There's a Bloodsucker Born Every Minute

Thursday, April 12, 2018 Road Junkies 0 Comments


Balkans & Beyond, Days 17 & 18:  Sighișoara, Romania to Brașov, Romania.  No doubt our luck will run out soon, but Wednesday dawned another sunny day as we departed Sighișoara on our old friend Highway E-60. We hadn't gone far when we again saw roadside fields with what looked like rows of telephone poles askew.
Unlike yesterday, this time we were able to get a closer look and noticed that wire cabling connected to the poles formed an extensive trellis system.  Stopping, we discovered that we had encountered a field where hops are grown, a "hop yard," in the proper terminology.  A climbing plant, hops are trained to grow up the wires and cover the trellises.  Though not a significant factor in the national economy, much of Romania's hops crop is exported, primarily to Russia.
Spring planting season seems to be in full swing in the Transylvanian countryside.  In fields along the highways, we often see people seeding fields by hand.  Where the soil is turned up, it appears dark and fertile.  Vibrant green crops and grasses attest to its richness.
Rupea Citadel  (photo from Wikipedia)
Not quite halfway to Brașov, an intriguing hilltop fort near the town of Rupea (ROO-pee-ah) came into view, demanding a stop.  Sited on a 400-ft. hilltop, the Rupea Citadel was built on the ruins of an early fort from the Roman era.  Over the centuries, the fortification system has been altered and expanded, but the oldest parts still existing date from the 10th to 13th centuries.
By the late 1700s, the citadel had been abandoned after its roof was destroyed in a severe storm.  For two hundred years, it sat in ruins until a comprehensive preservation project between 2010 and 2013 restored the fort to its former glory.
Always willing to climb for a panoramic view, we hiked to the top of the citadel for an overlook of the nearby town of Rupea (pop. 5,011).  As in other towns and villages we've driven through in this area, houses are concentrated within the town, and a distinctive demarcation divides the town from the surrounding countryside.
As we passed through the town, we stopped at the local Profi supermarket for a few supplies, hoping we'd pass a roadside park where we could enjoy a picnic lunch.  Though that never happened, we did locate an unpaved road in a wooded area where we stopped and ate, hoping we weren't encroaching on someone's private property.
Our rural lunchtime layover 
When we arrived in Brașov around 1:30, we headed straight for Parcul Sportiv Brașov, a popular sports park north of the city center, where a Massachusetts letterboxer hid a couple of treasures in 2015.  Though no one had reported finding them, we were hopeful the letterboxes would still be in place, and they were.  One unfortunately was just an empty box, but the other was safe and sound, sitting there under a slab of heavy bark waiting for our visit.
Our Airbnb apartment in a new building, a bargain at $53 per night 
Our letterbox adventure ended just in time for us to begin another search, this one for the Airbnb apartment where we'd be staying the next two nights.  Located in a brand new building in a development still under construction, the address was not known to our Garmin GPS, Google Maps, Apple Maps or Waze.  After tracking down the general area, we parked the car and set out on foot to find the building.  It was well worth the challenge.  Stylishly furnished, the one-bedroom fifth floor flat is spacious and bright and comfortable.  Icing on the cake is the washing machine in the apartment.  As we've learned to expect in Europe, there is no tumble dryer as is common in the U.S.  Laundry is spread on a drying rack or put on hangers to air dry.
Drying rack from our Bratislava Airbnb.  The current apartment doesn't have one.
After dropping off our bags in the apartment, we grabbed an Uber ride to the Brașov city center, where our host had warned that parking would be problematic.  Our first stop was the old town hall, which—in a now familiar pattern—currently serves as the city's history museum.  Like the attendants in the Bratislava museum, the guides in Brașov's version hovered over us, pointing from one exhibit room to the next, ensuring that we didn't miss a single item of their collection.
Exhibits included lots of text materials, most in Romanian only.
By the time we escaped from their clutches and walked over to the city's famous Black Church (so called because of soot damage it sustained in a 1689 fire), the Lutheran place of worship had closed for the day.  Back we went to Council Square, the historic center of the city and home of the old town hall museum.
Council Square (Old Town Hall dominant)
The square is surrounded by colorful medieval buildings in a variety of architectural styles.  Both Council Square and several side streets around it have been limited to pedestrian use only, and hundreds of locals and visitors were enjoying the mild weather with an early evening stroll.

As in all the cities we've visited on this trip—and on other trips to Europe—the sidewalk cafe culture is alive and well.  Numerous cafes offered al fresco dining on the square, their table and chair styles all that distinguished where one ended and another began.  For some reason, all seemed to be offering pizza, and we made our pick and placed an order.  Unfortunately, we did not choose well, and our pizza, though covered with seasoning, was completely flavorless.

On Thursday, we had a different kind of tasteless experience.  Even though neither of us is a fan of the Dracula story or the recent surge of vampire literature, we planned to visit Bran Castle in the nearby city of Bran because we knew it had no actual connection to the famous literary character.
Bran Castle
The Irish author Bram Stoker created the character of Count Dracula and set his story in Transylvania, though Stoker had never visited Romania himself.  The writer depicted his imaginary vampire's home as a castle perched on a rock and located high above a valley with a river flowing through it.  Since Bran Castle is the only one in all of Transylvania that meets the description, fans of the novel have named it "Dracula's Castle" and thousands of them flock to it each year.
In fact, the town of Bran is permeated with a circus-like atmosphere with dozens of vendors hawking cheap souvenirs to the tourist hordes.  Even though this kind of zoo usually sends us running in the opposite direction, we wanted to search for a couple of 2013 letterboxes hidden at the castle.  It came as no surprise when our search revealed that neither box was in its hiding space.
Queen Mary's bedroom
Rather than a vampire, the last resident of Bran Castle was Queen Mary of Romania.  Maria Alexandra Victoria, princess of Great Britain, was the granddaughter of Queen Victoria and great granddaughter of Czar Alexander II of Russia.  She married Romania's crown prince in 1892 and bore him six children.  During World War I, she served as a military nurse, risking her life to go into the trenches among the soldiers.
In accordance with the queen's will, her body was buried with her husband's in Bucharest.  Her heart was placed in a case in a niche dug into the side of a hill across the river from Bran Castle.

Tomorrow we'll continue our drive to Bucharest, where we'll turn in our rental car and spend the next four days exploring the city before winding up our time in Romania.

    •  Started in:  Sighișoara, Romania
    •  Ended in:  Brașov, Romania
    •  Miles driven:  115
    •  Miles walked:  11.41
    •  Weather:  48° to 75°, sunny
    •  Vampires who have lived in Bran Castle:  0
    •  Dracula fans who believe he lived in Bran Castle:  44,278,120
    •  Hop yards we've visited:  1
    •  Merchants selling exactly the same souvenirs near Bran Castle:  22
    •  Selfies taken at Bran Castle between 11 a.m. & 1 p.m. today:  693

Loved:  Seeing hundreds of sheep being tended by dozens of shepherds as we drove along the backroads.  Often the shepherd was using his mobile phone when we passed.

Lacking:  Dracula fans' willingness to accept historical facts that:  a) the character of Dracula was not based on a real Romanian count; and b) a fictional character did not live in a real castle.

Learned:  We had no idea that hops were grown on wire trellises in a hop yard.  We always thought they were delivered to breweries by the Yeaster Bunny.  (OK, I did.  Ken probably did not.)

More Photos from Today
Funny mat at the apartment across the hall
Stunning Court of Appeals courthouse in Brasov
Embroidered items were popular souvenir fare.  Made in Romania or in China?  We didn't investigate. 
Rope Street in Brasov, used by fire fighters in the Middle Ages, only about four feet wide.
Translations:  Car Wash (L)  |  Grocery Store (R)
Oh, so affordable fresh bread:  39 cents US for the baguette, 23 cents for pretzels bigger than your hand 
You never know what kind of traffic you'll encounter on Romanian roads.