Posts Tagged With: Brasov

Missed the bus by two minutes

Today we missed the bus from Bucharest to Sofia by about two minutes.

I’m not exaggerating. The long-haul luxury bus left two minutes before we arrived at the station. And, yup, this 4:00 PM bus was the only bus making the seven hour run to Bulgaria’s capital today.

Old train station turned bus station- legendary spot where missed our bus

I kinda knew that something like this would happen eventually on the trip. It is the nature of travel. However, I take pride in being that guy who never misses a flight, is never late for a train, and is never frantically chasing down a bus. I would like to blame the lackadaisical, cell-phone-chatting driver of our “Maxi Taxi” transport from Brasov to Bucharest earlier today. The minibus/oversized van certainly was in no hurry and the driver taking a self-declared five minute break at a roadside stand to buy a soda and a new fishing lure (!) didn’t help matters. But, honestly, it can’t be blamed on a single thing. It’s a life lesson I keep learning: you can do everything right and still come up short. Two minutes! I would have preferred to miss the coach by three hours instead of our heartbreaking sprint and frantic taxi ride just to see the tail lights fade into the distance.

Bucharest Metro GrafittiSo, we shake it off and we suck it up. It is not a big deal because we do have other options to get to Sofia. Our new plans involve booking passage on the night train. It costs a bit more and takes a bit longer, but it should be a cool ride. Plus we’re still on this sensational Round The World trip, so we’ve got that going for us.  Soon after our minor bus debacle, we found ourselves back in Bucharest’s Old Town feasting on some solid Greek Food, sipping a couple of Staropramon and sampling some gelato all of which helped to put everything right back on track. Plus, with some time on our hands, we were able to venture onto yet another city’s subway system. The Bucharest Metro was simple enough to navigate and a mere $1.25 allowed both us to ride. We weren’t exactly shocked to see that some subway cars were just caked in graffiti from bow to stern, inside and out, while some newer cars were clean and untouched. That dichotomy of grime and shine is just about par for the Romanian course. The subway fulfilled its purpose but was largely forgettable; I think I’m still drooling a bit over those incredible stations in the St. Petersburg system.

As seen in Romanian Grocery Store: 2.5 Liter of Beer for Sale in large plastic bottle just like soda. Price? About $2.50

As we waited at Gara De Nord for our 11:00 PM train, Brooke and I rounded up some final impressions from our time in Romania. We’ve concluded that Romanian food borrows much of its menu from nearby nations and, with a couple of noteworthy exceptions, the majority of our meals qualify as nothing special. Slow meals are the order of things so if you’re in any sort of a hurry, restaurant dining is not your best bet. Menus almost exclusively feature lots of chicken, lots of pork and a lot of bread. Man, we’re talking baked bread, pastries, pretzels and more. And while the cuisine may not be unique, those fresh-baked, giant, inexpensive pastries are a sensational way to start the day. Although they are not helpful when you’re trying to avoid ending a RTW voyage as large as a double wide. Also on the plus column, we’ve found that the local tomatoes, heavily used in most dishes, are pretty incredible. We think it must be the right time of year.  As for adult beverages, we prefer Ursus of all the local beers and marveled that we haven’t spied a single American beer- bottle or draughts since we landed in Eastern Europe.

Slightly more questionable than the quality of the Romanian food was the quality of the Romanian taste in popular music. Namely the endless amount of Europop we keep hearing. That repetitive, decidedly poor club music is everywhere. And a confoundingly high percentage of it features an accordion. I have no answers, my friends. Only observations. On the upside, the sights certainly outweighed the food and the music. Visiting Bran Castle yesterday, sometime summer home of the Romanian Royal, made me want to go looking for ceremonial scepter in my family! THAT was a cool castle. In fact, our visit generated a genius money-making idea for kitchen ware: Vlad The Impalers Skewers! For all your shish-ka-bob needs. It’s a Macabre Kebab! In stores by Halloween!

Our faux submission for a photo project. We call it “Old Romanian Guy Waiting on Bus.” Artsy!

However, the most important reflection from this trip is that every day- from little things to big things- I’ve managed to see something new, interesting and novel. Every day. As Brooke and I we’re writing some post cards home earlier tonight, I was greeted with the images on the front of all the places we’ve visited and seen first hand. And just over the last three weeks. Seeing those memories collected and laid out like that really hit me. It felt like an accomplishment. Of course, having an exceptional travel partner goes a long way.

Gara De Nord – Bucharest Train Station – at Night

As we boarded the train just a bit earlier this evening, we found a Romanian conductor who spoke broken English. We then managed to talk our way (along with 50 Euros…totally worth it) into a berth on one of the sleeper cars on the Russian section of the train.  Apparently, since this is a long haul train originating out of Russia, there is a separate Russian run section of the train. We’re pretty sure that the Romanian Conductor and Russian Conductor split and pocketed the money we gave ’em for the room, but who are we to judge. Is this the nicest train I’ve ever been on? Not even close. But it is all kinds of awesome. The room itself feels very 1960’s. Instantly our ten hour journey in coach evolved into a nice, and roomy private cabin where we can spread out. A little privacy goes a long way.

Missed bus be damned, we end the day with a hell yeah and two comfy sleeping berths to speed us on our way to Sofia.

-Phil

 

 

 

Categories: Beer, castles, City Visits, Differences, Eating, Europe, Rail, Reflections, Romania, Transportation, Trip Prep, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Beautiful Brasov and Bran!

When we arrived in Romania, many people assumed we would be heading to Transylvania, a region north of Bucharest steeped in history and well known to Westerners for its role in Bram Stoker’s Dracula.  We had no solid plans upon arrival, so we figured we might as well grab the train and head to Brasov, a city in the central region of Transylvania in the foothills of the Carpathian Mountains.

There is much to do in the Transylvania region, but to really see it all we’d have to be here for at least a week and take our time going from castle to castle.  Instead, we have only a few days, so we decided to base our exploration in the town of Brasov.  Having human settlements which date back as far as the Neolithic age, it has a rich history.  We decided to start a little closer to modern times with the town’s best known landmark, the Black Church.  Built in the 15th century, this remarkable church got its current name after being badly burned in a fire which consumed most of the town in 1689.  It has been cleaned up to the point visitors might not even realize there was ever a fire except for the four blackened statues which have been preserved in their post-flame glory.  This church marks the end of Gothic architecture in the region and claims to be the largest Gothic cathedral between Eastern and Western Europe.  Originally a Catholic cathedral, it is now Lutheran and serves the small German community here in Brasov by holding all its services in German.  The 4,000-pipe organ is still played weekly for public concerts.  Most notably, this church hold the largest collection of Turkish rugs outside of Turkey.  These were gifts over couple hundred years and are now proudly cleaned, repaired, and on display for public viewing.

We found a few things about the church particularly interesting.  One is the painted pews which designated seats for different guilds.  There were seats for the weavers, tailors, hunters, etc. all shown through symbolic paintings on the pews (we were, once again, unable to take photos inside so we cannot show you).  However, there were only 3-4 seats for each, so only the “higher-ups” in these communities garnered a seat.  The low wage workers were sent to the galleries up above.  We were also very interested in the “Black Madonna” painting.  It is a portrait of Mary being given gifts for Jesus and being attended to by angels.  Her dress was originally blue, but after the fire it turned black, therefore it has been given the name “Black Madonna”.  We had a wonderful young guide who gave a strong tour with insights we would not have otherwise had.

While there is more to see in Brasov (some of which we plan to do tomorrow) we decided to take this opportunity and head slightly south to Bran’s Castle.  Many people assume this castle was the inspiration for Bram Stoker’s Dracula.  Let me make something perfectly clear from the beginning–there is essentially NO CONNECTION!  There is the tiniest, most remote, slimmest chance that Dracula is based on Vlad the Impaler who has some miniscule connection to Bran’s castle, but the correlation is mostly created by people trying to drum up tourism.  Don’t get me wrong, the castle is awesome.  And Vlad the Impaler was awful.  But those two things aren’t really related.  Perhaps I’m getting ahead of myself…let me start from the beginning.

Bran is a fairly easy bus ride just 45 minutes south of Brasov.  As we pulled into town we could see Bran Castle sitting up in the hillside.  It looks rather small from the outside, but once inside it is actually quite cavernous and impressive.  Housing impressively creaky floors and drafty hallways, Bran Castle has a long history dating back to the 15th century.  It has had royal residents as recently as the late 1940’s and is one of the only castles we’ve been in that we could imagine living in.  Many of the original rooms have been refurbished to suit more modern living.  It has beautiful views and a fireplace in each room to help keep us warm–it was a chilly 48 degrees today so we kind of wish those fireplaces actually had wood burning in them!


There were two rooms dedicated to explaining the connection between Bram Stoker’s Dracula and Bran Castle.  Let me break it down for you–Vlad Dracul was a prince in Transylvania.  He had a son, Vlad the Impaler, who killed people by running a stake from – brace yourself – through their anus to their throat without hitting any vital organs thus producing a slow and painful death. He was also rumored to be ruthless and enjoy drinking blood–hence the connection to Dracula.  That’s about it. Dracula is a completely made up character by Bram Stoker.  We still aren’t sure what the actual connection is to this castle; Stoker never came close to visiting Romania.  It doesn’t really matter, though, because the castle is pretty cool all on its own.  The Dracula connection does make for some fun and kitschy souvenirs and a couple of haunted houses in the town center.

After our visit to Bran, we had planned to head to Rasnov to visit this cool fortress, but it was so cold and so rainy, we just couldn’t bring ourselves to get off the bus.  Instead, we warmed ourselves over some delicious Guinness at Deane’s Pub listening to a big band play some jazz and swing.  There’s something surreal about singing along to Sinatra’s New York, New York while sitting in a pub in Brasov, Romania.  On our way home we stopped off for a nightcap at For Sale, a cozy little bar whose walls are covered with the patrons’ business cards.  We had a drink, posted our business cards on the wall just for good measure, and now are attempting to warm up back in our room.  We think this weather must be unseasonably cold as the heat has not yet been turned on in our hotel.  (Oh well…it feels like we are back in our apartment in New York.)  Now, we plan our next steps.  We aren’t sure exactly what lies ahead, but after a little more exploration of Brasnov tomorrow, it looks like we are headed to Sofia, Bulgaria.  Wish us luck!

–Brooke

Creepy hidden staircase inside Bran Castle. I wouldn’t want to be in here for long!

Phil isn’t really meant for the castle lifestyle–he is way too tall!

We thought this room actually looked like a room people would live in unlike so many of the cold, sterile rooms of the castle.

The inner courtyard at Bran Castle.

Categories: castles, Clothes, Destinations, Diversions, Europe, Exploring, Landmarks, Romania, Self Guided Tours, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

More from Romania!

Hello again from Romania! We continue to explore Bucharest through a series of self guided tours, bus rides, museum visits, dinners and more. Unlike other places we visited, there aren’t many tourists who swing through Bucharest. The larger hotels like the Hilton, Ramada and Novotel are largely stuffed with business travelers. Romania is only on a few people’s Top 10 list which, for us, makes it a very cool place to visit.

The George Enescu house and museum!

We took a ride on Bucharest’s newly-launched $8 Hop On Hop Off tour. Another double decker city tour bus, but this one with a somewhat sparse audio-tour component and even sparser crowd. The bus cruised around two of the main avenues of town. These rides, in any city, always deliver a quality up close look at sights worth seeing. Or at least worth driving by. In this case, we got a great look at musician’s George Enescu’s home, The National Museum of Art, Embassy Row and more. We also rode past Bucharest’s own Arc De Triomphe, statue of Charles De Gaulle and Parisian fountains. See a theme? Tons of french words and a bit of French culture have wiggled their way into Romanian culture.

Later, Brooke and I were oh so excited to visit the National Museum of Romanian history located right next to Old Town in the beautiful old Post Office building. This was our chance tor really sink our teeth into the complicated, sometimes tragic history of this country.  We have found some of our favorite and most educational stops have been at museums such as this one.  We walked in the beautiful old building, and there was some sort of presentation regarding the Apollo 12 mission to the moon. We were hoping the very obviously American ambassador’s wife would speak so we might understand, but that didn’t happen.  As we ventured further into the museum, we realized the exhibits were all in Romanian and French.  That is understandable, but what surprised us is that there were no English brochures, audio guides, tour guides, nothing.  So far, we weren’t feeling much of this had to do with Romanian history.  Then we found the jackpot–a huge column which had been pieced together and put on display.  The carvings featured Romans fighting and we were sure this must be significant to Romanian history.  Since this exhibit filled the entire basement we figured this must be some amazing find.  We managed to ask our English Speaking front door guy about the column.  Did it stand on this very spot?  Was it destroyed with everything else during the 1980’s?  His answer was a clear NO.  This column is a REPLICA of one from Italy.  It never stood on Romanian soil, was not built by a  Romanian sculptor.  This put us over the edge.  Why was a replica  taking up so much space?  What did this have to do with Romania’s history?  We walked out of there learning a whole lot of NOTHING about Romanian history and instead feeling like we made a charitable contribution to the museum.  Argh.

Brooke with the replica column at the National History Museum

The potato on a stick

The highlight of our day was rendevouzing with Dorothrea whom we had met through RedditR. Dorothea is a native Bucharest resident currently studying in Berlin who took a turn at playing gracious tour guide. Brooke and I spent a good chunk of the day walking the streets receiving a sensational, informative guided tour of the city all delivered from a local perspective. It was a phenomenal way to see Bucharest and we we’re so thankful that Dorothea took some of her own time just to show us around! We met her near a centrally located piece of art that locals (with affection? With disdain?) call the “Potato on a Stick”. (It’s reassuring to know that the art that we sometimes think looks kinda stupid, locals think looks stupid also.) Since central Bucharest is an area that’s relatively densely packed, we were able to cover a lot of ground in just a few hours. We walked through nice neighborhoods just off the central avenue, stopping to get some history and back story on the buildings and way of life. Our journey took a detour into a great bookstore and we even sampled a fresh baked pretzel which doubles as the most popular Romanian street fare. Between showing us a pair of sensational old Roman Orthodox Churches (there aren’t a lot of old doings left in Bucharest), Dorothea snuck us into a bank in Old City whose lobby rivaled some of the rooms that we saw in the Palace of Parliment yesterday. Amazing! We walked past a beautiful local hospital that had just recently been renovated from top to bottom.  We never would have suspected that two years ago, it was on the verge of falling down. Dorothea helped us to see that there IS an effort out there to preserve and restore Bucharest, it is just a very slow process. She showed us several nice neighborhoods that we likely wouldn’t have discovered on our own.

Indian Food and new Romanian friends Dorothea and Ionuca

Later in the day, the three of us met up with two of Dorothea’s local friends, and enjoyed a long Indian lunch in Old Town (the food is half off before 5:00 PM!) while trading stories over beers and Masala. We talked out Romania, got to know about their lives here, we talked about our RTW trip and they asked questions about the United States. (Yes, our gas is considerably cheaper then most gas in Europe. Yes, there are a lot of overweight Americans.) Dorothea and Ionuca gave us some fantastic. wonderful insights into Romanian daily life. They even put up with all of our questions – from Gypsys to Politics to the state of Education some of which must have seemed insufferably stupid. Such a quality experience to talk to people who live in the city about their city. These three have a fondness for Bucharest, but a also a realistic view. (Corruption in many forms, Dorothea told us, was common.) It was so incredibly generous of these guys to spend a large chunk of the day with us. The lesson we walked away with here was if you love your town, show it off!

Our voyage continues! We are just trying not to accidentally refer to Bucharest as Budapest as Michael Jackson allegorically once did. Understandably, it’s a point of exhaustion and frustration for the locals. Soon, off to Brasov. Who knows what we’ll see there? But for now, we’ll try to soak up everything we learned today like a sponge and hope it sticks around the noodle for at least a little while.

-Phil

In front of the sculpture of famous characters from a Romanian playwrite outside the National theater. Also a popular protest location.Roman

As seen in Old Town, what a great name for a bar

Categories: City Visits, Eating, Europe, Museums, Romania, Self Guided Tours, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , | 11 Comments

Blog at WordPress.com.