Romania trip report
September 24 – October 2, 2013
After my trip to Bulgaria, I flew to Bucharest in the morning.
It was a small commuter plane about 30 people. At check-in, I was told carryon will not fit so I have a choice of carrying with me and checking it at the gate or check it in. Since I had to part with my carryon L I opted to check it in so I will not carry it with me in airport. The flight was about 50 minutes. Virginia, my colleague in Bulgaria, with whom I spent a week accompanied me to the airport. She said most Bulgarians drive to Romania. I thought the ticket price is not that expensive ($155) but she said for Bulgarians it is. Indeed, there were only business people on the plane. All of them checked in their carryon’s at the gate.
On arrival, I went to the luggage carousel and by the time I got there, there was only my lonely suitcase and a boring looking airport worker sat with it. I took it, exited and I was greeted by my colleague Mihai and his partner, Alex. We were working together for already some time and we all were excited that finally I decided to come to Romania to meet with them! The weather was nice. Alex was wearing jacket and tie. I was wondering if I was under-dressed by Romanian standards but fortunately Mihai was casual.
We went into Alex’s car and he drove us to my hotel Armonia 4* in the center of Bucharest, the neigborhood is kind of strange but central location. I was told in few years this neighborhood will be upcoming. I did walk at night it was pretty much safe. Room was nice and newly renovated, hotel had cheerful helpful staff.
We had a busy day ahead of us, so we went directly to The Big Synagogue. Romania has rich Jewish Heritage, and it is the country of birth of Nobel Prize Winner Eli Wiezel. The synagogue of Bucharest was built in 1845, and restored after WWII. Before the war, there were over 100,000 Jews and 80 synagogues in Bucharest.
Bucharest was founded in 15th century and was called the Little Paris of the East. It attracted Jewish settlers from Russia, Balkans, Hungary, Austria and Constantinople. Therefore diverse Jewish life flourished with both Sephardic and Ashkenazi traditions until 1801 anti Jewish actions and riots in and anti-Semitism was on the rise. There was also internal conflict between Progressive and Reform Jews against Orthodox. In 19th century, because of growing anti-Semitism, many Jews left Romania. In fact, one of the most important Jewish personalities in the city was American – Benjamin Franklin Peixotto, who arrived in town as first US Counsel. He helped Jews as much as he could by advocating their rights to Romania, however, found situation of Jewish population very bleak and he counseled emigration. Still before WWII, the Jewish Population of Bucharest alone was more than population of the whole neighboring Bulgaria.
During the war, the fascist organization Iron Guard organized horrible pogroms in January 1941. Many of Jews were brutally murdered and their property destroyed or looted. Torah scrolls were destroyed. By miracle, in The Great Synagogue, one Torah was caught in a chandelier and suspended high in the air and survived. We saw Holocaust Museum in the synagogue, and also a small room dedicated in memoriam the martyrdom of Jews of Romania 1940-1944. Now there are around 4,000 Jews and just three working synagogues. Though small, the Jewish community is active in Bucharest, and has the synagogues, a theatre, a school and a museum.
Once I walked into the synagogue, I’ve heard children singing in succah which was built in the yard. It was Sukkott.
Then, we went to the main building where we have met representative, Mr. Galateanu, who doesn’t speak English, but he introduced me to another elder gentleman, Mr. Strajeru who spoke English but he was speaking slowly. He showed me photos and info about Romanian Holocaust and translated. I also saw rabbi who told me they would be happy to meet American travelers and can arrange for my groups kosher food, Shabbat dinners and interaction with local community.
fterwards, we went to the Jewish Museum nearby, housed in the former Akhdur Kodesh synagogue, also called the Tailor’s synagogue as it was built for Tailors Guild. It was built in 1850 and remodeled in 20th. The Museum had exhibitions on display how the once vibrant Jewish community of Bucharest used to live, highlighting their substantial contribution to modern Romania’s economy and culture. On display were objects of Torah ornaments, candlesticks, Hanukkah candle holders, ritual artifacts, models of old synagogues (some of them vanished), archive photos, Jewish themed paintings and drawings. Remarkably, the History Museum of the Romanian Jews is the sole history museum of an ethnic minority in Bucharest
After museum, we had a street food for snack – Alex brought pretzels and they were delicious!
We drove to the Parliament building – second largest government building in the world, after Pentagon. It represents Stalinist architecture at time of Ceausescu.
We continued to the Jewish cemetery. It was almost time to close it, but someone at the gates opened it for us, and sent us to the next section. There were many stray dogs, who for some reason like cemeteries. I talked to informative gatekeeper, who told me his father was originally from Belgorod Dnestrovsky (Ukraine). He was well versed in graves at his cemetery while he showed them to me. Some surprise was block of graves in Russian. I asked where they came from, he said – during the war were brought from Odessa. I think the monuments were used for something else (construction materials) and these were lucky to survive. I took all photos of them for documentation. Here is the link.
We also saw many monuments dedicated to memory of those killed in pogrom of 1941 with the same death date.
There were also nice monuments which described profession of the deceased.
Back to the car and we drove to the “Village Museum” to the other part of the town. It was located in a nice green area of the city, with tree lined boulevard. It was hard to find parking though… Alex drove on the sidewalk! He stayed with the car and Mihai and I went for a pleasant walk to see different buildings representations of country’s architecture.
After that, it was time for dinner and we went to the city to restaurant “Caru cu Bere” . It is an institution, in business since 1879! It had beautiful wood paneled walls and ceilings, looked like traditional beer hall. The menu was huge. I let Alex and Mihai to choose for me, we had traditional Romanian food (mixed grill, soup Supa Radauteana, pickled cabbage). For desert they suggested “Papanasi” which was something like fried doughnut in a sauce. I was at heaven.
We walked the city center, Bucharest had this feeling of unique charm and culture. The architectural style was influenced both East and West although French influence in its 19th century architecture was prevailing. There is even Arc de Triomphe at a tree-lined Boulevard reminded me Champs Elysees. Back at hotel, I went to explore and do some shopping, Mihai gave me his phone just in case I will get lost. I found some European store with nice but still expensive clothes and bought a French sweater.
September 25, 2013 – Bucharest – Sinaia – Bran – Brasov.
Mihai and I had breakfast at Armonia. We said goodbye to Alex, he wanted to come but he had some business in Bucharest for next few days. We left in Mihai’s car. Bucharest had bad traffic, and some drivers were really crazy. I would not want to drive there… We succeeded to exit Bucharest in about 45 minutes and we were on the way toward North. I enjoyed scenery and we passed the villages where people were selling onions, potatoes, garlic, honey and other produces at their houses.
On the way I picked up Mihai’s brain. He had unlimited knowledge of history and geography of the area and he loved to share it. We arrived at Peles Castle - the summer residence of the Romanian Royal Family located in picturesque town Sinaia. It is a masterpiece of German New Renaissance Architecture. Commissioned by King Carol I in 1873 and completed in 1883. Inside there was display of historical artifacts: European Art, Murano crystal chandeliers, Stained glass windows, and Messen porcelain, ebony and ivory sculptures.
It was very crowded. It is not allowed to tour by yourselves, even if you came with the guide. They take groups led by their own castle guides. Each group is timed so it will be manageable crowd traffic on stairs and rooms. Visitors are grouped by language. English group was very large and the guide was young woman who rattled dates and facts mostly and she had quiet soft voice and it was boring. Everyone was supposed to wear slippers on their shoes and they ran out of sleepers so they allowed people without slippers. In order to listen to the guide, I got closer. Eventually, Mihai beckoned me to join Romanian group which was small, guide was very animated and Mihai translated quietly for me.
It is possible to take photos with permit but Mihai forgot to pay for it..
Anyway, it was so crowded so photos would not come out well. After tour, we went to the terrace bar at the exit of castle which had delicious profiteroles and éclairs with tea. The weather improved and we enjoyed beautiful views. We left Sinaia, entering a small town Predel and driving toward Bran Castle.
Something on this trip which got me fascinated was controversial personality of Vlad the Impaler.
Most people think of him as a monster/vampire who impaled people.
I learned the story of Vlad Tepes which, contrary to western world’s opinion, was not that bad of a ruler. He reinstated tax in the country for foreigners coming through Romania and brought income. He increased level of living for his people. He even interfered into family’s affair by punishing husbands who were drinking and did not take care of their families, or wives as well.
Here is the story As told by Mihai Tudor.
Before presenting the Romanian Prince Vlad Tepes’ portraits, we should review the most known information on his deeds, and how his extraordinary personality is posthumously perceived. He is Vlad Dracu’s (devil) son, where from Draculea, a celebrated name around the world. (Vlad Tepes is known under the name of Vlad the Impaler in the English-speaking world.)
I. Vlad Tepes ruled the Romanian Land three times: in 1448, between 1456 and 1462, and again in 1476. The Romanian Land, also named Wallachia, lies between the Southern Carpathians and the Danube. Vlad Tepes‘ second reign brought his fame. He imposed on his contemporaries his active domestic and foreign policy. Vlad Tepes‘ domestic policy consisted of a lot actions to settle state institutions, by a righteous campaign to restore order in a ravaged and disorganized country. Abroad, he sided with the supporters of the future King of Hungary Matei Corvin. As a consequence, he raised several times against the Saxon Sibiu and Brasov fortified cities. He also went on expeditions to punish them, as these two fortified cities hosted claimants to the Romanian Land’s throne, which jeopardized his position of a sovereign. Due to these punitive expeditions, the Romanian Prince Vlad Tepes becomes the hero of certain Saxon stories, which depicts him as a sadistic, thirsty for human blood, particularly inventive in tormenting people to death. These stories printed in German, in the last decades of the 15th century, are accompanied by portraits of the unyielding lord.
II. The most important event of Vlad Tepes‘ second reign is anti-Ottoman campaign in 1462. Sultan Muhammad II was contemplating to conquer the Romanian Land and turn it into a pashalik, as well as gaining mastery of the Chilia fortress on the Danube, which was under the Hungarian King Matei Corvin’s control. The anti-Ottoman military alliance between Vlad Tepes and Matei Corvin was to be strengthened by the marriage of the Romanian prince to the sister of the King of Hungary. In order to prevent a Turkish attack, Vlad Tepes passes to offensive on the Danube line, and tries to stop the Ottoman Army, from crossing the river. He harasses the invaders on Romanian soil, reaching a climax by the famous night attack against the Sultan’s tent. Vlad Tepes himself is heading his soldiers. He wreaks havoc on the baffled Islamic Army. Without the help Matei Corvin promised him, Vlad Tepes withdraws to the north, in Carpathian gorges; though Matei Corvin had received crusade support for this battle, on behalf of the cities of Rome and Venice. After a long delay, Matei Corvin sent his troops to these gorges. However, this meeting ends not in joining forces for the crusade, but in capturing the Romanian Prince by deceivious means. Vlad is charged with treason (according to certain forged letters of him addressed to Muhammad II), and sent in captivity to Buda. In 1476, Vlad Tepes will regain the throne of the Romanian Land, by the military and political support of Matei Corvin, King of Hungary, and Stefan cel Mare (Stephen the Great), Prince of Moldavia. The Romanian Prince Vlad Tepes dies in 1476; his death remains unclear.
III. The Christian Prince Vlad Tepes’ 1462 campaign, against the Islamic Imperial Army, was much applauded by Europe. Vlad Tepes was regarded as a hero and his campaign as a victory. There is an obvious contradiction between this opinion, shared by both Rome and Venice – interested in financing an anti-Ottoman crusade – and the King of Hungary Matei Corvin’s stand. In order to explain himself before the public opinion of the time, before the interested chancelleries, the King of Hungary Matei Corvin presented the Romanian Prince – imprisoned in Buda – as a most unusual born killer. Nicola de Modrussa, a papal legate to Buda between 1462-1463, heard himself from King Matei Corvin, in the presence of the latter‘s secretaries, about the Romanian Prince’s alleged atrocious deeds. At the same time, the Saxon stories are printed. They describe the Romanian Prince Vlad Tepes cruelties. As a matter of fact, these stories present only Vlad Tepes with relations with the Saxon people, without mentioning his anti-Ottoman actions that made him famous in the whole Christian Europe, for his campaign against Muhammad II. His image of a Christian lord and anti-Ottoman hero is hidden by another image, that of a sadist, who sheds innocent blood, and lacks any Christian feature. The Romanian historian Serban Papacostea thinks that "the first texts to present Vlad Tepes’ deeds published the end of 1462 and during 1463, such as: the Manuscript of Vienna – included in Thomas Ebendorfer's Chronicles, Enea Silvio Piccolomini’s Commentaries, and Michael Beheim’s Story in Verses make only one side of the propagandistic campaign bound to justify the King of Hungary’s abandoning the anti-Ottoman action, in which he engaged himself” (Serban Papacostea, In the Respect of the Genesis and Spreading of the Written Stories about Vlad Tepes' deeds, Romanoslavica, XIII, 1966).
We should pay due attention to the fact that in 1463, before the papal legate, the King of Hungary engaged himself orally in this campaign, without mentioning anything about Vlad Tepes' anti-Ottoman military operations.
IV. Michael Beheim's poem, Von ainem wutrich der hies Trakle waida von der Walachei (About a tyrant called Prince Dracula of the Romanian Land) dates from 1462-1463. It was 1070 verses, and makes a synthesis of the Saxon stories about Vlad Tepes. Its explanatory ending is very expressive. 950 verses describe Vlad Tepes’ cruelties, as told by the Saxons. The other lines tell how the lord was betrayed, though up to that point Vlad was seen as a monster. Michel Beheim’s poem explains why Vlad Tepes was arrested. It seemed he was planning to deliver the King of Hungary Matei Corvin to the Turks, break the anti-Ottoman alliance, and side with the Islamics.
Besides Michael Beheim’s poem that used and stressed these German narrative, the latter had a spreading of their own. History record 14 editions of these Saxon stories about Prince Vlad Tepes, which makes a real Medieval “best seller” diffused especially in the German World. The Romanian historian Stefan Andreescu (Vlad Tepes [Dracula] Between Legend and Historic Truth, Minerva Publishing House, 1976) thinks that these anti-Vlad Tepes stories were spread in two social milieus. On one hand, they appealed to the staff of the chancelleries of the time, who read their Latin version stressed by the Court of Buda’s propaganda.
V. There is also a Slavic version of the Romanian Prince Vlad Tepes’ deeds. Its title reads Skazanie o Draculea voevoda (Story about Prince Dracula) dated from 1486. It was widely spread among the scholars of the Russian monasteries and at the Tzar’s Court. There are 22 copies of this narrative about Vlad Tepes, which makes a good deal spreading. Its importance consists of the differences from the German stories, or better said from the western version. It tells the same happenings from a different point of view. In the Slavic version, Vlad Tepes becomes righteous Christian Price. He is appointed by God, his acts good and exemplary in the eyes of the Lord. These Slavic stories praise the anti-Ottoman stand of the Romania Prince and urge the Russian Tzars to follow his example. Skazanie o Draculea voevodea was a fundamental book for the tsars of Moscow. Here it is a totally different stand in comparison with the Saxon source and the Court of Buda. Differences lie in divergent political orientations and interests.
Scholars insisted of the existence of a Romanian folk source that lay at the basis of the German and Slavic versions. Byzantine and Ottoman sources – important for historical researches – provide new elements for a political interpretation of Vlad Tepes’ case, according to the authors’ interests. VI. In the light of these sources, the Romanian historians came to the conclusion that the opinion of the Medieval scholars lightens up once they free themselves from political pressure, and they also abandon justifying Vlad Tepes’ imprisonment at the Court of the King of Hungary.
Antonio Bonfini, an Italian chronicler to King Matei Corvin’s Court, no longer mentions Vlad Tepes’ “treason”, in his book Rerum Hungaricarum Decades, written in 1487. He considers unaccountable the King of Hungary’s action to capture and imprison the Romanian Prince. However, Sebastian Munster presents a diverse version in his Cosmography or Description of the World, issued in 1544. He stresses the Romanian Prince’s righteousness and also his independent attitude towards the Turks. Sebastian Munster book was a beacon for the Medieval world. It presents Tepes-Dracula from a different point of view. J. Christian Engel‘s Geschichte der Moldau und Walachey, 1804, relaunches the image of the bloody monster Dracula. This book reiterates the Saxon stories as a basic source. This work reflects the Saxon political stand towards the Romanian people, also expressed by the 17th century‘s Saxon historiography that denied the Romanians‘ rights on Transylvania.
The Central European historiography’s stand – expressed by Engel – influences on the Romanian historians too. Ioan Bogdan produces such a proof with his study and synthesis, Vlad Tepes and the German and Russian Narratives About Him. A Critical Study. Bucharest, 1896. Ioan Bogdan like Christian Engel comes to an almost similar conclusion: Vlad was a bloody Prince. Gheorghe Ghibanescu answers back by his critical study Vlad Tepes, (a critical study), Arhiva, VIII, 1897, no. 7-8 and 9-10. This is how the controversy on Vlad Tepes starts in the Romanian historiography.
In 1897, one year after the Hungarians celebrated their Millennium, the Irish writer Bram Stoker publishes his book Dracula. He sets the action of his novel – whose central character is a vampire – in Transylvania, at the Hungarian orientalist Arminius Vambery’s advise. This book lies at the basis of the huge Dracula to follow in theatre, film, books on vampirism or pseudo-historical studies. VII. Bram Stoker’s character, Dracula, became autonomous, a real modern myth, especially by means of the cinema. Its link to the historical source is completely forgotten. A Romanian researcher Grigore Nandris reveals it (The Historical Dracula, Comparative Literatures Studies, II, 4, 1966). However, Dracula’s revived myth will rise again.
In 1972, several books on Dracula appear, as well as various films inspired by Bram Stoker’s novel. Radu Florescu and Raymond McNally, co-authors of In Search of Dracula, Connecticut, 1972, make a direct link between Dracula and Vlad Tepesi, as they are systematically looking for the former in Romania. Their book had a great success in the English speaking world. It also was translated in other European language.
Gabriel Ronay’s book The Dracula Myth is even more significant. It is published at the same time in London and New York in 1972. This time, Vlad Tepes is not only Dracula himself – as in the German stories – but also the inspirer of all bloody dictators in the modern world. This way, the Carpathians become seat of the universal evil. The author’s political view is obvious. Results of putting things like this were made clear after 1989, when the equivalence Tepes – Dracula was doubled by another equivalence Dracula – Ceausescu. An entire anti-Romanian press campaign is based on these equivalences, that have no objective ground. When Dracula was identified with Vlad Tepes, the Romanian historians reacted by a series of books written by: Nicolae Stoicescu (Vlad Tepes, 1976), Stefan Andreescu (Vlad Tepes[Dracula], 1976) Manole Neagoe (Vlad Tepes, 1976) Radu Stefan Ciobanu (On Vlad Tepes’ traces, 1979), followed by others. Historians discriminated between Vlad Tepes’ historic and legendary personality by scientific tools. Anyhow, the myth is by no means prevented to cover the historical proof. VIII. Iconography paid a great tribute to Vlad Tepes.
Before Mihai Viteazul (Michael the Brave), the Romanian Prince Vlad Tepes had the largest number of portraits spread in Europe. Some of them were published in the 15th century German leaflets – the only illustrated text on Tepes, contrary to the Slavic narratives. We cite from the literary portrait, depicted by a contemporary of the celebrated Romanian Prince: “I saw his face chin shaved, save for his moustache. His bull-like neck linked his tall nape to his broad shoulders covered by his black and curly hair”. The author of this portrait is Nicola de Modrussa. The historian Stefan Papacostea took this excerpt from Historia de bellis Gothorum.
Adversity, more often than love, stands for the remembrance of people and things. The 15th century anti-Ottoman hero and Romanian Christian Prince Vlad Tepes’ portrait is given to us by those who used to libel him before Europe.
Still, there are enough data to make a distinction between history and legend, and let each of them have its own existence.
Bram Stokes, the Author of Dracula’s Novel, did not even make it to Transylvania.
He went as far as to Vienna and decided to write Dracula story there. He also heard about noble lady Eleonore von Schwarzenberg with the vampire hysteria related to her life and image.
Somehow the author in fiction book combined two characters and as a result, historical facts about Vlad Tepes were forgotten.
So the Dracula known in modern world as vampire is not the same figure as historical figure Vlad Tepes, Wallachian King. For more information, read Count Dracula (the Myth) or one can see an exhibit in Bran Castle http://www.bran-castle.com/dracula.html .
Once you learn the history of Transylvania/Wallachia, you will find that Bram Stoker did not care about Vlad Tepes’ contribution on Romanian history other than his name. Bram knew that Dracula was a Romanian name that meant devil and only changed the title of his book just before publication to Dracula. It’s important to understand that the Dracula in the book has nothing to do with the real life Romanian Dracula called Vlad Tepes.
So if you happen to mention Dracula to a Romanian, they will tell you he was not a vampire but a Romanian hero who defeated the Turks and impaled them to scare enemies off. As long as you can explain that you understand there are two Dracula’s (the one in the book and the real one), they will be a bit more sympathetic to your need to understand about vampires and werewolves.
Back to Bran Castle. It is an impressive 13th century medieval architecture. Here is the history http://www.bran-castle.com/history.html . In 1920, the castle was given to Romanian Queen Mary , who was very popular queen. The castle holds her personal touches and charm.
We left Bran to Brasov, on the way I did some browsing at small bazaar. On the way to the parking we some delicious pastry Kurto Kalacs, sweet and soft Transylvanian Pastry originated in Hungary. It is hollow inside, therefore, the whole pastry is a delicious crust. I did not see anything like that anymore in Romania and Mihai said it is Transylvanian specialty .
We arrived Brasov, checked into small family owned hotel Apolonia 3*. I got a two room suite with large bathroom and Jacuzzi tub. However no elevator and suite was on top floor. I needed to work out all this food, but probably not everyone can stay there who has trouble walking up the stairs.
I was glad I only brought small carryon, otherwise I would feel guilty with Mihai carrying my bag!
We checked in, settled and went for a walk. It was delightful small old town surrounded by Carpathian Mountains. Brasov was founded by Teutonic knights in 12th century, but in 18th century was dominated by Transylvanian Saxons, which gave the town distinctive German feel. In the center was large tower of so called Black Church which had her walls blackened by fire. It is the largest gothic church in Romania although later was rebuilt as Baroque. We walked Old town square, with teutonic buildings, old streets. The town’s name was spelled out with large letters on the top of surrounding mountain. The pedestrian street had nice shopping. It is really a pleasant town to stay for 2 nights, and I was sorry we had to leave tomorrow.
For a change from Romanian food, Mihai took me to a small European restaurant and we had very good Chateaubraind with paired red wine. I was already full but he insisted on going to separate place for crepes where we had wonderful crepes with tea. I opted for apple filling. I slept well after this productive day!
September 26, 2013 – Brasov – Sighisoara – Targu Mures – Bistrita – Tihita
After breakfast at hotel (the apple strudel was really good!) – we left Brasov.
In about 75 minutes we reached Sighisoara, the place where Vlad Peles spent his childhood. We drove directly into the medieval citadel – the ticket machine didn’t work. Mihai showed me the center square with the Clock Tower, the Covered flight of stairs, the Church on the Hill.
Founded by Transylvanian Saxons during the 12th century, Sighisoara still stands as one of the most beautiful and best-preserved medieval towns in Europe, UNESCO Heritage site. It still relatively undiscovered and non commercial comparing with Germany and Central Europe. I enjoyed its towers, cobbled narrow streets, medieval Saxon houses and old churches like going back to time. It is also the birthplace of Vlad Dracula. Mihai pointed restaurant where he was born and lived.
We left Sighisoara for Targu Mures. It was another pretty town, we had a walk, took photos and had a cake with tea.
The road was pretty with foliage colors, my favorite time in Europe. People were selling local mushrooms and I have not seen such mushrooms since my childhood in Ukraine. These were large white, Mihai said it is a season and they only grow in this area. There were also carefully arranged sacks of apples, potatoes and onions, just like in Germany or Switzerland. But again, his area has some German influence and history.
We continued towards Bistrita. It started to rain a bit. Some more kilometers and we entered the “bargau” area. A row of villages, all starting their names with the word “BARGAU” (valley), that is why in the west of Europe the pass is known as Borgo Pass. The actual name is TihutaPass. It
is also area popular with skiing but there were clouds and unfortunately, we could not enjoy mountains landscape. Oh well, so far weather cooperated so I do not have to complain. We finally arrived to our hotel Castel Dracula standing on the top of a mountain. In front of the hotel one can see the bust of Bram Stoker, author of Dracula novel. It is themed hotel in the setting of Stoker’s novel. It is kind of kitschy, Disneyesque, with carpets blood red. It’s said to be the only castle hotel in Romania, built just for Dracula (the vampire image) lovers tourists in 1980’s.
It is built in exact location of Count Dracula castle in the book. The location in the mountains on Borgo Pass is very picturesque. In spirit of hotel’s theme, there is a graveyard in front. There is “Dracula’s Tomb” in the basement but I did not have desire to visit it.
We parked the car, got the luggage and went to second floor, (there’s no lift, as the hotel was built in early 1980’s and the architect was more concerned about the looks of the hotel than by the facilities). It is good well maintained 3* hotel with a simple good local food. Before dinner we went to a small bazaar near hotel and I looked at local products. Many things were made in China but I managed to find local Romanian wool items. Mihai said I started my “hrib” diet. Hrib is local mushroom (translation). For dinner we had trout from local rivers and mushrooms with mamaliga (polenta).
The internet connection is very good and fast, but only in the restaurant area (during to construction, thick walls and many nooks, they did not succeed yet to wire all rooms. We were eating with the laptops on the table. Most people did. Hotel has two dining rooms – smoking and non-smoking so be sure specify which dining room you wish. Mihai introduced me to the lady who is the sales manager.
The night at Dracula’s hotel was unexpectedly quiet. It seems that the Count was not at home! In the morning we had a nice breakfast. Overall, service was very good, and setting picturesque. There is nothing else at Borgo Pass. So it is a good stopping point for overnight or for those of that vampireously inclined!
I would say would be good to celebrate Halloween here! Email us to arrange your Dracula Whispers Tour (real historical one or fictional vampire).. September 27, 2013 – Tihuta – Moldovita Monastery – Sucevita Monastery – Marginea – Voronet Monastery – Campulung Moldovenesc. We left Castle Dracula, the mountains of Moldova are to be crossed again.
Now we were in Bukovina. Tucked into the northeastern corner of Romania, and the medieval principality of the Moldavian region, Bucovina lies in the easily-defended Carpathian foothills where the region's hero, Stefan the Great (Stefan cel Mare), ruled between 1457-1504). He fought the Turks in the and built churches and monasteries throughout Moldavia to praise God for allowing him to win. He used to build one monastery after each of his battles. His descendant, Petru Rares, continued his work by setting the foundations for many other famous monasteries. There are 48 monasteries in total, some with fortified walls to protect against invaders. These unique monasteries and Byzantine churches with their exceptional exterior frescoes are one of the most fascinating sights in Romania. Seven of the painted monasteries have been included on the Unesco World Heritage List.
Much of the former Romanian province of Bucovina and Moldovia, previously part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, was lost to the USSR (now the Ukraine and Moldova which I will go next), in 1945. The name Bucovina came into official use in 1775 with the region's annexation to the Austrian Empire. Bucovina is worth visiting, not only for its wealth of religious art and the beautiful monasteries, but also for the natural beauty and simplicity of the region. It is a territory (looked like Switzerland to me!) with clean unspoiled nature. It has a unique landscape: thick forests and imposing crests, branching off from the Carpathians, which allow a wonderful panorama of valleys, with houses scattered here and there, with large gardens and farm yards with haystacks. The countryside is filled with picturesque villages and rural scenery as local folk go about their daily business. I saw horse-drawn carts, driven by people bundled up against the cold, outdoor wells and piles of chopped wood, and produce stands. These are some of the scenes the traveler will encounter in this fascinating region of Romania, a stark contrast to the frenetic pace and way of life shaped by the modern face of city living.
First monastery to visit was Moldovita, where nun Tatiana (the well regarded guide of the monastery) was guiding a group of German speaking tourists. The masters who painted its interior and exterior walls have decorated them with scenes from 16th century Moldavian daily life. The interior painting is traditional, but the Crucifixion (nave) is considered the most valuable painting on this theme in Bukovina churches, it is often compared with Italian art (the Descent from the Cross) or with the 15th-century icon painters of Novgorod (the Mourning Of Christ, the north wall).
The next stop was at “The Palm” monument, where a young man also called Mihai sells jams and teas (forest plants) which his grandmother makes. He spoke good English and had a kind of reference dictionary with all forest plants and one can order online as he is almost all the time connected to the internet in that parking lot on the top of the mountain.
We reached Sucevita monastery at noon. It is fortified like a citadel with watchtowers at its four corners with a square-shaped compound, surrounded by a wall of 100 meters on each side, six-meter high and three-meter thick. The most outstanding painting is the Ladder of Virtue, presenting the angels who assist the righteous enter the Paradise, while sinners (depicted as Turks) fall down to be taken by a demon. Sucevita Monastery was first inhabited by monks in 1582. During the communist era, only nuns over 50 years old were allowed to stay at Sucevita. Today it is a nun monastery, the sisters living a simple life in daily prayers, and growing their land.
After Sucevita, we stopped for a quick lunch at “Ieremia Rovila” restaurant/motel. I would not call it motel, it was nice 3* country inn. What do you think we had? Again, Hribi – in sour cream sauce and mamaliga. The place was clean, modern with many windows.
We also passed Marginea village at the pottery workshop where they produce the black ceramic imported everywhere in the world. The last monastery was Voronet, called the Sistine Chapel of the East due to its magnificent well preserved frescoes placed on the West wall. We parked and we walked about 200 m to the monastery. These feature an intense shade of blue known in Romania as , "Voronet Blue", a colors obtained from lapis lazuli, which has been added to the lexicon of art alongside colors such as the "Titian Red" and "Veronese Green", being unique
We arrived to Campulung Moldovenesc, small scenic town in mountains of Southern Bukovina, in a valley on the Moldova River banks. My major interest there was Jewish cemetery. First time Jews were mentioned in this town in 1774 during the Austrian occupation. In 1859 Jews were granted the right to set up their own community. Before WWI, approximately 3,500 Jews were living in Câmpulung and the surrounding villages. Some worked as craftsmen, but most excelled in the regular Jewish professions as lawyers, doctors, pharmacists. They favored Zionist movement and founded a Theodor Herzl association in 1909. Following the annexation of Bucovina by Romania in 1918, the Jewish population of Campulung, which had become the administrative center of the county, was subjected to the cultural and administrative pressures of “Romanization,” although Jews continued to hold important positions in the local economy and were represented on the municipal council. Nevertheless, the inauguration of a temple and of a Jewish National House confirmed a strong communal life in the town despite nationalistic and anti-Semitic threats.
In October 1940, after the Iron Guard came to power, the series of pogroms took place. Following an order issued by the Antonescu government on 12 October 1941, Jews were deported. The exception was made for 28 people considered indispensable, who were permitted to stay. The rest of the Jewish population, irrespective of age or gender, was deported to Transnistria under terrible conditions and were assigned to camps and ghettos. Many perished.
After Holocaust, some Jewish families returned. In 1945-1947, Campulung recorded 1370 Jews. Most of them gradually left after war and communism. In 2003 was recorded only 9 Jews living in city. We went to hotel Eden and checked in. Mihai knew owner and they were really friendly. Hotel was almost empty – low season. Mihai knew a men who has a key and map of the cemetery. He called him and drove me to the cemetery. There was the synagogue in town center. We parked at the parking lot and the parking lot attendant told us that synagogue is under renovation. He was very helpful and pointed another building nearby where Jewish community center was and even took us there. He left his parking lot duty.. Not that there were people waiting to park! People are so nice in Romania.
hen we went to Jewish cemetery. There was old lady who kept they key but now she is very old we were explained and there is a gentleman Mr. Sand who is the keeper. That’s the one we were going to meet. The cemetery was not too far. Mr. Sand came in, opened gate and showed me the map/list of the graves at the cemetery. If someone would be looking for certain graves of ancestors, he is the man to ask. I was appalled though that this the only one copy of the cemetery grave written on old worn out paper. I am attaching photo of it. Jewish community of Romania must do something about it! What if something happens to gatekeeper or this piece of paper? We looked at the graves, I am posting some photos here. I gave him a good tip and we went back to hotel.
We had nice dinner at hotel’s restaurant, it is considered popular with locals. That night I think we were only ones at hotel so no requests for dinner except few local people. Hotel’s owner asked if we want something to be cooked from the menu or he can give us the same meal they cooked for themselves. Of course I opted for second choice. I was not disappointed. The dinner was again – mushrooms in a delicious cream sauce with mamaliga. A bit different prepared that 2 previous days, but very good. We had nice talk with the owner (translated for my benefit by Mihai). The owner knows many people in the area. Desert was “coltunasi” and finished with owner’s homemade Afinata (Cranberries liquor).
September 28, 2013 – Campulung Moldovenesc – Iasi
In the morning I found out that hair dryer in my room did not work and hotel’s owner lady gave me her own. I felt like at home there..
Breakfast was again cooked to order since no other people stayed. We left for our last destination, Iasu, large city. Pronounced “Yash”. It is usually not of interest from tourist, but it was close to Moldova border and there was quite large Jewish community to it made sense to overnight there . Note: the country Moldova where I am going next is different from Moldavia area of Romania! Mihai said he spent his summers in Isasu with grandparents, so he felt like local there. I was a bit concerned that he drives without map and GPS but he managed just fine. He asked directions few times though. Anyway, who am I to tell him! J . He took wrong road but there we saw a fruit stand so we bought apples. They were delicious. Serendipity is the key to adventure of travel. If you get lost, you find something else…
I saw villagers on the horse carts transporting vegetables, and asked Mihai if I can take a photo sitting on the cart. He obliged, it took awhile to find appropriate cart where I can sit (some were with manure!) Finally we found a man in the cart in the village we passed and Mihai asked if I can take photo with him. The man said: “If I knew American lady wants to sit in my cart today, I would wear tie!” I climbed in and Mihai took photo. All villagers from houses both sides came out to fences and were talking and laughing. Mihai translated that the neighbor said will notify his wife. I hope I did not become a cause of divorce in this village! It came out a nice picture though for my blogs.
We arrived in Iasi, it was construction everywhere with big holes in the middle of roads. We arrive to our 4* Unirea Hotel and Spa . It is a new modern hotel on the main square. Parking was very strange, it was easily to be blocked by other cars, although parking had attendant. Again I was thankful I am not driving in Romania.
We had a walk in the city, it has nice building Austro-Hungarian 19th century architecture. It was Sunday and the city had many people strolling in the Sunday market. We bought again Romanian pretzels, at this time with fruit filling inside. I am getting addicted to these pretzels!
There was preparation for Opera performance outdoors, so first Season’s opera will be available to all people (besides those who paid for seats, it was possible just seat outdoor in park and enjoy music). The town was lovely and offered cultural activities. Shopping seems to be good as well. We went to hotel and I took advantage of hotel’s spa. They required to use a hat. I had to rent a hat for around 3 Euros. The bottle of water was expensive as well. Better to come prepared. Spa facilities were nice, with various shower (some called emotional – with different level of water sprays), ice fountain, sauna, hammam and heated saline pool.
After rest, we went to search for the Synagogue which is located in historical center. Mihai knew the area but with construction, it took longer, but we eventually got there. There was the sign that it was under renovation, but we found the synagogue keeper in nearby house and talked to him and his wife. I’ve read somewhere that the Great Synagogue of Iasu is the oldest existing synagogue in Romania. It was built in the late seventeenth century, and has undergone various reconstructions and restorations over the centuries. The building was constructed from brick and stone masonry, and the interiors are decorated with frescoes. Over the course of its history, the synagogue has been the victim of a natural disaster, religious intolerance, and political abuse. Originally surrounded by a manicured garden, today the synagogue is lost behind modern urban development and modest scaffolding—left in place after a consolidation project was halted in 2008.
We also went to the cemetery, even though it was Saturday, I knew it was closed, I wanted to see its condition. There was indeed cemetery keeper who told us to come tomorrow. I took some photos.
Overall, I was satisfied with my visit of Iasu, even though most guidebooks do not highlight it as a tourist destination.
For last night dinner, Mihai took me to his favorite restaurant in Iasu “Bolta Rece”, circa 19th century, which was a hangout of famous Romanian art and literature personalities. You can see their portraits on the wall, but you need someone like Mihai to explain and talk about them.. Food was good, again traditional Romanian. I got my last Colchenach (kind of fried doughnut) and got nostalgic of leaving Romania. It was a very interesting country, beautiful scenery, history, food, people, still undiscovered in Europe by American tourists.
September 29, 2013 – Iasi – Republic of Moldova
My last day in Romania. I have to be at Moldova country border at 11:30am where my next team of guide /driver will be waiting for me. I got used to comfortable traveling with Mihai, with my educational trip on Romania – customs, geography, history, language, food. I am a bit sad to leave but hopefully I will come back with my clients. It is time to move to the next country.
We packed everything and got in the car. As Mihai calls himself “The king of the Roads” , he had a dilemma – which way to go in reconstructed Iasu. We were supposed to get to the border point Sculene but there was no anywhere sign for it. I again politely suggested directions or map, but he chose to call local cousin in Iasu and the cousin gave him the best route directions according to current construction going in the city. The cousin recommended old army road. There were indeed army vehicles on that road. I got a bit concerned, Mihai asked military people and said yes it is indeed shortest way to Sculeni border and waived us through. The road was probably designed for tanks, not for vehicles! My bumpy ride discomfort was however alleviated by beautiful unusual scenery which looked like volcanic craters on the road. So as usual, I trusted Mihai to get me to the border on time and in one piece. Eventually road came to something like dead end and there were nice lakes or large river with people fishing and it was sign “private property”. Mihai inquired again and locals confirmed it is a right direction, no problem going through Private property (try it in the USA!), and very soon it will be European Road. Indeed in about 10 minutes, we saw a turn to real asphalt road with European signs and very soon we arrived to the border.
never crossed the border by foot, especially in Eastern Europe. It was my first return to Moldova after 35 or more years when I lived in Ukraine. I started getting a bit edgy. In my mind were flashing images of spy exchange movies when one person walks on the border bridge and another is led from opposite country and they are exchanged. I remembered those bridges in spy movies and it seemed kind of long to me to schlep my even small carry on. How safe to walk there in neutral zone?
Mihai took his passport with him so he said will try to get me across the border in his car. Moldova guide texted me their car color and license plates and they were waiting for me on other side. We passed Romanian border, together. At Moldova side, I was admitted through, but Mihai could not since his car did not have proper sticker. So far we were the only ones at Sculeni crossing. Thankfully, I am in Russian speaking country in Moldova (they speak Moldovan, Russian and Romanian). So I asked them in Russian – how do I get on another side. They said it is not good to walk through neutral zone not sure why. At the same time, they do not let Mihai’s car just for few minutes to steop into Moldova. At this time, another car crossing the border to Moldova. The gentleman got out and he did not speak Romanian but I tried Russian and he said, of course would be happy to give me a ride across border and started already taking my luggage from Mihai’s car to his. First I was happy but then American mentality returned, I said. Eh… maybe I will walk. I do not know you. He said, I am an honest man! The custom people came out and confirmed he is a good man. I asked if they know him? They said: no but we have just seen his passport. Oh well. I had flashback week ago same situation on Bulgarian/Macedonian border where my traveling companion, Bulgarian travel agent, Emilia caught a ride from the border to Sofia. (I wrote about it in my Trip report http://jewishtravelagency.wordpress.com/2013/11/24/bulgaria-and-macedonia-trip-report/ )
She survived. I took a photo of license plates and texted it to both Mihai and Moldova team, and went into his car. Mihai said will wait for my call of safe arrival on other side.
These 2 minutes seemed very long. There was another gentleman in the car on front seat but he did not talk. The driver asked where I am from. He said was traveling in London last week. He asked how America is. I don’t remember what I replied. It seemed to be long 2 minutes. We crossed the border and I saw white Renault waiting. I said: this is my car waiting for me. He stopped and moved luggage to the new car. My guide and driver came out to meet me. The Moldovan gentleman said good bye. I felt so guilty so I offered him 2 Euros coin as a tip. He refused to take it but I insisted as a souvenir. He smiled, took it and wished me a good stay in Moldova.
My spirits were up. Before getting into the car, I asked my guide to take picture of me getting into Moldova. We got intothe car and the drive drove away. Few blocks later, at intersection, the car stopped and the driver ran to us. It was a gentleman who gave me a ride. I thought I forgot something there but he wanted to give me souvenir – two Russian rubles! Of course they do not mean much money but since he did not want to accept tip but took 2 Euros as gift, he gave me 2 Russian coins. That was a great introduction to Moldova and its nice people. Stay tuned for my next report from Moldova!
Disclaimer: this report presents just an opinion of individuals who’s been there…. Tastes Differ…Copyrights Jewish Travel Agency, Emco Travel, LLC..
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