Romania… a medium sized country that is still waiting to be discovered, to appear in all its beauty side to side to the actual more visited places in Europe and to be released of the cuffs of stereotypes and judgments.
For the first-time visitor, Transylvania, one of the most important Romania’s areas comes with a lot of mental baggage. Thanks to the Dracula industry, Romania’s heartland exists in the popular imagination in a kind of permanent Middle Ages, a land of fearful peasants, salivating beasts and the odd Gothic castle inhabited by Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee. Of course, you know it’s all nonsense: you know modern Romania is a member of the EU, has troops serving in Iraq, and that the Count was a lurid fabrication anyway, as reliable a guide to the modern country as Sherlock Holmes is to London.
So let’s start from Dracula and Transylvania story 😉 that I am sure each of you heard about:D I am very sorry to announce you that we don’t have any vampires or dead young women there and it is not that creepy that you think…actually you will not feel any difference between being in Transylvania or Muntenia except the tiny dialect spoken that only Romanian people can detect (sometimes this accent is that different that we have problems in understanding each other). But the Dracula castle, called Bran Castle really exists and it is impressive. Besides, on the last floor of the castle, where the Dracula was supposed to have the dormitory you can find a man disguised in Dracula that can really scary you if you don’t expect to meet him. Actually the Dracula is just a title gave to a historical figure named Vlad Ţepeş (pronounced tse-pesh). The word Ţepeş stands for „impaler” and was so coined because of Vlad’s propensity to punish victims by impaling them on stakes, then displaying them publicly to frighten his enemies and to warn would-be transgressors of his strict moral code.
Although Bran Castle is the more famous Middle Ages castle of Romania, my preference goes for Hunedoara Castle. Built in the 15th century by Iancu de Hunedoara, prince of Transylvania and governor of Hungary, an anti-Otoman hero of Romanian origin (his father, Voicu received Hunedoara domain from the Hungarian king Sigismund of Luxemburg for his bravery), the castle became one of the nicest and largest in Europe during the kingship of Matei Corvin, Iancu’s son and probably the most successful kings of Hungary. After the Hunedoara line disappeared with the death of Ioan Corvin, Matei Corvin’s son, the castle became property of different Transylvanian princes.
It is probably, one of the most impressive Middle Ages military construction of Central Europe. If you go to see it, you will never forget its imposing towers and massive construction who impresses even the more seasoned travelers. The biggest problem is Hunedoara became an industrial town in the 19th century, so an ugly steel plant (which used to be the largest in the Balkans) is next to the castle, spoiling lot of its magic. However, if you try to ignore the ugly, you can remain with the magnificent in your mind for sure ! And by the way, a smaller copy of it can be found in Budapest behind the Heroes Square !
The Transylvania part of Romania is also well known by the astonishing landscapes you can see everywhere. In the heart of Făgăraş Mountains, at 2034 meters altitude, you can also visit Bâlea Glacial Lake. Since 1932, the lake and about 200 hectares of land around it were declared scientific reservation. In 2006, the first ice hotel in Eastern Europe was built in the lake’s surroundings. You can find the Bâlea Lake on the Transfăgărăşan road–the most spectacular highway of Romania. Climbing the mighty Făgăraş Mountains, it was opened in 1974 when it was supposed to play the role of a strategic road linking Southern with Western Romania. The rumors say hundreds of people died during its construction, but the outcome is impressive. A… let’s not forget… the road is closed during winter (you can access the Ice Hotel only by cable car or climbing through snow), so come only in summer. Moreover, they opened Transalpina few years ago and people say it is even more beautiful than Transfăgăraşan. There is no public transportation here, so you really need a car. Or a bike, if you have stamina!
If you want to witness something unique, visit the town Sighişoara, built by German craftsmen and merchants during the 12th century on a former Roman settlement, during the Sighisoara Medieval Festival in July when it doubles its This is the time for letting go and projecting yourself into a fun medieval universe with outdoor theater plays, night concerts, dancing competitions, or art installations.
Don’t forget about the Peleş Castle located in the city of Sinaia on the route to Braşov. Built between 1873 and 1914, this Neo-Renaissance landmark was commissioned by King Carol Ist and briefly served as the headquarters of the Romanian monarchy. When the Communist regime took over, the castle and its surrounding buildings were turned into a state protocol interest area. It consists of no less than 170 rooms and shelters, valuable painting collections, sculptures, expensive furniture elements, and an overall glamorous interior design.
However..Romania it’s not only about Transylvania..your trip can continue to the so called Moldavia part of Romania rich in monasteries (Suceviţa, Moldoviţa, Neamţ, Voroneţ) with an exclusive design and wall paintings and the remains of theSuceava’s city fortress. The sinuous road that connect these two important areas of Romania has a special beauty and is situated only 20 km from Bicaz city and is called Cheile Bicazului. Due to its uniqueness, this stretch of road is part of the Haşmaş-Bicaz Gorges National Park, along with Red Lake (but don’t imagine it’s really red..it’s only a name :)))Passing with your car through this narrow road, is truly an experience (I mean it!!i’ve been there 🙂 Driving through the pine woods, nothing but abyss on one side, it’s almost a bit scary as one can imagine the car falling down into the chasm. Even if you pass through here in the summer time, the chilly mountain air will give you the shivers.
Well, it was all about tourism in Romania, however Romanian culture has many other sides that are hidden under a thick layer of assumptions …
to be continued…