Most of our fellow cruisers headed home this morning, but we opted to extend the trip so we could explore Transylvania, a region in central Romania famous for #youknowwho (Dracula).
We had another super guide who regaled us with her knowledge of the area and her country as we headed toward the Southern Carpathian Mountains. The roads were in terrific shape and the weather was unseasonably warm considering they usually have snow by now. On our way out of town we noticed mini-mansions built next to the road and learned they belonged to the Roma people. It was news to us that Roma is the politically correct term for Gypsies or Travelers. It is their habit here to build as large a home as possible right by the road as a testament to their wealth and status. They rarely live there, however, preferring a modest dwelling out back that is much cheaper to heat and cool. The large houses are used for big occasions or possibly guests. Hold the phone: animals are even stabled in some of them!
As we drove through tidy villages and past fields resting up for spring the guide talked us through the Ottoman practice of devshirme which translates to child levy or blood tax. Between the 15th and 17th centuries Christian boys, mostly from the Balkans where we have been, were removed from their homes, taken to what is now Istanbul, forcibly converted to Islam, and educated in everything from languages to math, horsemanship, and weaponry. Once grown, they served the Ottoman government and were never allowed to returned home. Stop crying Cyd!
On a cheerier note, we had a comfort stop (potty break) at a huge mall that took everyone by surprise. It had everything from Carrefour if you needed French groceries to H&M for clothes to Leonidas for Belgian chocolates to Starbucks and a carwash. Dan headed in the direction of Carrefour; I went to a nice toy store; and Rose and Peter went in search of a crockpot. Really.
Our destination for the day was Sinaia where we visited Peleș Castle, completed in 1883. No expense was spared in tricking it out with European art, Murano crystal chandeliers, German stained-glass windows, and Cordoba leather-covered walls. With its own power plant it was the first European castle to have electricity. All the beautiful fireplaces are fakes because it also has central heat. Add hot and cold running water; a central vacuum system; armories displaying some 4,000 pieces; a library with a secret door; small elevator; 60-seat theatre, with royal box, where the first movie projection in Romania was shone in 1906 and you’ve got yourself quite an amazing place to put your feet up! As an uberfan of the painting Lady in Gold, Dan was excited to learn that the frescoes in the theater hall were designed by his favorite Austrian artist, Gustav Klimt, and a pal of his that Dan dismissed as no doubt having made minimal contributions to the magnificence of the hall. I jest. The 160-room castle served as the summer residence of the royal family until 1947.
We had worked up quite an appetite by the time we finished touring the castle, so we headed straight to a cute local place where we chose delicious cabbage rolls with sides of ham, polenta, and cabbage before continuing on to Brasov for the night. Rose and Peter got the exchange rate mixed up and realized they had left a tip worth $1.27. Not funny for the server but we got a major giggle out of it. On the way to the bus we grabbed five Dracula t-shirts and an elaborately machine embroidered shawl to add to my international collection of shawls. Wink.
The two-lane road that took us out of town and down the mountain must be a nightmare during ski season, tourist season, and holidays since it was slow going for us. Before calling it a day, we had a quick walking tour of Brasov and could easily tell money was no stranger to this city situated at the intersection of old trade routes. It has the charm of a Bavarian town. The main square, home over the centuries to burnings, hangings, public announcement, markets, beheadings, and large gatherings, is huge and lined with well maintained building and paved with small white and blacks stones. Off to one side of the square is Biserica Neagră, Black Church, so named for the fire damage it suffered. The most striking features of this large gothic church is the unfinished wide plank floor and the small, centuries-old Ottoman carpets hung above some of the pews.
Dan and I grabbed a quick bite at the hotel bar before calling it a day. Rose and Peter joined us and shared laugh-’til-you cry stories which made for a perfect ending to our full day.
Today was built around our visit to Bran Castle, commonly known as Dracula’s Castle. Built into and around the rock at the highpoint of town during the 14th century, it was used by Vlad the Impaler, a national hero for Romanians, as his headquarters for his incursions into Transylvania. We enjoyed going room to room and found it bright, cheerful, and far less formal than Peleș Castle. Intimidating instruments of torture were on displays in one room. Beautiful tile and stucco fireplaces were in several rooms. Add some chainmail; weapons of the day; a crown and scepter; secret windows; spiral wooden staircases; balconies; and dark, narrow stone stairways and we could almost imagine life over the centuries playing out here.
Judging by the wares in the souvenirs stands, Bran Castle is best known nowadays because of the legend of a Transylvanian nobleman who went by the name Count Dracula. It drizzled all day under dark skies which seemed a perfect compliment to the concept of blood sucking.
We chose a cute place for lunch (think fried cheese and salad) before getting comfortable on the bus for the four hour ride back to Bucharest.
… Oh Really …
Bela Lugosi, the actor who played Count Dracula in the 1931 film,
was born in Lugoj, not far from Transylvania.
No meal starts in Transylvania without a shot of palinca,
a distilled alcoholic drink made out of fruit that is similar to Russian vodka.
Sinaia was named for the Sinai and used to be a stop on the Orient Express.
One thought on “Transylvania (November 10-11 , 2022)”
Wow! What a lot of fascinating facts! Sounds like another amazing trip!