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Romania - Dracula, castles, and horse carts......what an adventure!!

 

Romania - The People

 


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We had a blast in Romania and it surprised us on so many levels.  It is a country of great natural beauty and is rich in cultural heritage.  Where do I begin our eleven day adventure?  Let me start with the people.  Despite the fact that most did not speak any English; they were very friendly and helpful and went out of their way to make our holiday special.

 

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The women above are wearing the very traditional dress of the region.  A black scarf, a sweater, an a-line skirt (often a flower print), and odd colored tights.   In other regions they wore colored scarves, but pretty much the same outfit.


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One thing we found really fascinating was that so many people sat outside of their houses.  We would drive for blocks and EVERY house had people sitting out front.  Notice that it really isn't their front yard, as all of the yards have fences around them.  They sat outside of the fences, on the edge of the street.  We have never seen this before. And boy did they check us out as we drove by!  The group in the photo below are not waiting for a bus, they are just relaxing!

 

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We saw several women knitting or winding wool onto spindles, like she is doing below.

 

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We did ask most people if we could take their photo.  We only had one women say no.  They actually seemed to really like it. They were intrigued that Americans came for a visit - not many people tour Romania, let alone Americans. 


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One we got outside of the main cities, we felt like we dropped into the 1900's.  It was not uncommon to see a horse-drawn wagon carrying a family along with a day's worth of hay.  It was the norm vs. cars.


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This group of men are looking very serious but as they went by, they all waved and smiled.  Unfortunately, the waving photo was not clear.  Look at the red tassles on the bridles of the horses.  Most of the horses in Romania had them.  It is said that they wear them to ward off the evil spirits of the vampire.


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A common sight - hay stacked high, looking like it would tumble over taking the horse and the men with it.

 

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Romania is a very poor country and many of them do not own cars.  So they walk everywhere.  Many countries we have visited do not have cars....but here it seemed like the streets were always full of people,


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horse carts,


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chickens....


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even dogs!  Yes - he really is sleeping as he picked his head up and peaked at us from one eye as we drove around him.....

 

 

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There were not as many bicycles as you would have thought, but hitchhiking was a common mode of transportation. We saw 8-year olds to 80-year olds hitchhiking.  Again, something we have not seen in such numbers in any other country
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We saw lots of people walking to work with their scythe.  Most of them older people whom we thought would have been retired.


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Again, notice the traditional women's dress.  She also has the patterned bag they all carried as well as the colored tights.


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We flew into Bacau, Romania via Blue Air (don't ask!)!!  Bacau was the smallest airport we have ever flown to.  Our flight over was jammed packed with so many babies and children.  Even the flight attendants commented on the number of infants.  Lets just say we were glad it was only a two and a half hour flight.  


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I had a 21-year-old girl next to me on the flight who spoke decent English.  She was very excited that we were visiting her country and was thrilled to see there was actually a tour book about it.  She told me Romanians think Americans have refrigerators full of fast food.  Well, maybe that's true. 


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We stayed in a hotel near the airport as we landed at 11 pm.  The next morning they delivered our rental car to our Hotel.  We drove to Bucovina, where we stayed for two nights.  Below is a view from the bedroom of our B&B. The countryside was green and lush with little villages tucked in the hillside.


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The Monasteries of Bocavina

 

 
We selected the Bucovina area for their impressive painted monasteries dating back to medieval times, most of which were added to UNESCO’s World Cultural Heritage List in 1993. There is no other place in the world where a group of churches exist with such elaborate, colorful, and well-preserved exterior frescoes.  The churches were originally built as family burial places of princes and high nobles. 


Voronet Monastery

 

 

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Voronet Monastery was built in 1488 by Stephen the Great, a very prominent figure in Romanian history - he was the Prince of Moldavia and a great military leader.  In 1547 the exterior paintings were created. 

 

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Monastic life at Voronet was interrupted in 1785 due to Hapsburg Empire rein and it did not become a working monastery again until 1991.  The nun below is tapping out a call to prayer.  She walked around the church carrying a long beam (called a toaca or a chop) and stopped every few feet to tap on it with a mallet.  


 
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Voronet is considered by many to be the "Sistine Chapel of the East", due to the magnificent frescoes on the west wall.  This is where "Voronet Blue" got its name, from the intense shade of blue, which has never faded.

 

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Humor Monastery


Humor monastery was built in 1530 and is the smallest painted monastery, but was one of the first to be painted with frescoes.  


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Humor is mainly painted in reddish brown (from oriental pigment), complemented with rich blues and greens.   Petru Rares, the prince who had Humor built is buried in the church with his wife, Anastasia.


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Sucevita Monastery


Sucevita was the last built and is said to be the greatest among the painted monasteries.  It certainly was our favorite.  


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It was erected in 1581 and the frescoes were painted in 1595. 

 

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The most outstanding paintings are the Ladder of Virtue, showing the angels who assist the "good" into Paradise, while sinners are punished by a demon.  It was never finished because the artist fell down from the scaffolding and died.  Yipes!


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It appeared to be a lively and thriving monastery.

 

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Moldovita Monastery


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Prince Petru built the Moldovita Monastery in 1512.  The frescoes were not painted until 1537.  It has the appearance of a fortress, with imposing towers and high, thick walls.

 

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The interior and exterior walls have scenes from 16th century Moldavian daily life.  There was a church service going on while we were there so it was a very unique experience. 


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Many of the paintings are damaged with graffiti-names and scratches.  Sad.

 

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Putna Monastery


The first building was built in 1449, but was badly damaged in a fire 1484.  The present building is from the 17th century.  Putna was the first monastery built by Stephen the Great.  He wanted it to be his burial place and he is buried here, along with his two wives and sons.


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This was one of the only painted monasteries where we could photograph the inside.  It was very representative of what they all looked like. Very ornate alters where people stood in line to kiss a book of a photo of Christ.

 

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The frescoes inside were quite beautiful and so colorful, protected all those years by the darkness of the church.


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This was an odd scene - maybe the "priest" was sick?  He was out in the middle of the monastery courtyard.

 

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Most evenings we would eat at the B&B's.  At the first one, the owner arranged for a local band to come out and play music on the porch.  It was very entertaining. 


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I don't think we could go as far as to say they were good - just fun and a view into their culture.  This one was quite the flirt, he even kissed my hand!


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This is where we had our favorite dessert of the trip (papanasi cu branza), a fried doughnut-like pastry filled with tiny strawberries (which were in season), then covered in cream.  Yummmmm.


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Our next stop was in the Maramures region - very close to the borders of Ukraine and Hungary.  This is the area where we really felt like we dropped back in time.  Driving through the mountains we stopped and bought honey.


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They are very well known for their honey and colorful bee boxes along the roads.  It is delicious and I wished I bought more!


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Donald has a thing about bridges, when he sees one he wants to explore it.

 

 

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And this was one rickety old bridge!  The little ladies in the neighborhood came out to see what was going on - so there I am waving so they know we are friendly as Donald risks his life to cross the bridge.  Well, maybe that is a bit over exaggerated  :  )

 

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We ate lunch at a little restaurant where we discovered that Pizza in Romania was just cheese and the toppings and you squeezed the sauce from a container.  At first I just thought the waitress brought us ketchup, but it definitely was pizza sauce.


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And for dessert a traditional apple fried tart 1.5 lei =  51 cents.  Romania was very cheap.  It was 1/3 the price of the US dollar - and most times items were inexpensive to begin with.


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We had a unique experience finding our B&B.  In fact it took us three tries to find it.  Why?  There were three B&B's with the exact same name.  D entered one into the GPS - nope wrong one.  Well good thing I wrote the address down.... nope wrong one too.  Thanks goodness for D's blackberry, as we had to use it to look up the correct address!


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We are glad we found it, as it was such a sweet place.  Not fancy by any means but wow was it local.  They had chickens and two cows.  It was like we were staying in the home of a family.  The sisters were in the kitchen cooking all day and we ate the meal of the day.  The photo below was on the wall in the dining room.  These are very traditional colors in this area.


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In the front yard was a "pot" tree.  We saw many of them around town.  Fortunately one of the Romanian guests at our B&B spoke English and we were able to ask him some questions at dinner, as the hosts did not speak any English.  We learned that the pots on a tree means that there is a daughter of marrying age living in the house and they are looking for a spouse.


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 It was here that we learned to love the Romanian homemade moonshine called palinca (brandy), and depending on the region, it was made from either plum or cherries.  Always served in teeny-tiny glasses and a full bottle.


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It made us both happy...


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and sleepy!


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Market Day


We did catch one outdoor food market which we love to visit as you can learn so much about a culture from the food.


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There were many older ladies selling just milk.  Probably from the family cow.  We drank fresh unpasturized milk for breakfast at all the B&B's we stayed.

 

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We tasted  several different kinds of fresh cheese and yogurts, all of which we really enjoyed.  The "cheese room" at the market  had a very sterile feel to it.

 

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Houses of Romania

 

This was another thing that had us baffled....the houses in Romania.  It is one of the poorest countries in Europe, but you would have never known it from the houses.  There were many that were very modern and VERY colorful!


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There were so many new large ones being built.


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And they had very large, ornate gates - high enough to bring in the horse buggy filled with hay.


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Here is a good side view to see that the gates really are just a facade.


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They also had very beautiful crafted structures to cover their wells.


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This remote Northern region is also known for their elaborately carved wooden  gates leading to family homes. 



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Some were massive.  We learned that the larger the gate - the wealthier the family.


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 The knots and sun designs come from ancient pagan motifs. Popular motifs include grapevines, acorns, twisted rope, sun symbols, crosses and forest animals.



 

 

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Here are a few more houses to show how decorative and colorful they are.

 

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This was an unforgettable scene.....a woman washing her clothes in the creek near the side of the road.  We were driving through a very small village when we saw her.

 

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Merry Cemetery of Sapanta

 

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The Merry Cemetery of Sapanta, which dates back to 1935 was a unique sight.  What makes it so special are its 800 folk art graves made of wood crosses and painted with colorful caricatures of the deceased depicting an important time in their lives. 


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The sayings on each grave are ironic or humorous ... which explains the place’s name – the Merry Cemetery. 


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The earlier ones, 700 of them, were carved by Stan Patras.  The main color he used was a special blue named by experts as Sapanta blue.  It looked like most of them had been recently repainted.  It was very unique, not like any other cemetery we had ever seen. 

 

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Wooden churches

 

The Maramures is known for their wooden churches.  History tells us that foreign rulers did not allow the people living here to build long-lasting stone churches. So instead, the local carpenters created beautiful wooden churches.  

 


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Most were built in the 17th century, but some are as recent as 19th century.  They are Orthodox churches.  They are extremely tall with slim bell towers made of oak and are very hard to photograph!  They have weathered time and 42 still stand today.  Eight are listed by UNESCO as World Heritage Sites.


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I lost track of the names....so you'll just have to enjoy the photos!

 

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Barsana Monastery

Barsana Monastery is a new complex created in 1989, on the site of a church abandoned in 1791.   Its 56 meter-tall church is the tallest wooden structure in Europe.   No power tools or nails were used to make it.

 

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Barsana is on the UNESCO World Heritage List

 

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I was not sure if I should post the following photos, a funeral procession.  But, it was so interesting and so different from the way we bury the dead, I decided to share it.  The procession started at the church and they walked to the cemetery.


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I felt guilty taking photos of such an intimate event.  In the photo above you can see several women holding towels.  I did a little research and found that they buried a towel with the deceased to keep vampires away (remember it is Romania - land of the vampire!)


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Below is the actual corpse - wrapped in a cloth and laid in the bed of a truck.  It appears this is the customary way .  We could see the face of the deceased through the cloth - it was a very old woman.

 

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The casket is carried separately from the body and has four trees, one on each corner - I was not able to find the significance of this.

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Less than ten minutes later we ran into a second funeral procession.  In this one they were carrying a table with food.

 

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And a large cross.

 

 

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This body was carried on the back of a truck, like the other procession.

 

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May they both rest in peace! 

 

Onto a brighter note...but maybe scarier.......Transylvania!!


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Sighisoara was our next stop, a sixteenth century medieval town in Transylvania.  It is designated as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO.  Growing up, I always thought Transylvania was a made up place.  

 

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Our B&B (above on the left) was attached to the side to the city gates and the actual building we stayed in dated back to 1797.  There was a little festival going on while we were there.


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Sighisoara's claim to fame is.......it is the birthplace of Dracula!  Dracula isn't just a name in fiction he is a real-life notorious 15th-century noble known as Vlad the Impaler.  Born in 1431, he was the son of Vlad Dracul and legendary for impaling thousands.    


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It was Vlad the Impaler who inspired Bram Stoker's fictional creation, Count Dracula.  But the connection between Stoker's Dracula and Vlad Dracula ends with the name.  We also toured Dracula's castle, in the town of Bran.  It is actually called Bran's Castle and dates back to 1377.  


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Did Dracula really live here?  Was he really a vampire?  Many believe the answer is yes!    Many say Vlad Dracula never knew it even exisited!


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I like this B&W photo - makes it look scary like you would expect Dracula's castle to look.  Did we see any vampires while we were there?  We will never tell.  But how cool is it to say you have been in Dracula's castle????  



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Our last stop was in Brasov, by far the most modern city we visited.


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Unfortunately D got very ill (we think food poisioning) and we had to rest for a full day at the B&B - but they were so super sweet and took such good care of us.  I wish I had taken a photo of the owners for the Blog.  It was our favorite B&B of the trip.

 

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On our last day, D was back to normal and we went to visit Peles Castle.  We drove through the famous Carpathian Mountain to get there.   We loved this castle!  King Carol of Romania built it in 1797.  We were not allowed to take photos inside.  It was fully decorated with exquisite furnishings.

 

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 One last story to close out this adventure....we had read and had been warned about the wild dogs who roamed the streets of Romania and attacked people.  And it was true - there were dogs all over....and we encountered several.


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These two were attacking me!

 

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And this one was after D!  Romania did have an excessive amount of stray dogs living in the villages, but they all were sweet and appeared to be well fed.  

 

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And for our die hard fans (our two moms) - an album with just a few more photos!


   

 

As they say in romania - Drum Bun - which translates to "we wish you a good road" - or as we say, "bon voyage"!

 

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