Wednesday, October 19, 2022

Romania September 2022

We arrived in Bucharest with no issues except rush hour traffic. To go ten kilometers took about 40 minutes, which included our driver passing cars in the bike lanes and on the trolley tracks. 
Our Airbnb is in an old communist building, not much on the outside but nice on the inside. We are on the 6th floor and have great views of the city and river.
Today we have a city bike tour. Our guide is not hungover (like our bike guide in Serbia was) and is informative. Romania, like many of the Balkan countries, has a very turbulent past. It has been passed from empire to empire through many battles. It has been broken up into multiple territories and put back together over the centuries. Not only that, but it had a monarchy for a relatively short period. Romania first sided with Germany and then switched to the Allies during World War Two. For 12 years, it was under the military occupation of Russia. Then under a communist dictator until December 1989, when the revolution happened. Romania has been a democracy since. It is in the EU and part of NATO.
Now you are all caught up!
Much of our tour covered the city center and the architecture. From the architecture of the buildings, you can tell at which period the buildings were built.

The neoclassical architecture from before World War Two. The simple cement buildings during Communism. More contemporary buildings since the revolution.
Ninety percent of Romanians are Orthodox Christians. We stopped to see the center of the Romanian church, their Vatican City. We also saw the new cathedral being built, at a cost of over one billion dollars.
The city has a very long boulevard lined with beautiful water fountains, anchored at one end by the palace, which is now the parliament building. This building was started during the communist period and finished after the revolution. The government wanted to sell the unfinished building to a developer. They only got one bid. From a company in the U.S. The Trump Organization. The Romanian government declined the bid as they did not trust they would get paid.
The government finished the building and uses it as the parliament building. It is the third-largest administrative building in the world, behind the pentagon, and a government building in China. It is the heaviest building in the world, made entirely of marble. It sinks 6 centimeters a year.
Our guide bought us each a ROM candy bar, pronounced Rum. During communism, Romanian chocolate was not good. To solve this problem, they traded Romanian chocolate for Cuban Rum, which was not good rum. They then combined the bad chocolate with the bad rum to make the ROM candy bar, which was excellent. The name ROM is for Romania and pronounced Rum for Cuban Rum.
After our tour, we walked to the rental car office to book our car, NOT.
We left our international driver’s license at home, we had never been asked to show them, so we stopped carrying them. Guess what? In Romania they ask for them. On to plan B, more on that later.
In the evening we took a communism walking tour from 5:30 - 8:30 PM. During this tour, we learned what life was like during the communist period. Everything was rationed. Even your apartment, many times being forced to live with another family. The queue to get a car was five years long. Once you got the car the fuel was rationed, so not much driving was done.
You queued for everything, food, water, clothes. Many times when you got to the front of the line, the store was empty.
Even heat for the apartments was rationed and could be turned off at anytime. Many people died of asphyxiation as they would try to heat with their gas stove. At night, the government would turn the gas off. When it was turned back on, there would be no pilot light, people would die from the gas. Entire families or even multiple families, if sharing an apartment would die.
Another big issue was churches. The communists were atheists. Which meant the church had no place in society. But rather than destroying the churches and causing an uprising. They spent millions of dollars moving them to be out of eyesight of major roadways. This church was moved 300 meters.
This all came to a head in 1989 with the revolution. It was a very informative tour.
Today we are going to walk around Bucharest. This will be our final day in Bucharest, we hope.
I forgot to mention during the communist period, the government took all the property from the landowners. Much of the property sat empty / abandoned. After the independence, the new government said if you can prove you owned the property you could have it back. But you must claim it by 2024. After 2024 these properties will go to auction.
As you walk around Bucharest you will notice these abandoned buildings, many are burned out from fire.
Our first stop is the Holocaust Memorial. As you may remember, Romania first sided with the Germans.
Our second stop is Dimitrie Gusti National Village Museum - The whole west side of the Herăstrău Park is given over to a massive outdoor museum, which has more than 270 authentic historic buildings. Made from stone, wood, or cob (clay and straw), these have been carefully dismantled and put back together at this site and come from all corners of the country, from Banat in the West to Moldova in the east and Transylvania in the center. Each region has its style, whether it’s the brightly painted walls from the Danube Delta to the ornately carved portals from Berbeşti in the center of Romania. The museum was established by the eminent sociologist Dimitrie Gusti in 1936 and its oldest houses date from the 18th century.
It is a three-and-a-half mile walk, we passed Bucharest’s Arch de Triumph on the way.

There were well over 100 buildings at the Dimitrie Gusti National Village Museum. It is remarkable they dismantled each one and moved them, in some cases hundreds of miles too this outdoor museum.
We had lunch at an outstanding organic restaurant called Aubergine. Everything was great until Margarite found a small worn in her salad. As I said, an organic Restaurant. They offered to comp the entire meal we opted to take the salad off the bill.

After lunch, we headed back to our apartment. On the way, we comb the streets for our Plan B.
Find someone willing to drive us to Brasov some four hours from Bucharest.

If you are reading this we are in the car heading to Brasov with our Plan B driver, “T” short for Theodor. We found him selling trinkets in the street.

If you never hear from us again, we were too trusting.
Saturday, September 10th, “T” picked us up exactly on time. Not only was he driving an Audi A-6, but he had water for us and 5G WiFi in the car.

We come to find out “T” drives for a company called “BlackCab”, think of a high-end Uber.
“T” is very proud of his country and offered to show us a couple of sights on the way.
First Bran Castle – about two hours north of Bucharest. This 14th-century fortress is often connected to Count Dracula and his real-life 15th-century inspiration Vlad the Impaler. And while this isn’t strictly true as Vlad the Impaler didn’t have much to do with the castle, the true history of the building is exciting enough. A romantic tangle of towers built onto a rocky promontory over a gorge, it was a bulwark against the Ottoman Empire in the late Middle Ages and was controlled by a succession of Hungarian Kings. When Transylvania ceded to Romania after the First World War, it became a favorite residence for Marie of Romania, and the museum inside has many of the queen’s possessions.
Yes, we are now in Transylvania, once its own region, now part of Romania.
The castle had pictures from the first Dracula movie, playing up to the folklore that this is Dracula’s castle.
The real Dracula’s castle is in southern Romania, and we have been told not much to see.

“T” had one more stop, Valea Cetatii Cave. Deep in the woods of Transylvania, we found this cave hidden in the mountainside. After a short walk through a small entryway that opened up into a vast cavern. Worth the stop, “T” explained there are numerous caves in this area and this one was recently discovered.
Our drive took us through large mountain areas, in fact, we passed through several ski towns.
We arrived at our final destination at 2:30 pm and checked into our Airbnb.
Brasov, Romania, is the gateway into Transylvania. After coming from Bucharest, the pace of life is noticeably slower. Being in the mountains, the temperature is cooler. Being a Saturday, the main square is full of tourists from Bucharest. There’s a relaxed, romantic feel as you wander through Brasov’s narrow cobblestone streets. The 13th-century city transports you back in time with an unassuming, tangible authenticity. Brasov is one of Romania’s most visited cities and for good reason. It’s situated in a Transylvanian sweet spot, making it an ideal base for the next few days.
After sitting in the car for several hours, we needed to get out and walk. We stopped at the black church.
Biserica Neagră (Black Church) - Seen as one of Eastern Europe’s greatest works of Gothic architecture, the Black Church was constructed by Brașov’s German community during the 15th century. In the 16th century Lutheran services took the place of Catholic ones, a switch that has persisted until now.
Just outside is a statue of Johannes Honter, the Transylvanian Saxon humanist who brought Lutheranism to the region.
Four towers surround Brasov two are easy to hike to the White Tower and Black Tower. All four towers were built to defend the walled city. This gave is a great view of the city, and you could see the Black Church was the center point.
Tomorrow we will get a city tour and more detail.
This morning we took a walking tour of Brasov.
We meet at Council Square, a place of trade and fairs from the middle of the 14th century, now this wide open space is somewhere to pause and look south to the vast bulk of Mount Tâmpa. The plaza is traced by historic painted facades of houses once belonging to the city’s guilds, as well as monuments like the Black Church and the Orthodox Cathedral. Many of the houses are now restaurants and cafés with terraces sprawling onto the square. On the south side is the arcade Merchants’ House from the mid-16th century, which used to be a market building and has been converted into a shopping arcade.
The first site we see is Casa Sfatului (Council Hall) - Hard to miss on Council Square is the 15th-century town hall, which started life as a Medieval watchtower. The town hall went up in the 15th century and had to be modified because of natural calamities and then a Habsburg invasion in the 1600s, leaving it with a blend of earlier Gothic and later Baroque architecture. Since the 1950s the Council Hall has hosted the County Museum of History, which has an assortment of Iron Age tools, Roman items from nearby forts, Medieval ceramics, antique weapons, pharmaceutical artifacts, traditional handicrafts, coins, and more.
Now for the skinny people, we visited, Strada Sforii (Rope Street), one of the narrowest streets in Europe. At a minimum of 111 centimeters, this 80-meter passageway dates back to the 1600s and is only beaten for narrowness by Spreuerhofstraße in Reutlingen, Germany, and Parliament Street in Exeter, England. It’s impossible to spread your arms as you squeeze down this shadowy passage, so you won’t be shocked that Strada Sforii wasn’t originally designed for everyday use, but as a route for fire-fighters in the Old Town. Rope Street resides in the German section of down. The folklore is that it was built so drunk Germans would not fall on their way home from the bars.
Of course, we visited the Black Church again.
We learned about the gated (walled) city, and the German section, and visited two of the gates. The Romanian section was outside the gates.
After the tour we hiked up Mount Tâmpa - Rising 400 meters over the south of the Old Town, to a maximum height of 960, the wedge-like Mount Tâmpa is an ever-present part of Brașov’s landscape. Keen walkers will be itching to conquer this forest-covered limestone peak, once defended by a 13th-century Teutonic citadel and with distant views of the Burzenland region at the top. The Knights’ Road, the oldest of many routes to the summit, goes back to the days of the citadel and snakes past old crumbling walls. The mountain is also a nature reserve, providing habitat for gray wolves, golden eagles, brown bears, and Eurasian lynxes.
From the top of Mount Tâmpa, you can see the distinction between the German Section (within the walls) and the Romanian section outside the walls.
After our hike, we walked around Brasov and stopped at the Communist Museum.

At the museum, they had many letters written by folks that lived during communism. The purpose of these letters was to remind people what life was like under communism.
As I read this letter, I was uncertain if it was written during communism or in the United States today.
This object was built by a man in his apartment. It was built over three years, he stole material from the factory he worked at. He planned to float down the river to escape communism. The revolution came before he got to use his makeshift boat.

We took an evening walk and photographed one of the gates and the synagogue lit up.
Today we woke to a rainy morning. We used the time to plan the next few days of our adventures in Eastern Europe. We decided today would be our last day in Romania. We will depart tomorrow for Sofia, Bulgaria, eight hours by car away.
“T” was not up for the drive, but he told us about a cool app DayTrip ( It is like Uber but for long-distance trips. They even offer sightseeing on the way. We will try it out tomorrow and let you know how it goes.
Once the rain stopped, we walked the three miles to the Gypsy Market. With think going on a Monday, we got gypped. Get it, Gypsy Market, we got gypped. There were not as many vendors as we had heard there would be.
Though, the number of clothes for sales was unreal. Most of the items are super cheap in price, many name brands. Most fell off the back of a truck.
The fruit and vegetable section did not disappoint.
We walked back to town and had a traditional Romanian lunch of Bean and Ham Soup served in a baked bread bowl.
After lunch, we toured the synagogue. They had a small holocaust memorial out front.
The rest of the day was relaxing and getting ready for our next leg of the trip.


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