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...two travellers in search of the world's wildlife

18 September 2016

Transylvanian day

Rasnov castle above the forests

Rasnov castle above the forests

12 September 2016

Wow… we packed a lot in today. We got from Magura all the way to Sibiu via the rustic part of Romania known as the “saxon lands” because saxon peasants were persuaded to settle here en masse in the twelfth century and never went away. This explains some of the surprisingly picture-postcard Brothers Grimm gingerbread architecture!

First stop, Rasnov Castle. Much quieter than Bran and with big views over the plains, the forest hills, and the town of Rasnov. Lovely frustrating start once we had made the tractor ride up to the castle: the lady at the ticket kiosk simply wouldn’t take my money. “Smaller notes” is all she could muster. The next people were equally disappointed. So I went to a snack kiosk to buy a coffee – genius move! Except… “sorry, no change.” At this point I walked a way with such an amazing forlorn/frustrated/despairing look that the snack kiosk lady rummaged in her own purse and called out “no, I have change!” and so I got my coffee and we got our tickets. It’s the little victories. The castle is quite a shabby ruin, but the views are great.

Harman, peasant fortress

Harman, peasant fortress

Next stop, Harmann. Very hard to do this justice. You drive into a sleepy and entirely non-descript large village of dusty modern breeze-block houses on the pancake flat plains beyond Brasov… and right in the middle is a huge church with a white-washed castle wall circling right around it. The place was so quiet and bereft of people that we were sure it was closed, and yet magically it wasn’t. Harmann is referred to as a “peasant fortress” and that’s what it is: a whole bunch of little houses are built into the inside of that encircling wall, and then smack in the centre is a big ol’ church. It’s beautiful, charming and very evocative, and apparently completely uninteresting to the tourist masses that cause clusters of souvenir and snack stands to mushroom at all the more famous sites.

Sighisoara the Pretty

Sighisoara the Pretty

Next stop, Sighisoara, a town with a medieval walled heart on a hill that our Lonely Planet had done its best to massively oversell in typical Lonely Planet style. “So pretty it should be arrested” it apparently “burns itself into your memory” with “streets aglow with lustrously coloured 16th-century houses!” Well, to be honest it’s really very beautiful. Of course it has a bunch of tourists, but not hordes, and once you wander away from the main square there really is an ageless quality to the whole place, it would be easy to drift back a couple of centuries and not notice. Loved it.

But we were still a long way from Sibiu! So we set of on a rambling drive along small roads taking us through a number of the saxon villages, many with their own UNESCO-listed fortified churches. Biertan’s looked like it might almost rival Harmann, and is obviously better known as it definitely did have the little mushroom-grove of souvenir stalls. Closing up, though, as we were there too late and the church compound was already closed. Splendid from a distance, though. Unlike English churches, the village churches of Romania don’t seem to be left unlocked, so we didn’t actually find any others to poke into. The drive was the best kind, though: quiet, rolling roads with sunshine and eye-catching countryside all around.

Biertan's grand fortified church

Biertan’s grand fortified church

To Sibiu. I guess it’s a medium-sized city, with plenty of industry and apartment blocks and big roads on the outskirts and then the sudden discovery of a core of cobbled roads, squares, and 18th century central European buildings. In an almost exact parallel of Plovdiv in Bulgaria, our Google Maps took us to the wrong side of the pedestrian-only square containing our hotel, deep inside a warren of one-way streets, with no parking visible anywhere, and a cursory glance suggesting that we’d have to actually drive back out of the city and in from the other side to correct it! Luckily some parking quickly revealed itself around a corner and the five minute walk was hardly a trial.

Dinner outside in one of the restaurants on one of Sibiu’s very, very handsome central squares. No matter that we never once saw a pig, Romanian food seems to rely almost entirely on pork. So far it’s all been good, and this was probably the best, with delicious soups to start and thick stews for mains. Big balls of white polenta made up the starch, and were very good. Our hotel – Residence Huet – couldn’t be more central, and is great value with good views over the lower town.

Last stop, Sibiu

Last stop, Sibiu


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