We arrived early on a Tuesday morning in Brasov, Romania. Brasov is a beautiful town at the foot of mount Mt. Tampa in the heart of Transylvania, a beautiful land full of green mountains and castles and mystery. We’ll get to more of that later.
After finding our hotel and checking in, we walked down and through the main square, Piata Sfatului, with its old buildings including the 1420 council house and the famous Black Church built in the 1300’s and 1400’s and found a place for lunch. After lunch we bought tickets to go inside the Black Church. It was well worth it. Unfortunately you are not allowed to take pictures inside. It is the largest Gothic church between Vienna and Istanbul and it is gorgeous. It is still an active German Lutherin church and holds many of the original pews, sculptures, wall paintings, and art work.It is called the Black Church due to a fire in 1689 that burned Brasov down leaving much of the church black.
A side story about the Black Church, all but one of the sculptures on the church have a religious theme. There is however one sculpture at the top of a little boy leaning down over the edge. The story is he was a young apprentice of the builder who aspired to take over his boss’ job one day. The boss sent him to the roof to inspect some work, then pushed him off. Fellow workers heard what had happened and created the sculpture in his honor.
After exploring the church we headed back to the main square for, yup you guessed it, a free walking tour. 🙂 This one however was a bit late, starting at 6pm. As such we only made it half way through but still got some great history about Brasov and about Vlad the Impailer, and we saw some more sights we hadn’t explored on our own yet.
Brasov was originally part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire right on the border with the Ottoman Empire. The Germans were invited to fortify the area. As such Brasov was divided into 3 sections; the center was German, the west was Hungarian, and the east was Romanian.
After walking down what is the 3rd narrowest street in Europe, we were treated to a great story about Vlad the Impailer who’s father ruled what is now southern Romania for the Ottoman Empire. Not liking the Ottoman’s, Vlad decided to rule the area to the north for the Austro-Hungarian Empire but learned all about torture and the art and science of impailing from the Turks. And thus his reign of terror began. The Hungarian king didn’t mind because he was keeping the area safe from the Turks even if he was also terrorizing locals as well, including the German merchants in Brasov for charging too high taxes. He didn’t live in Brasov but had a mistress there and had visited often. Stories of his impailings spread far and wide and like a game of telephone, got twisted and turned into even more horrifying tales. Eventually the people began calling him the Dracul, or devil in Romanian. Tales reached Bram Stoker and Dracul became Dracula and instead of ruling the green flat lands of southern Romania, Dracula came from the more mysterious, hilly, and foggy center of the country known as Transylvania. Contrary to popular belief, Vlad did not own nor live at Bran’s Castle. It is merely the closest resemblance in Transylvania to the castle described in the book Dracula. It was however owned by his grandfather at one point for a short amount of time.
After breaking away from the walking tour, we found a great little place in a side alley for dinner.
Day 2 was a day trip to Bran’s Castle, only 45 minutes away from Brasov by bus.
All the pictures lead one to believe the castle sits atop a mountain and has at least 100 rooms. In fact it is right there in town on a small rocky hill about 100 steps up and looks rather small. Nonetheless, it was still very impressive and quite a maze to walk through all the small rooms in all 4 floors. When exploring the castle, it becomes evident that it has little to nothing to do with Vlad or Dracula but has a rather long and storied history of changing hands many times over ending up owned by the Queen of Romania before becoming the museum it is today. Each room had information in Romanian and English explaining what that room was used for during the Queens time and had period furniture left in place. It was quite well done. Only on the 4th floor were there 2 rooms that talked about the connection of Bran’s Castle with Bram Stoker’s Dracula.
At one point we were led to the “secret stairway” up a floor to an outdoor balcony, once the summer dining room, then up more stairs to a balcony overlooking the valley below.
Now perhaps Vlad never did live here nor the castle has anything to do with him or Dracula, but Dracula’s spirit must have been close by as about this time during our walk through, Tia suffered a massive nose bleed prompting an attendant to escort her and I to a private room to rest and clean up. Coincidence? Or…?? You decide.
Tuyet, Kim, and Tai finished walking through the castle and we got on the bus back towards Brasov stopping half way at Rasnov where the ruins of the 13th century Rasnov Fotress sit atop a hill overlooking the city. This too was impressive and the views from atop the old central tower were magnificent. Though not as grand as the Spis fortress in Slovakia, this was a worth while side trip for the day and the kids really enjoyed it (they seem to like ruined castles more than standing ones).
We talked about another day trip on day 3 to a town called Sighisoara, another small medieval citadel town. However the times for the train there and back were not really going to work, so we thought about walking around more of Brasov seeing some of the sights we missed from the free walking tour on day 1. However, day 3 tuned out to be a bit of a bust; first it was almost 90 degrees by 11am, so too hot to walk around. We went to a grocery store to get food for lunch and found a small store front selling traditional Romanian sweet Covrigi; warm pretzels stuffed with something (cherries in ours) and covered in powdered sugar. DELICIOUS!
Then heat was followed by thunder storms at 3pm. Off to the train station we went, and to H&M in the mall across the street for a bit of shopping for the girls, then dinner, then on a night train back to Budapest in hopes of catching a morning train to Belgrade, Serbia and another night train from there to Bar, Montenegro.
Hopefully we make it… we’ll let you know.
P.S. — Notice the “Hollywood” like signs? The “Brasov” sign was a student project 8 years ago that was meant to be temporary. It stuck. And Rasnov followed.