In the early morning of July 12, 2006, after an uncomfortable night spent on a broken-down train from Sophia, Kay and I arrived in Bucharest, the capital of Romania.
It was our first visit, and we didn’t stay long since our destination was the Transylvanian city of Braşov, a comfortable two-and-a-half-hour ride north in a modern train. In Braşov’s train station, while I was in the ticket office arranging for our ongoing travel, Kay was approached by a man and uncharacteristically agreed for us to stay in an apartment that had belonged to the man’s late parents.
So, we became acquainted with Florian, who not only provided our lodging, but agreed to guide us to various interesting sights in the vicinity of Braşov. Although our visit to Romania lasted only three days, it seemed longer due to the guidance of our new friend.
I don’t remember exactly why we chose to visit Braşov. It might have been because of something we read; we certainly didn’t know much about it. What we found was an attractive regional city with a long, troubled history. Over the centuries, Braşov had been invaded many times, first by the Tartars and later by the Turks. It had suffered a terrible fire in 1689 that had destroyed most of its buildings.
For this reason, Braşov’s old town has the Baroque look of the 18th century.
The exception is the Black Church, so named due to the smoke from the fire that blackened it.
We spent our first day strolling around the old town, admiring its large square with views of the Carpathian mountains and a well-kept city park.
Florian recommended an authentic Romanian restaurant on the square where we shared a platter of hors d’oeuvres featuring Kashkaval cheese, calves’ liver, and various pork items, including something like what in America we call Canadian bacon. Our starter was followed by more pork, garnished with ham, cheese, mustard and spices. All very tasty.
The following day, Florian borrowed a car and gave us a very interesting day of sightseeing. Our first stop was Peleş Castle, the creation of Carel I, King of Romania. He was a German of the House of Hohenzollern, who through through his familial ties to Napoleon III and the Prussian monarchs was chosen to be ruling prince of Romania and, in 1881, the country’s first king.
King Carel built Peleş Castle in a mishmash of architectural styles at his own expense. He was a great collector, whose armament collection is said to have been the largest in Europe. He filled his castle with choice furnishings from various civilizations.
Queen Maria, wife of Carel’s nephew Ferdinand, who inherited the throne after Carel’s death, had her own palace near Peleş. Where Carel’s taste was eclectic, hers favored the Secessionist designs of fin-de-siècle Vienna. The Art Nouveau glass and other objects were thrilling to look at.
Not far from Peleş, we stopped to admire Sinaia Monastery, built at the end of the 17th century by Prince Mihai Cantacuzino, who had been inspired by a trip to the Holy Lands. It is named after Mount Sinai where Moses allegedly received the Ten Commandments.
The churches and other monastery buildings are in an authentic Romanian style known as Brancovenesc that features carved stone pillars and fortress-like walls.
After lunch with Florian in the town of Bran, we visited its castle known as Dracula’s, although it’s unlikely that Vlad Tepes (the Impaler), Bram Stoker’s inspiring model, ever stayed there.
The castle is large with many rooms and passageways.
Late in the afternoon, we stopped to view a castle even more interesting than Bran’s.
Raşov is a medieval fortress that once protected the commercial road that linked Transylvania with provinces further south. It withstood its share of sieges over the centuries. Set high on a hilltop, it is a picturesque sight and very interesting to tour.
On our third day, Florian accompanied us back to Braşov’s train station where we caught a train for Bratislava, Slovakia. Saying goodbye, we thanked him profusely. He had made our unplanned stop in his country one of the highlights of our summer travels.