Brasov and the surrounding areas
Continuing our short, but now extended, tour through Romania, we moved on to Brasov for a quick three night stay.
As we are somewhat fluid in our trip planning, but also not wanting to get caught pulling into a town without a reservation and just hoping to find an available accommodation, we tend to plan and book at least a week ahead. Meeting someone who, as Tina mentioned in the Sighisoara post, makes you take another look and adjust plans is also why we try not to look too far a head, and to try and book cancelable hotel rooms.
So far this trip we've been lucky, but with these last adjustments we had to eat a processing fee from AirBNB (worth the minimal charge), and we stuck with the 3 days in Brasov since it was next on our stop and we were inside of the non-cancelalbe window. Turns out to have been worth it even though it did mean that we would do a bit of backtracking in our driving route to the north.
Brasov is another one of these quaint cities, I'm sure the locals love hearing them called quaint, but that's how to describe it. Surrounded by mountains, with the obligatory castle up at the top. For this one we once again managed to choose a place up on a hill, so that did mean we had a daily climb down into the town and then the dreaded climb back up the stairs in the dark each night after dinner. Booking in the valley is something you would think we would have learned by now, but I'm not sure we will ever really manage to look at that in the information about locations when we are booking them - sometimes we're lucky we remember to make sure they have air conditioning.
We pulled into town in the afternoon, perfect for a little time to stroll around and then meet up with another free walking tour. If started just outside of the main square - we have no photos of this since they were setting up for a music concert - and off we went. We did learn that the city was renamed to "Stalin" once WW2 ended, and that they planted the city name in evergreen trees up on the hill so everyone could see it. When it was changed back to Brasov in the late 50's it took some time for them to blend trees in to remove his name, that's why now the cities just use big wooded signs similar to the Hollywood sign in Los Angeles.
First stop the Black Church, a Lutheran church built by the German Saxons sometime in the 14th century. Fires and the like burnt most of the church, leaving the outside charred and earning it the name the black church. That and I think there was a story about a painting inside of the Virgin Mary not getting burnt but that her blue dress turned to black after the fire. Photos aren't allowed once you're inside, but it is well worth the entry fee.
From there we wandered through the city, past original city walls where we learned that the four spires surrounding a main spire on a city gate meant that the walled city had the death penalty, as opposed to just chopping thief's hands off and letting them on their way. Our guide made it clear that it was fairly important for a city to make a notification like this.
Then off to the Church of Saint Nicholas, were apparently stockpiles of historical and religious documents were squirreled away in the early years of communism in Romania, and when they were finally found out in the 70's. or 80's I wasn't fully listening, the communist local leader decided to put them into a museum and showcase them.
The tour walked through a few more small sights before our guide tried to embarrass the whole group by making us dance in a circle in a park square. I've said it before, these free walking tours are well worth the $10-15 USD tip that you give them at the end. We asked a few questions at the end, where is there a wine store, and what memorials are still here related to world war one?
Our guide didn't disappoint, a recommendation on a store selling local Romanian wines, and then directions to two different war cemeteries. The first cemetery was on our walk back home that evening, so we passed through it on our way back.
Coming off of an evening with a German / Romanian cemetery - back when the two sides were fighting together in the war, we decided to make the 120 mile journey (240 round trip) east to see the Mausoleum of Marasesti, a massive monument that holds the remains of 5,073 Romanians killed in the First World War. It is moving, maybe not worth the 5 hours to get there and back, but had we been heading to Bucharest it would have been a must see.
So after day two around Brasov being filled completely with WW1, and a nice drive up and over the Carpathian Mountains, we decided to go a different direction in our sightseeing.
Off to the city of Rasnov, a smaller version of Brasnov which we read has a better preserved fortification on the top of their hill. We took a cable car that pulls you up the hill, and yes, it was wonderful for the views of the valley and to see what is left of the small area that would have made up the village inside of the fortification.
From Rasnov we headed further southwest to get to Bran Castle. Bran is famous as having the Dracula Castle. We got there and it was flooded with tourists, we skipped the line for the castle, snapped some photos and headed back to Brasov.
The Bran Castle is called Dracula's Castle because it matches Bram Stoker's description of Dracula's in his book. He never went to Romania, but could have seen photos or read about this castle before writing. The locals here figured they knew a way to make money - I'm not sure if, now, several generations later, they feel the same way.
Our final morning in Brasov, on our way out we made sure to pass by the second cemetery that our guide had mentioned, this one more of a WW2 Russian cemetery that also had some WW1 graves in it. It was moving to us in a different way, we thought that the condition of some of the WW1 German tombstones were in rough shape at the first cemetery, this one was just a completely neglected site.
Most all of the tombstones are for WW2, and mostly all for Russians who dies liberating the country from Nazi oppression. I get that what followed was a communist oppression, but it's still sad to see a total disregard for those that died in the line of service trying to help another country.
There were up in the back, also a few WW1 markers, most were broken and barely readable. One that was still upright, it looked as if it had seen some repairs at some point, but that pays homage to the "80 Romanian heroes" that died in 1916 and are now interred here.