Eastern Europe:  Transilvania, Romania

We traveled across Romania by train. Even though the trains are old and slow, it was a nice change to sit looking out the window instead of navigating. It was a journey across a beautiful land, although autumn weather had arrived and there were several gray and rainy days.

Transilvanian villages are all built around a church.

The country is largely rural. Distant mountains encircle the agricultural plains where we could see farms, cattle, sheep, fields of alfalfa, corn, milo, and grapevines. In one place we saw a field of modern solar panels.

At times I feel like we’ve traveled back in time. Some of the vistas remind me of scenes from Fiddler on a Roof: horse-drawn wagons, a lone shepherd watching over a flock of sheep, men cutting alfalfa with a hand scythe and barnyard haystacks.

There is so much neglect and abandonment.

There is lots of construction and development as well. Miles of new railroad tracks are being laid.

Once, needing to travel only 59 miles, the options were either a 2-hour mini-bus ride or a 3-hour train journey. We chose the bus which was very uncomfortable and had a driver who talked on his mobile phone most of the journey.

We’re not in a hurry. Are you?


And now for the weekly history lesson…

The Thracians and Dacians were early Romanian tribes. Later, Greeks and Romans established colonies, at first along the Black Sea coastline. In the 10th century the Magyar (Hungarians) moved in from the west and by the 13th century all of Transilvania (Transylvania is another accepted spelling) was under their control. The southern region of Wallachia (the “W” sounds like a ‘V’) and the eastern region of Moldova were under the Ottoman Turks.

With the Ottoman Empire weakening in the 19th century, Wallachia and Moldova joined to form a state, chose a king and took the name Romania in 1862.

The Transilvania and Banat regions of western Romania were a part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire until after World War I when they joined with Romania.

Hungarians, Turks, Germans, and Saxons have all left their mark on Romania’s architecture, food and language, but modern Romania is the unification of 3 different culture groups (Wallachia, Transilvania, Moldova) who all spoke the same language.

The Romanian language is a ‘romance’ language, which has some Slavic influences. At one time the Cyrillic alphabet was used which has more characters than the Latin alphabet, therefore Romanian uses additional symbols to denote these Slavic sounds such as the “ș” – which makes the “sh” sound.

 

Transilvania

We visited three medieval towns of Transilvania, each one different and delightful. The towns are perfect for slowing down to meander down cobblestones lanes, viewing picturesque vistas of spires, towers, walls, gates, and colorful houses and soaking in the atmosphere while drinking an espresso in one of the squares.

Either slow down or turn your ankle.


Sighisoara

Sighisoara (pronounced Shiggy-SHWAR-uh) is one of the fortified church towns of Transilvania. It is a delightful walled medieval town perched on a hill with a monastery church from 1289, the 13th-century Church on the Hill which is considered the town’s most valuable historic monument and a Roman Catholic church built in 1894.

There is a massive clock tower from 1280 and 8 other defense towers all named for the guilds that inhabited them: Ironsmiths, Bootmakers, Tailors, Furriers, Butchers, Ropemakers, Tinsmiths, and Tanners.

The Bootmakers’ Tower (1521) was a defense tower on the wall. You can see the old city wall foundation and where it was a part of the wall.

Ever have the feeling that you’re being watched? The roof windows look like eyes.

Looking like it belongs in a fairy-tail book, the Ropemakers’ Tower is the only inhabited tower in the Citadel. Traditionally it was the home of the the cemetery caretaker.

While walking through this cemetery we met a couple visiting from Germany who had both grown up in this town and the man had graduated from the school next door to this cemetery in 1961.

The Wooden Covered Staircase, built in 1666, connects the town to the Church on the Hill and may possibly be the town’s most original structure.

Sighisoara’s first houses were built around this square which was the town’s social and economic center.

Transilvania is the home of the literary character Dracula. The author of the fictional character apparently borrowed from the historical personage Vlad Tepes Dracul who may have been born in the town of Sighisoara.

The young Prince Vlad was held hostage by the Turks to ensure his father paid them tribute. Raised a Turk, he rebelled against them as soon as he came to rule Wallachia in the 15th century. His modus operandi was to impale his victims, a disgusting manner of torture, worse than the Roman method of crucifixion.

DRACULA- The word “Dracul” means dragon, and the word “Drac” in modern Romanian means Devil.

Goodbye Sighisoara!


Brasov

The fairy-tale town of Brasov (pronounced BRA-showv) sits below Mt. Tampa. In medieval times, Germans workers were lured to Brasov with the promise of free land and tax exemptions.


Brasov was pretty even in the rain.

There is a HOLLYWOOD type sign on Mt. Tampa. There was a time when each Eastern bloc communist nation had to have a town named after Stalin, and the town of Brasov was chosen for the honor, but reclaimed its original name.

Atop of the council house there is a Trumpeter’s Tower built in the 1420s. From the balcony the town crier would watch for danger and sound out the hours on a trumpet.

The main square and several surrounding lanes are open to pedestrians only. If it hadn’t been raining we would’ve enjoyed sitting at one of the many sidewalk cafes.

St. Katherine’s gate to the fortified city was built in 1559, but it looks like Disneyland.

Another pretty church! The 4 towers on the gate in the previous photo and the church above signify the city’s and the church’s right to judgment.

After surviving a fire they started calling it The Black Church. It is the largest gothic church between Vienna and Istanbul, was built between 1383 and 1480, and is used by German Lutherans. Is this the preacher’s entrance?

That infamous character, Vlad the Impaler once attacked this town impaling 40 merchants.

Sibiu

Another delightful walled city of cobbled streets, old churches and baroque squares, Sibiu (pronounced Sib-YEW), charmed 19th-century composers Hungarian Franz Lizst and Austrian Johann Strauss.

The expansive Piata Mare.

IMG_6094

The Biserica Evanghelica

We were just going to enter the Gothic Biserica Evanghelica (Lutheran church) when some tourists came out the door. Stepping inside, it was obviously closed for the day, but we decided to take a look around. Seeing a sign pointing to the Bell Tower, we decided to go check it out.

 

The sight of all these staircases stopped us dead in our tracks. We turned around to leave, but having second thoughts, decided it was an opportunity too good to miss.

We reached the bells, a set of three, and continued the upward climb. We were above the bells when they chimed the 6:00 hour.

No! We didn’t climb this ladder. Thinking we were the only souls around I was startled by the cooing of the pigeons – they sounded like humans!

This is the tower we climbed. We were rewarded with great vews over the city. The next photos are taken from the four turrets.

The roof tiles are made in Hungary. The detail of the roof tiles is hard to distinguish in photos taken from ground level.

The church roof tile design is visible here and I like seeing the shadow of the church spire over the square.

Fun Fact: Romania’s banknotes are plastic. Costing more to produce, they last longer, and survive money laundering exceptionally well.

Our last day in Romania we were watching our Lei, the Romanian currency, to make sure we used it all up. We were a little short and didn’t want to take another ATM withdrawal so we shared our last meal and walked to the train station instead of taking a taxi.

Leaving Hungary, we ended up having too many Forints so we converted some to Euros and spent the last of them at a small grocery and had a picnic on the train to Vienna.

Haven’t seen any refugees on the trains or at the stations yet, but we didn’t stop at Vienna’s Main Station. It was obvious that the Hungarian border police were being watchful as one officer carried a ladder to use to inspect the train!

We are moving quickly through this part of Europe and leave for Prague Monday. Not sure what’s next after Prague.

Where do you think we’ll be next week, when we Meet You in the Morning? I love hearing from you and reading your comments. Thanks for reading!

4 responses to “Eastern Europe:  Transilvania, Romania

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s