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