A Travellerspoint blog

October 2016

Back in Bucharest

Having learned my lesson about Bucharest breakfasts last time I was here, I got dressed and packed, and then hung around the hostel until their breakfast. It wasn't much, but I grabbed sustenance and dashed out to the metro station. I arrived at Parliament in time for the first tour, as planned, but apparently the first tour was only a partial tour. The first full tour wasn't until 10:45. I got my ticket, and figured that I'd do a lap around outside, and still be back with plenty of time to be 15 minutes early for the security check, like the ticket guy instructed. Most of the lap was uneventful. There were very view gates to peek into, and it mostly was open field, as far as I saw. Then, I stumbled upon an interesting little church, which surely wasn't there in communist times. Finally, I got to a gate to go back in. But the guard informed mme that I wasn't on the correct side, I had to go straight, left, and another left to get to the correct entrance. Crap! It had taken me almost half an hour to get this far, and I wasn't close to done. I picked up the pace and power walked into the entrance with just enough time to catch my breath before the guide started his instructions. I would have been ok if I showed up a tad later, because security took a while, but not too much later. The tour began with a walk through many impressively large chambers. This guide clarified the statistics on the largeness of the building- 2nd largest administrative building by area (after the Pentagon), 3rd largest by volume (after where Nasa builds space shuttles and something in Mexico), and heaviest. The whole time, the guide was pretty robotic. He gave his speech, stating tons of facts and statistics, and asking for questions like he didn't really welcome them as they'd be off speech. He regularly pointed out that the rooms were available to rent for events, as if he was selling them, just not very well. The rooms were impressive in their hugeness, but not as much in their decoration. I'm sure the decorations were expensive, but they looked like normal designs you'd find in any lace or on a wedding cake. We took the elevator up to the terrace, but even though it looked big enough for at least a dozen people, the guide only let 7 people in at a time (6 tourist + the elevator operator), claiming a weight limit. The "terrace" of course, means the roof. There are wires and pipes everywhere, and it feels much more utilitarian than pretty. It does have a good view of the city though. We continued to the balcony where Michael Jackson addressed the crowd, and then to the basement. The basement was more or less what one might expect from an unfinished basement- concrete with vents everywhere. There was a tiny display of things from communist times, but it really looked like more of a flea market. Due to the massive size, it was totally worth the money to walk around the palace. The guide said we had walked 2.5 km and only seen 5%. However, I wouldn't necessarily recommend paying extra for the extended tour. I'd say just take whatever tour they had available when you arrive. I grabbed a burger and fries at a local fast food chain I had noticed around town- spring something. It was ok, but nothing special. Then I began my afternoon of exciting museums. Many were closed on Tuesdays, but I had a list of museums that were open. I started at the Museum of the Romanian Peasant. I found the building relatively easily, but because it was undergoing restoration, it was a bit more challenging to find the entrance. Due to the restorations, they had one room open. It had very few items and nothing in English. It was kind of a waste. Next, I headed over to the Storck art museum, just because it was closest. It wasn't exactly where my map had it, but with a good circle around the block, I found it. My map said it was opening hours. The sign on the gate said it was opening hours. But the gate was locked. It was not open. So, I headed to the next closest museum listed as being open. This one was also not located where my map had it. It took multiple circles around the area to finally find the George Severeanu museum. Entrance is 5 leu, my map gave me a 50% discount, so the guy charged me 4 ldeu to get in. I don't know where he took math, but I wasn't going to argue over less than a dollar when the museum probably could use the money. I was the only one there and he even had to run around and turn on the lights for me. The collection is a bunch of old coins that had been issued by the various powers controlling Romania over history, or that were used commonly by Romanians. It was somewhat interesting, but not overly so. At least it was open though. I still had time, so I walked toward the next two closest museums. On the way, I passed the university's art exposition. It wasn't very good, but it was open, unlike the Theodor Aman gallery next to it. I got sick and tired of walking around, trying to find museums that weren't marked at the proper location on the map, and that weren't open anyway. Dear Minister of Tourism for Romania, tourists are interested in spending their money to see what your country has to offer. But the tourist sites need to be open when they say they will be open. (Also, they should be open 7 days per week, but that's something else.) I came away from today with a less-than-great opinion of Romanian professionalism. I grabbed my bag from the hostel and made it to the airport bus earlier than I needed to, but my feet were tired and I didn't have anything else to do in the city since I wasn't even going to try the othedr museums on my list

Parliament Palace from the outside

Parliament Palace from the outside


Church out back of the palace

Church out back of the palace


Huge chandelier

Huge chandelier


Lacy ceilings

Lacy ceilings


A ballroom

A ballroom


View of Bucharest

View of Bucharest


Museum in the basement

Museum in the basement


What was open of the peasant museum

What was open of the peasant museum

Posted by spsadventures 16:00 Archived in Romania Comments (0)

Busteni on a Monday

I grabbed breakfast this morning from the donut place. Usually, they look way better than they taste, but these were quite good. I bussed to the train station, only to discover that the first train to Busteni was 1pm-not any time soon. The train lady was kind enough to point me to the buses, where I found one to Busteni. It wasn't a bus with a schedule, it was one of those buses that leaves when it's full. Fortunately, it was almost full and I didn't have to wait too long. Also fortunately for me, some lady heard that I wanted Busteni. I knew we were close, but hadn't seen any signs out the window indicating that we were there. The lady alerted the driver and I got off just past the town. Busteni is small, so it only took me a few minutes to walk it all and find the train station. I left my luggage there, checked the schedule, and headed toward the castle. Busteni is a gorgeous little ski town. The mountains tower over the village, providing a permanent great view from everywhere. The castle sits on a little hill, just a short walk from the train station. The castle was built around turn of the century by a prince as his summer home. Tours are every hour, and you can't just go in by yourself and look around-you have to go with a tour. Unless you book ahead, they're in Romanian only, but they do have some English signage to help. The tour is short as there isn't a whole lot to look at. The second floor costs extra, but again didn't have a lot. They had a few tiny black and white VanGogh pencil drawings and then a modern digital color "interactive" display related to some of his more famous works. The castle isn't really worth visiting on a day when anything else is open, and even on a Monday, it's only worth half the price they charge. For lunch, I forewent the huge tourist lodge and opted for a tiny pizza place. You win some and you lose some. They didn't have any of the first several items I wanted, so I ended up ordering fried cheese, potato wedges and pickled cucumber salad. They brought me a ham and cheese burrito in place of the fried cheese, so I sent it back for fried cheese. Then, they brought me pickled mushrooms instead of cucumbers. I decided to be adventurous. The flavor was just vinegar, but I wasn't a big fan of the chewiness. Finally, my fried cheese and wedges came out, but the only sauce to combat the dryness was the balsamic vinegar already on the table. It was my least favorite meal of the trip. But, it was enough to power me up the 234 stairs to the monastery. The stairs are a path through the woods, so it was gorgeous and serene. At the top, you get a great view of the monastery in the mountains. The grounds are pretty, and there are 2 other things worth seeing. One is the painted church. The whole complex was built in the 90s, but the church is painted like it was built hundreds of years ago. The walls are covered in murals of saints. Many of the saints have joined a gang or something and are flashing gang hand signals. It's like seeing what all those 1700s churches would have looked like when they were new. The other cool part was the bird menagerie. A large fenced-off area contained peacocks, hens, roosters, turkeys, ducks, tropical birds, pigeons, spotted chickens, and rabbits. The animals were all hanging out together, having a ball. I had checked the weather before I came, and it wasn't supposed to rain at all anywhere, but as I descended from the monastery, the sprinkles turned into rain. In the forest, I couldn't really feel it, but as I exited, it was less-than ideal weather for being outside. I waited out the storm in the nearby grocery store, jealous of the super-low prices. I figured that dinner time would be on the train, so I grabbed some bread and cheese for under a dollar. The rain let up shortly and I made my way back to the train station. I bought my ticket for a train leaving in 15 minutes and grabbed my luggage. The train ride had beautiful scenery. With verdant mountains and a stream flowing by, how could it not? This time, I was in second class, but it was just fine. The seat had plenty of legroom. The only negative was the noise from a school group, but for the price I paid, I could deal. When I arrived in Bucharest, I hopped on the McDonalds wifi to pick a hotel. Villa 11 seemed decent and near the train station, so I went to check it out. It's in a residential neighborhood because it's basically a house with private rooms for rent. It's not the nicest neighborhood, but not the worst either. The hostel is run by a family, who also live there. They were very friendly and helpful. The place is decorated like somebody went nuts at the flea market trying to make it look like your grandma's old house, but that just added to the charm. It was clean, had good wifi, and the price was right for a single with private bathroom, so I took it. The family recommended a restaurant in Cismigiu Park for dinner, and since there was really not anything closer, I took the walk there. The neighborhoods on the way were certainly less lively than old town, but there were still people out on the streets. I even saw some young kids playing street soccer, so I felt ok walking by myself. The park is somewhat spooky at night. It's lit up enough that the fog on the lake lent a mysterious air, and a flock of bats was stirring when I entered. It isn't deserted though, so it wasn't completely creepy. The restaurant, Monte Carlo, has a great view of the lake, and I even saw a few people rowing boats. It also had all of the items I wanted at lunch, but they didn't have. I may have gone overboard ordering the eggplant salad and the pickled green tomatoes and the fried cheese, but it all was good and satisfied my curiosity.

Busteni

Busteni


Busteni Castle

Busteni Castle


View from Busteni Castle

View from Busteni Castle


Stairs to the Monastery

Stairs to the Monastery


Busteni Monastery

Busteni Monastery


Flashing gang signs

Flashing gang signs


Bird cage

Bird cage

Posted by spsadventures 16:00 Archived in Romania Comments (0)

Brasov and Bran

I woke up early in order to make sure to catch the 8am bus to Bran. This bus leaves from a bus station further from old town, so first, I had to take a city bus to get there. Good thing I had a ticket left over from last night! I don't think the ticket office was open and that could have put the kibosh on my plans. I made it to the station with plenty of time to spare. It was pretty cold, but I left my sweatshirt at the hostel in anticipation of it warming up a bit. I went to go sit in the indoor sitting area, but it was so disgustingly smoky (despite nobody actively smoking in there) that I decided that it was a better idea to sit in the cold. It was also somewhat chilly on the bus. I don't think they used heat. I managed though. Otherwise, the bus was comfy, if somewhat old and worn. It stopped at all sorts of seemingly random roadside places, both to pick up and drop off people. It didn't seem like there were official stops, both due to the lack of signs/stands, and also because the driver picked up a passenger, started moving, and picked up another about 2 bus lengths further down a country road. The ride had nice scenery- fields in the foreground and mountains in the background. In about 45 minutes, we were in Bran. The castle wasn't open yet, so I checked out the area around it a bit. The souvenir vendors were all setting up their wares-coats, hats, furs, Dracula items- hut no gloves or mittens. I was cold enough that I would have bought gloves, had they been for sale. Instead, I stood in the sun and warmed up sufficiently. When the castle did open, I was the first one up the hill. I had Bran Castle to myself for a few brief moments, and then everybody else started trickling in. The audio guide explained what was in each room, as well as some of the history of the castle. Most of the rooms had been decorated in the 1800s or even early 1900s, so it wasn't the typical medieval castle look. They did have some old armor, but they also had an old-fashioned elevator. The focus was on the later queens who spent time here, but there were 2 rooms about Vlad Tepes (Dracula/the Impaler). Those rooms pretty much echoed what I'd heard in Bucharest- he was seen as a cruel guy in his age, but really only got famous when Bram Stoker got creative. The museum added another dimension- locals saw him as a type of Robin Hood, since he was so cruel to the big bad guys and took out nobles who weren't so great to the peasants. Next to the castle, I noticed a haunted house. It was cheap enough, and appropriate for October, so I checked it out. It was fun. There were no tricks that made me wonder how they did that, but there was a lot of rattling and things popping out. It was well-decorated. It was fun. I'm not sure I'd call it scary, but it was worth the inexpensive price. From the castle, I had spied some tents set up in festival formation. When I exited the haunted house, I walked over to check it out. I'm guessing it is some kind of harvest festival. There were meats and cheeses galore! Each of the dozens of stands seemed to have the exact same items- the same sausages, the same braided smoked cheese, the same tree-bark cheese, and the same floppy meat. I got a big ball of polenta stuffed with cheese. It was huge and tasty. I wandered the fair, enjoying the mix of local music and Latino music, and came across the animals. The sheep all huddled together. I didn't think it was that cold, but I could see their breath. Huge sheep dogs hung out by the donkeys. Horses kindly stood calm while people petted them. One of the horses had a hairstyle straight from the 80s: crimped hair off to the side and covering one eye. In all, I think I spent about as much time at the fair as I did at the castle. I wandered back to where the souvenir vendors had set up. It was a significantly busier place than it was in the morning. By now, they had broken out all of the goods, and it seemed that a lot of them were actually made in Romania. Wood products were popular choices, as well as fur hats, painted pottery, and Dracula/Bran items. I ended up buying some stuff. The vendor didn't speak English at all, but his Spanish was good and so we spoke in that. I was kind of done with Bran, so I walked back to where the bus dropped us off, and found an actual stop with a shelter and schedule in the direction I needed. A helpful Romanian women showed me the schedule.on the wall. It said there was a bus at 11:40 and 12:40, but she insisted that the 11:40 one wasn't today. I thanked her and then waited for it. It was a few minutes late, which wasn't surprising given all of the festival traffic it had to deal with, but it came. On the way back, we ran into another big jam for another festival that was happening outside of the city, seemingly in the middle of nowhere. Again, they had set up a huge tent city, but I couldn't see much else from the road. I walked town a bit, and ate a langos. It's like a semi sweet white pizza, sort of. Then, I went to the fountain to meet for the free city tour of Brasov. The tour had fewer stops than expected, but we learned a lot at each. Romania was the crossroads of three big powers- Moldavia (and Moldova) used to be part of Russia, Wallachia (as evidenced by Vlad's story) was paying tribute to the Ottomans, and Transylvania was Hungarian. The Hungarians wanted to fortify the area against the Ottomans, so they brought in Germans. The Germans built the citadel, the towers, a huge Catholic (later Lutheran) church, and the main town. They collected taxes, made laws for merchants, and formed guilds. They were well organized. They were also proud of their town logo- a crown with tree roots coming out of it, representing the power Kronstadt (German for crown city, Brasov's former name) had over all the nearby root villages that fed into it. While many merchants came from Ottoman areas, the Germans needed everybody to know that this was a Catholic town, so they built a church big enough to hold 5000 people, even though the town's population at the time was only 2000. The church is somewhat unique in that it contains the largest collection of Muslim prayer carpets outside of Istanbul. The merchants would bring them in, people would buy them, and then donate them to the Church for special occasions. The German church (aka the Black church from the soot that colored the walls after a huge fire) became Lutheran later when a popular priest converted. He had brought the first German school and kindergarten, bringing in the ability to read and think for one's self. So it made it easier to disseminate German writings and made it easy to convince people who didn't speak Latin that Lutheran was right for them. His statue is still outside the church, and the schools and library that he founded are still named after him. Later on the tour, we visited the first Romanian school, next to a Romanian Orthodox church and learned a bit of the difference. Of course, no tour would be complete without some discussion of Vlad Dracula. I'd previously been exposed to much of the information on the other tours, but one thing I didn't realize was that he didn't make up impalement. When he was being held as tribute insurance against his dad and being educated by the Ottomans, he picked it up. They apparently taught him how to impale. How ironic that he turned that back on them. The other interesting Vlad story I heard was about a fight he had with the German merchants. They had these taxes merchants were supposed to pay, and Vlad didn't want to. He wasn't in charge of Brasov (he's Wallachian and Brasov was under Hungary) and had no authority. That didn't stop him from trying to impale a bunch of them. Their wives captured his mistress and threatened her in return. He gave in. However, the Germans wrote about the incident and his reputation spread. The story grew and grew as rumors are wont to do. He did impale tens of thousands of people, but the rumors were what made the nickname famous outside of Romania. But enough about Vlad Dracula. We hiked to the White tower for a great view of the city at the end of the tour. Tonight, I was determined to eat Romanian food for dinner. I found a place by my hotel called Pilvax that seemed to have a somewhat traditional menu. I got a sparkling drink that tasted like berry. I got homemade pasta with cabbage. It was super simple- oil, thin flat noodles, shredded (possibly slightly pickled) cabbage, and lots of cracked pepper- but it was surprisingly good. I even got the drunken pears with gorgonzola ice cream for dessert. The only thing that put a damper on the meal was that some of the outside smoke kept coming in through the window, even though I sat in the back of the restaurant. After dinner, I headed back to the hostel to plan tomorrow. Apparently not much is open on Mondays in Romania, and Peles castle isn't open Mondays or Tuesdays. I chatted with the other hostel guests, came up with some semblance of a plan, and fell asleep.

Goats on a farm

Goats on a farm


Empty tourist shops

Empty tourist shops


Inside Bran castle

Inside Bran castle


Bran Castle courtyard

Bran Castle courtyard


Haunted house

Haunted house


Food festival

Food festival


Black Church

Black Church


View of Brasov

View of Brasov

Posted by spsadventures 16:00 Archived in Romania Comments (0)