Back on the road, with a full week in Romania now under our belts (and over, in the case of the various Romanian beer I’ve been diligently taste-testing). A pretty fascinating country so far, especially considering we’ve never been to Eastern Europe, unless you count Croatia, which even they would rather you didn’t, or Turkey, the qualifying portion of which is more like an Eastern European thumb, or maybe a small, creepy vestigial tail. Either way, this whole former Communist bloc business has been pretty interesting to see, not to mention the picturesque old towns and wide variety of historic churches. We started out with 4 nights in each of Brasov and Sighisoara, key locations in famous Transylvania (no, you’re not the only person we know who thought Transylvania was actually fictional, although you’re still wrong). Our main plan was to gently nurse ourselves through the jetlag borne of an abrupt 9-hour time change, with just a little dabbling in the sightseeing business to keep ourselves occupied. Well, 7 nights on we’re starting to get our sleeping schedules on track, the weather has been almost shockingly consistent in the high 20’s, sunny and calm during the days, and there has certainly been no shortage of aimless wandering of the local highlights. Hello, 400-year old church. Nice to see you, elegant town square. The pleasure is all mine, giant pitcher of Romanian beer.
St. Nicholas Church located just outside the main tourist area of Brasov, in an interesting, quiet residential neighbourhood, is loaded with a lot of history of which I recall none, and did a great job of staying still while posing for some great photos.
Cemeteries, especially really old ones, provide such a paradox: obviously sombre and depressing, yet often incredibly photogenic. Disrespectful or flattering? I guess it depends if you take a leak on a tombstone, or are the thoughtful type who will hold it until he finds a nearby garden with a bevy of concealing shrubberies. At least that’s my criteria.
This is Laynni demonstrating just how narrow Rope Street is. Apparently, it is the third narrowest street in all of Europe. What makes it a street rather than an alley, you ask? No idea. To be considered for the narrowest streets in Europe rankings does it have to be in a country that is a member of the EU? Probably, although I couldn’t tell you exactly what I’m basing that on. Will Brexit mean it could move up the list in the future? Only time will tell.
The famous Brasov sign, a virtual replica of the far more famous one in Hollywood. A smaller replica, I suppose, and one that uses almost entirely different letters. Although it was a nice hour-long hike up through the trees to “Mount” Tampa to get there, where we were greeted by all the people who came up by cable car. Not that I blame them, we rode it back down, it only cost $3 each, and was, on the whole, really quite pleasant.
Here I am looking just oh so happy at the end of a short morning of hiking. Happy with my beautiful surroundings, of course, and happy to be on my way to lunch because I was pretty hungry by this point, something that is hard to tell simply by looking at this photo. Another thing that is hard to see is how much sweat had accumulated underneath that little backpack. It was a fair amount, I assure you.
Reunion beers! On our third day Chris Looney arrived following a long, apparently arduous, journey from Croatia via Bosnia and Serbia. A journey that used to simply be called “across Yugoslavia” but now involves multiple border crossings. We last saw Chris in Guatemala, in Mongolia before that, and Antarctica and Ushuaia originally, which we eventually calculated, rather astoundingly slowly, to mean we have now met up on 5 of 7 continents. What that signifies we really have no idea, other than it seems to warrant drinking a lot of beer most days. In celebration, I guess.
They forgot the part about “misspelled names”.
This how lighting, photographic composition and laughing so much you don’t even stop while drinking looks when an unofficial pub crawl has progressed for roughly 7 hours. Note Laynni’s wide grin that most likely resulted in just as much beer on her chin as in her mouth. I know that happened at some point, anyway, although can’t say for sure it was at this point because, well, I have no recollection of taking this photo. Or of that bar, come to think of it.
I thought this old lady was just so cute. The way she carefully emptied a carton of beer bottles and set it up as her stool, laid out her tiny little flower arrangements, then just sat there looking all stoic and grandmotherly, so that I insisted Laynni try to get an inconspicuous photo of her from her side of the table (iPhones are good at a lot of things, but zooming in from distance to creep on people anonymously is not one of them). Then just as I had decided I simply had to buy some flowers from her, she got caught up in a weird conversation with this drugged-out young guy with a horrible rat-tail hairstyle, then berated a woman who tried to offer her, apparently, far too little for one of her meagre bouquets, then started yelling at another woman who tried to give her some change, followed by actually flinging the coins across the street with a velocity, and off-putting rage, that ultimately convinced me that a) looks can be deceiving, and b) maybe I could live without a handful of mismatched flowers after all.
Unwittingly I may have cursed our train journey to Sighisoara by talking up the essential greatness of trains, their general levels of comfort, the joys of an onboard bathroom, the inevitable picturesque journey through the bucolic countryside. The train we ended up on, however, and for whatever reason – chance, karma, the dilapidated state of the Romanian transportation department – was actually a bit of a nightmare. Almost twice as long as originally anticipated, taking nearly 4 hours to go 120 kilometres, it was hot, stuffy, uncomfortable, and with a bathroom that would not feel out of place among more famously disgusting public facilities we have experienced around the world in places such as India, Mongolia and the Prince Albert Exhibition. When it first pulled up we thought the fact it was covered front to back in graffiti was trendy and charming. We soon learned that besides blocking the windows and any chance at a silver lining of good views, it was really just a portentous omen regarding the low level of maintenance and attention it received. Colourful, though.
Sighisoara is described in the Lonely Planet as “so pretty it should be arrested”, a statement so simultaneously irritating, meaningless and, I suppose, sexist (??) that I can’t get it out of my head, so much that I have had to struggle to keep it from negatively impacting my opinion of the city itself. I mean, it is pretty, but not that pretty. Not “detain a woman against her will in a metal cage because she is nice-looking” kind of pretty.
The other, somehow less offensive, thing Sighisoara is known for is being the birthplace of Vlad Tepes, more commonly known as the inspiration for the character of Count Dracula, and more sinisterly known as Vlad the Impaler. Not “Impeller”, we discussed this at length and, while still sounding somewhat dangerous, it has less to do with merciless – and potentially immortal – dictators and more to do with the efficient use of centrifugal pumps. Looney seemed excited about them. Nonetheless, 5 lei is roughly equivalent to $1.65 Cdn, and it still sounded like way too much money to see the room where a guy who a book was based on was allegedly born. We wavered briefly when we found out the room also featured a coffin that you could have your picture taken next to, but eventually passed when we were unable to come up with a non-idiotic connection between the two things. Another series of events which are probably just as related, while entering town from the train station a random woman gardening in front of her house gave Laynni a 4-leaf clover that she had just found, and the room we stayed in had both a fireplace and a record player.
Remember that scene in Reservoir Dogs where all the guys are walking in slow motion? This photo reminded me of that, other than the medieval arch behind us, or the seemingly miniature woman protruding from my arm like a slightly pregnant tumour, or the fact we’re both grinning like we’re just so thrilled to be celebrating our fifth date.
Another cemetery, another impressive view, another church that won’t entirely fit in the frame of a photo (you can’t see it because I couldn’t fit it into the frame of the photo). It smelled like smoke, too, which was either annoying or worrisome, depending on just how gruesome an imagination you possess.
Obligatory anniversary photo. Chris has the exact same photo, just without us in it. In many ways it seems to be the superior photo.
Obligatory birthday photo. And fitting proof of the effects of aging on flexibility, coordination and overall judgement.
In the tiny village of Richis we just happened to catch this old guy at one of two times a day he has to climb up to the top of the rickety old fortified church to ring one of the 7 rickety old bells. The big one, as it turns out. A neat experience, although watching an old man transparently desperate to prove that his strength hasn’t fully faded seems a touch of depressing foreshadowing considering it occurred the very day I turned 44 years old. A number to which our 20-year old driver/guide responded to with a brief, inadvertent choking noise, followed by an awestruck “Whoaah!”, then some sustained laughter.
This cool arched laneway was one of the many notable areas of the very popular fortified Saxon church (a.k.a. German Castle with Pews) in Biertan. The others being the church full of old Swiss people, the stupendous views over the surrounding hills and the incongruously modern restroom built into the area where, in the past, the serfs would have slept side by side with their donkeys.
An example of what is possible when a young Romanian girl in tight pants intervenes on your behalf to ask a smitten middle-aged bar owner if he will be showing the Arsenal game tonight. To his disappointment, however, her commitment to the English Premier League extended only as far as asking questions, not to sticking around to enjoy all the work he put into designing this impressive and impromptu outdoor viewing area. As consolation prizes go, I get the impression we were uninspiring at best.
Now we’re still in Transylvania, but farther south in the heart of the Carpathian mountains, and looking forward to some castle-gazing and mountain hiking. More on that next week.