I haven’t got much of an idea of what the scenery was like between Sibiu and Brasov. Instead I basically got a wide ranging lecture from a Romanian woman. She had some interesting things to say, but it was pretty much one way traffic for a couple of hours. I did manage to spy a farm of solar panels at one point. Mostly the landscape was pretty flat and open, the light dull under clouds.
There are three main castles around Brasov that tourists go to. One is closed two days a week over winter, so that ruled it out for me. Another is at Bran and the third is between Bran and Brasov at Rasnov. A bus with a serious collection of scented car airfreshners runs the route. Bran castle was the one co-opted by Bram Stoker to set Dracula in, though Vlad the Impaler, the real non-vampirish Count Dracula, didn’t live there. It was both prettier than I imagined from the novel and more like I imagined castles to be like before I saw my first one. It’s relatively small, with a smallish courtyard and smallish doorways and rooms, but lots of them. But it’s got lots of different shapes going on in the rooves, white walls and brown timber frames, and even comes complete with secret stairs. It was originally a defensive point and later a customs point for border trade with only soldiers and I guess the taxman living there. Later, some queen or princess moved in and made it a bit more liveable with tiled stoves. They could have done with being lit that day. My favourite spot ended up being a sunny balcony in the courtyard where it was out of the wind.
Back on the public bus I got talking with a fellow from Turkey who I’d taken a photo for in the castle. When I told him there was another one on the way back, and then saw it up on the hill from the road, he made a last second decision and got off the bus with me. Along the way we were passed in the opposite direction by a Polish fellow I’d been chatting to earlier. He ‘done’ two castles in the time I’d ‘done’ one. At the bottom of the hill I voted for getting the tractor up, to add to my collection of transport modes. This castle was more like a ruined version of Edinburgh castle with a whole village inside the walls. Stall holders sat and chatted amongst themselves. The old school building was in the best maintained condition. Across the way, rock walls abutting rock face were all that remained of others. A church had stood at the highest point, but now there’s just exposed rock, binoculars and the Romanian flag.
To get to Bucharest the next day, I’d decided to catch the train in the early afternoon because it was the cheapest. With my remaining morning I chose the local walking tour, but in the end I might have been more satisfied doing my own thing. We didn’t cover much ground and got rather cold. I probably saw a couple of things I wouldn’t have otherwise, most notably a church in the old Romanian quarter, the building of which was funded by Orthodox churches in other countries because the people here were kept too poor to fund it themselves. This was in the time when only certain ethnic groups were allowed to live within the city walls.
The woman doing the tour kept saying how the different groups had managed to mostly get along, and how we’re stronger together. She seemed oblivious to the contradiction when she went on just as much about Transylvania being better than other parts that she labelled Romania, for historical, political and geographic reasons. For her, Transylvania is European, and the more southern and eastern parts of Romania aren’t. She even called them Romania without including Transylvania in that definition. And was quite keen to say that Transylvanians were/are better educated.
Apparently there’s some people calling for Transylvania to have more powers devolved to it, as Scotland and Catalonia have. She said they make more of the money in Romania but it gets spent in other parts of the country. The rich want to get richer without pulling the poorer up alongside them. As for Brasov itself, I didn’t see an awful lot. Mostly it looked to be fairly well off and in pretty good nick. There were crosses on the tops of most buildings.
The afternoon train to Bucharest went through valleys not unlike those in Switzerland. It is the Carpathians. The train ran beside a stream, there was snow and villages and high peaks behind them. The valley opened up into flat farmland, ploughed and waterlogged. In Bucharest I made for a vegan restaurant for dinner, to make up for my meat eating of the last few days. Pan fried zuchinni with garlic and herbs on barley pasta with capsicum and chia seed pudding for desert. Fed.
I had half day before the train to Sofia and the lecturer on the train to Brasov has said to see the Parliament Palace. Built during the communist era to the very particular demands of the dictator, it’s second only to the Pentagon in size. On one side a plaza had been turned int a car park. The next English tour was the full, more expensive one and not for an hour. I wandered another old town instead. Not as pretty as Sibiu and not as in as good condition as either Sibiu or Brasov, there were a couple of interesting sights. More old churches, floors falling out of balconies, a tattered old shopping mall with a yellow glassed in roof that made it feel like a cross between the fancy arcade in Glasgow and the souks of Marrakech. With less happening.
With my last lei I added a pretzel to my snack bag for the train. The woman in front of me bought her first one separately and gave it to the old woman selling pears from a tray beside the pretzel shop. The old woman protested, but took it. I didn’t see her eat it. Instead I think she added it to a collection she already had. Earlier I’d seen someone pull a pretzel out of their bag of three and offer it to an old woman sitting in the sun as they walked past. I’m not sure pretzels constitute a food group, and how many can one eat in one day? At the next park people were feeding pretzel crumbs to the pigeons. As good for bird food as for the needy. In Brasov and Bucharest I saw old people bent over with crooked backs. An old woman shuffling along took my hand to cross the road in Bucharest. She had eyebrows painted on and got along ok. Maybe the cars made her nervous or maybe it was a sly way to have some contact with people in her day.
Romania had turned out to be more colourful and prettier than I’d expected. The parts I saw were better off than I expected too. I also expect there are parts and people who aren’t that well off. I feel like people in the UK who are concerned about Romanians having freedom to travel and work there should go and see Romania and the mix of people, and then see if they still feel the same way. It seemed like the main problem could simply be exchange rates. Why my money buys so much more than theirs. Oh, but their costs of living are lower. Not if they want to live like we do. And a few things we could learn from them. Recycled toilet paper and handtowels in all the hostels and rocker flush buttons on all the toilets so you can stop it when it doesn’t need to flush any more.