Sunday, August 13, 2017

Sibiu - where the walls have ears and the roofs have eyes

Sibiu is a city of superlatives, recording many firsts in this part of Europe. 
The first hospital, the first library, the first school, the first pharmacy, the first paper mill, the first book store, the first theatre building, the first museum, the first cast iron bridge, the first mental illness hospital, the first whole Romanian capital bank, the first spring factory, the first beer factory, the first balance factory, the first tool factory, the first hydropower plant, the first Zoo garden, the first open-air cinema in Romania.

The first archives, the first folkloric ensemble, the first printing press in Transylvania and the first book in Ardeal having been printed here and the first newspaper in Transylvania.

The first mountain resort, the first encyclopedia in Romania was published, the oldest lightning protector in South Eastern Europe was installed near Sibiu, the first Museum of Natural History in Romania, the first city in Transylvania with a public lighting powered by electric power and the first electrical means of public transportation. Konrad Haas experimented the first stage rocket in the world near Sibiu. Sibiu proved to be a pioneer, a city with an accentuated innovative spirit due to its people and to the historical context.

So much for the boasting! Sibiu is also a city of beauty, a place to behold.  I never get jaded of being immersed in the ages of old!

As we had arrived in Sibui late yesterday, we could afford a little sleep in - breakfast was not served until 8 am. I am trying to eat lightly, but Michael is enjoying the full array of offerings.  This morning it was wurst (like frankfurter) and mustard along with his scrambled eggs and cheese.  We are only a few minutes to the old centre, but have trouble parking at first because the streets around here are filled with churches and as it is Sunday, the worshippers are being called to services!

St Frances doesn't abandon us altogether, and we find a spot between the lower town and the upper town. 4 Lei later (about $1.30) and we have a parking chit to cover us not only for today, but tomorrow also!

We head for the amazing tessellated spire that we first see when we turn away from the crooked and seemingly part finished roofs of the old town. We find out that this is the Lutheran Evangelical Church - which is closed to visitors for the moment due to the weekly service for locals. And while the service is on inside, there is another preaching happening under the watchful eye of the former Bishop Teutsch! Never mind, we have all day, so will see it on the way back to the car.

Along a cobbled street, through an arch and we find ourselves in the Piata Mare - the Big Square - oh, and look - there is that international sign the fabulous i. So Michael dashes in to get a map - but no directions!  Never fear, Cosmir, a local Police Officer comes to our rescue with some directions and a lovely chat. We tell him how much we are loving Romania in general and our first impressions of Sibiu. He moans that it is a very expensive place to live thanks to the impacts of the year round tourists. I console him with the thought that if you have to pick somewhere to live,it might as well be this beautiful. He wishes us a great holiday and we leave him to his duties.

He also shares a little piece of information not seen in the tourist literature - the 'Blue House' in the photo above this one was the headquarters for the Gestapo in Romania during WWII.  And because of this, there was almost no bombing here in Sibiu - all the architecture survived unscathed.  The cost of housing the enemy :(

"You must see the museums," he said, "they are excellent". And yes, excellent they are. The Brukenthal Museum houses the National Art Gallery and has more than 800 paintings in 13 galleries in this former palace. Remember how Sibiu had the first electric public lighting - well, it began with this building. With parquet floors that creak with every step, there is not a single nail or screw to be seen. There are painted and silk lined walls and crystal chandeliers everywhere - a truly amazing sight. But that artwork - sorry we could not photograph that - it was amazing - much of it religious in nature and dating back to the 13th Century. Still so vibrant and with nuances of light and shade giving such depth and body.

Other displays included one on the "Ball" and the history of Dance Cards, the Plaster Casts display, the Romanian Folk Art Gallery, the Lapidairie Medieval (masonry and capping stones from graves), and Prints and Drawings - truly fascinating.

Back down in the cooler courtyard, Michael pets one of the biggest cats we have ever seen - this one is particularly for you  Gen!

We next turn to the Blue House which dates back to the early 17th century. It now houses offices and workshops for the Brukenthal Museum AND a display on the Bibles owned by Simon von Brukenthal. The oldest  one dates back to 1478 and has illuminated capitals - something of which Brukenthal was very proud. He sent his agents to all the book sales of Europe to secure bibles, some costing more than an average person's annual income.

Back out in the Square, its a toss up for a coffee or the Catholic Church - coffee wins!  It is almost midday and something light to eat is on the menu.  Like yesterday, seating in the shade at a restaurant is a thing to be coveted. Luckily, we spy a party vacating their table and make a bee-dive. And Dani, the poor waiter in our section at 'Monsieur Joban -exceptionalle existent' is run off his feet. We order two iced coffees and a cheese plate to share.  I can't help but notice that the owner is in place today and watching with his eyes everywhere.  Once we have finished and ask for the bill, he comes over to check that we were happy with our meal.  Yes, we really were!

Over to the Catholic Parish Church next, and the smell on incense will always remind me of weekly mass as a child. Almost gagged on it back then, but now it has a reassuring familiarity. This church is built in the baroque style as many in Europe are - a sense of grandeur at a fraction of the cost of the real thing! Its funny how a camera finds light that the eyes can't.  This church was much darker than the camera depicts, but every bit as grand.

Just along the street, Michael makes a visit up one of the gate towers - as he does.  The photos over the square and the upper and lower towns are fantastic as usual - gotta love the rooftop shots! And a pigeon and her chicks have taken shelter in one of the gun slits!

We continue to explore the streets and squares, thankful that it is a little cooler at about 29 degrees. We stumble into Piata Mica (the Little Square) and finally  Piata Huet after crossing the Bridge of Lies.  We find the tradesmens house - complete with a couple of young tradesmen sitting in an upstairs chamber, on the windowsill in the cool.  Beneath them is a sample of the blacksmith's trade.

This brings us full circle back to the Evangelical Cathedral with that amazing roof.

Again,the camera lies - this church is even darker and danker than the catholic one. And just a little bit creepy.  The walls are lined with family plaques - I guess the higher they were placed, the more important the family was!  Some are indeed very high.  And some were almost too gothic in nature - including this one filled with corpses.  Social history at its best!  The main aisle has been worn with the foot treads of the faithful over many many years - to the point where it is actually a concave floor that you need to walk in carefully.  The pew ends are polished smooth with the hands of the faithful too.

And the best part of all - according to Michael - this one has a tower to climb too - complete with bells!
And the view over the roofs of Sibiu - and the crossed nave of the church below!

Late in the afternoon, we travelled a mere 54 kms to the Complex Europa Touristica just outside Cartisoara ready to tackle the Transfagarasan Highway tomorrow.  With the return of the weekend traffic towards Bucharest, it took us almost 90 minutes! Yes, bumper to bumper like the trip from the Sunny Coast back to Brisbane on a Sunday afternoon.

Simple lodgings reminiscent of a hostel - all raw timber with a stream rushing below our balcony, and the Carpatian Mountains at our backs.  The clouds were rolling in as we drove here and as I get ready to post this and go down for dinner, the rain has started.  Hope it clears for tomorrow!

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