Well someone warned me when I said I was going to be visiting Romania that I should watch out for bears. Which I must admit I haven’t been doing, but I today we did see a small statue of a bear, and also a sign warning us that bears lived in the forest. There’s your bear news for today.
Brasov is a nice break from all the capital cities we’ve been through, but we also wanted to get out and see some of the countryside, so we took the questionable decision to hire a car. Questionable, because Romanian drivers have a reputation, and not one that reassures. But I thought, coming from Bradford, how bad could it be?
Well for a start almost everybody drives in the middle of the road, regardless of whether there’s anything coming in the other direction, and overtaking involves barging your way into the tiniest of gaps. No waiting till it’s safe, just go round the other person if they’re in you way and stuff what else is happening. But it is a predictable kind of bonkersness and actually not that hard to drive through safely, as long as you go the right way down one way streets. You can always play spot the Dacia 1310 to take your mind off the stress (the Romanian equivalent of the Trabant, which there are still a lot of here).
We decided to head to Sinaia, a nearby tourist town with pretty castles and mountains. To get there, we had to drive through the Carpathian mountains, on the main road to Bucharest which is one an alpine-style road with constant hairpins. Motorway services don’t exist on this part of the highway at least, but instead there are huge stalls selling tourist tat, fur hats, and cars parked in lay-bys selling 2 litre bottles of homemade squash and bread rolls which is convenient of you forgot your packed lunch for the journey.
At the top of the first mountain is a little ski resort called Timisul de Sus, full of hotels and overly Austrian style chalets. Sinaia is not dissimilar, but provides you with atmosphere in the form of speakers attached to every lamppost blaring out the Romanian equivalent of Kiss FM to keep everyone jolly. There are a more noticable number of theubiquitous Romanian gypsies selling lucky heather. Gypsies sadly seem to be pretty much universally disliked across Eastern Europe. If something is wrong here then I’ve yet to find someone who doesn’t blame a gypsy! But equally I’ve not been brave enough to talk to one, especially one brandishing lucky heather. Prejudice breeds fear I guess…
The other thing that’s becoming more apparent the more time we spend here, is how many dogs there are. Every home seems to keep at least 2, but usually 6 or 7, border collie or alsatian-sized dogs, and there are many many more strays in varying states of health trotting around town or sleeping in doorways. This goes some way to explaining the huge amount of dog poo on the pavements here. If you look carefully though (I’d recommend it as you’ll end up with pooey shoes otherwise), you might spot some white dog poo for 80s nostalgia value!
So back to the castles, of which there are two in Sinaia – one (Peles) built as King Carol I’s summer residence, and the second (Pelisor) built for his nephew King Ferdinand. Transylvania does do a nice line in castles and there are also famous ones in Rasnov, and in Bran, the castle that Vlad “The Impaler” Tepes visited once, inspiring Bram Stoker to use Bran Castle as Dracula’s residence. We partly didn’t go because it was a bit our of the way, but mainly because visiting the residence where a person a fictional character was based on never lived isn’t a particularly relevant reason to visit somewhere, and despite it being a lovely castle, two other castles and the prospect of posing by a tacky Hollywood-esque sign was just too much excitement for one day.
So off we headed for our cable car experience. We cunningly saw signs in Sinaia to the Cable car there back down to town, but we reckoned without those signs being purely for motorists. From the castles, it’s probably another 3 or 4 km uphill to the cable car station, so after another 1km up the hill with no cable car in sight we gave in and got in a taxi (which are fortunately pretty cheap out here). Our driver was a lovely chap who said he loved working with British people and had been doing for 18 years, in tourism, embassy work, and so on. He seemed genuinely excited to have British passengers and went on to briefly tell us how the communist regime had destroyed the soul of the country of Romania, treating its people like animals. I can well believe it, the Romanians I’ve met so far all seem to be lovers of life and I shudder to think the effects of a dictatorship on such a free-spirited country.
We were still intent on getting to the top of Tampa Hill in Brasov though so off back “home” we headed. Tampa Hill overlooks Brasov and at the top the views are absolutely spectacular, especially given the clear and sunny day we had (at a crisp but windless zero degrees celsius).
We walked from the cable car station, still very reminiscent of the 50s and presumably the communists in power at the time, towards the “Panorama” of the Hollywood-Brasov hilltop sign, which stunning as the views were, made me feel not a little bit queasy because it was bloody high up and I’m a big scaredy wuss. But here, just for you dear reader, are some snaps of the Carpathians and their plains and things like that.
We like the atmnosphere so much here that we have decided to stay an extra day and leave out a Bucharest visit. We’ve pretty much had enough of dashing through cities and we’ve had a relaxing day talking to our absolutely wonderful host Angi at the Hostel Mara (this is the nicest atmosphere at a hostel we’ve been to so far, Angi clearly cares an awful lot about her guests’ wellbeing and no query is too small – she even insisted on coming to the hospital with us when Dave slipped and bumped himself (although he’s fine now and no treatment was needed). We’ve also spent a bit of time wandering round Brasov and its old town walls, and the rest of the time has been spent in the pub, and trying to work out how on earth we are going to get to out next stop Veliko in Bulgaria, a journey which seems to be getting more and more complicated by the moment! See how we fare in my next post!
Days since leaving the UK: 8
Kilometres travelled so far by main train journeys: still 2586
Countries travelled through so far: 7
Cities visited: 6
Weather: SUNNY! But still cold.
New times zones encountered: 2
Transylvanian mountaintop castles investigated: 2
Beware of the bear signs seen: 1
Stray cats seen: 5
Dogs seen: 7459
Near death driving experiences: at least 4