Sep 28, 2014: While wandering Brasov’s streets the afternoon of my arrival, I had located the nearest bus stop, and the kiosk for buying tickets, so I had no trouble getting to the station for the train to Sinaia. On the bus I chatted with a Welsh woman about my own age, mostly about the Scottish independence referendum, and on the train I chatted with a young local woman. I had thought the train ticket reasonably cheap, but going back on a train of lesser status (but a comfortable double-decker) I paid only a third as much. Budget travelers take note!
I went to Sinaia to visit two palaces. Officially they are castles, but since they were built long after castles served any military purpose whatever, and were designed as residences, I refuse to misuse the term. Peles, the one with the crowds, was built as a summer residence for King Carol I between 1875 and 1914. While he was spending money on buildings (lots of it) he had Pelisor built nearby for his nephew, the future King Ferdinand, and his wife Marie. Both King Carol’s wife, Elisabeta, and Marie were talented women, authors and artists.
From the outside the palaces look similar – fairy tale collections of turrets and spires – but the interiors could hardly be more different. I had read that Marie had decorated Pelisor in Art Nouveau style, and as I am a huge Art Nouveau fan I naturally started there. Following a tip from a Fodor’s poster I took a taxi up, and when I got out I turned left for Pelisor while almost everyone else turned right for Peles. Aside from an easily avoided small tour group, and a very few independents, I had the place to myself. And it was drop-dead gorgeous.
I suppose, if you’re not interested in Art Nouveau, you might not be as enthusiastic as I was, but I can’t imagine anyone disliking the place. Even the tutor’s and governess’s rooms were thoughtfully decorated and charming, and the gold room, literally covered with gilded leaves, was stunning.
In between Pelisor and Peles I ate an indifferent sandwich in what I thought was a restaurant. Later I discovered that it was just a cafe, and the restaurant was behind it.
I do admit that from the outside Peles is picture perfect. However, I found the inside far too dark and ornate for my taste. I did avoid being officially part of a group – I noticed that you could rent an audio guide for an independent visit – but I caught up to one of the groups anyway. Having paid extra to take photos at Pelisor I didn’t do so at Peles, and I didn’t regret it. It may have been a summer palace, but if you want pomp and circumstance Peles is your palace, if you want charm and elegance, pick Pelisor.
I wandered down towards the town past a collection of souvenir stands, and found, largely by accident, the Sinaia monastery. Here I first noticed the Romanian practice of stationing large black boxes outside churches, labeled Morti, apparently for people to light candles for the dead. Unfortunately, to me this set looked a lot like barbecue cookers. The monastery had a newer, more ornate church in the outer courtyard, and an older, more peaceful one in an inner courtyard, which I preferred. I took a rest, soaking up the peace.
Peace didn’t last long. After I managed to find my way down to the town proper, I discovered a major festival in progress. The main drag was filled with booths, many of them selling food, much of it cooked on real barbecues, or in iron pots hung over open flames. I had thought Peles rather crowded, but the real crowds were down in town – the place was packed.
In among the expected stalls, I found one for an anti-fracking organization, and commiserated with the activists. I checked out the souvenirs, but as usual I wasn’t in a buying mood. I was more taken with a light-hearted umbrella installation, floating above the crowd.
My lunch time sandwich hadn’t been very filling, and rather than street food I opted for pizza and wine in the Irish pub, before catching my local train back to Brasov, where I spent more time admiring the main square.