there's a large statue of Johannes Honter, a native Transylvanian from Brasov who introduced Lutheranism to Transylvania.
Dupa Ziduri Alley
Just outside of the walls of the fortified city we stumbled across the Alley Behind the Walls, which was the first line of defense forces attacking Brasov would have to negotiate before they would reach the outer walls of the fortified city. These days, it's a pleasant stream-lined walkway that give easy access to the hills above—and the Black and White Towers.
The Black Tower
From Dupa Ziduri Alley, we hiked up a nearby hill to get a closer look at the Black Tower, one of four observation towers built around the city. The square structure, built in the 15th century, stands 11 meters high with walls two meters thick. It got its name in 1559 when it caught on fire after a lightning strike and the outside stones were charred black. The glass roof, which makes it look a little weird, is a new addition from when it was restored in 1995. From its balcony, one can take in a pretty great view of Brasov, as can be seen below:
The White Tower
I don't know much about the White Tower other than it's a short distance away from the Black Tower on on the same hill and it is, in fact, white. Like its oppositely colored partner tower, it also offers great views of Brasov below.
The weather in Brasov had been nice all day, but the sun was starting to set and it was getting colder. So we retreated to the basement restaurant Sergiana to have some more traditional Romanian cuisine. They had sheep brains on the menu, but we passed. That seemed a bit too adventurous, even for us.
- Hours on a train: 2.5
- Dishonest taxi drivers: 1
- Towers climbed: 2
- Brains eaten: 0