Transylvania! The name alone makes us think about vampires and werewolves. Transylvania is an area in the north central part of the country encompassed by the Carpathian Mountains to the west and south and the Apuseni Mountains in the east. Until World War I Transylvania was part of Hungary. After the revolution in 1989 many of the Germans who had lived in Transylvania migrated to Germany and reduced the number of Germans in the area roughly by half leaving approximately 120,000 in the area. And this number was reduced by 50% by 1995. We are told that Hungary continues to not be happy about Transylvania being a part of Romania
bran castle courtyard

view of bran castle

The first place we visited in Transylvania was Bran Castle (above) which served for many years as a tax collection station on the road between Transylvania and Wallachia. It sits atop a small hill and provided a secure location for the residents. The castle itself is a rambling series of rooms at odd angles, with a lovely courtyard in the center (left). There was some furniture still in the castle, and we particularly were taken with the heavily carved bed (below right).

We also visited the hill top fortress located above the town of Rasnov. Rasnov has decided to entice tourists to visit by placing the sign pictured below left on the outskirts of town where there is a fork in the road - take the road to the right and come to Rasnov and the one to the left leads to Bran. Most of the tourist hordes head for Bran to see the castle. However, we did both. Rasnov is an old medieval town sitting upon the hill, reached by a rocky dirt road that was a joy on the bikes.
carved bed brn
Rasnov was created as a refuge and defense fortress in the 13th century by the inhabitants of the town. It was made to ensure protection against both the Turkish and Tartar invasions and the trespasses of the feudal noblemen. Over time it was reinforced so that it was one of the most solid fortresses in the 15th century.

The picture at right shows the perimeter houses, most of which have been rebuilt to a great extent. Various carts and farm implements fill the center area. The photo below, left shows the condition of the walls an ramparts not yet rebuilt, as we look out to the Fagaras Mountains. One of the interesting tales of Rasnov is the well that was dug by 2 Turkish prisoners who were promised their freedom upon completing the well (completed in 1640). All well and and good except that it took them 17 years to complete the project! However, it did provide more security for the residents as they no longer had to open the gates to get water.

jim inside rasnov
Now, what about that Dracula tale? Well, Vlad Tepes, ruling prince of Wallachia in the mid-1400s, gained the name Tepes (Impaler) because of the form of capital punishment he employed to punish his enemies. A wooden stake was driven carefully through the enemy’s backbone without touching any vital nerve, ensuring at least 48 hours of conscious agony before death. The Impaler usually dined with at least one Turk on a stake in front of him. This was the inspiration for Bram Stoker’s Count Dracula. Vlad was called Dracula (meaning “son of the dragon”) because his father, Vlad Dracul who was a knight of the Order of the Dragon. While at Rasnov, we found a print which depicted the infamous Impaler, dining before the Turks on the stakes (below, right)
view from rasnov

the impaler

Sometime in the afternoon we had stopped at a gas station for a break and a soda. Jim was inside and Verna was standing outside with her soda when a Romanian woman in a car motioned to Verna, asking if she would like one of the covrigi (a small round bread, either salty or slightly sweet, photo above, left) the woman was eating. Verna politely motioned “no,” but the woman got out anyway and came over and offered her one from the bag. Finally giving in, Verna took one and thanked her. Later Jim came out and Verna told him what had transpired then gave him the last bite. The woman from the car then got out and came over with a whole bag of the covrigi and insisted we take them. We tried to say no, but she wouldn’t accept. She pointed to our license plate, then the bag, then handed the bag to us. She then got in the car and drove off, blowing us a kiss and waving goodbye. Luckily it was a small bag and Verna found a space for it. For the next couple of days we savored not only the covrigi, but the generosity and kindness of the woman

covrigi gift
For the night we stopped in Brasov and had a wonderful Chinese meal for something different. We have been told that Brasov is the most visited city in Romania. The city has many old buildings which have been restored and maintained.
brasov square
brasov city gate 1516
It makes for a pleasant, interesting walk around town. There is even an old bastion sitting on the hill overlooking the town. In a quiet park area south of town we found an old city gate from the 1500s (above, right).
piata grivita

There is a large pedestrianized area, lots of well stocked shops and lots of people out and about.  At left is the main square, late in the day when the locals were enjoying their city. There are lots of restaurants that border the square and it is really quite a pleasant place. The people of Brasov have done a lot of work in restoring their town and it shows.

We rode to Sibiu after leaving Brasov. Founded by the Romans during the 12th Century Sibiu has always been important town in Transylvania. During the 19th Century Sibiu was the seat of the Austrian governors of Transylvania. It has some lovely old architecture and several open squares, one of which is pictured above. They have even closed one of the main streets and made it a quiet pedestrianized area complete with shops and outdoor bars and restaurants.

One of the highlights is the Gothic Evangelical Church (1300-1520) whose 5 pointed tower is visible from a distance (right). The church contains the largest pipe organ in Romania with a total of 6002 pipes. There is also a lovely fresco in the sanctuary originally painted in 1445.

From Sibiu, we rode north to Cluj-Napoca whose roots can be traced to 1st century AD. In 124 the city attained municipal status and Emperor Marcus Aurelius elevated it to a colony. Because it was located in the middle of Transylvania, it became a crossroads which led it to later become an educational and industrial center. 

evangelical church sibiu
st michaels

Today it is a university town and a busy city center. It has several major squares and many interesting architectural sites as well as sidewalk cafes where one can sit and enjoy the people-watching scene. As with much of Romania, we found that most of the older buildings had lots of potential, but were in need of cleaning and renovation. St. Michael’s Church from the 15th century (left) was the focal point of the central square along with the equestrian statue of the Hungarian King Matthias. Hungary had an influential role in Transylvania’s history as represented by this prominent statue.

Our home for the night was outside the city center, up a little hill. From our room, we had a view of the city skyline, which was fairly one-dimensional except for the obviously new building near the center of the photo below. We have no idea what it is, but is this the beginning of a new skyline for Cluj-Napoca?

Heading west from Cluj-Napoca, we traveled through the Apuseni Mountains. a low mountain range of about 2,000 ft. They are very green and lush with some nice smooth winding pavement to enjoy. On the western side, we were treated to an expansive view of the plains below, full of crops in various stages of maturity and a colorful patchwork of colors (below, right).

new building
fields near oradea

Here, like in most of Romania, the crops are planted in long strips rather than huge fields. We expect this reflects the land ownership, each farmer tending his own land, rather than huge acreages owned by agricultural firms.

Our last stop in Romania was in Oradea, very near the Hungarian border. The first thing we noticed when walking around this town was that it had more of a western European look and feel to it. The wide pedestrian path with shops and sidewalk cafes had a very western feel and something we had seen in only one other city in Romania. One of the finest buildings in terms of architecture and current state was the lovely town hall (below, right), situated on the banks of the river which bisects the town. We were pleased to see, however, that several buildings in town were undergoing restoration. What particularly caught our eye was the scaffolding being used. While obviously very functional, we were a bit concerned about the safety of the structure.

Our favorite site was the scaffolding around the tower of the Black Vulture Hotel (below, left). The upright poles are bare tree trunks with 2x4s providing the cross bracing. Then planks are set across for the workers to walk on, but from what we could see from other scaffolds, none are secured. The pole extensions are interesting as well (below, right). Would you like to spend your day working up there?

town hall

scaffolding tower

Well, aside from the scaffolding, you can see that the building above has a lot of interesting architectural detail and we think it will be a very positive addition to the cityscape.


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