While preparing for No:48, suddenly a work requirement cropped up to go to Romania. Had a fun 10 days in Romania 🙂 (Outside of the intense work-week).
Rupea Citadel, Rupea, Romania.
Recorded history from 14th century. Takes some climbing, unless you take a taxi 🙂 You can see it from all around as it is on top of a hill. Each room and hall within this fort is marked and described quite well. Had to rearrange my plans quite a bit in an ultimately failed attempt to see Viscri Fortified Church. In most towns, you would expect the train station to be right in the center of the town. Not the case with Rupea! After exploring the Citadel, in the town, because I could get no taxi or bus, had to do a 7km walk through Romanian highways to get to the Train Station (Was the only person on foot! Several guys stopped and asked me if I wanted a ride. But because the weather was nice and I was enjoying the walk, I politely declined 🙂)
Bran Castle, Bran, Romania.
This Castle is highly marketed as “Dracula’s Castle”, which is utterly bogus!
1. When English Author (or Irish?) Bram Stoker wrote “Dracula” in 1897, there was no evidence that he was directly influenced by Vlad Tepes, or Vlad the Impaler, the Voivode of Wallachia (I assume “Voivode” means “Governor”)
2. Vlad Tepes, though very cruel allegedly, was no Vampire!
3. There is no evidence that Vlad Tepes ever lived in Bran Castle.
All this does not prevent from Bran Castle being heavily “influenced” by Count Dracula (A.k.a Vlad the Impaler). His image is everywhere. Souvenirs in his name are everywhere.
But what a majestic Castle. Utterly delicious! Small, beautifully located (as usual, on a hill) and just cute.
I have been blessed with great weather in Romania so far. Hope it continues for the rest of the week (Am here for work, believe it or not). In sunshine, Bran Castle just glows …
I carefully stayed away from any souvenir that had anything to do with Vlad Tepes. Did buy several Bran Castle souvenirs though … My wife complains that our living space is shrinking due to the “stuff” I bring back from my exploits …
Romanian Trains & Train Stations.
After experiencing rail journey at Bucharest, Brasov, Sighisoara, Rupea & Sinaia, I think I have some “qualifications” on this topic 🙂
Rail travel is quite popular in Romania, especially between major towns. CFR which runs Romanian Rail, does a decent job with the system. For e.g. I was very impressed with the adherence to timings. Other than arriving at Sinaia a few minutes late, departures and arrivals were spot-on w.r.t. the published schedules.
Some trains, especially “R” types, are quite tacky and rundown. But the “IR” types (longer distances, fewer stops) are way better, though not in the class of trains in France/Germany/Etc. I experienced both 1st class and 2nd class.
I would rank the stations thus:
1. Sinaia: Beautiful and clean station. Good amenities and quite regal in appearance (Peles Castle influence?)
2. Bucharest (Bucuresti Nord): Busiest station, but very Communisty … 🙂
3. Brasov: Hmmm … Just about okay. Real junk WC (By the by, most public WCs I have seen are paid ones, 1.5 Lei to 2.0 Lei per use)
4. Sighisoara: Small, but fits the basic needs
5. Rupea: Just the station master and me! Only his office room is operational, rest all are gutted! It was as if I entered a war zone …
The train tickets are very nominally priced and the automated ticket machines as well as the CFR website are a breeze to use … Kudos, Romania!
A beautiful Orthodox Church … On the way to Peles Castle.
Peles Castle, Sinaia, Romania.
Peles Castle was the Summer residence of King Carol I, who ruled Romania for 48 (!) years from 1866-1914. He had come from Germany to help Romania (formed in 1859) integrate into rest of Europe.
The Castle was built in 1873 and modifications went on till his death in 1914.
From Sinaia Train Station, it is a roughly 2km of climbing to reach the Castle. And when the sunlight falls on it, it is specially spectacular. Photography is not allowed inside, even with phones, as I was to find out later 🙂 Managed a few snaps by then though … There was a brief English Tour included in the admissions price. Considering the admission prices at other Romanian sights so far, Peles Castle is pricey. As soon as you see it from outside and see the interiors, you can understand why this castle is the pride of Romania (For e.g. Sinaia Train Station is way better than even Bucharest Train Station!).
King Carol, who spoke German, French, English and Romanian, maintained a library of 30000+ books, most of which is now in Bucharest’s National Library. He had used German architects to create a small but exquisite castle. The castle used 14 types of wood. The King’s Office, Reception Hall, Dining Hall (which seats 36 people), Ladies Smoking Room, Arrival Hall Etc. were included in the tour. Murano glass (some Hi-Fi glass it seems) was used abundantly. The King also had the largest private arms collection of that time. The castle had innovations like central heating. Built in German (and Italian) style, there are rooms with a lot of Persian carpets. There are also some real classy paintings, especially those of the King and his Family. The woodwork is so complex and intricate, it is like “Inception” (Mind-Bending!). If you discount the small size (relative to other famous Castles/Palaces), Peles Castle is definitely one of the best ones I have seen, yet.
Cotroceni Palace Museum
Cotroceni Palace is the official residence of the President of Romania. It is heavily guarded and there are all sorts of rules and regulations when you visit it. They security check you and keep your passport while you are inside. Also, one cannot enter on their own. It has to be a conducted tour.
When I found that the English tour was at 2PM (they changed the timings, looks like), I thought “Here goes my chance …”, as I had already booked Palace of Parliament English Tour at 2PM. Then I thought, does language really matter? I have read up about the Palace (Could be a guide myself) and know all the highlights and only thing I might miss are the guide’s titbits. So, in order not to miss seeing the Palace at all, I signed up for a Romanian language tour! At 11AM …
I stood out in the tour group like a sore thumb 🙂 And the shock in the Romanian Guide’s face when she saw the group, and me, was hilarious … Then we started off, with me bringing up the rear. We had to walk through a courtyard and I started taking pictures as I was walking. The guide (a lady) was saying something in Romanian. I did not pay attention and was clicking away. Apparently you are not supposed to photograph anything but the interiors of the Palace and that was what she was telling! Imagine from her perspective … “What a rude guy to not listen”. Then someone from the group told me in halting English what the guide had meant. Oops 🙂
The Palace is huge. There are countless well maintained rooms. We walked through a lot of the rooms, while the guide went on in Romanian. A Romanian lady occasionally translated for me, though I did not request her to translate.
Really enjoyed the tour … And at the end, splurged in the Souvenir shop as well. Reminded me of my Russian tour at Lake Baikal in 2016, where also I had stood out like a sore thumb
Palace of Parliament (“Palatul Parlamentului”)
How can one visit Bucharest and not talk about this massive building … Palace? Parliament? Actually, it is both.
Nicolae Ceausescu, the Communist Dictator who ruled Romania for 24 years sure helped create such hatred for himself among the people that he had a horrible (and deserving, many say) death. This Palace was his masterpiece, where he further strained an already strained Romanian economy for 13 years in building this monstrosity to showcase his power and prestige. The entire area was reclaimed for this project. Today, many Romanians do not care for this Palace at all, due to the painful memories associated with it.
The English Tour I took lasted 1.25hr. I was wearing a casual office shoe (not at all a walking shoe) and since I visited the Palace of Parliament after visiting Cotroceni Palace Museum (and the 8km, total, back and forth of walking), my feet was hurting like crazy. But I sucked it up and completed the tour. Know how much of the Palace was covered by the tour? 5%!
# 700 architects were involved
# 20000+ workers were involved
# Recognized as the 2nd largest office building in the World (after Pentagon)
# All the building materials, like marble, carpets, wood Etc. were from various parts of Romania. Nicolae apparently wanted to showcase the power of Romania. by not depending on other Countries.
# Romanian Parliament and Constitutional Court are housed here
# Only 60% is occupied. Rest is empty!
# The Palace has 1120 rooms (Some websites said 3000 rooms! Got overexcited I guess)
# There are 440 offices, 4 restaurants, 30 conference rooma and a Bank
# Some parts of the Palace are open only to Romanian citizens
# One of the Theatres has 600 seats and a 5 ton chandelier. This theatre is typically rented by University of Bucharest for graduation ceremonies. # The chandelier is not crystal, some fake material it seems ….
# There is a bigger theatre with 800 seats (!), used by the Romanian Parliament.
# The Palace has 12 floors above the ground (We started from -2)
# The building is 86m in height
# The building is on a small hill
# There are many paintings by Romanian artists, donated by Artists or Private Collectors
# Wood from Carpathian mountains is used mainly
# Some rooms are modeled on German style, inspired from Peles Castle
# The staircase steps are short as both Nicolae and Elena were short.
# It is interesting to note that many so-called Communist Leaders thought that Communist style was for followers, but they could have all the opulence they wanted ….
# “The Nun” movie was shot here (few scenes) after Vatican did not allow …
# The Palace is not a popular and happy place,. so not many weddings happen here, even though several halls can be rented by outsiders
# Yasser Arafat was here for some peace talks …
# We noticed that one of the ballrooms was being made ready for a Saturday event …
# Nadia Comeneci after her defection to USA was allowed to return, and she held a wedding reception in grand ball room in 1996 …
Museum of the Romanian Peasant, Bucharest, Romania.