May - June 2019
  • Day27

    Big British Bucharest Quiz

    June 12 in Romania ⋅ 🌫 30 °C

    Our last full day in Romania was the hottest of the whole trip, with 32 degrees forecast.

    We left the hotel about 9am for a walk to the east of the city. We bought some apricots from a street seller and continued through the backstreets until we reached the Fireman's Tower. Originally designed as a fire lookout tower and water storage, it was never used for the latter because there were no pumps in the country strong enough to pump the water up, so it was used as lookout tower until the buildings around it got taller and blocked the view.

    We had tea in the old town, before attending the Big British Bucharest Quiz Night, Europe's largest quiz night, held every fortnight. It's held over 2 floors in an old town bar, with big screen and cameras used to relay the action upstairs. There were 37 tables competing (200 attendees). As I'd emailed the quiz master to register our attendance, he gave us a goodie basket of Romanian souvenirs and included a number of Australian questions... which thankfully we got correct! We were a table of 3, with Marina, the host's girlfriend... and we finished 10th overall !☺
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  • Day26

    Bucharest backstreets

    June 11 in Romania ⋅ ⛅ 25 °C

    We spent the day walking the backstreets in the south of the city, discovering more great street art, parks, palaces, churches and abandoned buildings. And finding caches of course (including a First to Find on a newly published cache).

    We had a coffee break in a cafe opposite what was to be the Academy of Art and Literature, which was under construction before it was abandoned in 1989. New apartments now adjoin it on both sides.

    We also visited Xenofon Street, a narrow street of steps that was one of the most visited streets in Bucharest because of the painted waterfall cascading from top to bottom. It is now in such a state of decay that it is barely recognisable - we were there in search of a cache, but we chatted to an American tourist who made a special trip across town to see it! She was so disappointed! You can see what it used to look like at https://www.trover.com/d/1EMhz-strada-xenofon-bucharest-romania
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  • Day25

    Back to Bucharest

    June 10 in Romania ⋅ ⛅ 27 °C

    It's the final day of our Romania tour, so we departed Curtea de Arges at 9am in order to arrive in Bucharest around lunch and avoid the afternoon traffic.

    Gabriel dropped us at our hotel in the city centre, and we went for a walk in search of lunch and caches. We found the former at a lunch bar packed with locals, so we figured it must be good. We took ours to the park and enjoyed it amongst the pigeons and a team of gardeners sprucing up the park ready for summer.

    The caching took us to the Holocaust Memorial, commemorating the lives of Romanian Jews who died in the Holocaust, and acknowledges Romania's role.

    There are numerous abandoned buildings across town, the two most striking occupy an entire city block and were under construction when Communism ceased, and haven't been touched since 1989.

    Dinner was at the oldest beer house in Bucharest, Caru cu Bere, which has at least 100 tables and was booked out later in the evening (Romanians generally eat tea from 8pm, so we could have a table for 1 hour). It has a striking wood and stained glass interior and is popular with tourists and locals alike... the Communist style service fell somewhere between amusing and offensive - perhaps that's part of it's attraction!
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  • Day24

    Vlad's real castle... just up that hill

    June 9 in Romania ⋅ ⛅ 18 °C

    We headed south today, down the Olt River Valley Road, stopping at Cozia Monastery on the way. Being Sunday morning the church and grounds were very popular, especially as it's also a pilgrimage site for Romanians as Mircea the Elder (Vlad Tepes' grandfather) is buried there. Vlad and Mircea were both leaders of the Wallachia Region, although Vlad is now more connected to neighbouring Transylvania via the Dracula stories.

    We were also scheduled to visit Vlad the Impaler's real castle (Poienari Citadel), which can only be accessed up 1480 steps through the forest, but it's currently closed due to recent bear attacks. So we just viewed it from below...

    We then drove along the southern section of the Transfagarasan Road (not the famous bit) to Vidraru Dam, before heading to Curtea de Arges, the former capital of Wallachia, and visited the cathedral where the last 4 kings of Romania are buried (the last King of Romania, Michael I abdicated in 1947 when the communists took control, and died in 2017)

    After a walk around town we had a farewell dinner with Gabriel before our tour ends tomorrow.
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  • Day23

    The eyes of Sibiu

    June 8 in Romania ⋅ ⛅ 27 °C

    After returning to Sibiu we spent the afternoon walking in the old town and city walls, had some tea in the main square (currently hosting a food festival), and hosted a caching event at a local cafe.

    Many of the houses in Sibiu look like they are watching you with eyes on their roof, but it's actually a venting system for their attics. Most were built between the 15th and 19th centuries, when the attic was used to smoke meat. The fireplace in the house vented into the attic where the meat was hanging and the eyes allowed the smoke to escape.Read more

  • Day23

    Not driving the Transfagarasan Road

    June 8 in Romania ⋅ ⛅ 18 °C

    With a shuffle to our itinerary, had a free morning today, so Gabriel suggested a drive to Lake Balea, and a chance to see the famous Tranfagarasan Road, rated by Top Gear as the best road in the world.

    The road is only open a few months a year from July to October (weather dependent), so if you can't drive the road, the next best thing is to see it!

    We drove from Sibiu to the base station of the cable car to take us to Lake Balea, arriving just after it opened at 9am. This was a good move, as queues later in the day were huge.

    The cable car travels up the valley, over the closed section of the Transfagarasan Road, and it was easy to see why it is still closed. When we reached the top, there was still enough snow to ski on (and it had a number of hardy takers, given there are no ski lifts operating), and Lake Balea was still largely frozen over.
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  • Day22

    Hunedoara, home of fairy tale castles

    June 7 in Romania ⋅ ☀️ 25 °C

    We began the day with a walk around the star shaped citadel of Alba Iulia, known as Alba Carolina Citadel (fortress, fortification... the names seem to be used randomly!). It's the largest citadel in Romania and only contains museums, churches and grand buildings... and swathes of food stalls, cafés and souvenir stalls of course. It was never used for housing and is now used like a town square, for socialising and public events.

    We detoured to the town of Hunedoara, an industrial town formerly kept afloat by coal mining, now one of the poorest towns in Romania since the coal mines were shut overnight in 1990.

    Despite being surrounded by factories, Corvin Castle (1440) is a classic fairy tale castle with pointed turrets, drawbridge, moat and bear pit! The interior has been left mostly empty, but there are a number of rooms over various levels to explore, with plenty of information boards to explain the use and history of each room.

    We drove to Sibiu and did a late afternoon walk of the old town with Gabriel, before having dinner at a traditional Romanian restaurant.
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  • Day21

    Deep in Turda

    June 6 in Romania ⋅ ⛅ 20 °C

    We left Sighisoara early to arrive in Biertan when the fortified church opened.

    We were greeted by a group of locals discussing the issues of the day over a beer at the street cafe... and it was 9.30am!

    Biertan Fortified Church (1493) is a huge Lutheran Church, surrounded by 3 levels of fortifications, and only has a handful of buildings within the defensive ring. It's unique feature is the door lock system on the sancristy, the room to protect the village's valuables. It has 19 locks, 4 activated by one key, and 15 by a rotating removable handle.

    The drive to Turda was much slower than planned, as we got caught in some major traffic jams caused by road works on the new Transylvanian Highway.

    The main attraction in Turda is the salt mine, Salina Turda. It was an operating salt mine from the 16th century to 1932, then opened as a tourist attraction in 1992. It now contains an underground amusement park at a depth of 112m, with ferris wheel, row boats, mini golf, a playground, snooker and table tennis tables and ten pin bowling.

    Overnight in Alba Iulia.
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  • Day20

    Viscri to Sighisoara

    June 5 in Romania ⋅ 🌫 23 °C

    Early departure from Brasov with only one stop at Viscri on the way to Sighisoara.

    Viscri's claim to fame is that Prince Charles owns, and restored a house there...oh, and they have a spectacular 13th century church, fortified in 1500.

    The church and fortifications are much smaller than Prejmer, as the villagers only fled here in times of attack and lived for short periods, but the church and village are both incredibly well preserved. The chuch has an austere interior with an all wooden gallery, with a stone tower with sweeping views across the village and surrounding farmland.

    The Lard Tower in the perimeter wall was used to store the village supplies of cured meats up until the early 1990's, as the village had no electricity for refrigeration. Each family marked their meat with their house number and the tower was opened each Sunday at 7am when families would take their meat supplies for the week. An overseer would ensure they took only their own meat, and the tower wasn't opened again until the following week.

    We arrived in Sighisoara eatly afternoon and had lunch in the main square of the citadel before doing a walking tour. Sighisoara features the only continuously inhabited citadel in Romania, with a small number of families still living in the walled city atop the hill overlooking the city. A majority of the city walls, the clock tower and 9 of it's 16 towers are still intact, along with most of the colourful houses.

    We walked the citadel again by ourselves in the late afternoon, then wandered through the cemetery (in search of a cache), before returning to the citadel for a late tea - and another papanasi, this time made the traditional way and boiled instead of being deep fried.
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  • Day19

    Rasnov and bears

    June 4 in Romania ⋅ 🌧 18 °C

    Early start for the drive to Rasnov, so we were on the doorstep when Rasnov Fortress opened at 9am.

    Rasnov Fortress was built in 1225 as a safe haven for the villagers, who were forced to live there for extended periods. It was conquered only once, in 1612. The defeat was caused by the lack of water due to the enemy troops discovering the secret spring supplying the fortress. To remove this weakness, they began digging a well, finally striking water 17 years later at a depth of 146 metres!

    To replace the missed hike two days ago, we visited Libearty Bear Sanctuary, a retirement home for bears confiscated from captivity in Romania. Most are so traumatised after years of captivity and being forced to perform that they aren't suitable for release into the wild, so they live their days out in the 69 hectares of (fenced) natural habitat.

    We returned to Brasov for lunch and an afternoon walk, which was curtailed by torrential rain. We returned to the hotel until the weather improved, then went out for an evening walk and dinner in a backstreet bistro.
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