May 17, 2015
After our birding tour in the Danube Delta, our birding guide Florin had dropped us off at the Bucharest airport at about 1:30 pm. We had arranged to pick up our rental car here, so the usual paperwork and shuttle-riding ensued. Soon we were driving up Highway DN-1 (or E60) towards Brașov, our destination for today.
For a while we drove through wheat fields, and then the road started to climb into the mountains. Going through the mountains was slow because we passed through several mountain resorts. This was our first view of the Bucegi Mountains, but we’ll be back to stay in a couple of weeks. Hopefully there will be less snow then—we did see people carrying skis.
Over the pass we went downhill into Brașov. Following the Google Map directions we had printed out we made a couple of wrong exits from the roundabouts but soon corrected ourselves. However as we entered the city the print-out failed us, and we were lost. But Florin had told us about an iPhone GPS app which worked without Internet access, and Rosemary had already installed it and set it up. So we stopped at a gas station and turned on the phone. The app worked like a charm! We were actually much closer than we thought and within minutes we were parking outside La Despani.
Daniel unlocked the front gate and invited us in, telling us it was safe to leave the car parked outside. Our room was on the second floor and it was very spacious with a small balcony overlooking the yard. Rather surprisingly the bathroom had a very large soaker tub which doubled as a shower. We also had access to a kitchen located in the basement, so after collecting our bags from the car we headed out to the market which was just around the corner. We bought some veggies, milk, and cereal to tide us over for the next couple of days.
So dinner tonight was pasta (egg noodles) and vegetables. It was good to get back to smaller meals, after a week of big meals and no exercise. The evening was lovely and very relaxing, and tomorrow we would explore Brașov.
May 18, 2015
After breakfast we walked over to the Old Town area of Brașov, using the GPS map on the phone to get us there. We had found that Brașov has a free city walking tour, just like Bucharest does, so that’s where we were going. Upon arriving at the plaza, Piața Sfatului, we looked around for somebody in an orange jacket with an orange umbrella; there was a crew of men in orange jackets repaving the plaza, but no tour leaders. So we asked somebody who was guiding two people if he knew where the tour began, and he told us that it started here, but at 6 pm!!
Now that we were on our own we used the Rough Guide book to devise our own tour. And the city of Brașov had its own tour of the city walls with a large information sign in four languages at each location. So between the two tours we criss-crossed the city looking at the sights.
The Black Church, the big German church dating back to the 14th century, is right next to the plaza. We couldn’t go inside (closed Mondays) so we carried on to the synagogue and then to Ecaterina Gate, which is part of the old city wall which is still standing. Outside the wall was the Black Tower, which used to be black after the fire caused by a lightning strike a few hundred years ago but is now grey after having been rebuilt recently. We didn’t go inside (closed Mondays) but walked through the woods to the White Tower, which is also grey. Both towers were built outside the walls as an extra defensive barrier.
We had lunch about noon in a café on Piața Sfatului, Gustari, which specialized in classic Romanian food. Rosemary ordered noodle soup with some bread and Paul ordered beans with pork. When Rosemary’s soup arrived it didn’t contain any noodles, and eventually we figured out that it was cream of celery soup. None the less it was tasty and not too salty so she was pleased with it. Paul’s meal was very salty but it did contain a large piece of ham.
After lunch we walked up into the Schei district, where the first Romanian school in the country was set up. As it happened there were a lot of school kids on the sidewalk at this point in time. Also in the area was St Nicholas’s Church, which looked quite freshly painted and well-kept; we had a quick look inside. But by now it was getting on for mid-afternoon, so we walked back to La Despani via the outer wall with its many bastions. The remainder of the afternoon was spent resting.
At 5 pm we headed back into the Old Town so we could go on the free tour. We expected dinner would be around 9 pm, so we bought a pastry and a Nestea drink to keep us going until then. This time we found the tour guide, Carmen, standing by the fountain holding an orange umbrella. There were about 20 of us on the tour, which retraced pretty much everything we had done earlier in the day. However she told us about the history of Romania and of Brașov, plus anecdotes about the different stops. (We hadn’t known about the house where the mistress of Vlad Țepeș lived, for example.) It was a very entertaining way to spend a lovely warm evening.
Back at the hostel (which we now knew was in the former Hungarian section of Brașov) it was 9:30 pm, and what a surprise we got when we went into the kitchen and found two other people cooking their dinner, basically using the whole stove and counter! We waited a while to see if they would finish soon, but we gave up and made toast and Nutella to have for dinner along with our tomatoes and carrots. They were still cooking at 10 pm, so we were glad we did that.
Next: Ceahlău National Park