An early start awaits us for our trip to the last Romanian city on this tour – the capital, Bucharest. Claudia is meeting us again, as she is travelling with us for part of our journey to show us a town called Sinaia, about 50km from Brasov. A string of taxis deposit us and our luggage at the train station where we meet Claudia, and then the train takes us the rest of the way, before more taxis lug us up the hilly, winding streets of Sinaia.
Sinaia is a resort town – full of skiers in winter and hikers in summer and it’s pretty. Really pretty. The architecture is what you would truly call Transylvanian – lots of wood, peaked roofs and turrets. Romania’s first King – Carol 1 – had his summer home here – and it’s that which we are off to see first.
Peles Castle was built between 1873 and 1883, though the present iteration was completed in 1914. As I mentioned above, it was to be the summer home of King Carol I, however he died a few months after it was completed. Its architecture showcases a number of styles and features wide terraces overlooking the stunning mountainside scenery. It had its own electrical plant on the banks of the Peles Brook, which meant it was the first European castle entirely lit (all 160 rooms and 30 bathrooms!) by an electric current. It was also the first European castle to have central heating and vacuuming.
The castle was open to the public after the forced abdication of Romania’s last king – Michael I – in 1947, only closing during the communist period when it was then used as a private retreat for leading communists and statesmen from around the world.
Unfortunately we didn’t have time to look inside, but the outside of the castle and its grounds are well worth the visit in any case.
The trail leading back down the hill from the castle towards the town is filled with wooden market stalls selling all manner of goods – leather belts, fur trimmed jackets, shoes and the obligatory tourist items such as magnets and postcards. Again, we don’t have time to shop, which is a shame because these stalls hold some magnificent stuff, unlike a lot of the other stalls we have come across that have sold tacky plastic toys and other associated crap imported from China.
After the Castle, our next stop is the Sinaia Monastery. The Monastery is home to about twenty monks. Inside the gate there is a large Orthodox Church, which was built around 1846. Further inside you will find the old church, built in the late 1600’s, the outside of which is covered in religious paintings. It’s interesting to note the depiction of the devil in the drawings, which is something you don’t often see in Western churches. These drawings were important because they were used to pass the biblical stories on through generations of people who could not, in most circumstances, read.
We bid farewell to Claudia, who leaves us to travel back to Brasov and we now have a couple of hours to enjoy some lunch and a bit of a browse around the city centre of Sinaia. A few of us find a great restaurant – in fact a suggestion of Marco’s – and we settle in. The food is amazing, and my order particularly reminds me of my grandmother’s cooking – lots of dill. It’s funny that no matter where I seem to be in Europe, there’s always a little something on the menu that is similar to her wonderful Polish cooking.
There’s just time for a quick stroll down the street and back before we all merge back at our meeting point and head off for the next party of our journey – another train ride.
The train ride from Sinaia to Bucharest seems to take forever. The air-conditioning is broken in our carriage, and despite Marco’s repeated requests to the conductors, they refuse to pull out the keys to unlock the windows. Many people in the carriage are complaining, frantically fanning themselves with whatever fan-like objects they can find. I have my earphones in and some of my favourite music blaring in my ears, so I don’t care one bit.
Finally we arrive at the main station, but there’s some walking and a metro ride to go yet. It’s also quite the hike from the subway to our hotel and just when I am doubting that I can go much further, my backpack feeling like extra weight every time I took a step, we make it.
Bucharest is like none of the other Romanian locales we’ve visited so far. It’s definitely the concrete jungle I was expecting, though there are some quite remarkably beautiful buildings here too. Tomorrow I will have the chance to see more of the city.
Tonight is our last night on the tour and there’s a team dinner to celebrate. Dinner is not far away, just on the other side of Cismigiu Park, in fact. The last rays of daylight are blanketing the city in a golden glow. It makes Bucharest look stunningly pretty. People are relaxing in every part of the park. There are playgrounds full of children, benches full of old men and couples peddling away on the river boats. It’s a little overgrown, but there are stalls, restaurants and miscellaneous vendors all over the park selling beers and snacks and it’s nice to see a park being used so widely.
Everyone is a little tired after the long day, the heat and travel coupled with the realisation that we have reached the end hitting home, so conversation is slow. Most of our group is continuing on to the next tour which starts tomorrow night, but some of those that aren’t, are still hanging around for another day, so it’s a weird feeling to say goodbye, when we will still see everyone tomorrow.
The park is still busy when we walk back through it after dinner – and I’m talking 9.30/10pm at night. And the thing that astonishes me most, is that even the children’s playground is still packed – this is not something you see back home in Australia. It’s not a good thing to even walk through a park at this time of the night, let alone stop off to have a play on the swings or a cuddle with your sweetheart. Welcome to Bucharest.
It seems unreal that it has only been ten days since we set off from Budapest on our journey through Romania. We have seen and done (and learnt) so much, but the incredible Romanian countryside and the wonderful people we have met have made out time stretch out beautifully, rather than feeling rushed. As I mentioned, I had no idea what to expect of Romania and it has surprised me at every turn. The beautifully coloured rural houses, the traditional clothes and the retaining of traditional ways of life, the food, the animals and the myths and legends. It has felt like stepping back in time, and that, at least for me, has been a good thing.