The Last & Best Of

Last day of travel. Not sure if I am feeling sad that it is over, or excited to go home. I suppose it is a little bit of both. Today was spent walking the city of Bucharest (literally…we trekked about ten miles). We ventured to a park on the outskirts of the city that is home to the National Village Museum. There are more than 60 original houses, farmsteads, windmills, watermills and churches on the property from all of Romania’s historic regions: Transylvania, Oltenia, Dobrogea and Moldavia and spanning from the 17th-19th century. Unfortunately, due to the time of year, the majority of the houses were closed (everything is staged during the peak seasons), but it was still interesting to walk around and see what traditional housing and living in Romania looked like.

That took up the better part of the day. After that we went to the closest restaurant for lunch: Hard Rock Bucharest. We got drunk and spent about as much as we have the last two weeks on alcohol and burgers. We bought T-shirts and a onesie for Ada. Then we trekked back to the Old Town and had one last meal and beverage, before coming back to the house to pack and relax.

Since this is our last post, we have decided to do a flashback superlative-style of all our destinations this trip. Here they are:

Best City at Night: Prague

Best Christmas Markets: Munich

Most Child-Friendly (and Smoker-Friendly) City: Vienna

Most Historical Diversity : Budapest

Scariest People: Turda

Best Citadel and Friendliest Citizens: Alba Iulia

Best Old Town Square: Sibiu

Creepiest Town: Sighisoara

Best Big Little Town and Most Probable Place We’d Buy A House: Brasov

Most Eclectic City: Bucharest

Overall my favorite memories looking back are wandering around Prague at night, the mulled wine and the pork knuckles in Munich, the bathhouse in Budapest, the world’s oldest zoo in Vienna, and the authenticity of Romania. I am very grateful we had the chance to do the trip as the three of us, and I look forward to describing it to Ada as she grows older and enjoys looking at the photos.

Thank you, dear reader, for following along and joining us on this adventure. May there be many more in store, for all of us. The complete pictorial gallery, for all of our 2017 European travels, is here.

 

 

 

 

So Tired…and So Stuffed

We’ve eaten a lot this trip. A lot. Today was no different. We loved it.

Bucharest is a varied city, full of plenty to see, people to marvel over, and a storied history spanning hundreds of years. The architecture has influences linking Ottoman, French, Russian, and everything in between. There are, quite literally, Soviet buildings built around hundreds-year old churches so you’re left with a sliver between them for access.

We did a walking tour of the city this morning, in weather very unbecoming of December in central Europe. The sun has been out in full force this week, with temperatures reaching 60f each day. I left my jacket at home. We learned about revolution, about folklore (yes, more Vlad Tepes and Dracula), about history, and how very recent events in this country were very different than they are today. A mere 30 years ago we wouldn’t have been permitted travel to Romania, and by the sounds of things wouldn’t have wanted to. We’re glad things have changed.

Bucharest is eminently walkable; its easy to get lost in the many large boulevards and back streets; we often did. Fortunately its easy to whip out Google Maps and make sure we keep our bearings.

We found a park, we meandered throughout and beyond the university district, and found out the hard way that yesterday was the last day of the Bucharest Christmas markets. No more mulled wine for us.

We had dinner in the city’s oldest beer house, and I’m pleased to report I did eat another lamb knuckle. Sarah’s new favorite, and the subject of the last several meals, is cabbage rolls. We both got dessert.  It wasn’t pretty (for our waistlines). Fortunately its about a mile walk back to the apartment, which gave us time for things to digest.

Tomorrow is our last full day, and we head home on the 30th. We’ll lay as low as we can stand to, so the long plane ride home is only as arduous as it needs to be.

For tonight, we’re still alone since there’s no one else staying in the house. There’s a bad movie on TV with Romanian subtitles, Sarah is rehearsing farm animal sounds with Ada (to which she’s revealed her first dance moves…she’s a spinner), and Im nursing a final beer of the day.

This trip has been a while ride, and we’re already planning where our lives will take us next.

Leather Pants and the Lamb

Leather pants seem to be a thing in Europe. We have seen them everywhere since arriving a month ago….and it baffles me. Young women, old women, tight, loose fitting….doesn’t seem to matter. Maybe they are warm and surprisingly comfortable, who knows.

Also, I think it important to note that today while walking the streets of Bucharest, within the same block, we came upon a man with a live sheep housed within his backpack and a man with no actual nose playing the violin. As you might imagine, we started looking up Bucharest real estate immediately.

Bucharest is a large city, and while I have heard it described as the Romanian Paris, I am here to tell you that whoever started that rumor had never been to Paris. That being said, it isn’t so bad. There is an Old Town which offers your customary cobblestone streets, lanterns, churches, and pubs. We found one to have lunch in, moving away from traditional Romanian cuisine, called Van Gogh’s Cafe and it was everything the name promised. We both had giant burgers and Ada had a Quesadilla with veggies which she actually ATE.

After that we wandered over to the House of Parliament, which happens to be the either first or second largest building on the planet, depending on which source you listen to. The Christmas Markets were scattered all in front, along with a carousel for the kiddies, and a stage on which they have been putting on free concerts every evening. We let Ada run around, had an obligatory sausage and a few mulled wines and then headed home for a mellow evening.

 

The Final Leg

Today we traveled from Brasov to Bucharest, by way of Peles Castle. Peles is a modest home set in the Carpathian mountainside, owned by the various Romanian monarchs throughout the years. We didn’t bother with the whole tour, but did roam the grounds and took plenty of pictures. The mountains are vast, snow-capped, and sights to behold. It was distracting driving through them, as all you want to do is marvel at them and how close they are.

Our route took us through several skiing towns, which unfortunately are also set along the same two-lane twisting roads as everything else we’ve encountered. This means traffic came to a crawl going through each town, and once we passed the last of them it was nothing but flat countryside until we hit Bucharest.

Bucharest is a metropolis, similar to what we’ve seen in Prague and Munich. The buildings are still all very blocky and reminiscent of their Russian influence, and there are lots of them sprawling in all directions. We’re staying in a hostel that’s really a converted old house, of which we have the entire top floor. Tonight, we’re the only inhabitants, but we’re told that will change before we leave at the end of the week.

We ventured out toward the main square, and took our dinner in a quaint restaurant in Bucharest’s Old Town featuring traditional Romanian food. Sarah asked the waiter for his suggestion of dishes, and turned down the pork knuckle when he offered it up. We’ve each had our share of pork knuckles this trip, and have been taking advantage of as many vegetable opportunities as possible. We didn’t pass up dessert.

We’re saddled with another location with poor wifi, and pictures are still uploading. While this means another text-heavy post, it also means you’ll need to stick to the gallery to keep track of our visual tour. Here’s a few in the meantime:

Tomorrow is Wednesday December 27th, and we’re told Bucharest’s businesses will come back to life following the Christmas holidays. We’re headed to the palatial Palace of the Parliament and then touring more of Old Town to find what other kinds of trouble we can get into.

Merry Christmas from Romania!

Sooo much better the last two days.

Ada’s cold is subsiding, she’s napping throughout the day, she’s eating without screaming, and she’s sleeping. Oh yeah, we’re also in Brasov, Romania and it’s Christmas. Its a balmy 40 degrees, but there’s still plenty of snow on the ground, and definitely still all over the mountains.

We spent Christmas Eve touring Bran Castle and learning about Vlad Tepes (Vlad the Impaler), who the Dracula lore is based upon. Its an impressive castle built right into the mountain-side rock. Its been heavily done over in the last few hundred years, including having electricity added. It was PACKED with tourists. The town of Bran would be but a dot on the countryside if not for the castle, and the hordes of people and makeshift Christmas market sheds made our stay rather brief, albeit enjoyable from a visual point of view.

We returned to Brasov, had a giant lunch in the square and Sarah and I upheld our tradition of gifting each other books for Christmas. There are several great bookstores in the Brasov square and we toured each in search of something perfect. Sarah of course nailed her gift to me, a travel writer’s account of his several-year stay in a Romanian village. I gave Sarah a photo and historical account of Brasov, and Ishiguro’s “The Unconsoled”, a rare find of something we don’t already own. We each picked up books for Ada as well, handing down the tradition to her.

Most of Brasov is closed for the day, or at least the afternoon. I did find an Irish pub open Christmas morning, and we settled on a restaurant for Christmas dinner. Our Airbnb hosts have cooked us dinner each evening, and they have their family over for Christmas. If you’re reading this dear family, thank you again for your very generous hospitality.

The photos from the last several days did manage to upload, and the gallery is current as of December 23d. Everything from Bran Castle will get uploaded eventually, but for now, Merry Christmas from Romania!

Two More Sleeps ‘Til Christmas

Yesterday sucked. Ada has a cold. No one got any sleep.

With that out of the way, Romania is all sorts of beautiful. It is also all sorts of poor and run down. As with most places where travel takes us, its very dependent upon where you are. Today we drove east, to Brasov. It was only about 120km, but 120km worth of a two-lane road while the snow fell, the route twisted us through the hills of the countryside, and we even had to throw on the brakes to avoid a sheep crossing.

The Airbnb Sarah booked for us is a spacious three-room apartment attached to the owner’s house. This is nowhere near as intrusive as it sounds, as the couple has converted a portion of their house to this apartment, and even went so far as to cook us a traditional Romanian dinner: grape leaves stuffed with meat and vegetables. One of our hosts was previously a chef, and we were grateful for a home cooked meal after three weeks of restaurants.

Ada is feeling a little better today, after enduring a sniffle and slight cough over the last few days. She went down for two good naps, and the sneezes are decreasing in frequency. We’re hoping for a quasi-normal night’s sleep, for all of us.

Brasov is circled by beautiful mountainside, and even features its own “Brasov” sign way up in the heights (think: Hollywood). We did a quick tour around the square this afternoon and were pleasantly surprised as how much of a real town this is. The main square is vehicle-free and lined with lights and vendors selling just about everything…including mulled wine. There’s history in the form of hundreds-year-old buildings, cobblestone roads, and even the “Narrowest street in Europe”.

We took a few hundred pictures over the last several days, which means it going to be a while before uploading finishes (more slow wifi). If you’re reading this within a few hour proximity to when it’s posted, you’ll have to wait to experience the visuals. But you, dear reader, have a life and are reading this long after it was written, so you can enjoy the whole album here.

We’re here for the next several days, including Christmas Day. We’re looking forward to slowing things down, spending time taking a good look around, and making the best of the home stretch of Europe 2017.

A Tempest in a Snow Globe

Today was our first full day in the Transylvanian Saxon town of Sighișoara, the birthplace of Vlad Tepes III…aka Vlad the Impaler….aka Dracula. Ironic, as the past 24 hours it has felt as if we have brought on the full curse of the Romanians upon ourselves.

We have not had an easy time the last two days. I am feeling better, more or less, but Ada has been suffering with a cold, and none of us have slept much the past two nights. Restaurants have become more or less a nightmare, there hasn’t been much of anywhere for Ada to get down and run around (even if she was healthy), and our hotel room is literally an attic room the size of our closet back home. But let’s not focus on the negatives. Traveling with a baby was never going to be an easy undertaking, and instead let us draw our attention to what brought us here in the first place: the history.

The city itself played an important strategic and commercial role at the edges of Central Europe for several centuries. Sighișoara was one of the most important cities of Transylvania, with artisans from throughout the Holy Roman Empire visiting the settlement. The German artisans and craftsmen dominated the urban economy, as well as building the fortifications protecting it. It’s estimated that during the 16th and 17th centuries Sighișoara had as many as 15 guilds and 20 handicraft branches. Even walking around today it is evident of this tradition, as there were more stores offering crafts and handmade objects than I have seen virtually anywhere else we have been (sadly, most of them were closed). We purchased a couple pieces as a matter of fact….I couldn’t resist although I have no idea how I will pack them….just a couple small wall hangings on wood that we found to be hauntingly gorgeous.

Today Sighișoara is considered to be the most beautiful and well-preserved inhabited citadel in Europe, with authentic medieval Germanic architecture. It is one of the few fortified towns that are still inhabited. We aren’t able to post the photos today due to wifi issues unfortunately, but we took a lot and will provide the link once they are all uploaded.

The citadel is beautiful, but incredibly eerie. A lot of the towers (there are nine), are from the 13th century and stand as watchtower/gates to the town. You weave up the cobbled streets until you arrive at the top, where the gothic Church of the Hill sits, and behind it a graveyard dating back centuries. Both yesterday and today the citadel felt virtually empty and quiet, except for the hundreds of crows that circle the church and graveyard at the top. Like I said, eerie.

As before mentioned, the city is most commonly associated with Dracula as it was the place of his birth. Although he came to be Prince of Wallachia, the area of Romania south of Transylvania, he is still more commonly associated with the latter. Vlad Dracul was actually his father, which translates to “Vlad the Dragon”, a name he received upon becoming part of the Order of the Dragon. The Order was established by the Holy Roman Emperor, comprised of chosen members of nobility, and their mission was to fight the enemies of the Cross, in particular the Ottoman Empire. In modern Romanian, Dracul means “the devil”, which contributed to Vlad’s bad reputation. The fact that he was fond of the implementation of impaling as a means of torture probably didn’t help his reputation either. It wasn’t until Bram Stoker borrowed the name of Dracula for his Count in his 1897 novel, that his legend became associated with vampirism.

In actuality, since the middle of the 19th century, Romanian historians have treated Vlad as one of the greatest Romanian rulers, emphasizing his fight for the independence of the Romanian lands. Even Vlad’s acts of cruelty were often represented as rational acts serving national interest. Legend, folklore, and a modern taste for morbidity has highlighted the more gruesome of Vlad’s acts and maintained a connection to Stoker’s Dracula, despite the fact that vampiric entities have been recorded in most cultures throughout history.

On that note, I’ll wrap up. More on Dracula once we reach “his” (though not really) castle. Tomorrow we travel to Brasov, our first location within Vlad Tepes’s Wallachia, to stay in the garden apartment of a sweet older couple who have invited us over to have dinner with them. I am looking forward to that.

Sighișoara

More boring non-posting today. We experienced quite a bit, but the WiFi in our hotel isn’t working and poor Ada is sneezing her brains out so this is a post to say…good night.

This town looks great and we’ll have more tomorrow. After all, we’re in the birthplace of Dracula. What could go wrong?

A Post to Not Post

Down day over here in Sibiu. I barely left the couch, really feeling crappy, and Ada too has a cold now. We cancelled the walking tour and just mostly stayed in. Hopefully tomorrow will see clear skies, clear noses, and an increase in energy levels as we make our way to Sighisoara.

 

 

Our Sibiu Self Tour

The Old City of Sibiu, Romania is just slightly larger than a village, though definitely larger than most places we drove through to get here. It has rows and rows of brightly colored buildings, more cobblestones than paved roads, and clocktowers and churches galore.

We have another full day on our hands and weren’t sure what to do with ourselves, so we started out with coffee and continental breakfast in the apartment Sarah Airbnb’d us. We booked a guide-led walking tour tomorrow, and today did our own roundabout of the town.

When you think of snowy village, this is what you’re picturing. Each roof is covered in white, each street has its own story, and everywhere is dotted with its own history. We even came across a few battlements, complete with archery slits…you know, just in case of invasion.

We found a basement restaurant in the main square, had our fill of bread, cheese, sausages and Transylvanian soups, and headed back to put Ada down for a nap. Turns out it was a nap for both Ada and me, while Sarah pounded out several chapters of the book she’s reading. Having an apartment, not just a hotel room, within walking distance of everything is really the only way to visit. Its convenient, comfortable, spacious, and gives you freedom not otherwise afforded.

After the sun goes down the temperature dips considerably. It was in the mid-30s this afternoon, and even though it only gets to the mid-20s in the evening, its still cold enough to bring sniffles and tears. Not one’s to be deterred; we took it on.

Mulled wine. You know what it is. You’ve probably tried it before, too. You’ve also never given it a single thought aside from the few
moments when you had it last. Sarah and I have had our weight in mulled wine, only because every single Christmas market in every single city and country has featured mulled wine. Sibiu is no exception. We imbibed. We took lots of pictures of this fairy tale snowy village, and then set off for dinner.

The owners of the apartment we’re in left several restaurant recommendations, of which we’ve tried a few. Tonight’s was something very different. We set off (after mulled wine) and a few turns away from the main square found what we were looking for. It was not what we were envisioning. It was listed as one of the best restaurants in Sibiu, but was visually not what you’d expect. There were five tables, one patron, and a four foot square photograph of a woman’s bare chest.

We spent a few moments on the sidewalk deciding if we should keep going or take our chances. We’re glad we took our chances. This was one of the better meals we’ve had on this whole trip. Sarah had a ginger chicken dish, and I had bowl of fresh pasta with braised pork. The meal started with a “salad” of roasted pumpkin that Ada just couldn’t get enough of. It was the perfect way to wrap the day.

It’s now 8pm in Sibiu. Ada is asleep, Im about to finish writing today’s post, Sarah is glued to her Kindle, and the winter olympics is on the television with a non-English commentator. We couldn’t be happier. As usual, the photo album has been updated; you should take a look.