Four Days In and Around Brasov, Romania
By Dori Saltzmann
The last time I went sledding Ronald Reagan was still in his first term as President. And the last time I had hot chocolate was long enough ago to be only a hazy memory. But the warm tendrils of “ciocolate calde” are right now spreading to my toes, frozen from a day spent sledding in the Carpathian Mountains.
We’re back in Brasov after spending most of the day in the nearby ski resort of Poiana Brasov. Only a ten minute bus ride from the center of Brasov, Poiana is Romania’s number one ski resort. Neither my boyfriend Marius nor I are skiers so we opted for the tamer (hah!) sledding, joining the hundreds of visitors taking advantage of Poiana’s deep snow.
After several rounds of trudging up the hill hauling our sled and then careening down the hill with little control over our direction, we decided it might be safer to wander around town.
I wanted to go ice-skating but Marius, having never donned skates before, was too chicken to try.
Instead we stopped at an outdoor stall selling mici (small barbequed sausages of beef and pork) and mulled wine. Then we hit the slopes for more sledding before finally catching the bus back to Brasov.
Back in the city I insisted on stopping at Festival 39, a small bar and eatery for hot chocolate.
Although Marius and I live in Brasov we rarely get a chance to experience all it has to offer. So when we found ourselves with four free days we decided to become tourists.
A Walking Tour
On our first day as tourists we did a self-guided walking tour of the medieval city center. The Black Church, one of the largest Gothic churches in Eastern Europe, and the History Museum, housed in the lemony 15th century Council House in Piata Sfatului, were our morning stops.
After lunch we strolled through the old city along the reconstructed fortified walls. We wanted to visit the Black and White Towers which once guarded the city from Tartar and Turkish invasions, but they are closed during the winter.
Instead we went to the old Schei District, a neighborhood of narrow cobblestone streets and red-tiled 17th century homes. In Schei we visited Romania’s very first school, which dates back to 1495. Next door to the First School Museum is St. Nicholas Church, a gorgeously painted Romanian Orthodox church.
Our final destination for the day was Tâmpa, the small mountain in the middle of Brasov. The top of Tâmpa can be reached by foot or cable car. We chose the cable car. Winter days are short in the mountains and the sun was already sinking behind the mountains to our west when we reached the top. Beneath us Brasov stretched out a vague outline surrounded by mountains.
A Smile From Transylvania
“Please don’t touch that,” our guide said to a paunchy American tourist who’s run her finger along a thirteenth century wood table. “It’s rumored to have belonged to Dracula and if you touch it you might become a vampire.” The woman squealed in mock fright.
We split our second day as tourists between two museums in Brasov and a visit to Bran Castle about forty minutes away. Together, the Art Museum and the Ethnography Museum took about an hour and a half in the morning, leaving us plenty of time to visit Bran.
Once upon a time someone at Bran Castle hit upon a brilliant plan to lure in tourists: market Bran Castle as Dracula’s Castle. It worked and today Bran Castle is Romania’s top tourist attraction – regardless of the fact the castle has nothing to do with Dracula. The gothic castle’s only tenuous connection to Dracula is that Vlad Tepes, Bram Stoker’s inspiration, was imprisoned in the castle for a week.
This was something our tour guide took great pains to point out to us repeatedly in spite of his previous Dracula reference. “Dracula is a fiction created by a foreign author,” he said several times.
While the tour was a series of corny jokes and condescending lectures about fact and fiction, the castle itself was impressive. I especially enjoyed climbing the steps of the chilly secret stone corridor.
In spite of efforts to distance Bran from Dracula, the connection is reinforced by dozens of merchants hawking their wares outside. T-shirts with fanged smiley faces dripping blood read “a smile from Transylvania”, and Dracula key chains, coasters, and pens abound. My guilty purchase: a small etching of the castle at night complete with clouds, a full moon, and a horde of bats.
Day three we reserved for Sinaia. Two hours away by train, Sinaia, a ski town, is the location of Peles Castle, once the summer residence of the Romanian royal family. No more or less impressive than other European palaces from the outside, it’s Peles’ interior that separates it from all others.
Every room in the nineteenth century palace was designed in a different architectural style including: German and Italian neo-renaissance; English and Florentine renaissance; German and Austrian Baroque; Breton Rustic; French Louis XIV; Racoco; Hispanic-Moorish; and Turkish.
The remainder of our time in Sinaia was spent strolling through the town, visiting the nearby monastery, and riding the cable car up the mountain.
Let It Snow
I’m finally thawing out. The hot chocolate has pooled warmly in my stomach and my jeans are just slightly damp. Our last day as tourists is coming to an end.
In four days we’ve seen much of Brasov and done three side trips. But there’s more that we haven’t seen yet: the White and Black Towers, the Brasov Citadel and the Fortress of Brasov museum. Not to mention the ice-skating.
As we leave Festival 39 to head home the snow has started to fall again. By morning we’ll have at least another inch or two. I’m determined to make it back to Poiana again before winter has passed. Why should tourists have all the fun?
WHERE TO STAY
Hotel Aro Palace:
Centrally located. Amenities include satellite TV, telephone, room service, mini bar, tourist office and Italian restaurant on site. Most expensive hotel in Brasov, 85 – 140 Euros.
Centrally located. Amenities include telephone, room service, satellite TV, and tourist office on site.
Prices range from 60 – 80 Euros.
+40 268 477664
One of Brasov’s newest hotels, it is located around 15 minutes from the center. Amenities include cable TV, mini bar, and fitness center on site. Prices range from $79 – $112. Coroana Hotel:
Basic hotel, but centrally located. Amenities include telephone, cable TV, mini bar, room service and a restaurant on site. Prices range from 44 – 100 Euros. +40 268 477448
Adabelle Inn: Five minutes from center. Very basic accommodation though most rooms have cable TV. Breakfast included with price. Prices range from 18 – 32 Euros.
BRASOV LANDMARKS AND MUSEUMS:The Black Church:
Open Monday through Saturday, 10am – 5pm. History Museum:
Open Tuesday through Sunday, 10am – 6pm. The First Romanian School Museum:
2 Piata Unirii
Open daily, 9am – 5pm. (May have to ask someone at St. Nicholas Church to open museum for you.)St. Nicholas Church:
2 Piata Unirii. St. Nicholas Church entry is free. The Art Museum: 21 Eroilor Blvd. Open Monday through Saturday, 10am – 6pm.
The Ethnography Museum:
21A Eroilor Blvd. Open Tuesday through Sunday, 9am – 5pm.
HOW TO GET TO:
Poiana Brasov – Ten minutes away on the Number 10 Bus from Livada Postei. Tickets cost 18,000 Lei each way. Sleds and ice skates can be rented near the ice skating rink.
Bran Castle – Forty minutes away by a bus that must be taken from Autogara 2 (or Doi in Romanian).
Tickets usually cost less than $1. Entry to Bran Castle is about $2, depending on the currency exchange.
Hours of operation: Tuesday through Sunday, 9am to 4pm.
Peles Castle – Located in Sinaia which can be visited by bus or train. Entry is about $2.50.
Hours of operation: Wednesday through Sunday, 10am to 4 pm.
Closed the entire month of November for cleaning and maintenance.
Dori Saltzman is a freelance travel writer based in Brasov. Her areas of interest include horse trekking and wildlife tourism. You can visit her website at home.pipeline.com/~devorah/travelwriter
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