On my long, three week sojourn through mostly eastern Europe, I took a side trip from Bucharest to the German influenced town of Brasov, in Transylvania. My host, Dirty Pat and I boarded a 7am train in Bucharest for the two and a half hour ride up to Brasov. He and his family skied there this past Christmas holiday, so he thought I would enjoy the German influence in this part of Romania.
We were met by the Stein Erickson of Romania, our guide, Tudor, who is a ski instructor in Austria in the winter, Brasov tour guide in the summer. So, off we went, through the city (almost 400,000 people), and over to the famous Bran Castle. Not really knowing what to expect, they led me through various neighborhoods until we reached a cute village that could have been placed anywhere in Germany.
The area was settled by Transylvanian Saxons, brought by Hungarian kings to develop the area, and became a major trade hub between the east and west. We are only 103 miles north of Bucharest, but considerably higher in altitude. And we are surrounded by the Southern Carpathian Mountains. It is also the birthplace of the Romanian national anthem, which was played numerous times when Nadia and her teammates won so many gold medals at the Olympics.
Fast forward to 1211 when the Teutons erected a fortress before being driven out in 1226. In 1377, the Hungarian King Louis the Great granted the people of Brasov, the right to build a castle. The previously mentioned Saxons were invited to help build the castle.
Upon completion in 1388, the castle served as a fortress and customs house, with a great view of the hills and valley. It was used against the onslaught of the Ottoman’s into the area. But things get a bit more interested, after various battles and territorial issues, when Vlad the Impaler took over in the mid 1400s, in ways you can probably imagine!
The turmoil continued through various rulers, empires, wars, and administrative BS, until 1920. The castle was offered to Queen Maria of Romania by the mayor. She was a great queen who was well loved by the people. She renovated the castle, and soon it became her favorite residence. She bequeathed the castle to Princess Ileana, who lived here with her husband, the Archduke of Austria, until the Soviet era.
In 1956, the Soviets converted the castle to a museum. Restoration was completed in1993 after the communists left. Then in 2009, it returned to its rightful owners, the Archduke and Archduchess.
So, a long story, but we managed to get through a walking, rather climbing tour with minimal interference from the hordes of families and school groups. I am glad I went, but I would have been happy just walking around the castle’s village area, tasting the rather plentiful and enticing German influenced beer and food, and soaking up the rather difficult to find Romanian sun.
But the highlight for me was taking the ski tram to the top of the Brasov ski resort. We got a fantastic view of the valley and the surrounding Carpathians. We even walked by the huge clay tennis court complex built by the richest man in Romania, Ion Tiriac. He owns many auto dealerships, banks, and insurance companies.
As the day wound down, and we headed back to the Brasov train station, I needed a few more German beers to fully grasp the cultural impact of the region!
A few more general observations about Romania:
Wonderful people once you get past their stern exterior.
The beer is both good and cold.
The food is hearty, and now moving on to innovative.
The Old Town area of Bucharest is a real treat.
Watching a Shakespeare play in Romanian with an Elvis song in the middle of it is a real trip!
I met the most interesting young lady from England, who makes her living as a translator while she travels the world. I am jealous!
No sushi here, but we did have a Japanese inspired meal, with decent tonkatsu and kimpira gobo.
The beer is both good and cold. (Did I say that already?)
The dessert and coffee culture is strong here.
Skip the tour of Ceausescu’s home.
The beer is both good and cold.
Romanians hate their dictator as much as many of us hate Trump!
Too many people smoke here!
The traffic is chaos. Hooray for Uber, forget the cabs.