Time to leave Romania. ☹ I really did enjoy this country way more than I imagined I would, and wish I had more time to explore. 10 days really isn’t anywhere near enough, and I only covered a small portion of the middle of the country. Got an uber, and had a wonderful driver. We chatted about tourism in Romania, and he echoed the sentiment of Alex from last night- the government just doesn’t seem interested in promoting it. Such a shame. Or a blessing. I guess it depends on how you look at it.
Another day, another European budget airline. This time, Hungarian carrier Wizz Air. I had priority which allowed me a carry on and a personal item, so I wasn’t worried about baggage issues. About 2 hours to Basel in a middle seat, which kinda super sucks, but such is life. I’m not paying extra for a seat on such a short flight.
Got to Basel Airport (which is actually in France), and made kind of a boo-boo. At passport control, the officer asked me where I was coming from, and I hesitated, then asked myself out loud, “Where AM I coming from?”. Seriously, it’s all kind of blurring together. That started a mini-interrogation, well deserved because I admit that was dumb. Got my stamp and headed out. Then I saw the most FABULOUS sign I’ve ever seen in any airport!!
Ha!! The countries in Europe are so close together that your choice of exit determines your location! Oh, France, you know I love you, but I had to go right- into a brand new country. Switzerland.
Again, not interested in dealing with busses and baggage, so called an Uber. Here they use Swiss Franks (CHF), not Euro. I really, REALLY don’t want to have to get cash. Since I’ll be here for a little over 2 weeks though, it’s probably inevitable. But not yet. CHF is almost exactly the same rate as the dollar. The 15 minute trip cost me $25. I’m not in Romania anymore… Oh, and Switzerland has not one, not two, not three, but FOUR different official languages!! French, German, Italian, and Romansh. I had my fingers crossed for French. I was met with German. ☹
Checked into my airbnb. Now, this is not one that I booked way in advance like the rest. In fact, I only realized I hadn’t booked one a few days ago, and kinda had to scramble. Airbnb is EXPENSIVE here. No awesome $15 a night private apartments…more like $70 a night for just a room. So I did something I never do. I booked a room for $35 a night that didn’t have any reviews. It was a new property, and I thought they were probably doing what I do when I list a new property- super cheap rate to attract guests and get those much needed reviews, then you jack up the price to market rates. You would also expect the host to be going above and beyond to make sure those first reviews were stellar. Ok, look. The place was in a nice neighborhood (I’m not sure there’s any other kind in Switzerland). It was within walking distance to the old town, where the things I wanted to see were, AND to the train station I needed to leave from in a couple of day. And it was half the price of everything else in the area. But it wasn’t very clean. When you get a message that says, “If your sheets don’t seem fresh, there are fresh ones on the shelf.” That says to me, “We aren’t going to change your sheets. If they’re covered in bodily fluids, here are some spares.” I set my black backpack down on the floor. I had to flip it over to get my laptop out, and the side on the floor was covered in dust. The trash cans in my room, the bathroom, and the kitchen were full. And there was just a general “not filthy, but not clean” feel to everything. Sigh. I could live with it for 2 nights for the price. I’ve stayed in worse…
My phone was in desperate need of a charge, so I pulled out my adapter. It didn’t fit! They don’t use the European 2 prong here- they use the 3 prong. Grrrrrr! First item of business in a new place is usually groceries. Now, it was new adapter. I googled for electronic stores and found one about .8 miles away. Headed over, and found one for only $10 on sale, except it was a 2 prong to 3 prong adapter- meaning I had to plug it in to my existing adapter. #firehazard
Next stop, groceries. I googled for Carrefour, since we’re right next to France, but no luck. There was a Coop right next to the electronics store, so I headed in there. YEE-OUCH!!!!!!!! No wonder everyone is so skinny here- who can afford food?! I passed on the insect balls. I ended up with a part of a rotisserie chicken (leg/thigh/breast) and a pack of French bread from the bakery. $8!!!!!!!! And no Dr. Pepper. ☹ Holy crap, I miss Romania!!!!
Went back and only ate part of the part of chicken so I’d have some for tomorrow. Did some work and some blogging. It was so freaking hot in my room! I had the window wide open, but there was zero breeze. By the time I went to sleep, I had two choices, window open and lots of noise, or window closed and suffocate to death in the heat. I chose window open until it was after midnight and I still couldn’t sleep. Closed the window. Tossed and turned all night. Sigh.
Day 2: Today was adventure day!! Except I felt like I’d been hit by a truck since I’d basically had no sleep. Honestly, I wasn’t sure what I was going to do today. I really had stopped my research after I finalized everything for Romania a few months back, and figured Switzerland would just kind of fall into place. I searched for free walking tours- only on Sundays. I searched for paid walking tours. There was one at 2:30 for $20, but it was in both English and German, and the reviews were a lot of English speakers complaining about having to wait around for the German explanations at each stop. So I just looked at the walking tour itineraries, looked at few blogs, and pieced together a few of what seemed like the “must see” places in Basel. Mapped them, ate a little bread, and headed out.
I wandered down narrow cobblestone streets with shops of all sorts on either side- clothes, watches, old historical prints, shoes- each with nice little window displays. It literally looked like Main Street if Switzerland was Disneyland! Honestly, it doesn’t feel old and historic like most of “Europe Proper” does. I swear, it almost felt manufactured to look like how you would expect a Swiss street to look! Almost TOO perfect and stereotypical! It was early, and there were no tourists out yet. Just locals who all seemed to be going somewhere with a purpose.
I made it to the first place, the Marketplatz- basically market square. The draw here is the Rathaus, or city hall. It’s over right at 500 years old. And I swear to you, it looks like Walt Disney told his architects to build it. It is SO whimsical and colorful! And it just doesn’t have that old look or feel to it. I have decided that Switzer means “Disney”… You walk inside, and the courtyard area is just as fun and colorful!! I was very close to the Rhine River, and saw a bridge on Google Maps, so decided to go check it out. Turns out, this is Mittlere Brücke, or Middle Bridge, and is the oldest crossings over the Rhine! The original was built in 1226! But I’m telling you, this city is just so Disney-esque, that it’s hard to believe anything was here before 1950!! I crossed the bridge and then crossed back again. On my way back, there were people floating down the Rhine on little fish shaped floaties. It was so freaking hot, that as much as I’m adverse to the idea of getting into water, had Brian been here I totally would have done it! Later, I passed a store that was actually selling the little floaties! I was seriously tempted to buy one, because #fish. But didn’t because #cheapass.
Across the water from me was a building. And the three words on it were in Frenc- Les Trois Rois. Hot damn, I knew exactly what that meant!! THE THREE KINGS!!!!!! EEEEEE!! I just so happen to love three kings!! Henry IV, Louis XIV, and Louis XVI!! Could it maybe have anything to do with French kings?? I had to take a detour and find out! As soon as I saw the figures above the door, I knew it was the 3 wise men of Frankincense, Gold, and Myrrh fame. Bummer. But I did do a little research, and during the French Revolution, when kings weren’t exactly on anyone’s Christmas list, it was renamed Hotel aux trois magots (Hotel at the three bundles). And then I turn around, and what does the universe greet me with in a 2nd story window?? Oy.
I walked up some narrow cobblestone, mostly deserted streets. The buildings here were really old. Not because they looked old (because NOTHING looks old- it’s “Swizter”land, afterall!!), but because there were dates from the 1400s and 1500s on some of them. And things are just so damn….WHIMSICAL! I really should look up another word for that in the thesaurus…. This was the part of town where I most wished I had a guide to give me some of the history.
I made my way to Munsterplatz, which wasn’t a cheese plaza, but a cathedral plaza (cheese/cathedral, same thing). Dominating the plaza is the Basler Münster, or Basel Minster- built between 1019 and 1500 (with an earthquake in between for good measure). It looks suspiciously like a Catholic cathedral you would see if you went outside of Disneyland Switzerland into France or Germany. And it used to be. But today, it’s Protestant. However, there are some signs of whimsy on the outside! For example, I’m not sure what that knight is doing to that puppy pigeon with a fish tail, but hey, it works! There was a crypt below, where there was a sarcophagus of someone named Bischof Ruodolf and the date 917!! Well, apparently survey says that there was a Hungarian invasion of Basel in 917, and the Bishop was killed. Obviously, that was about 100 years before this church even started being built, so not sure how he ended up here. Honestly, I had a hard time finding much information about the whole thing.
Those roof tiles look so much like the ones in Romania! I don’t ever remember seeing those kinds of tiles anywhere else in Western Europe…
I wandered through more Disney-esque streets with perfect little buildings all in a row. Heck, there is even an entire “monorail” system that runs all over! In fact, you see very, very few cars. It’s all these green trains and bikes. Because #switzerland
Last stop, Tinguely Brunnen (Tinguely Fountain). C’mon now, Basel?? Seriously?? You can not get any more whimsical (ok dammit, I’m stopping to look this up in the thesaurus- nope, not a better word to be had) than this fountain! It was built in 1977 right outside of the theater, and is just so much fun to watch! Because #disney Definitely watch the video to see it in action, because a picture can’t capture it!
Came home and was EXHAUSTED- both from not sleeping and from the heat. I thought maybe I’d feel better if I took a one hour nap. I woke up 3 hours later… Ate the rest of my chicken and bread and then just worked and relaxed the rest of the day.
Day 3: Woke up and got ready to head out- happy to be out of that airbnb. I swear, I have used every form of transport on this trip- planes, cars, ferries, trains…today is another train. From Basel to Lucerne, continuing to Root where my 2 week housesit would be. Walked the ½ mile to the station and was a sweaty mess by the time I reached it, even though it was only 8:30am. This European heat wave is just insanity. Easily found my platform and got on my train. I adult pretty good.
It was about a 2 hour ride, with a easy change in Lucerne, and on to the Gisikon-Root station. The scenery wasn’t spectacular along the route- nice, but not WOW!! Got off the train and the homeowner, Katja, was there to meet me! She drove me the very short distance to the apartment she shares with her boyfriend, Florian. Oh my god- you could not possibly meet two nicer people!! And their apartment- it’s FANTASTIC!! Large, open, a balcony, lots of plants, and a view of Mt. Pilatus to die for!! I didn’t get to meet Rio, the cat. He’s “free range” in the hills during the day, but they assured me if I…get this…rang a bell around 9pm, he’d come home. The cat is trained to come to a bell!!
Florian was still working before they left on their holiday to Italy, so Katja showed me around and even walked me around the neighborhood so I could get a lay of the land. Train station and grocery store, less than half a mile away! After showing me around, Katja and Florian were kind enough to take me out to lunch- their treat. So nice! I got a pizza ($25!! Ouch!!). After that, they handed me the keys and bid me farewell. I wouldn’t see them again, as in two weeks I was leaving in the afternoon and they wouldn’t be returning until the evening.
I had enough pizza leftover to make it through dinner, so I didn’t worry about groceries. What I needed was wifi!! It was time to play serious catch up with work. Until the wifi wasn’t cooperating. I couldn’t upload any files (um, my work IS uploading files!!). I so hated to bother them, so I decided to just chill for the rest of the afternoon and maybe it would be better tomorrow. At 9pm, I rang the bell out the window. And damn sure enough, in about 5 minutes, Rio was downstairs waiting for me!! CRAZY!! 🐺🛎 Fed him, brushed him, and headed to bed.
Day 4: Woke up to the most STUNNING view out of the living room window!! A full moon over Mt. Pilatus!! My camera has mega-zoom (I bought it so I can take a picture of an insect at the top of a 100 foot tree in the jungle 😀), so I decided to zoom in on the moon. DAMN!!
Got Rio his breakfast, and he was ready to go out immediately, so I took him downstairs (it’s 4 floors) and let him out into the wild. Then it was time for me to figure out breakfast for myself. That mean time to grocery shop! There was a Coop here (like in Basel), so I walked down and grabbed a few things….Pasta, sandwich meat, salami, a pack of frozen broccoli to ward off traveler’s scurvy, pretzels (because they were like $2 a bag and chips were $6!!), bread, soup mix for my tuna pasta casserole, tuna, peanut butter, bananas, and of course, chocolate!! Got to the check out, and of course here we go again- another place that requires you to weigh your bananas before you check out! Because everyone is super nice here, the lady got up, went and weighed my bananas, brought them back, and the people in line behind me did nothing but smile! Big difference from having a receipt thrown at me in disgust in Romania… Grand total- almost $37. OUCH.
Got back and the wifi was still being a pain. The homeowners had already taken time out of their holiday to write me a very detailed “guide to what to do and where to go” around Switzerland WHILE they were on holiday!! Seriously, can these people possibly get any nicer? So I really, REALLY didn’t want to bother them with the wifi issue, so I took it as a sign to just chill for the rest of the day. I knew I needed it, physically and mentally, so I didn’t feel bad.
That evening, the cat didn’t come home at 9. I rang again several minutes later and checked again. No cat downstairs. And again. So I did the back up plan- which is to walk over to the bottom of the hill and ring from there. Did that, and all of a sudden an orange BULLET was speeding down the hill at me!! He literally ran right by me and I said “Rio!!”. He skidding to a stop, turned around, and was like, “Oh, there you are!”. We walked back together, him right against my legs the whole time. Better than any dog on a leash…
Day 5: Still craptastic wifi. Ok, I can’t live like this. So I had to text the homeowners. They said they haven’t had any problems (of course), but would call the provider. Nothing changed all day. I’m getting further behind in work… Brian is doing his best to help me out, because for some reason I can upload if I use google drive, but not through my ftp (for work) or to facebook (blog). Super slow, super frustrating.
Day 6: Still bad wifi. Then bad wifi went to NO wifi. Zip, zilch, none. Had to bother the poor homeowner’s AGAIN. The technician was working on the wires in the building. When he was finished, I had GREAT wifi for about 3 hours, then back to crap. I finally just texted the homeowners and asked that if the provider spoke English, that if they gave me the information I’d deal with it on my end.
Yeah, super exciting start to my housesit, right?? It will get better in the next blog! I promise!!
Day 7: Still horrible wifi, but….today I have an adventure!! So who cares! 😀 Florian was kind enough to tell me that August 1 is National Day here in Switzerland, but there would be a celebration in Lucerne on July 31 at 4pm by the train station. Wonderful! The Lucerne Free Walking Tour didn’t fit into my schedule (too early), so I figured get into Lucerne around noon, give myself a walking tour based on the cool things Florian recommended and some things I found on my own, get to the festival at 4, hang out for an hour or so, and be back in plenty of time for cat o’clock (9pm when I ring the bell!). Warning: I’ve been cooped up and sitting on my ass for a few days straight, so this is a LONG post- I crammed in a ton of adventures!!
Took the train into Lucerne- it’s like $15 roundtrip, which for public transport to a place that is about 6 miles away is kinda pricey… And it doesn’t matter if you take the bus or the train- from everything I see on the sbb.ch website, it’s the same price! Stepped off the train into the city, and got a grand welcome! Turned left and walked along the Ruess River. You know how Disneyland separates its areas? Tomorrowland, Frontierland, Fantasyland, etc…? Well, I have already said that “Switzer” means “Disney”. I was in Basel-land for days 1 & 2. Now I am in Lucerne-land. I swear, everything here is just so well manicured and gorgeous and appealing and picturesque! I seriously expect Mickey Mouse to come popping out from behind a corner at any minute for a photo op! There was even what looked like the Cinderella’s Castle on a hill above the city (ok, it’s a hotel, but work with me). Even the water in the river is this weird blue/green hue- almost EXACTLY the color of the dyed water in the “rivers” and “lakes” at Disney!! Coincidence?? I think NOT! 😉
I had mapped out everything I wanted to see in Lucerne, so popped open Maps.me (I really need to do a blog post on how I create a google map with pinpoints, put it into Maps.me, and still use google maps to navigate (because Maps.me seriously sucks battery…). First up, the Jesuit Church. It was built in 1666-1677. I was on the same side of the street as it, so this pic is one I took later in the day from across the river. It was closed, so I couldn’t go in.
Next, I needed to get on the other side of the river. There were a few bridges, but I was going to take a very special bridge across- Spreuerbrücke. This is one of 2 covered wooden bridges. The first bridge at this crossing was built in 1408. It was destroyed in a flood in 1566 and rebuilt. Other than being a super cool, old, covered wooden bridge, there is something quite interesting in it’s rafters…a series of paintings called the “Dance of Death”. Originally, there were 67 paintings, 45 are left. And since they were painted in from 1616-1637, that’s quite a feat! The paintings depict death being present in many different situations, showing that it is constantly present, and no matter your status, death is there.
From this side of the river, I could head up to my next destination, Museggmauer & Türme (Town Walls and Towers). It was up, up, up hill!! Google maps tried to trick me, but I outsmarted it! (Follow the signs, not google) The fortifying wall and its towers were built in the 1300s (but still, they just look “Disneyesque” instead of “impressive historical monument”!). I walked to the end of the wall that was accessible, and went inside the first tower. Oh HELL NO!! These weren’t stairs, they were more like heavily tilted ladders! So steep- not my idea of fun…but I got here and had to do it. Fortunately, it wasn’t very crowded so I just waited for a few people to come down so I would have the stairs all to myself and could go just as slowly as I wanted and whimper as loudly as I wanted! Somehow I made it up about 4 flights of these to the top of the tower. Then, I had to go down, which is worse for my height-o-phobia than going up. I needed to go to the 2nd floor and then out on to the wall. Except I was so focused on looking at the step directly under my foot and nothing else, that I wound up back at the bottom and had to go back up another floor!! Got out on to the wall, and more traumatizing height obstacles. The wall had a rail on one side, which if you got too close and fell over, you would plummet to your death. Ok, not so easy to fall over the side (you’d have to physically try to fall over it!), but still. I hugged that wall like it was my long lost love….
Made it to Tower #2 and started climbing. The last section was the worst, because it went from wooden stairs to metal grid stairs that I could see through, with the open room and potential death on the other side of the handrail. I honestly had to talk myself into going up those. Glad I made it, because the view was awesome!
Back down, back along another section of wall, to tower #3. This is the clock tower, and whereas the other towers are basically empty rooms, this one had several clock mechanisms in it! It was all in German though, so I couldn’t understand what each one was. The top floor required a new type of death obstacle- rock stairs that were like a foot and a half high each! No way was I going to navigate that, and no amount of talking to myself could convince me otherwise. I turned around and went back down to the wall.
Standing behind the actual clock- you can see one of the hands (that black bar). This is the oldest clock in Lucerne!
Got to the final tower, and was pretty damn proud of myself for dealing with all of these insanely steep stairs!! Made it to the top, and inside of being in an enclosed room with windows, you were actually on the top of the tower! The views were IN-CRED-I-BLE!!!
I will say, it wasn’t terribly crowded, but I encountered several American families here. I haven’t heard ‘merican English for quite some time! It’s ever long enough…. The next destination was one I was really excited about, because it had direct ties to one of my French kings!! Unfortunately, though, it’s a rather sad connection… The kings of France routinely hired Swiss guards. Even Swiss soldiers to help out in wars. Versailles was guarded by the Swiss- in fact the direct guards for Marie Antoinette were Swiss. I always knew they had been killed with the palace was mobbed and broke into Marie Antoinette’s bedroom (she barely escaped with her life). Hundreds of Swiss soldiers also died during the subsequent attack on the Tuilleries Palace (where Louis XVI, Marie Antoinette, and their children were held under watchful eye during those early years of the revolution). This is the Löwendenkmal (Lion Monument), in honor of those Swiss soldiers who so bravely tried to protect monarchs that weren’t even their own. The dying lion is laying on a fleur de lis crest (symbol of the French monarchy), with the Swiss crest next to him. Super, super sad. 😢
I google mapped my next location, and I was right on top of it! Gletschergarten- a glacier museum!! I was really excited about this, because it would fit right in with the stuff I filmed in Iceland and Romania for my Earth Science class that starts this fall!! And for $15, I couldn’t beat the price!! And my, oh my, but it turned out to be so super cool that I would have paid twice that if I knew what all was in here! There were basically 3 different parts. The first part was the glacier garden. Only 20,000 years ago, Lucerne was covered in glaciers. As those glaciers moved and scraped their way across the landscape, they left this area which was discovered by a man excavating for a wine cellar in 1872. The huge boulders are actually several different types of rocks- dragged here by the glacier as it moved past different mountains. I found that to be so fascinating!! The really cool thing though are the glacier pots. I had never even heard of such a thing! Melt water from the glacier runs through crevasses, getting underneath the glacier. Under there, the pressure is ENORMOUS, and whirlpools of melt water can be created- swirling at about 125 miles per hour! The meltwater is filled with dirt and pebbles, which along with the swift water carve out the rock below into a “pot”. So cool!! From there, I walked the second area- the Glacier Museum. I wasn’t expecting much. Um, I was blown away! I wanted to bring my students here so bad!! It was a really well done museum, with great information (in English!!), awesome exhibits, and even a hands on area! I learned so much and did a ton of filming for class. Wanna see inside? Take the class. 😜
The museum kind of emptied out into a mansion kind of thing with a lot of different exhibits. Unfortunately, the vast majority of it was in German. There was an exhibit that showed you how Lucerne looked 20,000,000 years ago- a tropical beach!! I found a gorgeous mermaid chandelier. And then, even though I couldn’t read anything, I saw something from across the room and immediately recognized it- VERSAILLES!!! I practically ran over to it, and it was in German- but I could read Louis XIV and Versailles. 😊
I don’t even know how to describe this next part!! It didn’t fit in with the theme of glaciers or history at all, but it was SO. MUCH. FUN!! It was a mirror maze. It was built for a national exhibition in Geneva in 1896, and moved here in 1899. Go. Just freaking GO!! Because you HAVE to see this! You walk in, and are surrounded by mirrors and designs, and you have to find your way through it all (hopefully without knocking yourself out by walking into one of the mirrors!). It really distorts your perceptions to the point where you second guess yourself a lot! It’s just gorgeous inside, and sometimes there are things you can see from a distance (like the peacocks), but it takes a while to actually reach them because you’re just seeing their image reflecting down tons of corridors! It feels like some Middle Eastern palace inside…I freaking LOVED this!!!!!!
Me taking a picture of me taking a picture of the peacocks!
Outside, the grounds are lovely. And there’s even a gnome trying to lure you into some cave. #becauseDISNEY
Next stop, Old Town. Which should be called “Old Town Land”, because again, this place is straight outta Disney!! You’d never imagine these buildings are from 1300s-1600s. They’re all painted with these fairy-tale like designs and script. It’s just…I don’t know. I keep saying this, but it’s just so whimsical and doesn’t even look old. It looks like someone built it new to make it look old!
Time to head back across the river to the other side, where the National Day festival was. I had mapped all this out…I crossed back over on the 2nd of the 2 covered wooden bridges- this time the Kapellbrücke (Chapel Bridge). This one was built in 1333- Almost 80 years OLDER than the other bridge!! It also has paintings in the rafters, but these depict various scenes from Swiss history and saints instead of death. Those saints didn’t stop the bridge from being severely damaged by a fire in 1993. Ugh. I seriously cannot imagine seeing something that old and beautiful on fire!!! Beside the bridge is a tower from the 1200s.
My timing was spot on perfect! I got to the festival area at like 5 minutes after 4. There were little picnic tables set up and a stage, where there was some live music playing. This is a hard situation for me, one where I feel very socially awkward being alone. But by god I was determined to sit down, have an early dinner, and listen to some traditional music, dammit! Early dinner…eeks. The hardest of social situations to overcome. There were some food vendors on the side of the venue, so I walked by them every so slowly, trying to see if there was any English (no), and then trying to determine what other people were getting so I had some kind of clue what was being served. Ooooo!! Bratwurst looking sausage! Score! I went up and spoke English to the lady. She didn’t speak it, but another guy in the booth did. They had a few types, and I chose beef. A nice sized brat and a piece of bread- only $7!! Which considering this is Disney Switzerland AND a special event is a freaking steal! I was quite pleased. Except the lady told me $9. I really didn’t feel like arguing it, so I handed her a 10. She gave me 2 back and a green plastic chip. The English speaking guy explained that when I was finished, to bring my paper plate and napkins back, give them the green chip, and I’d get my extra $2 back. He said, “To keep the city clean.” HOW FREAKING AWESOME IS THAT????
I went and sat at one of the long picnic tables with some other people and ate. OMG, it was soooooooo good!!! The band on stage ended, and some guys started playing traditional alphorns!! Not only that, but guys in front of them were twirling flags!! (I was a total band geek and in the flag core during marching season. And people wonder why I’m socially awkward…). Then, a woman YODELED!! Oh my god, the whole thing was just so much fun!! (🎥Watch the videos below!!) It was just so stereotypically Swiss, that I was eating it up! Speaking of eating, after I ate I actually had enough confidence to go find desert, and lord oh lord did I find it. A piece of the most delicious, delicate, moist chocolate cake, with some kind of melted chocolate on top that was still soft, but not runny, sprinkled with coconut. $2.50. I seriously cannot tell you how good that cake was…Holy crap, I could eat here every freaking day and not complain about the prices!! The first band came back on stage and played a set.
Brian, you get to play, “Which would Mary rather??”. Take a guess…. 😉 #engagednotdead
I had been there a little over an hour total, so when they were finished I decided to head back. Hopped the train, quick 15 minute ride, walked home full, happy, and thrilled with my day!
Days 8-10 consisted of me staying in the apartment trying to work while fighting the internet. I even had a replacement modem sent that I installed. It helped, but didn’t fix the problem. Work that should take 2 hours to do was taking almost or more than twice that. Extremely frustrating, especially when I had deadlines to meet…
Up at 4:45. After sleeping for 10 hours straight, I felt like a new person! My body just needed rest! My flight was leaving Rome at 8:30 for Bucharest, Romania. Brian’s was leaving at 11:30 for Los Angeles. The plan was to take an Uber to Termini station, then take the train from there to the airport. I didn’t want to walk to Termini in the dark, because that area is pretty sketch. I checked the cab fares. 10 euros to Termini, then it would be 28 euros for us to take the train. I checked the cab fare from our door to the airport. 37-42 euros. SOLD! It ended up being 38 euros- the same cost as taking a cab to the train and the train to the airport.
We got to the airport super fast (by like 5:45am- because the cab driver was driving like a bat out of hell), and started looking for food. Oh gee, guess what? Just like yesterday, zero protein, all pastries. UGH!!!! Brian went up to get a coffee, and brought me back a fresh squeezed orange juice because he loves me. We then figured out that his Norwegian flight was in the same terminal as mine, so we decided to go into the main area past security and look for more food. We did find pizza there. Minimal protein, but better than nothing. I was getting sadder and sadder. I didn’t want Brian to go. And I didn’t even want to go to Romania without him. Like seriously, if it weren’t for my housesit in Switzerland that was coming up, I might have flown back to Los Angeles with him. But I would never leave a homeowner in a bind by cancelling. Plus, I knew I’d regret it if I went back early. That said, my fast travel experiment for this summer has already taught me that I’m not a fast travel girl. It’s ok in short spurts, but for me, not sustainable for weeks on end. It’s exhausting both mentally and physically. But I’m glad I tried it, because now I know and can plan accordingly for the future. This Romania leg is the last leg of ridiculous go-go-go, so I can do it!
All too soon it was time for me to leave my baby and go to my gate (it was through passport control, so Brian couldn’t come with me). Exactly one more month from today, and I’ll see him again… Today would be another European budget airline with crazy baggage restrictions- Blue Air. They have the same tiny dimensions as Ryan Air for your carry on, PLUS you can only take one bag. So if you have a purse or something, it has to fit in your carry on bag. I was stressing a bit about this, because I was a tad over size and about 3 kg overweight. If they were being strict, I’d have to put on about 6 layers of clothes… Got to the gate at 7:45 (about 30 minutes before boarding was supposed to begin), and the line was RIDICULOUSLY long. Everyone on this flight was already in line. That made me even more stressed, because I worried about being able to fit my bag on the plane. The good news was that pretty much everyone had a carry on bag and a personal item like a small backpack or a purse. Once the line started moving for check in, it went fast. I was 6th in line from the back… Not even a blink at my bags. We had to board a bus to go to the plane, and I situated myself at the door to get ahead of everyone and on the plane as fast as possible.
I boarded from the back of the plane because less people were queued there, and looked for seat 17D. From the back all the way to my seat, every single overhead was full. Got to my seat, pulled out my laptop, crammed my daypack under the seat, and a flight attendant came to me and led me forward to an overhead with space. Bless her!! No one said a word about my second bag, and unlike on Ryan Air where I had to literally stand on the seat and cram it into the overhead, it fit easily. Other people’s bags, not so much. It ended up being a complete cluster fuck right before take off because so many people put their bag in end to end ways and the doors wouldn’t close. So the attendants were scrambling to get those bags turned sideways, which meant moving bags all over the place, which meant heated conversations in languages I didn’t even recognize…all while babies were screaming in surround sound. Ryan Air is a flying bus. Blue Air is a flying chicken bus. However, they are a chicken bus that actually gives you a drink and a snack without charging you 8 euros for the privilege, so kudos to them!!
Arrived and breezed through passport control. One thing I’m learning on this trip… I have the ability to navigate public transportation with the best of them. I can climb on buses and figure out stops and blah, blah, blah. This is easily within my skill set. I also have a healthy bank account (due to the fact that I am a cheap ass), and frankly, I’m learning that the headache, hassle, and aggravation of navigating public transportation with luggage isn’t always worth the savings. I am learning that I will splurge on easier transport, and that my savings from staying in cheap airbnbs, housesitting, and rarely eating out MORE than offsets it. That said, and the fact that Romania doesn’t use Euros even though they’re in the EU and I had no interest in trying to change some out for bus money, meant Uber to the rescue!! 40 lei (about $10 usd, basically divide by 4) for a 35 minute door to door ride. Sold.
The drive through Bucharest wasn’t very exciting. No buildings that made me gasp in awe. Got to my little neighborhood-for-a-night and met the host’s mother outside. She doesn’t speak any English, but we had no problem communicating which of the 4 keys to use for which of the 4 doors, where everything was in the house, and she was quite proud that she knew the word for kitchen. 😊 And with that one word, she knows more English than I know Romanian… This place is great for $22 a night! Huge room, really clean, great location within walking distance to everything I want to see! First order of business, food. I googled for grocery stores and saw there was a Carrefour right around the corner! I know Carrefour- that and Monoprix are my French go-to grocery stores! Odd to find one here. Went, and it was an express- meaning more of a convenience store. I walked out. Looked on the map, there was another grocery store just down the block! Went in and EVERYTHING was in Russian! There was a bulk Pelmini freezer that looked very interesting, but I wasn’t interested in cooking.
Looked at the map again, and found another Carrefour a bit further down. Motherlode! This was a two story mega grocery store!! As always, I had fun wandering up and down the aisles trying to figure stuff out! If you love canned fish, there are about 899 brands here. I couldn’t figure out if any of them were exactly what I wanted (canned tuna salad that I could just pop open and spread on bread), so I gave up. I ended up with my staples- peanut butter (there are only 2 brands!), chips, granola bars, crackers (my Tucs that I love so much!!), cookies, salami, bread, water, bananas and….what is the main staple of my diet??? DR PEPPER!!!!! And only about $.83 per can for Diet!! Dear Romania, You rock. I have never in my life seen a store in another country with THREE varieties of Dr. Pepper!! Thank you, thank you, THANK YOU, from the bottom of my heart. With love and admiration, Mary.
Now for the hard part. Check out. I started putting my stuff on the belt, and the cashier said something to me in Romanian. I smiled my most charming and helpless smile and asked, “English?”. She just looked at me in disgust. Okey dokey then…. She got to the bananas and started saying something else in Romanian. It didn’t take me long to figure out that I was supposed to have weighed and tagged them in the produce section. She wasn’t pleased. Abandon bananas! Abandon bananas! I set the bananas aside gently and with an apologetic smile. I put my card in the machine, it went through without a hitch, and I swear to god she THREW the receipt at me. What the fuck?! You know how when you are completely disgusted with something, like a dirty rag, and you flick your wrist in that “I’m completely disgusted” kind of way? That’s what she did with me. It kind of fluttered down on top of my groceries at the end of the checkout stand. Um, ok. I bagged everything up in my canvas bag and backpack and left. She couldn’t shake me though….I had 8 Dr. Peppers!! Every single one of the zeros and diets on the shelf. 😊 And had spent less than $20. Not super cheap, but livable.
Walked back, snapped a couple of pictures, got all the right keys in the right doors, took a shower, ate, texted with Brian who was now in the Oslo, Norway airport waiting for his flight to LA, and rested. I originally had 3 adventures planned for this afternoon…two sites that I want to see, and a walking tour at 6pm. I decided that rest was more important. The next 10 days are going to be INSANE travel days, and I don’t want to get run down. I’ll hit the 2 sites in the morning before I check out at noon, and will live without a walking tour of Bucharest. For tonight, I’ll just listen to the yells out the window- knowing that is my cue to refresh my google screen to see the score of the France-Croatia World cup final. I know I’m in Eastern Europe, but #gofrance! While I’m writing this, France scored first, there was a yell. Then, Croatia scored- a MUCH louder yell!! Who needs to refresh for the score? I just have to judge the decibel of the yells. 😉 Spoiler alert: France won.
So I had a hard time getting to sleep last night. The neighborhood is quiet and dark, so that’s not the problem. No, I miss my Brian!! And apparently this ring he put on my finger has turned me into…horror of horrors…one of THOSE girls- and I have wedding stuff on the brain! ARGH!! That is NOT who I am!! 🙄 So I went to sleep about midnight and was up at 6- working, blogging, and waiting for Brian to land in LA. Poor guy- 2.5 hours late getting in. And he has to go to work in the morning. How he does it and just keeps going, I’ll never know…
This Romania trip is mainly about classes. A class on Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them in Europe! So I’m planning on scouring Romania in search of all things mythical and creepy!! Scouring means transportation, and in my case, that will be one rental car. But before I go get that, I have to do the two quick things I wanted to see here in Bucharest. Luckily, they were in easy walking distance. I put the Zlătari Church into google maps. Only 6/10 of a mile! Off I headed. I saw a bank along the way, and figured it would be wise to pull some cash out so I had some Romanian currency. Went through the process, and the message came back that they would not accept my card! Ugh!! I hoped this wasn’t a Romanian thing… I strolled through Old Town, while the westernized looking restaurants and bars were stocking up for the day. The buildings were quite lovely! I managed to find another bank, and they took my card. Whew!!
Rounded the corner to the church. Honestly, I was expecting one of those massive Western European concoctions. I was quite shocked by how small it was! I went in, and the word “wow” involuntary came out of my mouth. This wasn’t a touristy cathedral with tourists running around with cameras. People were in here worshiping. Not a full on service, but individuals. No tourists. #awkward So why am I in Zlătari Church? Magic, of course!! 🙂 So there was this guy named Cyprian back in the 200s, and he was a powerful sorcerer. People came to him whenever they needed some magical “help” in life. Obviously Christians shouldn’t be practicing sorcery or using the services of a sorcerer. But that worked out, because Cyprian and the people seeking him out were pagans. Well, a pagan fell in love with a Christian woman named Justina. No god fearing Christian would want a pagan for a husband, so he did what any sane man would do- convert. Just kidding!! He went to Cyprian to have a spell put on her! Imagine Cyprian’s surprise when Justina’s Jesus magic beat out his pagan magic!! He was so impressed, that he converted (not kidding this time, he really did!). And not just converted, but became a bishop! The Romans were kinda over the Christians, who ended up getting the short end of the stick. Cyprian and Justina were both tortured and killed. Jump ahead a bit, and they wound up as saints. Cyprian is the patron saint of necromancers- which seems a little weird, but whatever floats Catholic boats… But because there isn’t much historical evidence for their existence, they were removed from the list o’ saints in 2001. Well, a lot of Catholics, especially of the Eastern Orthodox flavor, still believe in the power of Cyprian. And his arm is in the Zlătari Church. Which is why I’m here. 🙂
The original plan was to tell the story while videoing in the church. However, I wasn’t going to be disrespectful to the worshippers (I felt bad enough snapping pics). I did watch one woman come in and lay her arm over the glass in the same position as Cyprian’s. Why? Well, worshipers believe that he can counteract any magic being done against them. 🤔
Next up, Vlad III’s palace. You may know Vlad from such things as being the basis for Dracula. You may also know him by his more interesting name, Vlad the Impaler. On the way, I stumbled across another small, beautiful church. I was standing outside, taking pictures through the fence, when a young lady in her early 20’s walked up and in perfect English informed me that I could go inside and it was beautiful! She showed me the entrance. So kind! And the first English I’ve heard in 24 hours other than “kitchen”! 😉 And she was right. It was beautiful inside. And I had it all to myself, other than the attendant at the door. The churches here are arty and intricate- not that over the top gaudy style you see in Western Europe a lot. They’re darker, more dimly lit. I like them. There was information inside in English (same in the Zlătari Church). Turns out this church is the Stavropoleos Monastery of 1724.
A few more corners, and I was facing the ruins of Curtea Veche- Vlad’s home, or “princely court” that he built in 1459. Apparently they were excavated in the 1950s, but not much has been done with them. Restoration is in progress, and apparently has been for a long time with no end in sight. 🙁 There is a bust of Vlad though, holding court over his ruins.
Right next to the ruins is another church, St. Anthony’s, the oldest in Bucharest dating back to 1559. Again, quite beautiful and no tourists, just worshipers. There’s some piece of a saint in here as well (I assume St. Anthony).
Back out on the streets to head back to the room. Turned a corner and hey! I recognized this street! It’s where Carrefour is! Bananas….take two! Went in, got my bananas, had them weighed by a lady, checked the Dr. Pepper aisle and took all 4 of the restocked Dr. Pepper Zeros (I now have enough for 1 a day for the entire trip!!), and checked out. The cashier spoke French to me! So strange! I said I speak English, and he spoke English to me. Came back, got my stuff together, and decided to take an Uber to the car rental place instead of navigating a bus with luggage. Door to door for like $4.50. No brainer. Got my car through Autonom, and even though I was like an hour and a half early, they got all of my stuff together and out the door really fast. Buckle up, Romania! I’m behind the wheel!!
I put the Snagov Monastery into google maps and headed off down the road. The driving here is really easy, and there are like a zillion radio stations and ALWAYS something fun to sing on at least one of them! It was just a little over 30 minutes to the monastery, most of it on a main highway, and then turning off into rural countryside. I found the parking lot sign, and headed off walking in the direction of the arrow. Imagine my amazement when I reached a long, wide bridge!! And from that, kids were jumping off into the lake below! I walked across. One of the boys just kept smiling at me, and then jumps right as I reached him. As I crossed the bridge on to the island, there was a small, brown speckled pony happily munching grass along the path. And ahead, a building with a large arch. I walked through that, and there was the monastery. Again, small by western standards, but imposing none-the-less. First, I walked around the grounds a bit. There was a wildness to it- grass that hadn’t been mowed. Weeds blooming. Birds chirping. It really was peaceful and relaxing.
When I finished walking the grounds, I headed into the monastery. It cost 24 lei ($6) to come in and be able to take pictures. Small price to pay! Because I was here for a reason…yes, I’m still hot on the trail of Vlad! The church was built in 1521- almost 500 years ago- and is just amazing inside! Vlad contributed a lot of money to build the monastery, and this is the place where legend says his remains are. Remains or not, there is a tomb dedicated to him with a plaque and a burning candle. Someone dig that thing up, order an Ancestry.com DNA kit, and let’s solve the mystery!!
As I walked back across the bridge, I ended up behind a group of people. Bringing up the rear of the group was a little old hunched over lady. She started talking to me in Romanian, and I finally told her I only speak English. That didn’t dissuade her.😀 She communicated to me that the 4 people up ahead where her grown children. We “talked” about how hot the weather was. And as we looked out over the lake, she said, “Very nice”. So this lady has two English words…I have one Romanian word (I learned that pui is chicken at the grocery store!). She wins, but I’m getting there!!
Put in Hotel Valahia in the gps, and headed toward Targoviste- my stop for the night. It gave me a few different routes, and I chose one that didn’t go through main towns. Driving the back roads of Romania, with fields of huge yellow sunflowers and corn on either side of me, and impossibly baby blue sky, with white clouds lit up by the sun….damn. Passing little old ladies with kerchiefs on their heads just like you’d imagine, men driving horse carts, it was all just so picturesque and perfect. I did pass 3 churches that I am KICKING myself for not stopping and getting pics of. I don’t know….I just felt weird about pulling over and snapping pics. This didn’t feel anything like “tourist territory”.
Rural Romanian traffic jam
Got to the hotel, checked in. For $25 a night, it is not bad at all! A little dated, but hell, so am I! 😉 Oh, and it includes breakfast in the morning. I’m glad. I’ll need a big one because I have a ton of adventures planned!!
I slept a solid 8 hours! Got up and went down for my free breakfast, not expecting much. Wrong!! I was served a 2 or 3 egg omelette that was FULL of huge ham chunks and cheese. And it was really good! Plus hot tea and a basket of more bread than I could eat in a week (that was really good as well). Awesome, solid breakfast! I had 3 adventures scheduled for today, so after I ate I headed off on foot for the first one- the Princely Court of Targoviste.
It was about half a mile away. It opened at 9, and I got there 5 minutes before and waited. At 9, the other people waiting (a lot of school kids) started walking in and I followed. I didn’t see a place to buy a ticket. Was it free to go in? I saw a sign for a souvenir shop and went there. The lady spoke a little English. She said the ticket lady wasn’t there, and that I could walk around and pay when I left. Cool. So I headed out. There wasn’t much information about this place, other than the fact that Vlad the Impaler had lived here so I knew I wanted to film for class. I was pleasantly surprised at how extensive the grounds are! And, there was a decent amount of information in English! So here’s the “quick history”. This area became a princely court and capital of Romania back in the late 1300s, when a Romanian prince built a house, the walls, and a church here. Around 1440, Vlad Dracul (Vlad the Impaler’s dad) built the first proper palace here. Vlad the Impaler came along a few years later and built the tower. After Vlad, in the 1500s, the capital was moved to Bucharest, but Targoviste remained a royal residence. Various princes throughout the centuries restored and remodeled the buildings, with the last major royal renovations occurring in the early 1700s. Romania began a program of restoring the ruins of the princely court in the 1900s.
The tower was just amazing. I did a lot of filming for class. There was one central wooden spiral staircase that went up and up and UP to the top of the tower- 88 feet to the top. Not my favorite thing to do, but I did it for the children!!!!! The view from the top was spectacular! The tower was originally built by Vlad the Impaler as a guard tower. But it was also a clock tower of sorts, with the guards watching for sunset, which would signal for the gates to be closed for the night. In fact, it’s name is Chindia Tower, which means sunset tower.
View from the top!
Next, I explored the ruins of the old palace. Then, the Princely Church. It was built in 1585, the inside repainted a hundred years later, and that’s basically it. Amazing. The paintings are very reminiscent of the style I saw in the Snagov Monastery yesterday.
Then, things got interesting… I went into a building that was a museum of sorts. The lady wanted my ticket. I tried to explain that the ticket person wasn’t there when I came in, and I was supposed to pay on my way out. This woman was having NO part of it. She was pretty harsh with me, even though the guy that was in the museum with her understood what I was saying and was translating it. She didn’t care. She sent me out. And honestly, she made me feel like I was some damn criminal trying to sneak in without paying or something. Frankly, I wasn’t pleased. I walked out, with no plans to go back in, and started walking toward the next building. But she followed me, yelling someone’s name across the whole damn complex. She finally got this woman’s attention, and then pointed and harshly told me something that I understood as “go there”. So I did. Jesus. The ticket lady was there now, so I paid my 15 lei CASH ONLY (about $4) for the entrance fee and camera fee. I reluctantly walked back to the museum. On the way, I passed an old man on a bench who spoke to me in French. This was like the 3rd person who had spoken to me in French since I’ve been here! I don’t speak French, but understand enough to kind of get by (sort of, maybe, barely….). He was asking me where I was from. I said the United States. He asked me if I spoke French. I told him no, only English. He smiled and I continued on my way to the museum where Attila the lady was. I showed her my ticket. Apparently it was a magical ticket, because it transformed her into a smiling, nodding human. What the hell, Romania? I’m finding that the normal people on the street are really, really nice, but customer service types are super harsh, especially if they sense any weakness. Christ.
Well, I’m glad I went back. It ended up being a museum about the printing press. Nothing was in English, but it was sort of easy to follow along. They had books from the 1500s on display!! I geeked out over that. Plus exhibits showing how the printing press was used. It was mainly in Romanian, but easy to figure out.
Next, St. Friday Church, which is the oldest unaltered building in the region! From the 1400s! Some people were doing an archaeological dig outside the church in the…um…graveyard. Not the place I’d want to do a dig!! But it was interesting to watch them. I really wished I could have talked to them about the work they were doing. ☹
As I walked out, the little old man was still sitting on the bench. I said “Au revoir!”, smiled, and gave him a wave. He smiled and laughed. Now THOSE are the Romanian interactions I want! And that was it for my Targoviste tour! Time to jump in the car and head out toward the next stop- Peles Castle. The fields of sunflowers and corn quickly turned into rolling hills, with huge mountains in the background. THE CARPATHIANS!! It was gorgeous! For a while, it was town after town after town. Then, nothing but lush green forests, gorgeous jade green/blue streams running through pebble beds, and hair pin turns as I climbed the mountains and watched the temperature gauge drop from 27C to 18C (80F to 64F). There were SO many places I wanted to stop and get a picture, but no turnouts! Dear Romania, I need more scenic viewpoints- stat! Thanks, Mary.
Soon I arrived in Sinaia, the town where Peles Castle is. And oh my god. This town was so cute! I could seriously have spent an entire day exploring here! I drove to the castle and parked (15 lei CASH ONLY). Walked down the road toward the castle, and when it appeared, I stopped in my tracks and said, “WOW!” out loud. I’ve been in a lot of defensive castles. This one was a fairy tale castle!! A fairy tale castle that cost 65 lei CASH ONLY to get in to (30 for entry, 35 for a camera!)- basically $17.
It was built from 1873-1914 by German architects, which is why I immediately recognized a “Bavarian” style to it. The castle was the summer residence of King Carol I and Queen Elisabeth. Inside, this castle is just wow, wow, WOW!!! The detail, the wood work…holy crap. The lighting is really dim and not conducive for pictures. Which is a damn shame, because the pics just don’t do this place justice. Here are some of the better ones.
Then, out of the corner of my eye, I saw a bust. I thought, “Man, that kinda looks like my Sun King (Louis XIV of France).” But there was no reason for him to be here. I kept going around the circle, then made my way back to the room where the bust was. IT WAS LOUIS!!! I LOVE LOVE LOVE it when my kings pop up in unexpected locations! And then, at the end of the tour, there was a little theater room that just looked so…French. Well, lo and behold, it was decorated in the Louis XIV style. My Sun King…he’s an original, that’s for sure!! 😊
I left and wandered the grounds a bit. And there was a woman in a wedding dress. I swear to god, now that I’m engaged, wedding dresses are EVERYWHERE!!! Arghhhh!!! (Honestly, both of them look pretty over the whole damn thing! I chuckled when I saw the shot I got!). I then walked over to the other castle, Pelișor Castle. I didn’t go in, but it’s really pretty from the outside. Back in the car for the short drive to Busteni for my final adventure for the day- the cable car up the mountain to see the “Sphinx”. I parked- 15 lei CASH ONLY. All of this cash only stuff is frustrating as hell!! I hate carrying cash, and thank goodness I got 400 lei out in Bucharest or I’d be fucked. Dear Romania, The rest of the world is accepting credit cards. Please check into a merchant account. You’re welcome, Mary.
I rounded a corner and um……saw the cable car. Do you see it??
Here’s the close up. Look at the top of the mountain in the previous picture for that tiny little tower on the flat part of the mountain almost over the middle of the hotel. Um, yeah… This thing went STRAIGHT. UP. And that’s how I’d need my 3 glasses of vodka if I was going to get on that thing… I went up to the building. The line wrapped around it. I stood there for like 15 minutes before I saw the car come down. Oh HELL no. People were packed in there like sardines. And based on the line, I’d be here for about 2 hours before I got to the front. Hmmmm….straight up on a shaky wire, in a car packed with people, and wait 2 hours for the privilege? Um, that’ll be a pass.
I extracted myself from the line and walked back down the road to go explore some hiking trails I saw on the way up. Much better idea! It was so beautiful. And then….creepy bridge!!! Seriously, world?? Why are there sketch ass bridges EVERYWHERE I GO???? Indiana Jones has his snakes…I have my bridges. Sigh. This one had busted out boards in it. I was pretty sure it wasn’t up to code. I practically did the splits I took such a huge step to get over the damn fucked up boards- plummeting 10 feet to my watery death in the 1 foot deep raging river below wasn’t on my spreadsheet….
Hiked around a bit, then used my mad wilderness survival skills to triangulate my position with the north star and the top of the mountain to figure my way back to the car. Or…there was a trail to the left, I knew the car was to the left, and I got lucky that it was the right trail that led to the car. You choose. 😊 Was so damn proud of myself when I rounded a corner and saw my car (it’s the silver one on the right side of the pic). Almost puked when I saw the bridge. Romania….where they will put up a serious barrier so you don’t fall over the side, but you’re on your own when it comes to falling THROUGH!
My airbnb for the night was just a couple of miles away. The guy who rents it out wasn’t there, his mother was (I’m 2 for 2 on that!), and she doesn’t speak English (2 for 2 on that as well!). So get a load of this…we communicated in…FRENCH!! I seriously have to research and see what this French connection is here in Romania. I’m shocked by how many people speak it. Settled in for the night to prepare for a long day of driving and adventuring tomorrow!
Slept great! Alexandra (the host) brought me tea at 7. I got my things together and left at 8. We communicated the best we could in French, hugged, and off I went. I headed off into the mountains again, on amazing, winding, roads through almost mythically magical dense green forests. You could see why folklore and fairy tales are such a part of the Romanian culture. It’s all around them. Instead of sunshine today, I had drizzle and sprinkles. After a while, I came out into a huge valley. It was just gorgeous.
Speaking of myths, the first stop today was Bran Castle. This castle is famous for being the one that inspired Bram Stoker’s creation of Dracula’s Castle. That said, Vlad the Impaler never lived here. After witnessing the lines yesterday in Busteni, I had a good idea of what this major tourist attraction was going to be like. One of my 3 stops for the day was actually before Bran Castle, but it didn’t open until 10. Bran opened at 9. So I decided to go there first to be there when it opened and beat the lines, then backtrack to the other place. Pulled in to Bran right before 9, easily found a place to park, and was pleased that it was only 4 lei ($1) instead of the 15 lei I’d been paying everywhere yesterday! Walked through a modern day torture device- the souvenir stall gauntlet (insert bloodcurdling scream!). Entry was 40 lei (about $10) with NO camera fee, and….drum roll please…they accepted credit cards!! I walked up the hill to the castle and there was no line to get in. Woo-hoo!
Ok. This is the castle that spawned Dracula. I was expecting spooky, dark, eerie, ancient. But….nothing was further from the truth. All of the interior walls were plastered in white. In places, they left the pieces that showed the original walls- now THOSE walls had character. These walls really made it feel like just a house kind of. The history here is more about the people who lived here (and I totally understand that). There were a couple of rooms with signage discussing vampires, and Vlad, and Stoker, but that was about it. There was way more vampire stuff in the souvenir gauntlet! I’ve been in a ton of castles. Some are super fancy (think Peles from yesterday) and have a museum DO NOT TOUCH quality to them. Some are just in ruins and you have to use your imagination to even recreate it. This one felt like a place where you could live and just have fun running around playing castle!! Not like a royal castle or a defensive castle- just a fun castle! There were a ton of little rooms- nothing massive and majestic and imposing. Lots of staircases- regular and spiral. One was a secret staircase with the original stone walls that was my favorite part of the entire castle! The furnishings were antiques, many original, but not over-the-top luxurious by any means. Just fairly simple, though beautiful, and functional. The views from the top were pretty great, though!
This was the king’s bedroom! So unassuming…
Is this a place I’d bring Brian back to? No. There are a zillion castles in Europe to explore. And lots with more exciting history, or more extravagant with a WOW factor. The draw for this one is Dracula, and frankly, as far as that went it was kind of a let down. I was pleased that I timed it right by getting there early. Here was the line a little after 10am on a Wednesday as I was leaving…
On the road again! To backtrack to the 2nd stop- Valea Cetăţii Cave. This stop was so I could do some cave filming for my Earth Science class. It’s right next to a beautiful little town called Rasnov, which is a pretty strong tourist draw.
I arrived at the cave at about 10:30, and there were only 3 other cars in the parking lot…um, was this open? Signs indicated that I had to walk to the cave entrance, so I took off up a road through an awesome forest. Which was uphill. Then turned into stairs! This was a solid hike! By the time I reached the top, my heart was pumping so hard a vampire would have choked if he had locked into one of my veins! 👹
It cost 15 lei (about $4) cash only to get in. Had to wait about 10 minutes for a guide, along with about 7 other people who had made it there before me. The guide came out, and we had 3 different languages going on in our group- Romanian, English, and something else that sounded eastern European but I didn’t know what it was. Well, the guide did, and he did his talk in all 3 languages. #jealous Unfortunately, the cave itself wasn’t very impressive. It was only one big room with a staircase/walkway that went around it in a loop. We entered to the left, walked around to a platform, there the guide told us about the cave, we took pictures, and exited to the right. Seriously, 15 minutes. I was pretty disappointed. 🙁 Had I known, I wouldn’t have backtracked to here.
Hit the rural back roads, for such a wonderful, peaceful, enjoyable drive. The back roads are very Swiss- like the cheese! Full of holes! You really have to keep an eye on the road. Main roads are in very good condition with a lot of construction going on. But even with the potholes, I prefer the back roads winding through quiet little villages, horse drawn carts for traffic. There are SO MANY things that just make you gasp out loud- they’re that beautiful. But again, practically impossible to ever find a place to pull over and take a picture. You just have to come here and see for yourself! Here are a few of the sites I saw along the way…
Last stop for the day was a mysterious one- the Rupestra Monastery in Sinca-Veche. It’s a series of temples carved into rock that dates back 7000 years!! WOW! And no one knows who built it or why… When I took one of the pictures, I was really shocked to see a star of David carved into one of the niches. This isn’t your typical Christian monastery….these temples far predate that…
The grounds were beautiful, with nicely manicured paths and stairs climbing into the hills through the forest. I started walking around, just exploring the peacefulness of it all. On my way down one trail, some new stairs were being built. I walked down them, and at the bottom was a lone worker, a man about 60, sitting on a bench having lunch. I smiled at him and said hello. He grinned so big and beckoned me over, gesturing to share his lunch. There was one chicken back and a couple of slices of bread. He was so insistent (in the friendliest way imaginable). So I tore off a piece of chicken and a piece of bread, ate it, and declared it to be delicious! He was so pleased! He hugged and kissed me on the cheek, and I continued down the trail. Now, he didn’t have much of a lunch, and there were a few dozen people milling around back here. Why he chose me to share lunch with, I have no idea. But what a lovely, unexpected gesture!
And that was the last adventure for the day. Drove into Sighișoara, and found my Airbnb for the next 2 nights (and it’s AWESOME!! Private apartment, large, modern, clean, great wifi, free parking, walking distance to the city…$34 a night!).
Well….in real time I’m sitting in Switzerland listening to the noon church bells ringing- about 2 weeks on the other side of this day. It’s the only Romanian journal that hasn’t been written already and sitting in queue. But now that Day 4 has been posted, I have no choice. I have to write Day 5. And it’s a bittersweet endeavor. Because it was such a wonderful day…but also a day filled with regret for me personally. Because I did something so out of my character, and something I’m ashamed of. Something that I have literally thought about every day since and wished I could have done it differently. I guess this journal is in some way my amends. I already know it’s not enough.
As I’ve stated, my airbnb in Sighișoara was an awesome one!! Private, large, modern, comfortable, great wifi. So it was really easy spending my morning working. This was one of only two places where I was staying for more than one night, trying to give myself a little down time. But I did want to see the city. So the night before I did what I always do- google and see if there’s a free walking tour. There wasn’t, but there was one paid tour company that came up- Your Guide in Transylvania. On such ridiculously short notice, I didn’t hold out much hope. But I emailed Emanuel and told him I was free the entire next day, and if there was any availability to just give me the time and I’d be there. I was thrilled when he quickly replied that we could do a 10am tour!
That morning was rainy, so I got decked out in my rain pants and stuffed my rainjacket in my day pack. Emanuel was picking me up, and he was right on time. It was just going to be he and I for the day. PERFECT. I hate other people on tours with me. #elitist I got in, realized his English was spot on perfect, and bombarded him with everything I wanted out of this tour- lots of history, any info on Vlad (this is the city where he was born). I think he was a bit overwhelmed, as I probably said about 10 paragraphs before I took a breath and he pulled out of the driveway! That’s what not speaking English to anyone for 5 days will do to ya! We pulled into a parking lot outside of the historic old city walls, and Emanuel began giving me the history. And his delivery was PRECISELY the type of historical information I like to get on these tours. I was captivated and swept into the story of Sighișoara from the first moment, because Emanuel was passionate about the subject!
The entire old city is listed as a UNESCO heritage site. Let’s do one of my history lessons, shall we?? 🤓 So a lot of different empires have had their fingers in the Romanian pie. Just based on the name, you might have guessed Rome, and you’d be right (more on that in a couple of days). But back in the 1100s, the Hungarian Empire was in control. The King of Hungary wanted to make the area we know as Transylvania (literally “on the other side of the forest”) a “buffer zone” of sorts, to help prevent the pesky (polite term) Mongols from invading, settling, and eventually making their way into Hungary proper. But he had people problem. No one really lived there! Certainly not enough people to create any kind of real city for defense. So what do you do when you’re a king who needs people? Ship ’em in! And that’s exactly what he did. He chatted up some of the German Saxons- who were some of the most skilled merchants and craftsmen in Europe at the time. He made them a deal…move to Transylvania. I’ll give you land, and you won’t have to pay any taxes. Such opportunities didn’t pop up every day in the late 1100s, so many of these Saxons jumped at the chance! The King made good on his promises (that’s a refreshing twist!), and the Saxons settled this remote land in about 1191. Within 100 years, they had built Sighișoara- a fortified medieval city. It became not only a strategic location, but a booming location for trade as well. With trade, comes money and growth, and Sighișoara became one of the most important cities in the region. Now, it is a UNESCO site because of how amazingly well preserved the medieval architecture is. In addition, it’s one of the few “living” medieval cities in Eastern Europe- where businesses still thrive within the old city walls, and residents go about their day to day lives, as they have been for the past 800 years. Wow.
Ok, so now that we have some background, let’s walk through the city! We walked up the ancient road toward the fortified citadel. Here you can see the gate to the city, with the clock tower looming in the background. Emanuel went into this whole description about how invading armies would try to lay siege to Sighișoara- complete with having me pretend to be an invading solider (and not even in a cheesy way, but a really fun and engaging way!). He showed me the city gate, discussed how it would have been set up to keep people out, and even showed me the holes and pieces that were left from where the original gate was! Something I never would have noticed on my own (and THAT is why I do these tours!!). He showed me the areas around the gate and walls where the citizens would be defending their city from the invaders- murder holes and all. It was FASCINATING, and really brought the entire structure- and city- to life!
Let’s focus on the clock tower for a moment. This current tower was built in 1677, after a fire destroyed the original one from the late 1200s. Below you can see a closeup of the clock and an interesting rotating structure with figures in it. This is the side that people entering the city would see. This little wooden mechanism turns, with the Roman/Greek god for each day of the week on top. There’s a drummer on the left and an executioner on the right- warning people coming into the city to not cause trouble! I’m kicking myself for somehow not getting a picture of the side that faces into the city, but there’s a similar mechanism there as well. Except on this one, the top figure rotates between day and night figures. And below that is another drummer, but also a figure holding an olive branch to represent peace. There’s also a figure of lady justice. This was to symbolize that if you had been allowed to come into the city, you were expected to behave peacefully, or you would find yourself in court! And if you were found guilty of disrupting the peace of this town, well, let’s just say you had been warned of the consequences when you entered (executioner). Again- SO FASCINATING and something I would never have known had I not had a guide!
Once inside the city walls, I could see why this place is listed on UNESCO. It is just gorgeous!! The old buildings, so carefully restored and maintained. Interesting details everywhere you looked. And what I thought was the main purpose of my trip- to see Vlad’s birthplace- kind of faded into the background as I became so engrossed in the history of this wonderful city, as told by Emanuel.
The home where Vlad the Impaler was born around 1430
Me, with Vlad. He’s not thought of as a monster in Romania. In fact, quite the opposite. Many look at him as a national hero for the things he did for Romania that Bram Stoker was NOT inspired by. 🙂
We began walking through the streets of Sighișoara, and I was completely captivated by Emanuel’s presentation of the history. He took me through a little gate into a yard where no tourists were, and told me this was his favorite place. It was the tower of the Tinmaker’s Guild. Remember, this city was founded by merchants and craftsmen- not soldiers. And each of the major crafts, such as tinmakers, butchers, tailors, ropemakers, etc… were in charge of building a defensive tower for the city wall. There are about 8 of these towers in total around the city in strategic defensive locations. If an attack was imminent, women and children would be locked in the church, and the men of each guild would go to their tower to defend the city. Most of the time they were extremely successful (which is why this city is so well preserved). The tower of the tinmakers has some very interesting architecture, that again, you would NEVER notice if someone didn’t point it out! The first floor, which ends right above the covered walkway area, is a perfect square. This was the earliest part of the tower that was built. As the city grew, so did the towers. The subsequent generation of tinmakers wanted to show that they were more successful than those who came before. When it was time for them to add on to the tower, they didn’t want to do the obvious- another square. No, they added a PENTAGON on top. This was tricky architecture for the 1300s- no easy feat! And the next generation? Well, that top story is an OCTAGON!! WOW!! You can’t go inside. It hasn’t been restored and is dangerous. But man oh man, how I wanted to!
Additional towers of other guilds
We came to a covered staircase. Emanuel explained how it had been built in the mid 1600s by the church. The church and the school are at the top of the staircase, so it was built to make it easier for worshipers and students to get to where they were going. Emanuel pointed out that each section had 6 stairs and then a platform, and asked me if I knew what that represented. I immediately guessed that it was a step for each day of the week, and then a flat platform for Sunday, the day of rest. He said that I was right, except it was the day to go to church, not rest!! 🙂 And not to toot my own horn here, but most of the things he asked (many quite obscure), I got, and he was quite surprised! #historyteacher and #logicalthinker
At the top, we saw the school (which is still in use- told you this was a living medieval city!) and the church. Behind the church is the cemetery. And not just any cemetery…a MASSIVE cemetery!! I’ve always thought that cemeteries hold not just bodies, but history. Except you have to be able to read it. Emanuel knew how to read the history of Sighișoara here, and translated it for me! So let me tell you the story of this place and what it has to say…
What you have to understand that these pictures do not show is just how HUGE this place is. What’s the first thing you do when you go into a cemetery? Start reading the headstones. And here, you would see German name after German name after German name, and occasionally a Romanian name. That’s because this is the German cemetery (remember, it was Germans who first settled here). The church keeps immaculate records about who is buried where, and there’s even a map on the entrance gate with numbers to show where the different plots are. But there is a finite amount of room… Here’s how the plot system works. Families buy a plot, and as of now, have to pay 25 euro a year to keep that plot. Of course, over the course of centuries upon centuries, family lines completely die out, and there’s no one left to maintain the payments on the plots. At that point (after 7 years of non-payment), the church deems it as expired, and now other people can be buried there. But Mary, aren’t there ALREADY people buried there? Yep. When it’s time to dig a grave for the new “owner”, any coffin remains are removed and the bones are put into a bag. That bag is then put into the bottom of the grave, and the new owner is buried over them. Sometimes, the graves are really deep with multiple new owners buried in one plot. Ok, next question. Not just the bones are left from the old gravesite- what else?? The headstones! Obviously those have to go. And the cemetery kind of lines them up like little walls along the paths. These stones are so old that the dates are mostly completely worn away. I did see one that was about 1700. Wow.
So that isn’t the only story told here! Look at this tombstone. We have 3 people buried in this plot. A father, Friedrich, a son, August, and the mother, Elise. Obviously German names. Now look at the word in italics underneath the father and son’s names. These were the professions of these men. Your profession (and you had ONE per lifetime!) was practically as important as your last name. Friedrich was a soap maker. August, a merchant. Honestly, I could have spent hours wandering around, trying to extract the history from this place. It was beautiful, peaceful, and so full of life- which seems ironic but really not.
The 2 hours (plus a little more!) FLEW by. I seriously can not say enough about Emanuel and his tour of this fascinating city. He’s passionate about the history. We discussed meeting up later and talking more after he finished another tour, but I ended up having to work that evening. I asked him for a restaurant recommendation and we bid each other farewell. I headed into the lower part of town, outside of the walls, to the restaurant he recommended. This was my first sit down restaurant meal in Romania, and I was so pleased with the prices! Basically, divide by 4 for US dollar price. I ordered the 1st thing on the menu- the pork and smoked sausages with baked potatoes for $5. Yes, $5. It was DELICIOUS!!!
After lunch, I headed back into the city walls. I had to video EVERYTHING Emanuel had taught me for my students. The city gate, the staircase, Vlad’s birthplace, the Tinmaker’s tower, the cemetery- all of it! As I was wandering, what crossed this recently engaged girl’s path?? Another wedding dress!!!! That’s 2 days in a row, universe. Seriously??
The views from the top of the wall were great. I walked back down, along the river, and to my airbnb, where I spent the evening working. And being ashamed of myself…Sigh. Here we go….
I seriously can not say enough good things about Emanuel’s tour. I recommend it HIGHLY. And what I am about to say is not a reflection on him, but a reflection on me. There was one point during the tour that Emanuel stopped and said, “I hate gay people.” and pointed them out. There was a gay couple at one of the souvenir stands behind us. I was seriously caught completely off guard. I mean COMPLETELY. It was like la-la-la-history-history-history-la-la-la-i-hate-gay-people-history-history-history. This is where I would normally go into momma bear mode, because I am EXTREMELY protective of and vocal about people’s personal choices as long as they are not impeding on my rights (not my “beliefs” but my RIGHTS). And LGBTQ people fall squarely in that category. If you’ve been reading my blog, you can see that I am no shrinking violet when it comes to expressing my opinions- even when I know those opinions are going to be offensive to other people. Being offended never killed anyone. Refreeze your snowflake self and move on with life. However, instead of doing what I would normally do (and have done), I did the worst thing possible. Nothing. NOTHING. I didn’t blink, I didn’t say a word. Why? This is a question I have literally asked myself every day since that moment. I don’t have a good answer. Well, probably because there is no good answer. Look, Romanian culture, especially in these smaller towns, is VERY conservative. I get that. I mean, they are only thirty- THREE ZERO- years out from overthrowing their communist government. And I know that in that moment there was nothing I was going to be able to say or do to change this person’s mind. However, what I should have done, what I wish I had done, was speak up and voice my opinion. Let him know that this speech is NOT ok. It’s so far from ok, it would take light years to get to ok from here. I will say this, how in the world did he know that I wasn’t gay (well, except for the fact I told him my boyfriend had asked me to marry him!). How did he know my son wasn’t gay? Someone else in my family? My friends (they are)? I mean, from a human point of view, feeling like that toward a group of people is just disgusting. From a tour guide point of view, it’s disgusting AND stupid. But enough about Emanuel and more about my role in this situation. The only reason for my complacent silence that I can figure out (and believe me, I’ve done a TON of thinking about this) is that I didn’t want to ruin the vibe of the tour, because I was enjoying the hell out of it and learning so much. THAT IS SUCH A PISS-POOR CHICKEN SHIT OF AN EXCUSE THAT I MAKE MYSELF SICK JUST TYPING IT. But it’s honest.
Emanuel may read this. He may be angry because I mentioned it. He shouldn’t be. HE decided to make this a part of my tour, and if those are his beliefs, he should own them. Maybe it will cause him to question his views and really think hard about why he “hates” people who have zero impact on his life. I really hope so. If nothing else, maybe it will cause him at least to not spew such hatred in front of clients who are paying for his services. I mean, he did a lot of talking about his belief in God, and I didn’t feel the need to pop out with, “I hate Christians (I don’t, but there’s a point here) because I’m an atheist.” There’s a time and place for things. There’s NO time or place for hate, but I assume you understand what I mean.
There really was no way to write this that someone somewhere couldn’t read their own biases into it and wind up offended. Sorry, not sorry. This is my honest account of what happened and that’s the bottom line of it. Believe me, the person offended the most here (other than the gay couple who are clueless to the situation) is myself. Offended that I was such a chicken shit and didn’t speak up for that couple who had no idea what was being said about them. Offended that I wasn’t true to myself. Like I said, this has eaten at me for about 2 weeks now. Daily. And here is what I have promised myself. I will never EVER stay silent again. I don’t care what the situation is. And if that is the lesson I learned and paid for with my silence on this day, then I can live with that. I have to.
I lazed around this morning, savoring wifi while I had it and trying to get some work to do. Tonight, no wifi for sure and most likely not even any phone signal. Because today was not about culture or history- it was 100% about scenery! Left at 11am and headed for my one and only destination for the day- the Transfăgărășan!
I was thrilled to death that it was on rural roads out of Sighiosara, and hoped it would stay that way! The problem with taking the back roads out of the main town was that I didn’t pass a gas station. Well, I had half a tank…should be ok. The rural villages were just LOVELY!! Again, so many beautiful things to see, and nowhere to pull over for a pic. Grrrrrr! But, there was a lot of traffic on this trip….
Soon the road turned toward the Făgăraş Mountains. And I saw a sign for the Transfăgărășan! So why did I come here? Well, it looked cool, it was between two of my main stops (Sighosoara and Sibiu), and there was a super cheap airbnb ($16!!). The road wound through lush green forest, climbing and climbing.
Soon the forest kind of disappeared, and I was climbing a mountain. The road was like a jar of hairpins that had tipped over! I literally could not believe what I was seeing. Waterfalls were pouring out of EVERYWHERE. Some of them big and rushing, some of them small streams that made it look like the mountain was crying from dozens of eyes. It was surreal. I was pulling over to every single turnout there was to take pictures! And when I say there is no way the camera is doing any of this justice…believe me.
You can see the road, criss crossing the mountain, with bridges over the waterfalls.
Soon I got near the top of the mountain, and the turnouts were giving me a SPECTACULAR overview of what I had just come up! This highway was completed in 1974. And not just as a spectacular tourist attraction! It was built for fast military access over the Făgăraş Mountains, in anticipation of a potential Soviet invasion. Hundreds of men lost their lives building it. BBC’s Top Gear has named it the best road in the world. I am a believer.
I arrived at the airbnb for the night. It’s at the top of the Transfăgărășan, just on the other side of a long tunnel. Access is through a gap in the pilings of said tunnel, and I missed it at first. It’s easy to miss! Got turned around and pulled into the parking lot. This place is remote. Super remote. I could only see one building from where I was and it was empty (I know, because there’s where I thought the bnb was, parked, explored, and realized it wasn’t!). A woman came out to greet me. She didn’t speak much English, and well, unless we’re talking about entering a chicken (I know the Romanian words for enter and chicken and that is the extent of my knowledge!), my Romanian is useless. Her name is Elena. She showed me inside and gave me a bunk bed. There were about 8 in the room. There was a cozy fire going, it was starting to rain, and the view was just INSANE!! Oh, and there’s a dog that is seriously as big as a freaking sheep!! I think we communicated that he’s 10 months old, but I’m not sure… The toilet was Asian style #squat and I don’t think there’s a shower. I knew there would be no wifi, and I was shocked- SHOCKED- that there was just barely enough phone signal to get a text out to Brian. No worries, one night only and I NEEDED this. I needed to be out of my comfort zone, to be remote, to unplug (she says as she writes this, but if I can’t watch CNN on youtube, that is unplugged!!).
Elena offered me some kind of drink. I couldn’t figure out what it was because it was in a water bottle, and she couldn’t tell me, other than it sounded like “Plinka”. What the hell….when in Romania. She poured it into a tiny mug that looked like it was made for a leprechaun, and I tasted it. Yep, alcohol. SUPER STRONG alcohol. Me and alcohol are a big nope. I drank about 1/3 of it, then discreetly ditched it in the sink… I later learned that it is Pălincă- a traditional fruit brandy made generally with plums.
Soon a big group of Germans (about 8) came in. They spoke German and English all mixed up (literally sentences would be part German and part English!), so I could make out some things. I turned around a couple of times when they said something of interest in English and smiled at them, but they didn’t acknowledge me, so I retreated back into my phone to text with Brian. My fault. I just kinda suck at that sort of thing. They left after about an hour.
It was shortly after that I got hit by a feeling of loneliness like I’ve never had while traveling. I felt so completely alone and isolated. Here I was the only foreign girl in the WORLD in this crazy unique airbnb at the top of the Transfăgărășan, in a really remote part of Romania, with an INSANE view out my window, watching a storm roll in over the mountains, and I was about to have a mental breakdown. It was just this feeling of disconnect, and if I could have transported myself home right that moment, I would have. Shortly after that, Brian texted, “Do you know anything about a special delivery for me?”. I lied, “No”. It was his birthday, and I had a German Chocolate cake (his favorite) delivered to his work. It was about half an hour after that that I realized the source of my loneliness. Guilt. This is 3 out of 3 times that I’ve missed his birthday because I’m traveling. ☹ I’m going to start the paperwork to move his birthday to mid September when I get back. I’m always home in mid-September. Maybe we can roll a few years off of him while we’re at it. Old chap has one more year to go until he’s 50. I’M TOO YOUNG TO HAVE A 50 YEAR OLD BOYFRIEND!!! 😜
It was after 8pm and I was freaking starving to DEATH!! Elena had literally been in the kitchen for over 3 hours straight cooking. A group of 3 young English guys came in. It was apparent that they were staying for the night. They immediately went for the Plinka!! I walked into the bunk room after a bit, and ugh. One was in the bunk above me and the other 2 in the bunk right next to me. Not long after, Elena FINALLY brought out food! A super delicious soup that was heavy on the soup and light on the pui (that means chicken for those of you not fluent in Romanian poultry like myself!) and some bread. I ate all of mine. She cleared the plates, I sat there for maybe 10 minutes. It was almost 9, so I decided to just go to bed. Went into the bunk room and started organizing. Not long after, Elena came in and said “Food?”. Apparently there was MORE food! Yay!! Because I was still hungry. This time it was fried pui (drumstick), mashed potatoes, and some kind of sauce on the side with a tomato and cucumber salad. Very, very tasty!
After that, I was definitely ready for bed. The English guys were at one table, about 5 Romanians who had come in earlier were at another, drinking Plinka. I worried that it was going to be a long, noisy night. Put on my sleep mask and settled in. Much to my surprise, everyone was really quiet and I slept great!
Woke up the next morning to the 3 young English guys walking around in their black boxer/briefs. Maybe mixed hostel rooms aren’t such a bad thing after all… 😉 (See, Cheri?? Told ya!!) While waiting on breakfast, I had a nice conversation with the guys (now fully clothed 😑) about what we were all doing in Romania. Breakfast was AMAZING!!!!!!! Holy crap!! 2 eggs fried hard (thank god, because runny yolks make me want to hurl), tomatoes, cucumbers, and 2 types of sausage. The little sausage links were OH MY GOD TO DIE FOR! Literally, best sausage I’ve ever had in my life! Right after breakfast, I packed up and headed back down the Transfasagaran. The views were just as breath taking as yesterday.
A gorgeous drive brought me to my first stop of the day- Sibiu. I didn’t have this city on my “to do” spreadsheet, but Emanuel had mentioned it was really nice, so I decided to stop and wander around. There was a bunch of pay to park places, but I saw free parking right in front of a big produce market for 2 hours. That should be plenty! Parked, and headed up the cobblestone streets, not really knowing what to look for or expect. I made my way to a HUGE plaza! Like MASSIVE! From there, I just kind of wandered around taking pictures.
There was a little shop on the side of the street with a line. I could see that they were opening (it was 10) and there were a bunch of bread things in the window. Ok, I’ll give it a go! Got in line, looked at them, had zero idea what they were. Well, they were all called covrigi, so I knew that much! The lady in front of me picked the variety called “visine”. Fine, that must be good. Bought one (it was like 75 cents). Bit into it- cherry! So now I have a new word. Visine is cherry. 😊 Chicken, enter, and cherry. I’m on a roll (no pun intended!). Kind of a perverted one from the sounds of it, but I’m learning the language!
I strolled through a beautiful shaded park, where men were around tables playing cards. Wandered through the city and found the Liar’s Bridge- apparently if you tell a lie on it, it will shake and make weird noises. My exclamation of “I am fluent in Romanian.” didn’t produce those results, so I’m #skeptical.
Now one thing odd that I didn’t notice until I downloaded my pictures, were the roofs of these houses. Notice anything kind of weird (and eerie!) about them?
THE HOUSES HAVE EYES!!!!!!! <insert horror scream 😱> I found it to be so weird, that I actually googled it to see if it was a “thing” or if I just had a vivid imagination (2 sips of Palinka will do that to you….). Sure enough, it’s a “thing”! The Eyes of Sibiu! They’re attic windows, to cool the houses. But the effect is quite striking! I wish I would have noticed it while I was there…I would have been on the look out!
Found my way back to the car, and decided to take a stroll through the market. It was MASSIVE!! Along one side were storefronts selling all kinds of meat and cheese and such. Under the tents, more produce and flowers that you could even imagine! I wasn’t planning on buying anything, but a little old lady with a bunch of blackberries caught my eye. I felt guilty, but I had to take a picture of her. I continued wandering around the market, and finally decided I just had to buy some berries from that woman! Went to her stand, and some guy was there, tasting the berries. He looked at me and said something in Romanian that I easily figured out just from his look and tone was, “These berries are crap.” I tasted one and overly gestured about how good it was. Screw you, dude. He walked off. I pointed to one container and handed the lady 5 lei ($1.25). When I had walked through the market, there were about 3 other berry vendors. Every one of them had bigger berries (almost twice the size), shinier berries, and fresher looking berries. But none of those vendors were as beautiful as this woman. That’s what sold me on her. Oh, the stories I know she could tell….Unfortunately, they probably included words other than chicken, enter, and cherry, so there’s that. OH! And I learned the word for apple!! Mere. 4 words down umpteen thousand to go!! 🙂
My berry lady. How do you say, “Will you be my grandma?” in Romanian?
Out of the city, back on the road. I was heading toward the Dacian (ancient people of Romania) ruins- Sargizegetusa Regia. I put into google that I wanted my route to be “no highways”. I was happy to see the sunflower fields made another appearance so I could actually get a picture of them!
I drove on roads where I didn’t have another car in front or behind me for miles, and would rarely meet an oncoming car. It was FABULOUS! Well, there were the typical Romanian traffic jams… 😉
And after being in the car for a few days, I finally knew all of the words to Strongest. What in the hell am I talking about? WHAT?! You don’t know Strongest?! It’s only THE most popular pop song in Romania!! Good lord, people, get some culture!! 😜 I know this because it plays a least a dozen times a day on the radio (it doesn’t matter what station). And it’s super catchy. And I may or may not have been singing and car dancing on more than one occasion to it…
Honestly, it was a pretty long drive for me. I was over 3.5 hours in of just driving since I left this morning. So I was really happy to see that I was approaching the ruin site! 1 mile, .5 mile, 150 feet- I was there! But…there was nothing. Except a paper sign in Romanian on the side of the road in the weeds that said something about archaeology and no access. WHAT THE HELL???? I pulled over and did some googling. Well, apparently this was the WRONG site. The main site I was looking for was 1.5 hours in the opposite direction!!!!!! GRRRRRRRRRRRR!!!!!!!!!! I swear I could hear evil laughter coming from the Google Maps app… Ok, fine, whatever. I had two things planned in this area over the next two days, with an Airbnb in Hateg, and no idea where I was going to stay the next night. I had booked the Hateg bnb at the last minute a day or so ago. That one, and tomorrow night, were the only ones I didn’t book in advance for some reason… Anyway, I was right in the city of Hateg, it was about 2pm, and I didn’t feel like driving another 3 hours roundtrip to the ruins. So I decided to go to my other stop in this areas- Corvin Castle.
Drove toward Hunedoara. As I got into town, there was this MASSIVE house (mansion??) in the weirdest style I’ve ever seen in Romania- kind of Asian inspired or something. I thought it was super strange, and that it must be an Asian business owner showing off or something. I also thought that the people of Hunedoara must think he’s pretty damn obnoxious. But then I saw another house in the same style. And another. And then a whole little neighborhood of them!! Research says that they were built by some Romani people (an ethnic minority). People know them by the highly derogatory term “gypsy”- and people should understand that this is NOT a term they should use. With that social lesson out of the way (you’re welcome), from the research I found, the houses were built illegally (without permits and such), and their extravagant appearances are thought to have been funded by money from crimes committed in the UK and there is talk about tearing them down. Whatever the deal is, they really do look out of place!
Made it to Corvin castle. Parked on the street for free (with all the other locals!) instead of in the lot, and walked to the castle. From the outside, this looked way more like a Dracula castle than Bran did!! I was afraid it would be packed since it was so late in the afternoon, but nope. Paid lei ($ ) to get in. No sooner did I step into the courtyard, that I had an acute attack of #castlefatigue. I have been in so. many. freaking. castles. in the past several weeks. Enough already. (Don’t you feel sorry for me? 🙄 Castle Fatigue- a disorder of privileged people.) Well, I had paid my fee and was in, so might as well have a look around. I’ll admit, I didn’t pay close attention to the signage (even though most of it was in English), because again, I was kinda over castles at this point. It was built in the 1400s. It’s one of the largest castles in Europe (seriously, it’s pretty big- there are a lot of rooms and staircases and walkways and such).
There was a room where there were lots of pieces from the original castle (pieces of columns and crests and such), and some copies of things that were there but are now in museums. As I was sifting through…what to my wondering eyes should appear?? A fleur de lis??? With a CROWN on it?! Oh hell yes! I sensed the presence of my kings- all the way in ROMANIA of all places!! I really perked up and started paying attention! True fact: The cure for castle fatigue in Romania is the sight of anything related to my French kings!! Upon further inspection, I found another piece with 3 fluer de lis on it- and this one had a sign…in Romanian. 😑 But all I needed was one word…VALOIS!!!! That was one of the major dynasties of French monarchs!! EEEEEEEK!!! The French Religious Wars!! Salic Law!! Ok, I’ll stop. I promise no French History lessons in Romania. Sigh.
Probably the funniest thing that happened to me the whole time I was in Romania was as I was leaving the castle. There was a torture exhibit, but the name was in Romanian. I was taking some pics of the castle, and an Australian guy told his wife, “That says Extort the Tourists”. I chuckled at him. Good one, sir. Good one!
Drove back on a different road (because I HATE to take the same way twice!) to Hateg to my Airbnb. It was a really nice little place- private room in a house, but very clean with a large private bathroom and only $20 a night! Oh, Romania…I am enjoying the hell out of you!!