Brasov, Romania

I happened to arrive in Transylvania on Friday the 13th, which was kinda cool. I stayed in Brasov, which is right in the heart of transylvania, for three nights. It’s a beautiful area in the middle of the Carpathian mountains, with green hills and snowy peaks all over the place. Very cool gothic architecture. Lots of the buildings have crazily peaked and crooked roofs which really look like our popular conception of ‘Transylvania,’ especially when it’s dark and storming out. On a nice day, it’s very pleasant and pretty. It’s really common there to see farmers in funny Romanian farmer-hats driving old horse-drawn carts down the side of roads. Just as common as Romanian hipster kids in huge sunglasses skateboarding in town squares. It’s a very backwards, rustic area, but very modern at the same time. They did not have good ice cream, but still, I liked it a lot.

Brasov is a pretty cool little city. It’s got a very picturesque old town and cathedral, and a nice town square where they were having some kind of karoke contest when I was there. They’ve got a Hollywood-style ‘Brasov’ sign up on this really steep hillside overlooking the town, which I climbed up to one afternoon. It was a long walk up these really boring endless switchbacks. At the top there’s a cafe where I wanted to get something to drink before heading back down, but the guy there refused to serve me because he didn’t want to make change for my 10,000 lei bill (which is like $3). I was angry. Later on, I thought of some choice words I should have said. I mention it only because this has been an ongoing annoyance on this trip. In Eastern Europe people hate making change. If you dont have exact change for a purchase, people almost always make faces to indicate how unbearably annoying it is for them to have to give you change, like it’s the most difficult thing in the world. Often they’ll try to round up, or not give any change at all. Or on a number of occasions they’ve actually refused to serve me. They’d rather not take any of my money than give me change back. What’s up with that? I can understand if I was trying to pay with the equivalent of a $100 bill, but really, if you’re running a business, how hard is it to make sure you have sufficient change for small bills onhand every day? Go to the bank. I know there are probably reasons for this.. less money in circulation, less use of bank accounts, or whatever. But it bugs me. So I wanted to rant. I really did like Brasov a lot. Cool town.

The hostel I stayed at (the Kismet-Dao Korean/American Buddhist Hostel, if you were wondering) ran tours to some of the castles in surrounding towns. So one day I went on a tour of Rasnov fortress, Bran castle, and Peles palace. Rasnov was a pretty standard ruined old fortress. Pretty location surrounded by mountains, but nothing spectacular. Bran castle was cool only because it’s “Dracula’s castle.” I’ve never read the original book, but I guess Bram Stoker set it in Bran castle, even though it’s very doubtful that the real Vlad the Impaler ever was in residence there. They say he probably owned it at some point, and may have been a prisoner there, but most of the Dracula stuff is made up. It’s a very pretty little castle, but not very gothic, and there’s nothing particularly scary about it, except for the hoardes of tourist-trap vendors just outside the gates selling dracula stuff.

Peles Palace, in Sinaia, was absolutely awesome, however. It was built for the Romanian king Carol I in the late 1800s, and so it’s done in this extremely romantic style. A kind of Bavarian fairytale fantasia of opulence and intricate detailing. It’s amazing, and I wont be able to do it justice trying to describe it. The outside is all tall spires and fancy ornamentation. Inside it’s all carved wood and marble and fancy carpets which they wont let you walk on without putting on these funny slippers. They wouldn’t let us take pictures inside. I wish they had because it was such a sensory overload I cant possibly remember most of it. Lots of wood carvings, and Art Nouveaux paintings, and these amazing images I thought were paintings at first, but turned out to be done entirely with 14 types of inlaid wood. There was a library with a secret door behind a bookcase (!). Every little piece of furnature or decoration was intricate and must have taken an incredible amount of labor to produce. There was a teak table and chair set that took a family of wood carvers a century to make. Lots of things like that. Much, much nicer than the empty boringness of the Palace of Parliament in Bucharest. This is what a palace should be like.

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