Piata Mica in Sibiu  (click to enlarge)

Mid-August 2013 I went on a trip to Sibiu with the family. Even though we have lived in Romania before we never went to Sibiu. The purpose was to visit new corners of the country as well as re-visit some familiar places from the time we first lived here.

We decided to drive to Sibiu via Curtea de Arges and the Transfagarasan highway. Upon our return from Sibiu we would take the road to Brasov and then turn to Zarnesti before Brasov to go and have a look at Bran followed by a visit to Peles castle in Sinaia before returning to Bucharest.

The trip however did not provide us with the excitement we had anticipated. Principally for two reasons. First, the weather was really poor. We had two days of rain, at times even torrential. This was disappointing as the time before our trip and immediately after had beautiful weather across the region. Second, it was holiday high season in Romania. I was naively oblivious when deciding to travel that things had not changed over the past 18 years. Well they have. The number of cars in Romania has exploded and foreign tourists have discovered Romania. So gone are the days one can drive up by car right to the gated entrance to Bran castle and be the only of less than a handful of cars. All major tourist sites were literally invaded by throngs of tourists. I can only praise myself lucky to have had the opportunity to visit these sites when they were still in a more pristine less commercially developed state. It all feels a bit more contrived and artificial now. The major lesson from the trip was that if one wants to have a more comfortable visit of the major sites, these have to be scheduled on weekdays outside of the major mid-June to mid-September summer school break.

Importsant clergy representative presiding over mass at Curtea de Arges  (click to enlarge)The first stop on our trip was Curtea de Arges. That’s when it dawned on me this was not going to be the sight-seeing and “re-visiting of old places” that I had anticipated. The town was congested and with police directing the traffic. But then 15 August is a major religious holiday so everyone was heading to the town, not for sight seeing but for religious purposes. At the cathedral a major outdoor ceremony was taking place with the seat of honor being occupied by what appeared like an important member of the clergy. No idea whether he was a bishop or a pope. So we did not stay very long, and decided we would return some other day for better photo ops.

Vlad Tepes' Poienari castle overlooking the Arges valley  (click to enlarge)We then headed up north in the direction of lake Vidaru and passed by Poienari Citadel, one of the real castles of Vlad Tepes, count Dracula. Vlad Tepes reportedly had it built high up on a rocky outcrop overlooking the entry to Transylvania thought the Arges valley by captured Turks in 1459. The path up is an arduous walk up nearly 1500 steps to what remains of the castle. When the castle was besieged by the Turks in 1462 Vlad Tepes supposedly managed to escape but his wife preferred to throw herself off the ramparts to certain death as opposed to facing capture by the Turks. Seeing the number of cars parked either side of the road before and after the castle I thought it wisely to try to climb up some other time. My memory of the walk up is one I did with my wife and father as sole companions about 17 years ago. We were the only visitors and the older gentleman that was “guarding” the site asked me for a lift back to his village a few kilometers in the direction of Curtea de Arges. I was more than happy to oblige in those days.

Lake Vidaru with clouds masking the mountains  (click to enlarge)So we continued on to Lake Vidaru and its dam. It’s a man-made lake that covers a significant portion of the Arges valley and provides for beautiful scenery and impressive winding roads along the edge of the lake and its surrounding hillsides.

The winding road of the Transfagarasan highway  (click to enlarge)After the lake starts the Transfagarasan highway. It was conceived by and built under Ceausescu’s regime in the early seventies as a military highway to move military personnel and equipment quickly across the Carpathian mountain range and into Transylvania to strengthen Romania’s defensive capabilities against a potential Warsaw pact invasion under the leadership of the Soviet Union. After the 1968 Prague Spring got violently crushed by the Warsaw Pact under the leadership of the Soviet Union which did not take dissent lightly, Ceausescu realized he could become a potential victim in view of his own independent non-aligned course that he was following. Hence he had the military build the road and mountain pass in less than three years.

Major waterfall high up on the highway  (click to enlarge)The highway provides for breathtaking views of winding roads across forests followed by alpine pastures above the tree line. It also includes some impressive waterfalls.

Entry to Piata Mare in Sibiu  (click to enlarge)Sibiu is a major town in Transylvania that has undergone a strong transformation in the past 10-15 years and has become, rightly so, a major international tourist attraction. It was nominated as a EU cultural capital in 2007 which helped to further spread its fame. It’s famous for its old Saxon German architectural influence, with the major squares, Piata Mare and Piata Mica, forming the main attractions. The Saxons used to call it Hermannstadt and it was founded on the ruins of the Roman city Cibinium. When the Habsburgers ruled over Transylvania, Sibiu was the local seat of the Austrian governors of Transylvania.

One of the may guild towers in Sibiu lining the defensive city ramparts  (click to enlarge)Besides the many squares Sibiu retains a lot of ramparts from the old protective city walls which were erected in several parallel layers fortified with towers in many strategic locations. All these remains of the fortifications give a strong impression of how large and well defended the city must have been in its heydays.

After Sibiu we headed in the direction of Brasov on our way to Bran not stopping for the many opportunities to visit the fortified churches Transylvania is famous for. But we will be back for these with a dedicated and sufficiently long trip. The road to Zarnesti and Bran is very scenic, but as mentioned before, we did not stop at Bran, there was too much congestion in the small town and too many people trying to visit the castle.

Peles castle just before a major downpour  (click to enlarge)So instead we headed for Sinaia to re-visit Peles castle. By the time we reached Sinaia and had walked up to the castle we got hit by torrential rain. We managed to get a full tour of all floors of the castle, in all almost a one and a half hour visit. Even though we have visited before several times there is so much detail to observe one never tires of visiting again the castle that was built by the first King of Romania, Carol I, who was an “import” from Germany as was the case with many new kingdoms created in Europe in the mid-19th century (e.g. Belgium). The castle is remarkable in many ways, not just because of its beautiful architecture and fairy tale like looks. There are the many themed rooms inside, Moorish, Indian, Venetian, etc. but there is also remarkable “technology” present. The castle had its own electricity generated by a small hydroelectric station on the stream next to the castle which was powering the lighting inside but also the elevator in the castle and the … central vacuum system. Its hard to imagine that the castle was built in the 1870’s!

Last Updated: 18-09-2013

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