So, we left off in an industrial estate in Brasov at 4.30am…
After calling into the posh hotel near the bus stop to see if the bar was open, it sadly wasn’t, so we decided to go to the service station next door for a cuppa and a beer while we made our mind up what we were going to do. We were both a bit reluctant to pay for a night in a hostel for what would only be a few hours, but were absolutely shattered and reasoned that if we just stayed up then we’d be in no fit state to see any of Brasov the next day, so got the bloke in the service station to phone us a taxi to the Rolling Stone Hostel. We rang the doorbell several times, saw no sign of life and we were starting to worry that it was going to be Budvar all over again (and there weren’t even any tables to sleep under or patio doors to open and squat in a house) but finally a nice young lady answered the door in her pyjamas and welcomed us inside. It was a lovely hostel in a nice old building with loads of wood panelling and wooden floors (so we didn’t mind taking our shoes off to go in as there was actually a reason for it this time – not like the one in Vilnius!) and our room was gorgeous. We had a four bed room (proper beds – not bunks!) to ourselves with a settee and a TV and some seriously gorgeous antique wardrobes! We had a nice few hours sleep until people started waking up and stomping around and talking loudly (all the wood was very nice on the eye but had the disadvantage of amplifying every sound!) but persisted with trying to have a nice lie in until we had to admit defeat and get up. We got ready and headed out to town with a to-do list (including going up the mountain in a cable car and listening to the organ performance at the Black Church) of recommended things and a map covered in scribbles from our hostel girl. On stepping out of the hostel and seeing Brasov in the daylight, we were taken aback by how gorgeous it was! We’d spent most of the last week or so in rather grim looking ex-soviet cities, but now we had mountains on each side and were surrounded by gorgeous medieval buildings and little cobbled streets. It was a treat for the eyes so it was! We were starving, so headed off in search of the main square and somewhere to get something to eat. We walked around for ages, being indecisive about where to eat as there were so many nice looking restaurants, and ended up both getting quite cranky because we were so hungry and vowed to just go and eat in the next place we found. Luckily the “next place” was Festival 39 – a gorgeous Art Deco themed place with a stained glass ceiling and a huge menu with mouthwatering pictures of all the foods in. There was a huge soup selection and it took us ages to decide, but Susan went for the potato soup (that was a bit on the bland side) and Jill got the Translyvanian Pork Knuckle Soup with Tarragon (that was gorgeous and surprisingly flavourful for Eastern European cuisine!), followed by more pork for Jill and pasta for Susan that she ate about one mouthful of and was immediately full so asked them for a doggy bag. After our lovely meal and wine we decided to catch the cable car up the mountain, but after struggling to locate the terminal thing for it by the time we got there it had closed! The girl at the hostel had said that it ran until 5.30 but alas she was wrong. We’d walked quite a way up the mountain by this point so figured that we’d just have a little wander and enjoy the view and maybe find a bar. After a lovely after dinner stroll (calling into a leisure centre for some beers and having a nice mountain side work-out on the random exercise machines in the park) back down into town, we found ourselves a cozy little bar that seemed to only sell wine, coffee and orange juice – there was a huge wall of wine to chose from though, and we asked the barman to chose us a nice dry white. He took so long choosing one, was so chuffed with himself and watching us taste it intently to see if we liked it, that Susan daren’t put Sprite in it in case he thought we didn’t like it and took it personally! We had a couple of bottles in there then (after a stop for one beer in a “cellar pub” where we were the only ones in and the barmaid was giving us evils so we left), flagging a bit, we saw a karaoke bar on the other side of the road and figured that a good hearty rendition of Samantha Fox’s “Touch Me” would liven us up. The karaoke bar was class – they had a good cocktail menu (and made a fine Manhattan!) and we ended up sitting with a big gang of Romanian girls, alternating between them singing traditional Romanian songs and us singing 80s pop classics. A couple of lads turned up and we ended up singing a load of rock stuff with them (including a hilarious version of Chop Suey – imagine that sung by 4 really drunk people, for two of whom English isn’t their first language…) and Susan crossed Romania off The List.
The next morning, despite our best intentions to get up early and see some castles, the previous night had taken it’s toll and we needed a few more hours in bed. No thanks to everyone stomping around in the hostel and the lad who was watching TV really loudly got yelled at by Susan. When we finally surfaced, we’d just missed the tour group going to see the castles, but the lovely lass at the hostel sorted us out a man to drive us to Bran Castle and Pele’s Castle and would drop us off in Sinaia afterwards so we could get straight on the train to Bucharest. Our driver, Valentine (2 Valentines in as many days – who would have thunk?) was a really canny old bloke who was happy for us to drink and smoke in the car (saying “I want my car to feel like a pub for you!”), was great craic and very knowledgeable about the history of Transylvania. We had a lovely drive through all the gorgeous mountains and forests, drinking beers and listening to Valentine tell us all about the countryside and Vlad the Impaler. He really was a great guide, although we wished that we could get someone else to drive so that he could just sit in the back and drink beer with us!
Bran Castle was a bit of a let down – it was nowt special as a castle (though the surrounding scenery was breathtaking) and was flanked by dozens of stalls selling Dracula tat. It did have a good exhibition of torture implements though (which was very gruesome and not the best thing when you’re a bit hungover and fragile!) and Susan found a nice dog to touch. Pele’s Castle in Sinaia however – that was a castle and a half! A total fairytale! It’s quite a recently built castle (built between 1875 and 1914 for King Carol I of Romania) but it was one of the most ornate and elegant places we’ve ever seen. The entrance fee was more if you wanted to see more than the ground floor, so we went for the cheapest option, reasoning that once you’ve seen one room in a castle, you’ve seen them all. We soon regretted this as soon as we walked in, and later tried to sneak off behind one of the roped off areas to get upstairs but were foiled by one of the curators.
We recommend you visit the website (http://peles.ro/) and take the virtual tour so you can see what we’re on about. Unfortunately we weren’t allowed to take any pictures inside (although Susan sneaked a couple). We would quite happily have lived there, Jill particularly was very depressed at the fact that she never would, and began making plans to travel back in time and marry Carol I of Romania. We headed reluctantly back to the car, being concerned that poor old Valentine was going to have a heart attack climbing all the steep steps back up to the road.
Valentine took us to Sinaia station, where we found a little bar and had a couple of drinks with him while pondering whether to try the dubious looking burgers before heading off on the train to Bucharest. From where we shall continue our tale next time.