High on Mount Tampa overlooking Brasov is this cheeky sign styled on that famous Californian icon.
We laid in a little later this morning - getting sick of early starts and long days in the car, we have a full day to explore Brasov on foot. We have breakfast before leaving our very comfortable abode and head down from the hilltop to park closer. Finding a spot wasn't too hard - thanks again to St Frances - the Catholic patron saint of car parking. Finding where to buy the parking ticket was another matter - and then Michael had to find someone to change paper Lei for some coins as the ticket vending machines only take coins! Finally though, parking sorted, we hit the pavement.
Brasov is one of those age-old towns cradled in the embrace of mountains, where time really could have stood still. Settled by Teutonic Knights in the early 13th century, Brasov was at the intersection of trade routes linking the Ottoman Empire and western Europe. This once walled City is filled with the red tile roofs that are so common across Europe atop baroque style facades - many of which are crumbling. And then you wander in to the old Town Square in all its splendour. The Old Town Hall sits proudly in its centre, resplendent with its tessellated tile roof.
Its summer and it seems that a good percentage of the Romanian population is in Brasov, taking the sun. We are told that Brasov is busy year round - in the summer for walking and in the winter for skiing - no wonder it is so hard to get accommodation.
Street musicians provide musical interlude as we wander the streets and back lanes. We head over to the Black Church - a Lutheran Church that began its life in the 14th century as a Catholic Church. It gets its name because the walls were heavily blackened by a massive fire in 1689 that destroyed the interior and the roof. It was rebuilt and today it contains some pretty darn impressive relics including a collection of Ottoman rugs that need to be seen to be believed - these are hundreds of years old and while some are seriously worn, others are still in amazing condition. The whole Church has unpolished timber floorboards that are about a foot wide and creak with every step, and timber ventilation / heating grates set into the aisles. There are two saved original wall paintings and a number of old masters hanging. The columns soar about 35m towards the heavens and the old pews are decorated with paintings depicting the local guilds all dating back to the 1700s. This Church has one of the largest pipe organs in Europe with 4,000 pipes set throughout the church and we are lucky enough to be here while a recital is playing. We cannot take photos inside, but buy a photo card with photos on it as we leave.
We continue to explore the streets with Michael making a dash back to extend our parking spot. Eventually, it is time for lunch. Now, in the main drag and in the Old Town Square, there are literally hundreds of restaurants catering to the tourists. But in a back street, we come across a local restaurant catering to a local birthday party; and three older men sharing a beer, a smoke and a yarn; and sit down. Michael orders the Spaghetti Mediterrania and I had a plain omelette. Delicious and fresh. I had an iced coffee and in the end Michael was so taken with it that he ordered one too. If the locals are frequenting it, it must be good! And all for under $15 tops.
We had tried to park up near the cable car up to Mount Tampa first thing this morning, but had no luck, so after lunch we had another go and - "there you go" says St Frances again. So while we have the chance we head on up. It takes an hour to 'walk' to the top, or 2 minutes and 6 seconds by cable car. even though it means climbing 3 sets of very steep multiple steps, this is by far the easier way to get to the top. That ride is stomach churning, fast and smooth even though the exterior of the building and the cable car itself looks very dated and weary.
Once at the top, you have the option of a number of walks. A walk of about 5 minutes brings you behind the Brasnov sign - Hollywood styled signage that can be seen from all over the City. Michael manages to get a great photo looking through the letter B out of the City. And despite looking hard, we have not seen any sign of the resident wildlife - brown bear, linx or boar. After about an hour, we head back down the mountain, with me not looking out at all - I had no desire to heave the contents of my stomach!
From up on high, you can clearly see the remnants of the City Walls and the various bastions and gates. Once back on lower terra firma, Michael tries to get up onto the wall, but the access ways are all badly corroded. Better that he leaves his feet on firm ground. The towers are all inaccessible but you can walk around and along them. They originally stored powder, but as the conquests of the city abated, in time they were given to the various guilds. They became the Rope Maker's Bastion, the Powder Store Tower, the Draper's Bastion and the Weaver's Bastion. No doubt these artisans were very important and powerful in a city that straddled east and west.
We have had to change hotels and tonight are in the Belfort - another lovely modern hotel. But no dinner service. Given that we had a reasonable lunch, we make do with tasty takeaway kebabs.
Its an early start with breakfast at 7 (this is when they begin service) as we head for Sighisoara and then on to Sibiu for tomorrow night. We are starting to realise how little time we have and still so much to see. Tonight I manage to contact Diana who we met in France in 2009 and she will contact Lorena - we hope to meet up in Bucharest.
Bugger - the blog doesn't want to load pics tonight - I'll post them to my Facebook page so you will have to dive over there to have a look.