The random trip that Michelle and I planned to Romania was approved by Peace Corps, so on July 28th I traveled to Chernivtsi, where I would catch a bus to Suceava. Michelle left for Romania a few days earlier (I didn’t want to use as many vacation days), and we planned on meeting in Suceava Friday morning and traveling together to Braşov. Suceava is just across the border in Romania, at most 2 hours from Chernivtsi. But the border crossing can take anywhere from a half hour to 2 hours, because once you get through the Ukrainian border guards, you have to stop at the Romanian border to get your papers checked. My bus left Chernivtsi at 7am, and our train to Braşov was to set to depart at 11:20. So I had 4 hours and twenty minutes to make a 2-3 hour trip to Suceava. When Michelle made the same trip a few days earlier, she arrived in Suceava at 10:20. But for some reason the border guards were taking their sweet time Friday morning, and it took almost 2 hours to get past both the Ukrainian and Romanian border crossings. My bus finally arrived in Suceava at 11:04, where Michelle was waiting. We had less than 20 minutes to get 7 kilometers across town to the train station, so we ran to the nearest taxi and hoped we made it. As soon as we saw the station we jumped out of the taxi and started running to where our train was waiting on the tracks. Thankfully, we made it with 2 minutes to spare. It was an exciting start to our trip!
The rest of the day we spent on the train to Braşov, passing beautiful countryside and enjoying the company of two British people who were in our compartment. It was a nice trip until we rode through a thunderstorm. We were delayed more than three hours because of flooding on the train tracks, and water was even coming into the train. Finally the train started moving again, and we finally made it to Braşov at 11pm (we were supposed to arrive at 7:30, but at this point we were just happy to be there!).
Saturday went much smoother. We hired a private car to take us to two of the most famous sites in Romania: the Peleş Castle and Bran Castle. Another PCV told us that Peleş Castle was one of the best sites to see in Romania, so we made sure it was on our itinerary. I’m so glad we included it, because I think Peleş was one of my favorite stops in Romania! Its nestled into the Carpathian Mountains, near the town of Sinaia. For a castle, its incredibly modern, having been built between 1873 and 1914. Our tour guide told us that it was the first castle in the world to be equipped with an elevator! The decor inside was very eclectic; each room had a different style reflecting several world cultures, such as Florentine, Turkish, Moorish, and French. The Turkish room was a lounge that reminded me of the Middle East, complete with elaborate floor cushions and hookas! The castle has more than 170 rooms total, complete with a beautiful spiral staircase. If you’re ever in Romania, make sure you stop and see the Peleş Castle!
The next stop was Bran Castle, which was made famous by Bram Stoker’s Dracula. Located in the heart of Transylvania, it is easy to imagine Dracula living here. Bran dates back to the 1300s, and was supposedly the home of Vlad III Dracula of Wallachia, or “Vlad the Impaler,” whom Stoker based the character of Count Dracula on. Vlad the Impaler’s favorite trick was skewering people from anus to mouth without hitting any vital organs, so as to prolong an already excruciating death. Isn’t that a disgusting claim to fame? I think I’d rather be famous for being a vampire than for impaling people, but either way the infamous name lives on.
Bran Castle is definitely a tourist trap for the legions of vampire lovers, but its also one of the most famous places in Romania and well worth the visit. Would you really want to visit Romania and not see what all the fuss is about? The historical side of the legend is intriguing, and its easy to picture a mythical figure such as Dracula living in this creepy castle surrounded by the mists of Transylvania. It was a fun stop, but I’ll be honest—after seeing the splendor of the Peleş Castle, Castle Bran was less exciting. If I had to choose, I’d probably recommend the Peleş Castle.
That evening, Michelle and I took a bus to the city of Sighisoara, where we planned to attend a Renaissance festival the next day. At this point, I have a confession to make. Before we left for Romania, my only job in the entire planning of the trip was to find a place to stay in Sighisoara. Michelle took care of the rest, so you would think I would do my one job well. I googled hostels in Sighisoara, but due to the last minute nature of our trip, and to the popularity of the Renaissance festival, they were all booked. Finally I found a B&B that looked promising, but only 1 room was still available! So I quickly booked it and charged it to my credit card, only to discover as I was printing out the confirmation that the B&B was located somewhere called “Biertan.” In a panic, I googled “Biertan” only to find that its a tiny village located 30 kilometers from Sighisoara. Oops.
Luckily for me, one of Biertan’s chief attractions was a medieval fortified church. Now my friend Michelle happens to have a graduate degree in medieval studies, so this type of thing is right up her alley. As I confessed my error, I assured her that it would be a great stop anyways because Biertan had one of the most important Saxon fortified churches in Transylvania (or so Wikipedia assured me!). Michelle is a very easy-going person, and a great travel companion, so she assured me that the detour would be fine. But upon our arrival to Sighisoara, we discovered that Biertan was so remote that no buses run there, so our only option was taking a taxi. We finally found a taxi willing to drive to Biertan, but on our way there we came upon a roadblock… of cows.
At this point, Michelle asks from the backseat, “Kate, where the hell are you taking us?” To discover what happened in Biertan, how we celebrated my 23rd birthday in Sighisoara, and to hear about the beautiful Painted Monasteries of Romania…. you’ll have to read on to the next blog post : )