Dave the motorhome’s shivering in sub 20°C temperatures in a car park in the ski resort of Poiana Brasov, which according to Wikipedia is the most popular winter sports area in the country, and it’s Alps-plush (N45.58831 E25.55190). Signs around us inform us parking here costs 12 lei/ze (£2.40 per day), but there are no machines and no-where to pay. We checked with the guys parked next to us who spoke no English, but the message was clear(ish): it’s summer, you only pay in winter.
WAHAHAHHA. I VANT TO DLINK YOUR BLOOOD! Someone stop me, I can’t help it, we’re in Dracula country! I never thought one day I’d be in Transylvania, for much of my youth thinking the Dracula character came from somewhere in the US, but wayhey, we’re here! And doesn’t poor old Ju know about it, as I let loose with my best blood-curdling laugh every 30 seconds. WHAHAHAHHAHAHHHH!
As it turns out, we’re rather more likely to spot a brown bear up here than a vampire, and I’m excited, I’d love to see one. There are about 6000 of them in Romania, and our friends Marc and Jacqui got lucky and spotted some when they passed through this way a year or so ago. The woods are only about 30 meters away to my right, so you never know.
Anyway, I’m wondering what’s going on with Romania. Admittedly I’ve never read up on the place, so all I can recall about it are BBC News stories about orphans, Roma folks (Gypsies to us), human trafficking of prostitutes and fears of an upcoming deluge of immigrants to the UK. It all sounds pretty flippin’ grim, but perhaps I’ve an over-active imagination, as it is most assuredly not grim here on the ground. Perhaps tomorrow the country will shed its cloak of beautiful countryside, interesting architecture, fabulous roads and relatively easy going nature. Perhaps we’re on some kind of Truman Show corridor set up for us tourists, or I’m just not looking hard enough. For now though, it’s coming at me as a massive surprise, Romania’s rather plush.
This morning Jacqui sent us an email with information about where they’d travelled to. It listed Prejmer, as it had a fortified town to visit. We’d not come across this, and wouldn’t have gone there, but as it wasn’t far out of the way and their research was always far more thorough than ours, we headed over there. The rain had stopped at some point through the night and as we left Sinaia the cliffs rose up to our right, topped off with fluffy grey cloud still, but giving a hint of the high places to come. The road switchbacked its way down the hillside, each corner as wide as a roundabout, the road silky smooth, the drivers behind us patient.
Turning off the E60 and heading for Prejmer we came across our first pot holes, Dave pulling off an easy slalom around them. Finally, the bad roads. I leaned forward over the steering wheel and concentrated. For all of about 5 minutes as we realised we’d turned onto a small village road. Back on the correct route, we floated along again, and haven’t seen a hole since.
Prejmer’s attraction isn’t the town itself. It’s a bit rough and ready, although the muddy verges along its length, making it looked rougher than it was, seemed part of a scheme to install a pipeline of some sort. A kid beggar rode over on his bike to tell us through mime he was part of a family of eight, and they needed food. Ignored, he tried again later, we ignored the young chap again and he set off to try someone else. The attraction is a fortified church, built by ethnic Germans to help fend off attackers. Plenty came, I read somewhere over 50 attacks were made on the place and only one succeeded. The Germanic folks are gone now, and the place stands empty but restored. It’s in good shape, but I did find myself eyeing up bits of the woodwork with suspicion before asking it to hold my not inconsiderable weight!
For an entry fee of a whole £1.60 each we spent a good while in there poking about before heading for the village grocers for a loaf. There were 2 or 3 people inside, creating a, erm, ‘this is a local place, for local people’ atmosphere. I made an attempt to lighten things a little, pretending our huge round loaf was my belly. Lead balloon. We bought some pastries too, and left.
Back on the road, next stop Brasov. Heading into the old area of the town, the place expanded wide boulevards again, much like Bucharest. The roads were immaculate, huge give-way signs painted on the road alongside flawless white guidelines. We struggled for parking, attempting to fit into one of the many metered roadside spots and failing. After a lap or two of town we squeezed into a car park alongside the bus station. At 30p an hour we fancied staying a while, maybe overnight and we’d nip out for a meal in town. Epic fail. The machine only takes coins. As Romania issues a 1 Leu note (20p), we’ve not accumulated much shrapnel, just enough for an hour (locals could pay by SMS). We coughed up just as the parking attendant arrived with a bagful of change, although the pleasant fella looked a bit crestfallen at the idea of handing it over.
We decided to use the hour to leg it about town to see if we wanted to/could stay. First stop: tourist info. Even Bucharest doesn’t have one of these puppies, which might explain the stuff they write in their literature (keep readin’). In Ju goes, coming out with a free map of town and the news they don’t allow overnight parking, directing us to the campsite 5 miles away. Campsite, schmampsite. We don’t need one, Dave’s got everything to keep us comfortable, free camping’s perfectly legal in this country, and the bl00dy camping ground is a ten mile round trip away. Stuff it, we’d have paid for maybe ten hours parking and eaten out, but Brasov’s perhaps got in mind it wants a better class of punter (I don’t blame it). We had a half-hearted wander about the town (the Black Church, one of the bigger attractions, is closed on Mondays) and left in a huff. The town’s really very nice, reminding us of southern Germany. As we drove Ju read out this text on the tourist info map, under ‘Introducing Brasov’:
“It must be awful being Bucharest. Imagine, you’re Romania’s largest and capital city. Almost two million people crowd into your blocks and houses, and more arrive to seek fame and fortune every day.”…”and yet… and yet… in your heart of hearts you know you aren’t a patch on Brasov. And this doesn’t just go for Bucharest. It goes for Cluj, lasi, Timisoara, Oradea and just about every other Romanian metropolis. Each, in their own way, have certain things to offer, but let’s face it, they’re not Brasov are they? Indeed, few cities in Europe have the charm of Brasov…”
Ooooeee, we get the picture Brasov, you love yourself. We’d probably have loved you too, but a huff’s a huff, and we huffed our way out of town. Along more fabulous road we rode, up a hillside overlooking the city and out to the little custom-built ski resort here. We’ve had a wander, had a chat with a Romanian lady, who now lives in Nice, France with her husband and children, and retired back to Dave to peer out of the window looking for bears. I think there may be wolves knocking about too. Charlie’s having a sleep to prepare himself for a night vigil!