THIRTIETH MOVEMENT: ROMANIA
During the bus ride to Brasov, I tried my best to get some quality sleep, but I failed miserably. I got maybe ninety minutes of rest toward the end of the trip, but that was it. Shortly after 05:00, the bus reached Brasnov and I exited the vehicle. I then walked out to the street and followed it for a little while before the Brasov “Hollywood” sign was visible on Mount Tampa. Now I knew where to go: just walk toward the sign and surely I would end up in the center of the city. After walking for almost an hour, I found the hostel I wished to stay at and rang the bell; I was let inside and – as quietly as possible – I checked in. I was then given a bed and I soon went to sleep.
I woke up around noon time, showered, dressed, and got ready to explore Brasov. I walked to the old center of Brasov and followed Republica Street (the main shopping and historic street in Brasov that is closed to regular vehicle traffic) to Council Square (where the old town hall (now a historic museum) is located). Just past the square is the Black Church. I walked around the Black Church, but could not enter yet . . . on account of me not having any money. So, I walked back to Council Square, found an ATM, and then withdrew a good chunk of Romanian cash (known as “leu”). I then returned to the Black Church, entered inside, and bought my ticket. The Black Church was originally a Roman Catholic Church known as “the Church of Saint Mary,” which began being built sometime between 1383 and 1385 AD; the construction of the church was completed in the late-fifteenth century AD (soon after 1476); during the Protestant Reformation, the Catholic services were replaced with Protestant (i.e. Lutheran) services. I toured the inside of the church, but was not allowed to take photographs (me thinks I need to invest in some spy wear – glasses, watches, and button-up shirts, each with miniature HD cameras built in to them). After touring the church, I explored the old town of Brasov some more, passing by the Neolog Synagogue and walking through Rope Street (the Romanian name of the street is “Strada Sforii” and it is one of the narrowest streets in Europe; it is eighty meters long and its width varies between 111 and 135 centimeters; it was initially built as a corridor that firemen could use, and it is first mentioned in seventeenth-century AD documents. I then walked to Catherine’s Gate, which was built in 1559 AD by the Tailor’s Guild, is named after St. Catherine’s Monastery which stood near there in former times, and is the only city gate of Brasov to have survived from medieval times (it was also very cool to look at). After walking through and by St. Catherine’s Gate, I walked counter-clockwise around the old Brasov city wall, past the Weaver’s Bastion at the foot of Mount Tampa and then on to the cable car that carries visitors up to the top of Mount Tampa. I bought a cable car ticket, as well as a return ticket (which I didn’t use). A number of other passengers and I crammed inside the cable car and made the journey up to the top where there was a vendor selling beer and other drinks outside, a restaurant still in use, and another restaurant closed down. At first I was disappointed because the view was terrible with all the tree growth, but then, after walking along the ridge a short distance, I reached the Brasov “Hollywood” sign, and from the sign (as well as above it) there were great views of the city of Brasov. While next to the sign, I set up my camera and tripod to take a picture of me on the steep, muddy slope with the city behind me; a kind tourist pressed the shutter button for me twice once I was in position, and then, once done and packing my tripod and camera away, I watched many other tourists follow my lead; suddenly I was worried someone would slip on the slope and fall to his/her doom, but luckily, I never heard the helicopter or ambulance sirens, so I imagine all went well. I then hiked around Mount Tampa for a while and I was impressed with the natural beauty and all the idyllic spots one could have a picnic (actually several people were picnicking and a couple were sunbathing); it’s times like this I wish I had an emergency backpack filled with a blanket, porcelain plates, sausages, cheeses, fruits, breads, crackers, caviar, silver and mother-of-pearl utensils, olive oil and balsamic vinegar, seasonings, chocolates, nuts, and several bottles of wine with crystal wine glasses (you never know when you’ll need such things, so it’s best to be prepared). After hiking around in the sun for a while, admiring the surrounding landscape and snowcapped mountains in the distance, I returned to the cable car, but found the line too long for me to wait; so, I walked down the mountain trail (which was pleasant) and returned to Brasov. I then decided to eat dinner; I tried one restaurant, but it was not open, so I walked to another restaurant (Festival ’39), which turned out to very nice even if a bit expensive by Romanian standards. For dinner I had Transylvanian pork soup, almond-crusted chicken and camembert salad with raspberry dressing, a mixed berry smoothie, a pot of apple-spiced tea, and an Americano. After that splendid meal, I walked around outside trying to find a supermarket with a nice selection of wine; I walked for about an hour, but only found a few small convenience stores with a dismal selection, I did, however, see plenty of pharmacies (you can prescription drugs here easily, but not fresh fruits and vegetables); as I was giving up on my search, I decided to head back to Council Square and the Black Church to take some nighttime photographs. Once done, I walked back toward the hostel; on the way, I met another group of tourists and they asked me if I knew where a supermarket was and I told them I was looking for one too (little did I know, that in the basement of a building close to us, there was a Billa supermarket that would’ve answered all of our prayers). Before returning to the hostel, I walked a little further, back to a 24-hour convenience store I discovered during my supermarket search; at this store, I bought a bottle of Romanian semi-sweet Traminer wine. I then returned to the hostel, went in to the kitchen with my laptop, updated the website, and drank the bottle of Romanian Traminer (which tasted very floral and sweet). As I drank my wine, I talked with two German guys who were chatting up two American girls, and I also talked with three Dutch guys, all staying at the hostel. Eventually, one of the Dutch guys wanted to go out to a pub to get some drinks, so I decided to join him. I finished my wine, got ready, and soon we were in the center Brasov, on Republica Street, just after midnight. As we walked down Republica Street, we saw many locals walking back to their homes with lit candles; they must have just come from Easter mass, having received the Holy Fire from their Patriarchal Church (the Peace Corps woman in Moldova told me that during Orthodox Easter, the Moldovans receive the Holy Fire from their Patriarchal Church (which sometimes arrives in a taxi) and they have their Easter food blessed; then they return home with their candles lit and Easter feast blessed – I assume that Romanians follow a similar practice, especially since they share a common culture). We then ended up at an Irish pub that was very loud and filled with tobacco smoke. We had some beers and talked politics and climate change (the Dutch guy is involved with solar panels and environmental science). We then saw the German guys from the hostel sans American girls (they’ll have to try a little harder . . . or maybe not) and hung out a short while before the Dutch guy and I returned to the hostel after 02:00. We then had one more beer each at the hostel, talked with one of the German guys a short while, before finally going to sleep.