Romania

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UPDATED NOVEMBER 17, 2013: In May I finally returned to Romania and enjoyed a wonderful vacation in Transylvania. I visited Brasov, Sinaia, Cluj Napoca, Sighisoara, Sibiu, and several Saxon villages. In the following paragraphs, I’ll describe the highlights of my vacation and attempt to convince you that Romania; in particular, Transylvania; is a great place to visit and to live. My unusual vacation experiences began even before I arrived in Romania. Waiting for the plane to take off in Munich, one passenger remarked that it was the worst plane boarding she had experienced in her entire life. The German pilot made it quite clear that he was not responsible for the delay; that the half-hour delay was caused by the numerous passengers who had entered the plane with over-sized luggage – luggage too large to fit in the overhead bins or under the passengers’ seats. Arguments had burst out between the unruly passengers and the head stewardess, but they were eventually resolved when a member of the ground crew confiscated the over-sized luggage and had it placed it in the plane’s hull. The flight itself was uneventful although the landing in Sibiu, Romania, provided the passengers a spectacular view of a well preserved old city having beautiful white-capped mountains in its background.

My stay at Sibiu’s Vicenza Square Hotel was actually quite nice. My hotel room was spacious and clean, and its bathroom was fitted with a modern shower, sink, and toilet. Being tired, I quickly fell asleep even though it was only 6 pm, but I was soon awoken by the loud noise of a TV. The next day I discovered that the TV was located in the courtyard below my hotel windows. The owner of it played it loudly from noon until midnight, hoping that it would attract customers to his restaurant.

I used the day following my landing to recover from jet lag. The inner city of Sibiu, the Upper Town, hadn’t changed much since I briefly had visited it 16 years ago. Some of the buildings’ exteriors were renovated, but all of the buildings had retained the Medieval-like appearance they had maintained for centuries. The major difference was that the Main Square had a supermarket now and the city’s inhabitants now spoke some English. I’ll return to discussing Sibiu later, as it was the Romanian city of my arrival and departure.

The next day I went to the Sibiu Train Station and bought a ticket to go to Brasov. As I stood waiting on Platform 3, waiting for the train to Brasov, I gained a good perspective of Romania’s welfare system and recycling efforts. Most of the platform’s waiting seats were gone. They had been removed – a better word would be “stolen” – from the metal rails supporting them. A young, gypsy lady, the head of a gypsy workforce, yelled at her underlings for several minutes and then, with the whirl of her hand in the air, sent them hurrying in all directions apparently so that they could accomplish her ordered missions in various parts of the town. Gypsy men carefully inspected the railroad tracks for small coins, plastic bottles, and cigarette butts. Each man placed his findings in a small, black, plastic bag. Occasionally a gypsy man would put an extra long cigarette butt in his pocket so that he could later light it and enjoy puffing on its smoke. The men or their women would eventually remove the tobacco from the other butts and thereby ensure that the tobacco was not wasted. On the train platform a gypsy boy, perhaps 10 years old, retrieved three soiled, reddish-yellow apples from a nearby garbage can and smiled. Overall, it was a marvelous sight, seeing people worthy of welfare working for their living.

Well, there are more tales to reveal. I will continue my story with my adventures in Brasov. IMI place Romania. Pina saptamina viitoare la revedere

Brasov. As soon as I exited Brasov’s train station I tried to find a taxi, but a taxi driver found me first. He offered to drive me to my hotel for 100 Lei, about 30 dollars. Pointing to my right temple, I said, “Cookoo. Nul Multzumesc.” = “Cookoo. No thanks.” I purchased a day pass, Abonament Toate Linile, for 6 Lei from the Brasov Bus System kiosk and a half hour later was at my hotel.

The hotel’s receptionist introduced herself and then tried to sell me tour-guided trips to Sinaia, Sighisoara, “Count Dracula’s” Bran Castle, and the Simbata Monastery. I declined her offers, but asked her about the nightly tours of garbage dumpsters the hotel used to provide its guests so they could view European Brown Bears rummaging for garbage. The receptionist regretfully reported that the city had trapped and relocated the bears to a national forest after a bear had eaten a man who had been sleeping on a city park bench.

My hotel room was in the basement. It was dank and dark, but it did have a small, rectangular window, about three-feet wide and a foot high, which opened to the hotel’s backyard and provided some ventilation. At 1155 that night I heard something bump against the window frame. At first I thought it was a cat until I observed the dark images of two men walking back and forth in front of the window. Going to the window, I yelled, “Hello!” One man looked in my direction; then both men scurried away. They came back 15 minutes later and emptied the garbage cans. The next day I informed the receptionist about the two men who had been outside my window. The receptionist reassured me, “Oh, those were two Frenchmen who went outside to smoke at midnight. They are guests here. You know smoking in the hotel is not allowed.” That night I witnessed two men again outside my window at 1155 – right on time. I saw them empty the garbage cans and retrieve empty plastic bottles from the ground. They efficiently stomped on the bottles, making them flat; placed them in plastic bags; and then went on their merry way. This happened again the following night with the exception that they arrived early – at 1030 – having adjusted their schedule to accommodate the heavy drinking of beer by Brasov’s citizens and visitors on Orthodox Easter Monday.
Rom Siniai Monastery
When visiting Brasov, take a day trip to nearby Siniai to
see its Monastery (above) and adjacent History Museum.

Rom Siniai Peles Castle 2
After a walking tour through Peles Castle (above), take a
ride on a cable car to enjoy a panoramic view of the
mountains surrounding Siniai.

We seem to be forgetting something here – Brasov itself. For all purposes, I spent less than two days in Brasov – a Saturday evening, Sunday evening, and the entire day on Orthodox Easter Monday. On Easter Sunday I had spent the day in the nearby city of Sinaia. On Monday I provided two American hotel guests a tour of Brasov. At 8 am we each consumed a piece of pastry and a cup of coffee at the German Bakery Cafe on Strada Muresenilor just south of the Market Square. Afterward we proceeded up the street, turned right on Strada Dupa Ziduri, and ascended the trail leading to the Black Tower on the mountainside west of the inner city. Having taken several photographs of the city from there, we ambled to the White Tower, an impressive watch tower about 65 feet high. Both the Black Tower and the White Tower were built in the late 1400’s as a part of the city’s fortress to protect its inhabitants against invading Turks and Tartars. Before these towers became tourist attractions their 20 foot high entrances could only be accessed by ladders. The White Tower always remained fairly white. The other tower, however, was blackened by a fire and named the “Black Tower” – a name it retained even after it was renovated and “whitened” again. Leaving the White Tower behind us, we descended the steps to the walkway around the fortress wall. We walked down Strada B-dul Erolier and passed by the National Art Museum, which was closed. The vast majority of Romanian museums are closed on Mondays. Continuing our journey, we strolled to the western wall of the city and then went through it to the cable car station at the bottom of Tampa Mountain. There were plenty of tourists there, waiting to use the cable cars, but the cars were also not in use because the day was Easter Orthodox Monday. Essentially all of the city’s banks and tourist attractions were closed for the day. Just as Americans close their banks, government offices, and museums on Christmas Day, the Romanians do the same on Easter Monday. It was disappointing that I could not show my companions a beautiful panoramic view of Brasov from the top of Tampa Mountain, but I at least I had already enjoyed that view in 1997 and it was likely that I would view it again in the future.

Mediocrity
This fantastic picture of Brasov from Tampa Mountain
was released into public domain on Wikipedia Commons
by its author, Mediocrity, whom I assume are Marion
Schneider and Christoph Aisleitner of Graz, Austria.

After sitting and relaxing on a bench near the cable car station for ten minutes, we walked back to the city’s Market Square and then strolled down Strada Republicii, a pedestrian shopping street. We sat down under a sun umbrella at an outdoor cafe and each enjoyed a bottle of water and the sight of hundreds of people sitting under sun umbrellas or strolling by the city’s shops. Most of the people under the umbrellas were drinking beer. Only a few of them were eating lunch. Sixteen years ago Strada Republicii was the busiest walkway in Brasov, but it was fairly empty. Then it had only had a few restaurants, and there were no umbrellas, tables, and chairs to sit on in the middle of it. Now the street was bustling with life. Clowns dressed in yellow suits twisted balloons into the shapes of little animals and handed them to children. Waiters hurried from table to table, distributing glasses and bottles of beer and other beverages, and collecting money for their sales and services. Other waiters stood stiffly in white shirts and black trousers next to their restaurant entrances. There were also vendors with little tables of cheap jewelry, amateur paintings of Transylvania, or photographs of Brasov and Count Dracula’s Bran Castle. My American companions and I drank our water, paid our bills, and then returned to our hotel, agreeing to go with each other to the train station after an hour’s rest.
Rom Brasov Council House
The Council House in the middle of Brasov’s Market
Square. The White Tower is in the background.

Once in the train station, I examined the large schedule on the station’s wall for trains departing Brasov and noted that the following word just to the right of Cluj Napoca: “Anulata” = “Cancelled.” Being that I had planned to travel to Cluj the next day, I concluded that “Anulata” was not a good thing. I went to a snack kiosk inside the station’s spacious pavilion and ordered a coffee. As I placed my wallet in my back pocket a young gypsy girl approached me and the kiosk woman screamed some Romanian words that I did not understand but the gypsy girl understood all too well. The girl sprinted away from me. Turning around I viewed another woman, a dark woman with a red scarf on her head, running away from me in the other direction.

My American female companion appeared before me and remarked, “You didn’t see the gypsy mother come behind you to steal your wallet.”

I turned around again, this time to retrieve my coffee. Picking up my plastic coffee cup, I looked into the dark brown eyes of the kiosk woman and said, “Multzumesc.” – “Thank you.” I really meant it because I reflected that this experience would not have happened 16 years before when it seemed that no Romanian would have cared were I robbed in a crowd on a public street. The kiosk woman had further confirmed to me that a new mentality was taken over the minds of many Romanians.

Leaving the train station, the American tourists and I visited the bus station next it. We learned that a bus was scheduled to leave Brasov for Cluj Napoca at 540 the next morning. Using our daily bus passes, we got on a city bus and exited it at Brasov’s Central Park (Parcul Central) just north of the inner city. We enjoyed the sights of children playing on playground equipment, old men playing chess on concrete tables and benches, beautiful weeping willows, and red and yellow tulips. We left the park, walked around the inner city, and, after visiting the Black Church, decided to eat supper at a Turkish Restaurant near the German Bakery. The day quickly came to an end.

The next day my American companions and I took a taxi to the bus station and arrived there at 530 where we met a young Romanian college student who was also waiting for the bus. Around 6 am the young lady called someone on her cell phone and informed us at that the bus was delayed. At 630, after talking on her cell phone, she informed us that the bus would probably not be coming, and she offered to drive us to Cluj in her car. The Americans and I declined her offer, but we changed our minds when she informed us at 645 that the bus had broken down and would not be coming that day. With the exception of the friendly Romanian driver, I am sure that we all left Brasov, feeling that we did not see enough of it. Alas, we still had other Romanian adventures to enjoy in some other beautiful cities of Transylvania.

Cluj Napoca. Our friendly Romanian college student left us at a taxi station in the inner city of Cluj Napoca. The two American tourists and I went our separate ways. I took a taxi to the Vila Casa Alesiv Hotel.

The Vila Casa Alesiv was a nice hotel. It’s rooms were modern, clean, and, by Romanian standards, also spacious. The hotel’s laundry service charged you according to the pieces of clothing you submitted. Its WIFI service was free and efficient. The hotel also had a restaurant, where I purchased a cup of coffee and two eggs sunny-side up with bread for breakfast. I had to order a small plate of butter and a couple of tablespoons of honey to complete my meal, but that is the way it is in Romania: You get what you pay for, and what you pay for is still relatively inexpensive compared to the costs of items in Germany and France. There were few restaurants within a kilometer of the hotel. Next to the bus stop on nearby Strada 21 Decembrie, a Fast-Food Service will sell you beverages, gyros, and some Romanian culinary delights, including vegetable and meat stews and a shoarmi (a huge soft Taco with vegetables and chicken or beef). On my first evening in Cluj, I enjoyed a shoarmi and a can of Coca Cola there. On my second evening in Cluj I went to the Kaufhalle Supermarket near the hotel and purchased some custard pudding with whipped cream on top of it, a couple of croissants cu ciocolata (chocolate), a couple of bottles of mineral water (Apa minerala), and a plastic liter container of grapefruit juice. Just outside the supermarket, I bought two biscuits and eight mici – eight little, rectangular, spicy pork and beef sausages. I had ordered two (doa), and received two orders just like I had requested. After I returned to the USA, I would learn that the Romanians in 2010 had enacted a fat tax, an anti-obesity tax on sodas and other junk food laden with excess salt, preservatives, and calories, like the foods provided by McDonald’s and KFC. In the spirit of patriotism, this health act specifically exempted sarmale (Romanian pork-filled cabbage rolls) and mici.

Throughout my vacation in Romania, I drank copious amounts of water from the sink faucets in my hotel rooms, contrary to the advice provided in travel guides. I enjoyed the mountain spring water flowing from the faucets in Brasov and Sighisoara and had no problems drinking the city water in Sibiu. On my second day in Cluj, however, I was walking around the inner city when I suddenly felt the discomfort of gases gurgling in my intestines. Throwing my budgetary concerns “to the wind,” I immediately doled out 5 Lei (about $1.50) and took a taxi to my hotel to relieve myself of diarrhea. Afterward I adhered to a bottled-water regimen ONLY in Cluj. Having successfully emptied myself of the excess pressure within me without having tarnished the reputation of American tourists abroad, I continued my tour of the inner city.

Hotel Vila Casa Alesiv is 4 kilometer from Piata Unirii where most of the city’s tourist attractions exist. The hotel has an enclosed parking area for those courageous enough to drive in Cluj Napoca. Other travelers, afflicted by poverty, thriftiness, or cowardice, can use relatively inexpensive taxis or the public bus system to reach Cluj’s tourist attractions. Being a double coward – a swamp man terrified of driving in Rome-like traffic and a hill-billy afraid of learning the ins and outs of a city’s bus system for a one-day excursion, I broke down and used the taxis again to travel to and from Piata Unirii.

At Piata Unirii, the large square next to the Saint Michael’s Evangelical Church, hundreds of Hungarian-Romanian students converged on the statue of Hungarian King Matthias Corvinus and demonstrated for the equal rights of Romania’s Hungarian minority. The students had forgotten about the centuries of ethnic discrimination the Romanians had experienced from German and Hungarian minorities granted control of Transylvania by the Hapsburg Royalty during the “occupation” by the Austrian-Hungarian Empire. The police and personnel of the Jendarmerie (Romanian Ministry for Internal Security) were also at the demonstration, monitoring student activities. The demonstration was festive in nature. It ended without any confrontations between the demonstrators and the blue-shirted police and black jacketed security personnel.
Rom Cluj Napoca Hungarian Demonstration Piata Unirii 2
Hungarian Student Demonstration at Piata Unirii

Leaving the Piati, I visited the Art Museum and the Ethnographic Museum and viewed wonderful displays of Romanian art in both of them. The unusual aspects about them seem to be common to almost all of Romania’s museums. Taking pictures of paintings with a flash camera is forbidden, as it should be given the potential effects of the flashes on valuable, old paintings. There is an extra cost added to the entrance fee for those wishing to take non-flash photographs. As one strolls throughout a Romanian museum, a museum attendant is always nearby to turn on a room’s lights before you enter it and to turn its lights off when you leave it.

Having completed my tours of the above museums, I visited the National Theater, Orthodox Church, and Hungarian Reform Church. Short of time, I hurried around the northern part of the Alexandru Borzu Botanical Gardens and then returned to the bustling inner city of streets full of automobiles emitting exhausts fumes, gases and occasional beeps and city sidewalks full of people hurrying to go to work, shop, drink, or eat. I did not have enough time to visit Cluj’s National History Museum and Pharmaceutical Museum. Perhaps I’ll visit these museums in the future. I also did not have time to enjoy Cluj’s nightlife. According to the hotel manager, Cluj has plenty of bars and nightclubs to fulfill one’s desires. When you visit Cluj, just ask a hotel receptionist and invite him or her along for a night of adventure.

The next morning, in the spirit of being a lazy tourist, I spent another 5 Lei for a taxi ride to the train station. While sitting in the train station’s restaurant and enjoying a cup of coffee, I reflected how uneventful and organized my two days in Cluj had been. I had encountered no gypsy beggars and all of my taxi trips had been quick and inexpensive.

Suddenly a skinny, middle-aged man with a black shirt embossed with the yellow word “ADYPLES” was standing in front of me. His right hand held a black belly club that was attached to his belt. His right hand pointed to a sign behind me. I looked at the white sign which had black lettering and a black and white picture of a camera on it. The only expression I recognized on the sign was the word “Video”. The ADYPLES man said something and kept on holding his club and pointing at the sign. I noticed that the other customers had already risen and left the restaurant. I asked myself what authority this man had to be removing people from the restaurant. Having the ADYPLES man swinging his club would not be good for him, but it probably wouldn’t be good for me either. I thought about the thief who had tried to steal my watch in Constanta 16 years earlier; thought about how I could have easily broken his arm instead of just grabbing it and smacking him in the temple with my fist. In Romania it is always a good thing to avoid interviews with the local police. I rose from my chair and, with my coffee cup in one hand and luggage in the other, left the restaurant. I placed my cup on a window ledge in the hall just outside the restaurant’s exit. The ADYPLES man pursued me and pointed at another sign and then at a cleaning lady with a yellow dress and red head scarf who was mopping the restaurant’s floor. Seeing the words “Nul Intrare” adjacent “10:00 – 10:30”, I realized that the restaurant was closed for cleaning from 10 to 10:30 every morning. I smiled and thanked the cleaning policeman, who spent another 25 minutes directing people away from the restaurant’s entrance. He reminded me of the women who used to stand at the bottom of each escalator in the large department stores in East Berlin just to observe customers and to be able to yell for help for any customer who might fall on an escalator. Romania still has plenty people performing these worthless jobs – museum people filling out unnecessary paperwork, hotel clerks meticulously completing handwritten visitor logs and then inputting the data into computers, people cleaning the streets everyday regardless of the weather and the road conditions, security guards in stores comparing items on customer receipts with items in their shopping baskets, etc. While these activities may seem to be a wasteful, they have to better than paying people on welfare to do nothing at the costs of those who sweat and toil.

My 9:40 am train for Sighisoara arrived in Cluj Napoca at 9:10, proving that some things are punctually accomplished in Romania and some things are accomplished even earlier than expected.

Sighisoara. Up in the mountains in a far away fairy-tale land, the fortress city of Sighisoara rises above the mist of the Tarnava River and presents itself as the best preserved Saxon municipality in Transylvania. Although most of the surviving Saxons who had once lived here have emigrated to Germany, the city’s cobblestone streets, thick fortress’s walls, massive Clock Tower, and century-old stone houses still remain, defying the forces of wind and rain and testifying to the enduring strength of the Siebenburger Saxon culture. I spoke with a 92 year-old German woman across the street from Burg Hostel Sighisoara, where I stayed. She reminded me that Transylvania was a heaven on earth before the communists after World War II had confiscated the lands of its German and Hungarian farmers. Before the 1989 Revolution the Germans actually paid the Romanian regime to permit Saxon families to emigrate to Germany, after those families had stayed in Transylvania for 700 hundred years without having ever officially intermingled with the area’s “native” Romanians and gypsies. The Hungarians, suppressed by their own communist lackeys in their motherland, really did not have the money to pay for the emigration of their family members. Thus many of the Hungarians remained and about 20% of the Sighisoarans even today are Hungarian, whereas the German inhabitants there are few and far between. Standing outside the city’s elementary school, hearing an teacher instruct his pupils about basic mathematics in high German, I realized that the German culture was still heavily imbued in the education of the city’s children.

As the birthplace of Prince Vlad Tepes, more popularly known as Count Dracula, Sighisoara is a special place for admirers of the Count who had terrified Transylvania’s Turkish invaders by having his soldiers drive stakes through their hearts. Anybody walking through Sighisoara twenty years ago would have noted Count Dracula’s presence only as an obscure footnote in history. Now the tourist is reminded of him at every souvenir shop by little dolls with streaks of red paint on the sides of their mouths. What the Count had not achieved in life – his head was handed on a platter to the Turkish sultan – the Count had achieved in Hollywood as the world’s most famous, bloodsucking vampire. In spite of the shop owners’ attempts to maximize their profits through the sale of Count Dracula’s false personality, Hollywood was not entirely successful. Several years ago entrepreneurs tried to establish a nearby Dracula amusement park, but their visions of a Disneyland near Sighisoara were thwarted by local politicians and businessmen who refused to make a spectacle of Romanian history.

Another interesting character who should have made Sighisoara a special tourist attraction was Hermann Oberth, the Father of Rocketry. He lived as child here, wrote about space travel as a young man, and later helped Hitler with the V-2 Rocket Program and the Americans with their Apollo Rocket Program. While studying astrophysics in Germany, his German professors refused to grant him a doctor’s title because they literally thought that his ideas were “out of this world.” Hermann, therefore, used his same ideas to achieve a doctorate’s title in physics at the University of Cluj. Today he is so famous that a space museum in Fuecht, Germany, is named after him. In Sighosoara, however, only Strada Hermann Oberth is named after him, but at least it is the main street from which tourists ascend to acquire a wonderful view of the city.

Along Oberth’s Street there are convenience stores where one can buy canned foods, bottled water, fruit juices, milk, and other beverages. The street also has a couple of money exchange services, a fast-food kiosk, and a bakery. There are also a few dimly lit restaurants/taverns that are empty during the day, but are entertaining in the evenings when they are full of young men accompanied by beautiful, dark-eyed, young women. Outside the city’s fortress walls and on the other side of the Tarnava River, the huge, chalk white Saint Times Orthodox Church displays its black domes and the nearby city market provides its visitors fresh fruits and vegetables grown by local farmers.

Under a sun umbrella outside of the Perla Restaurant on Piata Hermann Oberth (Square) I enjoyed a Mediterranean salad for lunch while observing other customers eating goulash, soups, stuffed cabbages, roasted chicken, and other delicious Romanian meals. There are several other restaurants on or near the Piata, including Jo Pizzerie, Cafe Martini Habermann, and the Concordia, all of which seem to be fairly busy around lunchtime. In the heat of the afternoon, people often stop buy by these restaurants to enjoy a bowl of ice cream, an ice cream sundae, banana split, or a cold beer.

From Oberth’s Square I climbed the steep cobblestone street of Strada Turnului and passed through a small tunnel. On my left I peered through a locked iron-grill door at what appeared to be an empty prison cell. Turning my head to the right, I looked upward at the city’s massive Clock Tower, retrieved my camera, and took a picture of it. I ambled through the tunnel under the Clock Tower, passed the Torture Room Museum, and entered the square enclosed by the Clock Tower, Church of the Dominician Monastery, Tourist Information Center, and Medieval Arms Museum. I entered the History Museum in the Clock Tower. It cost 12 Lei to tour the museum and to climb the stairs to the top of the tower where you can enjoy a beautiful, panoramic view of Sighisoara. For 30 Lei you are even permitted to take a picture of it! Leaving the tower, I continued my walk up the hill past Casa Dracula, a place which claims itself as the birthplace of the Count. At the top of the street I turned right and ambled down the street to the Roman Catholic Church and Tailor’s Tower. This tower was in disrepair and its interior was inaccessible when I had visited it in 1997. It is now restored as a simple but beautiful watch tower which tourists can access by climbing the large wooden stairway to its entrance door.
Rom Sighisoara Clock Tower 1 Rom Sighisoara Tailor's Tower 2

Clock Tower                                                      Tailor’s Tower

I retraced my steps until I reached Strada Turnului and then I proceeded down Strada Scolii for a couple of hundred meters until I reached the dark, covered wooden stairway leading up to the city’s high school. The stairway was built more than 300 years ago to protect the school’s students and teachers from the cold wind, ice, and snow of Transylvania’s winter. As I walked up its 172 steps I thought I was alone until the stairway was flooded by students taking a break from their morning classes. One teenage boy greeted me with a “Hello” to which I responded in a loud voice, “What’s up!” From the stairway below me, my chant was reverberated several times not as echoes but as expressions from young boys yelling “What’s up!” accompanied by giggles of appreciation for my humor. My greatest joy in Romania was being confronted by Romanians who were curious about foreigners and who were no longer living in silence and fear of communism.
Rom Sighisoara Houses

Houses on Strada Scolii

Having made it to the top of the stairway, I walked by the German high school at the top of the mountain and arrived at the German cemetery behind the Lutheran “Church on the Hill.” From this sacred ground of tranquility I viewed the lower town and the surrounding countryside. I then descended the mountain just as I had ascended it, but I visited the Tourist Information Center near the Clock Tower on the way down. I inquired about taking a tour of the nearby villages’ fortified churches. I wanted a tour, which would include the fortified churches of Biertan, Mosna, Valea Viilor, Richis, and Malankrav. The Hungarian tour guide coordinator told me that I could visit no more than three churches a day and that Valea Viilor was closed on Saturdays. I informed her that I was not interested in having a tour guide providing me information that I could find on the internet and that my objective was to spend about 20 minutes at each church of my liking without receiving a history lesson about it. Frustrated with my unwillingness to participate in her guided tours, the young Hungarian made a phone call to a local taxi driver, who agreed to give another tourist and me my requested tour for 300 Lei the next day, starting at 8 am. That night I found a nice Australian woman at my hostel to share my tour of fortified churches with me.

Some Fortified Churches near Sighisoara. The next morning the taxi driver picked us up in his taxi at 7:55 am. We arrived at Biertan’s church at 8:30. Observing this impressive structure from outside its fortified walls, we took pictures of it but did not enter it because it officially opened at 10 am. As I walked around the church’s perimeter I envisioned what had happened in it 600 years ago. Inside its chapel the village’s women, children and old folk, with their cows and poultry, would listen to their priest praying for their continued existences while the village’s men straddled the church’s massive fortress walls and hurled down rocks and other objects at the Turkish marauders besieging them. Bringing myself back to the present, I walked across the street from the church and viewed a large poster with the picture of a Golden Eagle transfixed on a landscape of fields and green forests like those near Biertan. The poster also had information about protecting this beautiful bird species. Thus we left Biertan, pleasantly knowing that the Golden Eagles was alive and well in Romania. After five minutes of driving, the driver pulled to the side of the road and stopped next a freshly plowed field. A huge, brown bird with a wash of gold on its neck sat in the field less than 200 feet from us. Suddenly it flapped its wings and launched itself into flight with a rapidity unexpected for a huge raptor. Within a few seconds and relatively few flaps of its wings, it landed on the branch of a far away broadleaf tree and stayed there. We observed it for several minutes and then proceeded on our journey. We had the pleasure of seeing another two Golden Eagles that day as well as several brown hawks and a reddish kestrel.
Rom Biertan Fortified Church 5
The Fortified Church in Biertan

Twelve miles farther we passed through the city of Medias and drove by the fortified Saint Margaret Evangelical Church. We declined the driver’s invitation to stop there, left the city limits, and rode east to Copsa Mica. The driver told us that this town had been so contaminated with lead dust generated by smelters that the vegetables grown in the area were unfit for human consumption and the area’s children had suffered mental retardation and other neurological effects of heavy metal exposures. He added that the entire town had been covered with black soot. After the demise of communism the factories were forced to adopt air pollution emission standards similar to those of other European countries, and the town’s inhabitants washed their houses and other buildings so that they were no longer black. As a safety professional and industrial hygienist, I remarked that Copsa Mica would be a wonderful place to have a hazardous waste remediation project. It made me homesick for Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

In the middle of Copsa Mica, we turned off the main road, Route 14, and drove southeast on Road 1426G to the little village of Valea Viilor. At the locked, iron-grill, entrance gate of its fortified church we met a German couple from Munich who were waiting for the church to open at 10 am. Being that it was already 10 o’clock, my Australian companion and I circled the church’s outer walls and took pictures of it. At 10:10 we met the German couple at the church’s gate again. We all talked about the progress Romanians had made since the Revolution, but we also expressed our concerns about progress destroying Romania’s nice, relaxing way of life. At 10:20 I wished the German couple a nice vacation and my Australian friend and I got back in our taxi.

When we arrived in the village of Mosna, the entrance gate in the stone wall surrounding its church was locked. A middle-aged man, however, soon opened its gate and led us into its beautiful chapel. All of the fortified evangelical churches of Transylvania seem to have the same basic structures – beautiful Gothic arches towering over each congregation’s simple wooden benches, a large pipe organ, a simple alter for the priest, and a beautiful painting or carving of Jesus Christ behind it. When we exited the church, the caretaker said “Muzeul”- Museum – and waved us toward the entrance of one of the fortress wall’s watch towers. We climbed the large, oak steps of the tower and entered a small room having some historical artifacts, clothing, and tools associated with the church and its congregation. Afterward we thanked the caretaker and left the church to continue on our journey to Richis (Reichesdorf).

At Richis the church was open so we walked into chapel and met its caretaker, Johann Schaas, who had already started a lecture for a small group of Germans. Johann emphasized that his church was smaller than the fortified church in Biertan, but that it was otherwise better in every way – in structure, in technology, and in history. He proudly showed us the automatic, iron lock on an interior door exiting the chapel. It’s locking mechanism would still be a marvel for any modern day locksmith. He also explained that the monks of his church several centuries ago were so drunk that tales of their excessive wine drinking had reach the Hapsburgs in Hungary, and the church elders there had sent a delegation to Reichesdorf to investigate these rumors. The delegation verified that the rumors were true and they sent teams of men out to find and arrest the monks who were hiding among the villagers. From this we can conclude that sex outside the church is bad, but that there is no greater sin than drinking excessive amounts of red wine.

Having endured a lecture about the bad consequences of drinking wine, I took some photographs of the church and suggested to my travel companion and taxi driver that we move onto Malankrav. Along the way, we listened to “I wish you a Merry Christmas” and other English Christmas songs emanating from the taxi’s loud speakers. The taxi driver didn’t understand why we sometimes chuckled at the amusing songs. We observed men and women laboring in the fields with hoes, scythes, and horse-drawn wagons. In the small villages we saw dark-skinned gypsy women in colorful dresses and scarves and lighter skinned women in black or beige dresses and scarves. On one street corner a young, well-curved, bare-shouldered, dark-skinned woman in a tight dress having vertical gold and black stripes was waiting for somebody. I asked the driver if she were a prostitute. He only responded that ninety-nine out of a hundred gypsies make their living illegally and that such behavior was in their blood.
Rom Malankrav Fortified Church
The Fortified Church in Malankrav

Malankrav was both a joy and a disappointment. It was a joy because I took pictures of the exterior of its fortified church and beautiful, pink Apafi Manor House. It was a disappointment not because the church was closed for renovations, but because I realized how closed-off most Transylvanian villages are from the modern world. Malankrav (Malmkrog) is best known for being a Saxon village where many Transylvanian (German) Saxons still live. The only Germans I met there were those in a tour group from Germany. I had expected to see framework houses (Fachwerkhauser), restaurants, taverns, and shops like those in Bavaria. What I saw was subsistence living of farmers, primarily Romanian, who toil day in and day out, using primitive agricultural techniques just to produce enough crops to support their families and to buy some essential items for living. In reality, there is very little idyllic about most Transylvanian villages. The villages have a church, a tavern, and usually a local convenience store. The villagers often hitch-hike or use horse-drawn carriages or bicycles to go to larger towns to buy items not available at their local stores. Many of the villagers are caught in a time-warp, Their simple lifestyle is really borderline poverty, but it lacks the stress of a society that is only interested in making money and acquiring superficial consumer goods. Within the next decade, with the assistance of the European Union and globalization, the simple life of the Transylvanian villagers will be destroyed and replaced by commercialism that will force most of the villagers to move to the big cities and the remaining ones to sell tourist items made in China.

Thus, my tour of Transylvanian fortified churches ended and I prepared myself to go to Sibiu.

Sibiu. I arrived in Sibiu on a Sunday afternoon with plenty of money, but I did not have enough Romanian money to pay my entire hotel bill. After unpacking my luggage at the Casa Roma Hotel, I walked to the Flea Market on Strada Calea Surii. Roaming around the market’s cardboard boxes and tables, I observed hundreds of cheap shoes, blue jeans, and shirts and also stands having tools, toys, bread, beverages, cooked sausages, and local vegetables. The market’s various displays of merchandise made it a great place to visit.

The next day my first priority was to obtain enough Romanian currency to pay my hotel bill. I walked to the train station and waited in its restaurant for the nearby money exchange service to open at 9 am. I purchased a cup of coffee frappe and sat down at a table surrounded by old men clad in cheap gray and brown suit jackets who were drinking beer and smoking cigarettes. After finishing my drink, I went outside to the money exchange in front of the train station and purchased a couple hundred dollars of Romanian Lei. Being that it was Monday and that most Romanian museums are closed on Mondays, I decided to travel to Rasinari, a  “wealthy” village known for its sheep farmers and carpenters. At the taxi stop in front of the train station I asked a taxi driver how much it would cost to ride to Rasinari. After he said 40 Lei, I got in the taxi and we drove away, but I had to tell him to turn on the taxi meter. In Romania it is important that you negotiate a fixed price or require a taxi driver to turn on his meter before the driver takes you anywhere. (Perhaps I had confused the taxi driver). It is also important that you only ride in official taxis – those with the rates posted on their sides.

When we reached Rasinari, I got out of the taxi and paid the driver only what the meter showed – 25 Lei. I usually tipped 10% for services in Romania and for exceptional service, like an ugly American, I tipped 20%. Tipping is neither mandatory nor expected in Romania. When a Romanian provides you excellent service it is usually because he or she is genuinely nice and not trying to please you for personal gain. When Romanians waiters do not hover over you, it is because they respect your space and privacy, not because they dislike you. Many Romanians lack a sense of urgency and a zeal for selling you items. Accept these traits as a positive part of Romanian culture.

I strolled around Rasinari and was impressed by how little the town had to offer tourists. Rasinari was a nice, clean village where I sometimes heard the buzz of wood saws and saw men traveling through the village in horse-drawn carts. It also had an Ethnographic Museum (closed on Mondays), a municipal building, a couple of convenience stores, and a beautiful fortified church with a bulbous tower similar to the Council Tower in Sibiu. Unfortunately Rasinari did not have any visible furniture shops, souvenir shops, bakeries, or butcher shops. Its major streets had sidewalks that were about 30 inches wide. Having spent 90 minutes in the village, I was ready to leave it. I stopped by a bus stop sign and hoped that I would eventually see a bus. Across the street from the bus stop a red-faced man emerged from the pink house’s cellar door, climbed its steps, and ambled in a zig-zag manner away. I peered down the steps and saw other men sitting at wooden tables covered with brown bottles and partially filled beer glasses. Going back to the bus stop, I waited awhile and observed more men stumbling out of the pub. It was eleven o’clock and I really wanted to see a bus. Fortunately a middle-aged woman and a girl about eight-years old then came to the stop and stood next to me. I told the woman that I was a tourist and that I wanted to go to Sibiu. She answered me affirmatively, noting that the bus fare was three Lei. Five minutes later the bus arrived, and I followed the woman and her daughter onto it, bought a ticket, and happily rode toward Sibiu. Four miles down the road everybody, including I, got off the bus. A couple of the bus stop signs indicated that a bus was going to “Gare” – the train station. As soon as I purchased a ticket for 1.5 Lei from the stop’s automated ticket machine, a “Gare” bus arrived. I got on it and, after inserting my ticket in a punch machine to have it time/dated, I sat down at a window seat and enjoyed my ride to the inner city. I exited the bus at the train station, walked back to my hotel, paid my hotel bill, and took a nap.

At 1 o’clock I was on my feet again, walking to Piata Mare, the inner city’s “Large Square.” At the Casa Weidner Restaurant, I ate chicken schnitzel (snitel pui) and a fruit salad (salata de fructe) topped with whip cream. Afterward I walked out on Piata Mare and heard the loud pounding of drums and the sounds of flutes approaching from the south, from Strada Nicolae Balcescu. Berlin’s Drum Kitchen Percussion Band band was celebrating the start of the 2013 Sibiu Jazz Festival. The band marched onto the open square and provided a small crowd an entourage of marching tunes. Although it lacked the rigid formation and robotic moves  of a military band, its members displayed facial expressions and played with a zeal that demonstrated that they enjoyed their music. Feeling a  few rain drops hit my shoulders, I fled to the closest tunnel within the Council Tower just in time to avoid a rain storm. Lightning broke out from the sky above, followed by the onerous sound of thunder. By now at least 30 people were in the tunnel with me, peering out at the band in the middle of the square. With a tenacity which would have made the Wehrmacht proud, the band members, soaked in water, continued playing as if the rain, lightning, and thunder were a mere inconvenience.

Fifty minutes later the lightning and thunder ceased, but the rain continued. Although my stomach told me that it was too early for supper, the pouring rain was telling me that an early supper in a restaurant near Piata Mare would be better than an unknown eating place near my hotel. I emerged from the tunnel and ran to a small cafeteria on Avrum Ianca Strada. I looked at the food trays in the cafeteria’s glass display counter and saw among other things cooked pork in cabbage rolls, chunks of beef in a broth, a couple types of soup, and even spaghetti. I chose a bowl of cow stomach soup, Ciorba de burta. It was the best cow stomach soup I had eaten in my life. While waiting for the rain to end, I ordered a Fanta and slowly sipped on it. The rain, however, did not end that day. I ended up walking back to my hotel in the rain, feeling quite warm in my rain jacket but quite soaked and cold below the waist.

At six o’clock the next morning I jumped out of my bed and prepared myself for my last full day in Romania. At seven o’clock I was sitting in the Casa Romana Restaurant just below the Ursuline Church. I ordered a ham and cheese omelet, a croissant, and a cup of coffee. I took my time consuming my meal, knowing that the city of Sibiu awakens slowly and its inhabitants refuse to entrap themselves in the stress exhibited by New Yorkers and Parisians. Well after eight o’clock I proceeded to Piata Mare. First I visited the square’s Roman Catholic Church. I admired the chapel’s baroque architecture, its pink marble walls laced with gold trimmings, and the beautiful, colorful frescoes on its ceiling.

Rom Sibiu Tourist Information Center 2
Sibiu City Hall. This beautiful building, situated between the Brunkenthal Museum and the Roman Catholic Church on Piata Mare, is good place to start a walking tour of the historic district.

After departing the church, I obtained a map of the inner city at the Sibiu Tourist Information Center, which is located in Sibiu’s City Hall, adjacent the church. Then I walked through the nearest tunnel of the Council Tower and entered Piata Mica, the “Small Square.” On the other side of the square I entered the Emil Sigerus Ethnographic Museum – a “must” for those who only wish to enjoy Transylvanian Saxon Culture near Sibiu. In addition to its exhibits of 19th Century Transylvanian costumes, embroideries, tools, furniture, and pottery, the museum also had a gift shop where foreign tourists could buy painted eggshells, replicated “old-time” Transylvanian clothing, and other souvenirs.

I left the above museum and walked to the nearby Iron Bridge of Lies, the site of many marriage proposals and other vows of love. The legend is that this wrought iron bridge will collapse if someone tells a lie on it. I am sure that I would be a billionaire if I had a nickel for every lie told on this bridge. Standing on it, I reflected on all of my own sins. I rushed off the bridge in fear that it would collapse and force me to go to a local hospital not covered by my medical insurance. On the other side of the bridge, I strolled by Atrium Classic Cafe’s white sun umbrellas and stopped when I reached Turnul Scarilor, a gate tower which controls access from and to the Lower Town. I turned around and walked by the Evangelical Church, which was enclosed by a wire fence because it was under renovation. I then arrived at the Brunkenthal Museum where I paid an entrance fee of 12 Lei and an additional 6 Lei to see the Romanian Exhibit. The exhibit contained a few paintings from the great Romanian painters Nicolae Grigorescu and Theodor Aman and more importantly many beautiful landscape paintings by Carl Dorschlag, Franz Neuhauser, Johann Stock, and other Transylvania Saxon artists. It also had paintings and sculptures from contemporary, local artists. After two hours I departed the museum and walked southward a few hundred feet to Sibiu’s History Museum. The museum had swords, knives, firearms, glassware, pottery, metalwork, paintings, and other artifacts that reflected the history of Transylvania from the Neolithic Age through its occupation by the the Roman Empire to the present.
Rom Sibiu Turnul Scarilor 1

Turnul Scarilor

Rom Sibiu Turnul Scarilor Viewing Strada Scarilor

Looking through Turnul Scarilor at the Lower Town

After seeing the History Museum, I strolled up Strada Mitropoliei and stopped by the Orthodox Metropolitan Cathedral. With its construction completed in 1906, this church is modern in comparison to most Romanian churches. It’s huge, black, Byzantine domes are impressive, but its ornate, interior decorations are magnificent. Continuing my journey, I walked another two blocks up the street to Saint Ioan Evangelical Church where I entered Astra Park. In the shade of overhanging tree branches, old men in baggy suits and old women with long dresses and head scarves sat on benches, overseeing children who were playing on the grass. I emerged from the shade on Strada Nicolae Balcescu, the inner city’s pedestrian shopping street.

Ambling down the shopping street, I looked at the store’s window displays of modern dresses, sweaters, shoes, and other clothing. Half-way down the street I stopped in a bakery shop and bought a cherry cream puff. I would have gladly ordered a cup of coffee, but the shop did not sell any coffee, nor did it have anyplace to sit. Thus I exited the shop and, once outside, quickly devoured my pastry. I then entered a souvenir shop on the other side of the street. The shop was full of cheap watches, jewelry, glassware, pottery, dinnerware, and souvenirs for tourists. To me the most interesting things in it were porcelain figures of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. Being that my mahogany cupboard at home was already filled with dust-collecting knit knacks from all corners of the world, I didn’t buy anything. I continued my walk and stopped in front of Piazza Grande, a kiosk emitting the smell of freshly baked dough. I gazed in its open window at some big, salted, soft pretzels lying in a rectangular, stainless steel tray. One pretzel, please, I pleaded. Having purchased the pretzel, I immediately sank my teeth into it, feeling its soft interior melt in my mouth. Totally satisfied, I strolled onto Piata Mare, passed Libraria Schiller (where one can buy German books and maps), and stopped in front of an art gallery. I looked through its window at its beautiful landscape paintings, fine pottery, and glass figurines. Then I walked by Casa Lutsch and entered the Billa Supermarket at the corner of Strada Avram Iancu. After I bought four croissants for supper and an early breakfast, I strolled back to my hotel to prepare myself for my early morning departure from Romania.
Rom Sibiu Casa Lutsch
Casa Lutsch is just one of the many beautiful
buildings on Piata Mare, Sibiu’s huge main square.

I arrived in a taxi at Sibiu International Airport at 5:15 am. I was efficiently processed through the Lufthansa ticketing and luggage booth at 6 am and Romania Border Security at 6:15 am. Unexpectedly I discovered that the airport’s waiting room had a snack bar, which sold pastries, sandwiches, and beverages. I bought a cappuccino to supplement the croissants I had brought with me. The airport also had a gift shop that had opened at 6 am! In the spirit of Romanian punctuality, “my” plane departed the runway at 7:15, as scheduled. Leaving Sibiu, I knew that I had not seen its Astra Museum, Pharmacy Museum, Promenada Shopping Mall, and the fortified churches in the nearby villages of Cisnadiora, Cisnadie, Cristian, and Dobarca. I don’t regret these “deficiencies” in my visit. There would never be enough time to see Romania in a month or even a year. Romania is a beautiful country which nobody truly can appreciate by visiting once. As the plane lifted off the ground and flew over the Carpathian Mountains, I knew that I would once again return to the beautiful country below me. Romania has so much to offer to everybody.

A FEW TIPS FOR VISITING ROMANIA: Before you fly into Romania, obtain at least 20 Euros in small bills in case Romanian money is not readily available at the airport of your arrival. In consideration that Romanian money is only gladly accepted in Romania, do not buy excessive amounts of Romanian Lei. Pay your hotel bills directly in Lei or Euros to avoid being excessively charged for money conversions. Only convert your currency at banks or other money exchange services that charge 0% commission. Dress so that you are not an inviting target. Wear a money belt and keep small amounts of readily available money in several pockets. Keep your passport in a secure place, and keep at least one non-color copy of it in your luggage. If possible, don’t travel alone. Reach out to your fellow tourists and encourage them to travel with you or other tourists. Avoid going to places where nobody is around you. I am now convinced that Romania is much safer than it was twenty years ago and it is definitely far safer than most American cities. I, nevertheless, encourage everybody not to make themselves easy targets for thieves and other criminals. Don’t go traveling with somebody just because they offer you a good deal. Be selective in whom you choose as friends. Cafes, museums, and ancient ruins are much better than bars to meet nice people. Use only state-regulated taxis (that have usage rates marked on them). Other taxis are driven by scam artists. To travel between cities, I encourage you to use the Romanian Railway System rather than unreliable, privately operated buses. Don’t drink the water = Drink bottled water. Avoid eating unwashed salads and meats that are undercooked, but please enjoy all the healthy foods the Romanians have to offer. It’s okay that we visit Romania again and again so that we can thoroughly enjoy its museums, castles, monasteries, nature parks, delicious cuisine, and friendly people. Viva Rumania!

If you have read this entire document in one reading session, you have an excellent attention span. If not, don’t worry = You are normal and not a person who likes to suffer from information overload. In any case, my stories about Romania are incomplete. I did not discuss my cultural experiences in Siniai, Bucharest, and Constanta; and I have yet to visit Timisoara, Iasi, Balea Lake, the Danube Delta. and so many other beautiful places in Romania. I refer you to the following websites for additional information:

Attractions and Activities in Romania

Tourist Information

Tourism in Romania

Please, also see photos of Romania on Facebook at Richard Roche, Folkston; I Love Transylvania, I Love Sibiu, I Love Sighisoara, I Love Constanta, and 273 Reasons to Visit Romania.

In consideration that I introduced myself to Romania while I was writing my Elit award-winning spy novel The Romanian Connection, you might consider reading that novel as an introduction to post-communist Romania. Twenty-four years have passed since Romania’s Revolution and the execution of its despicable dictator Nicolae Ceausescu. The scars of communism have given way to the renovation of Romania’s old buildings, the construction of new highways, bridges, and other infrastructure, and the re-discovery of the country’s inherent, natural beauty. Romania’s rich history, architectural wonders, beautiful landscapes, and abundant wildlife make its an ideal country to visit. Please, do so and share your wonderful experiences with us at this website. If you wish me to help you edit your story before we post it, I’ll gladly do so.

Richard Roche, Your Romanian Connection

6 Comments for this Post
  • it
    February 14, 2014 at 2:15 PM

    Hey there would you mind stating which blog platform you’re working with?
    I’m planning to start my own blog in the near future but I’m
    having a difficult time making a decision between BlogEngine/Wordpress/B2evolution and Drupal.
    The reason I ask is because your layout seems different then most
    blogs and I’m looking for something unique. P.S Sorry for being off-topic but I
    had to ask!


    • Richard Roche
      February 14, 2014 at 3:22 PM

      Talk Dog: You are communicating with a PC mental midget who assumes that this site uses a WordPress platform. How could it not. When I first started blogging on this site, I received a lot of responses, but the responses eventually declines, as they seem on many other authors’ websites. I probably need to blog about life and use Facebook to direct people to this site. What are your recommendations?


  • http://www.beebes.com/
    August 22, 2013 at 9:53 AM

    This design is incredible! You certainly know how to keep a
    reader amused. Between your wit and your videos, I was almost moved to start my own
    blog (well, almost…HaHa!) Wonderful job. I really loved what you had to say, and more than that, how you presented it.
    Too cool!


    • Richard Roche
      August 22, 2013 at 4:02 PM

      Bitte, fangen Sie ein Blog uber Transylvania oder die Siebenburger Saxon hier an. = Please, start a blog about Transylvania or Transylvanian Saxons here. Also consider reading the Romanian Connection at amazon.de. Other comments abut the wonderful country of Romania are also welcomed.


  • socializare
    August 7, 2013 at 7:22 AM

    super acest lucru este minunat am gasit ceva la fel aici la WZY.RO 🙂 imi place


    • Richard Roche
      August 7, 2013 at 11:35 AM

      Multumesc. I encourage you and your friends to submit positive comments about your wonderful country. If a story about a new Romanian place is submitted in Romanian, German. or English, I, for the love of Romania, will help the submitter in editing it and will publish it here in English.



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