Thursday, August 17, 2017

A Tales of Castles and castes

We began the day nice and early - leaving Bucuresti at 6:30 am with the sunrise as we have a few kms to do and two of Romania's best castles to see.
It is amazing how many people are headed to work at this time.
We often ask people we meet in the tourism industry how many hours they work and the standard answer seems to be 16 hour days.  Guess that goes for more than just the tourism industry.

We head out of the city, dodging the trolley buses and the trams.  Hate driving along the tram lines - your tyres seem to have a mind of their own as they follow the rails!

We are headed to the north west slightly to visit first Peles Castle and then Bran Castle.  we know that the tourist buses leave Bucharest at 8 am to do the day trip, so we want to get there ahead of the hordes. And with the help of one of the main motorways we do.  Amazing to see the motorway without traffic - not like or run in the other day.
We arrive at Peles Castle parking area at 8:30 am, only to be told that the castle grounds open at 9 am and the castle itself opens at 11 am!  We drive up to the top parking area and ask the attendant how far to the castle. He smiles and says enigmatically "5".  Five what we don't know. We haven't actually seen the castle yet. So off we set. Up a 8% slope. Cobblestoned. 

Five? minutes?  Nope, that doesn't do it. Dear God, I hope it isn't 5 km up this blasted hill.  Coronaries averted, we finally view the castle, and the lower buildings - thank goodness, with a coffee shop. Make a bee-line for that and for an sweetened iced coffee to bolster the energy.   It now house residences, a hotel and a restaurant and coffee shop. 
It is actually 1 km up the hill, so to someone that works there, and who does the dash regularly, I suppose that 5 minutes might do it.  Not for me though - give me the flat walking anyday! That slope damn near killed me!

From here, I let Michael head up to have a look inside by himself - there is no way I could manage the stairs after that slope!

When I muse on 'castles' my mind manifests images of masonry, parapets, arrow loops, barbicans, hoardings, murder holes and garderobes. However, nothing could prepare me for the sight I was to behold as it appears more like an Baronial Manor or majestic hunting lodge. Of course, nothing could be further from the truth. No evidence of the Nosferatu.

Now should you, dear reader, decide to visit Romania and its castles a word.... Be prepared for a protracted wait in purchasing your entry tickets. The wait can be longer than the line!

Albeit, pay the additional ticket which enables you to take photographs. The wardens are vigilant when comes to pouncing on patrons who have not paid the 'photography tax'. I purchased mine which was worth the freedom.

As soon as you join your tour group and enter the castle, you shall find yourself entering another world. Due to time constraints, I had opted for the ground floor tour which in reality was enough.

The Peleș Castle was build 1873-1914 by King Carol 1 and occupied by himself and his wife Queen Elizabeth upon its completion. In 1872 the Crown had purchased 1500 hectares of land which the castle occupies. In 1873 construction commenced on building the castle.

In Peleș you will be transfixed by an era of opulence, flattery and obscene wealth. However, I was transfixed by the work of those artists and artisans past who had enhanced the castle with their mastery.

We were directed from the main lobby through the various rooms of state, reception, music, recital and many others. It is very surreal to digest the notion that people actually lived here! Exploring the grounds is a must as many of surrounding buildings were constructed at the same time as Peleș. 

We left Peles at 12:30 pm so that we could travel around to that other famous castle - 'Dracula's Castle - Bran Castle. A mere 48 kms away, the GPS is telling us it is 90+ minutes - with slower than usual traffic due to roadworks and congestion.  Turns out that we discover later that at the time of the year, Wednesday is the most popular day to visit the castles - go figure, we thought that we would be safer mid-week.

Soon enough we arrive in Bran - and if there were people in Peles, you can triple the figure here. Parking is a nightmare, and there is a climb up many steps to the castle itself. Still recovering from the climb a couple of hours ago, I send Michael up alone!  I mean, he can't come to Romania without seeing 'Dracula's Castle' - right?

Bran Castle is for more forbidding than Peleș. Being a medieval castle it displays those hallmarks of a fortress - a rabbit warren - albeit, one of the most beautiful castles in Romania. 

Situated on the border between Transylvania and Wallachia, Bran has no tangible correlation to Bram Stoker's fictional character - Dracula. However,the name 'Dracula' is derived from the surname of Vlad the Impaler's father, the Dracul, he was a member of the Dragon Order.

One has to navigate this wonderful building through halls, rooms, narrow passages and humanity. Gaining entry into the castle is just as daring. One passes 
through 'alleys' and purveyors of souvenir porn. Then you the end of the queue to purchase your entry into the castle.

It is truly a place to discover and appreciate the level of conservation undertaken to restore Bran into the jewel it is today.

By 4:15pm, I am messaging Michael to say that we need to get going.  We are booked in to an agrotourismo venue in Bogdana just outside Onesti tonight - half way to the painted monasteries that we intend to explore tomorrow - and it is a 3 hour drive away.  Well, it is only 169 kms, but if we have learned anything, it is to throw away any preconceived idea of how long it takes to travel between places in Romania -
what with the road conditions and local traffic, time loses meaning! And the Roma people are out in hordes at every lot of roadworks hawking fruit and bric-a-brac.  You have to hand it to them for their persistence.  We find that a closed window gives the clearest message.

As we travel though Busteni, we can see that this bustling town is part of the reason for delays - everyday life gets in the way of the tourist travelling through.  High above the town on the peaks of the Carpathians above the town, there is a huge cross. Hopefully not an omen.  And then it is on through Rasnov, a partner to Brasov with its cheeky Hollywood styled sign just below the citadel.  impossible to get a photo without the blasted power wires in the view.

We are the only ones here tonight at La Ferma Veche - on weekends it must pump - lots of sun lounges, a huge dining room and a large inflatable pool.
Our host speaks no English, and us very limited Romanian.  Pictures on the menu soon have us eating cevapi, fries and a small salad with dijon mustard - it does the trick!  I have the better part of half a bottle of local white - a little rough around the edges, but very drinkable as spritzers with sparkling water. Michael just has the water - poor him!

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