ROMANIA: 80 BLOGS AROUND THE WORLD
The wolves are howling as you run up the path in Romania… it’s dark and you can barely see through the forest, until you get to a clearing. Then the moon illuminates enough of the area around you to show a cliff face on either side of you, and a tall, dark imposing castle before you.
They’re getting closer now… you can hear their yipping to each other as if to say, S/he went that way. Then, growls, because they’ve entered the clearing too. You race for the castle gates, shouting for help, and as you approach they open. A wildly dressed man waves a bright candle-holder at you and says, “Quick this way.” As you enter the castle courtyard, and the gates shut firmly behind you, you don’t really feel much sense of relief, strangely.
“Come with me,” says the man. “My master has been expecting you.”
Through a third storey window, you see the silhouette of a caped man.
Welcome to Romania, home of many a flight of fancy, especially with its most legendary district, Transylvania. Once home to a 14th Century noble known as Vlad the Impaler, and later fictionalised to a centuries-old vampire count, Dracula.
What inspires such a gothic romanticism? Well, it was, and remains, as one of the few European countries which still have a great forest, populated with wolves and bears. It is also home to a wandering Roma population. The Roma are better known to us and within popular culture as gypsies – those romanticised wanderers of caravans and sultry mystery.
Like us, Romania is a developing country. For that reason, it makes a very affordable holiday for South Africans. Especially those looking for some Eastern European flavoured culture to explore.
One of the biggest attractions is a 14th Century fortress called Bran Castle. It was completed in record time in 1380, and acted as customs and border control on the Romanian principalities Transylvania and Wallachia border. It is a magnificent structure that now acts as museum. It mainly contains the treasures and trinkets that the last queen of Romania, Marie of Edenburgh, collected throughout her life.
Below, it contains various medieval peasant structures, exactly as they were in the centuries past: barns and little cottages which capture the lives lived all that time ago. It is said this was the castle that inspired Bram Stoker to write Dracula… though it’s hard to associate this exquisite construction with the dilapidated castle described in the book.
Then, if you have any religious historical interests, you could visit the Black Church is Brasov. It isn’t, as you’d think, very black in colour, but it is towering. Its spire reaches for the sky, and gives historical reference to the 14th Century. A lot seemed to happen in Romania in that century, it seems.
Visit it if you’re a lover of music, too. It has a famous 4000-piece pipe organ, and every Tuesday night at 6pm there is a concert. You’ll find it has baroque roots, which is a much later period. The reason for this is because there was a great fire in Brasov in 1689, and much of the church was damaged. It took 100 years to fully repair it, and some of the styles and influences of the era have imbued themselves on the church.
Perhaps you have an interest in Judaica. Many Jewish South Africans are of Eastern European descendance. If you’re one, you may be interested in exploring your roots on a tour of the Eastern European region. Stopping off at Romania is a must, because of its Jewish History Museum in the capital Bucharest. It is a sad memorial, to the thousands of Romanian Jews who died during the Holocaust. The Museum shows the history of Romanian Jews, along with their many contributions to Romanian society – as the Jewish people have done in all the countries they’ve lived in.
Of course, anyone with a historical bent (and that is surely part of the reason you’re visiting Romania in the first place) will find the stylings fascinating, as the Museum is a synagogue, built with Byzantine and Moorish influences. This is clearest in the ornamentals. Visiting it is both a haunting and invigorating experience.
Then, there’s Iasi.
This is one city in Romania you can’t miss out on. It is their leading cultural, arts, and academia centre, filled to the brim with monasteries and churches all dating back hundreds of years. It is populated by buildings that pre-date its own 1500s naming, and a stroll down its streets is like a walk backwards in time.
While there, you may want to visit their esteemed Alecsandri National Theatre, where you’ll see the Iasi Romanian National Opera perform. Their voices are extraordinary, so you will definitely want to be in the Rococo and Baroque styled auditorium for that. Simply sitting in its seats will transport you back to the 19th Century.
Among Iasi’s religious structures are: the Great Synagogue, which dates back to the 1600s, making it one of Europe’s oldest still-standing synagogues; the Armenian Church, built in 1395; and the Metropolitan Cathedral, the largest in the country.
There are also numerous museums, ranging from natural history to science and technology to art history. Lastly, the Moldova State Philharmonic and Opera House will appeal to your aural senses if you’ve a love for music.
Then there are various outdoor tours which you simply must take. One for animal-lovers is the Brown Bear-watching tour, where you’ll have the opportunity to see Carpathian brown bears up close. You’ll be safe in the hands of an experienced forest ranger who will guide you to and from a hide. From there, you’ll see not just bears, but wild boar, deer, lynx, and other animals native to the region.
Romania is a journey of time and place, with its monuments to worlds long gone, and its beautiful forests and nature. Factor in how inexpensive a holiday it is, and it makes perfect sense to make it your next visit.
Just watch out for the wolves. And men in capes who invite you over to their castles for dinner. You never know what it is they intend to put on the menu.