Sep 29-30, 2014: Around Brasov, the only site that seemed to be open on Monday was Bran castle. Never having read Bram Stoker’s “Dracula”, nor seen (as best I remember) a Dracula movie, and having no interest whatever in repairing those omissions, I nearly decided to skip Bran. However, some visitors reported that the Dracula connection was played down in the castle itself, and I figured that I had had plenty of practice in ignoring souvenir stands.
Before setting off, I trekked up to the Black Tower, part of Brasov’s 15th century fortifications, enjoying a beautiful clear morning. Then I stopped by the T.I., which had finally opened, to confirm the transport information in my Lonely Planet, and by the T-Mobile store, which kindly explained that my data access would only work if I turned data roaming on. Duh…
Neither the T.I. nor Lonely Planet had mentioned that the bus to Autogara 2, where I would catch the bus to Bran, only ran once an hour. I took a taxi to the bus station, which cost about as much as the bus. (All of 7 lei, around $2.00 US.) Once we cleared the suburbs (modern Brasov is quite big) the rural scenery was enlivened by snow-capped mountains.
Before tackling the gauntlet of souvenir stands, and the trek up to the castle, perched on the top of a short, steep hill, I ate lunch. The omelet wasn’t bad. The park at the foot of the castle hill was quite pretty. The castle itself I considered a complete waste of time. Unlike the pseudo-castles at Sinaia, it had been a proper defensive castle, originally built in 1382, and supposedly visited by Vlad Tepes (reimagined as Dracula) in 1462. The castle was handed back to the descendants of the Hapsburgs in 2006, and its curators put more emphasis on that connection.
If you haven’t seen any other castles, I suppose this one might be impressive. Its location, what can be seen of it, certainly cries out for a castle. But you have to tackle a lot of steep, narrow and claustrophobic stairs in order to visit a sequence of sparsely furnished, white-washed rooms of minimal interest. On the way back I had a good view of Rasnov castle, also built as a defense against the Turks. That might be a better choice than Bran: it should at least be less visited. I was lucky, perhaps because it was the end of the tourist season, but there are plenty of postings on TA from people who had to queue to get in, and then couldn’t see anything because of all the tour groups.
The centuries of Turkish threat resulted not only in castles, but in fortified churches. The villagers would retreat inside the walls, taking their provisions with them, and wait until the invaders gave up, or a relieving army appeared. My last day at Brasov I visited a prime example at Prejmer. I couldn’t help thinking, looking at the 4.5 meter thick encircling walls, honeycombed with 272 rooms including a school, that many people today would be ecstatic if they could find similar protection. Unfortunately, modern artillery has rendered Prejmer obsolete. I ate a lunchtime sandwich in the shelter of the walls, before climbing up and down the galleries and finally walking around under the roof, where I could peer out through the arrow slits and murder holes. I rather liked the church, safely in the center of the site, as well.
I had had some difficulty locating the bus to Prejmer, which didn’t leave from either of Brasov’s bus stations, but from a stop some distance from the main one, on the other side of the road. Once I found the right stop, I had a lengthy conversation with a woman who lived in Prejmer, and referred to herself and her husband as “the last of the Saxons”. Presumably she was just talking about Prejmer, rather than the whole area, since the mayor of Sibiu, in the running to become President, is a Saxon. Still, apparently many of the Saxon settlers, whose ancestors had arrived in the 12th century, moved back to Germany after WWII.
Tensions still exist between the Hungarian minority and the Romanian majority, and must have existed for centuries between the Saxons, living behind the walls of the upper town in Brasov, and the Romanians living outside, beyond the Schei gate.
When not visiting castles, palaces and churches, I continued to wander around old town Brasov. I visited the Schei gate, at the south end, although I was unable to enter the nearby synagogue. To the the north I took a look at the park I had noticed on the way in. No wedding party (they seemed to be confined to Saturdays), but plenty of men (no women….) playing chess and backgammon. After I bought my train ticket for Sibiu, I put Brasov on my “should revisit” list.