Romania - Dracula, castles, and horse carts......what an adventure!!
Romania - The People
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.
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.
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!
We saw several women knitting or winding wool onto spindles, like she is doing below.
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.
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.
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.
A common sight - hay stacked high, looking like it would tumble over taking the horse and the men with it.
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,
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.....
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.
We saw lots of people walking to work with their scythe. Most of them older people whom we thought would have been retired.
Again, notice the traditional women's dress. She also has the patterned bag they all carried as well as the colored tights.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
Humor monastery was built in 1530 and is the smallest painted monastery, but was one of the first to be painted with frescoes.
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.
Sucevita was the last built and is said to be the greatest among the painted monasteries. It certainly was our favorite.
It was erected in 1581 and the frescoes were painted in 1595.
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!
It appeared to be a lively and thriving monastery.
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.
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.
Many of the paintings are damaged with graffiti-names and scratches. Sad.
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.
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.
The frescoes inside were quite beautiful and so colorful, protected all those years by the darkness of the church.
This was an odd scene - maybe the "priest" was sick? He was out in the middle of the monastery courtyard.
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.
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!
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.
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.
They are very well known for their honey and colorful bee boxes along the roads. It is delicious and I wished I bought more!
Donald has a thing about bridges, when he sees one he wants to explore it.
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 : )
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
It made us both happy...
We did catch one outdoor food market which we love to visit as you can learn so much about a culture from the food.
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.
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.
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!
There were so many new large ones being built.
And they had very large, ornate gates - high enough to bring in the horse buggy filled with hay.
Here is a good side view to see that the gates really are just a facade.
They also had very beautiful crafted structures to cover their wells.
This remote Northern region is also known for their elaborately carved wooden gates leading to family homes.
Some were massive. We learned that the larger the gate - the wealthier the family.
The knots and sun designs come from ancient pagan motifs. Popular motifs include grapevines, acorns, twisted rope, sun symbols, crosses and forest animals.
Here are a few more houses to show how decorative and colorful they are.
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.
Merry Cemetery of Sapanta
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.
The sayings on each grave are ironic or humorous ... which explains the place’s name – the Merry Cemetery.
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.
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.
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.
I lost track of the names....so you'll just have to enjoy the photos!
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.
Barsana is on the UNESCO World Heritage List
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.
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!)
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.
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.
Less than ten minutes later we ran into a second funeral procession. In this one they were carrying a table with food.
And a large cross.
This body was carried on the back of a truck, like the other procession.
May they both rest in peace!
Onto a brighter note...but maybe scarier.......Transylvania!!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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????
Our last stop was in Brasov, by far the most modern city we visited.
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.
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.
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.
These two were attacking me!
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.
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"!
Hi George,I bought them both from Amazon.
Posted by: Simona Thomas | October 30, 2011 at 05:12 PM
Thank you Simona ! Do you happen to know where I can find/buy the two books?
Posted by: George | October 27, 2011 at 06:00 AM
Thank you very much for linking your blog to my tripadivsor question. I would absolutely love to travel around Romania. Your blog is fantastic! Its looks like you have a brilliant time! Thanks again for sharing! :)
Posted by: Alex | October 26, 2011 at 12:04 PM
So pleased you had a nice holiday, even more it was in Romania ,my country of birth . Good to know some people enjoy visiting places that are different and can see the beauty and good in that .What’s the point going to Romania and then complaining the country is not like USA,UK ?
Thank you George for sharing your knowledge on Romania with all of us and I would like to add some.
-Romania it is not a very poor country it’s more likely a poorly run country .After the communism collapsed we had to start again from zero with everything was wrong, with everything really ! That’s not easy and it is going to take an awful amount of time .People you saw on carts and horses are never going to see the changes in their lifetime as they can’t change themselves .They can only work hard , extremely hard I should say in the fields and around the house to provide food for their families ,but they will never pass a driving test or start a business .That’s more likely the next generation’s job. But you would be quite surprised by how much money they have in banks or kept under the mattresses more likely ,saving have always been part of their lives .After they were told what to do all their lives it is impossible to turn into a successful entrepreneurs over night.
-Hitchhiking is a very common way of transport , the only reason is ,in Romania ,it is still safe .People trust each other more than anything else .
I recently read two brilliant books on Romania,I would recommend them both to anybody who would like to understand more the country and the people.
- Along The Enchanted Way – A Romanian Story by William Blacker
- Romanian Furrow - by Donald Hall and Alan Ogden
Reading your story I was smiling all the time and as a pay- back I can only say I was born in Bacau.
Posted by: Simona Thomas | September 29, 2011 at 09:45 AM
I am Romanian(56 years old), and I live in Romania. After reading your travel blog and seeing your images, please allow me to add a few explanations in order to provide you a more clear and correct image about Romania and Romanians:
- Women always wear black scarfs if they are widows
- People sit outside their houses especially on Saturday evening and Sunday
(remember the Bible: six day for work, one day to rest)
- The main street(the road crossing the village) in almost all the villages is always full of people, especially during orthodox holidays or on Sundays…You know, they (people, ckickens, dogs) somehow believe that such part of road is theirs, not ours(visitors, passers-by)., ha, ha! And why buy a bicycle when hitchhike is a current and normal practice?
- The scythe is very important, it is for the hay, and the hay is to feed the horses, cows and sheeps in wintertime
-What you call : “traditional women’s dress” is just some “old” weared clothes to allow daily work in the hay field. Traditional is weared in special days and it’s not for every day.
- Inside churches, people do not stand in line to kis a photo of Jesus…they stand in line to kiss icons…such icons are sanctified and painted only by certain monks not by everyone.
- The image showing a sick priest: it is indeed someone sick, who feels he will die and ask the family to bring him near the wall of the church…as orthodox men and women do not enter the church when they are sick, and especially, women do not enter the church if they are in “those days” of the month.
- Men kissing hand of women is still something usual in Romania, especially in the cities and very rarely in a village – that means that Catherine was…how shall I write….highly appreciated!.
-Pizza…I’m so curious where is the spot ehere you found, as here where I live there are offered a lot of kinds of pizza, just like in Italy, not only cheese and toppings.
-The milk, cheese, butter and cow and pork meat are checked by a doctor before being sold inside the market, so there is nothing to worry about.
-The colors of the houses..I prefer to say only that a lot of people work in Italy, where they saw such colors, otherwise, the colors are not local…or traditional…
-Funerals: the truck used to transport the deceased is an ARO, a Romanian 4x4 car. The trees are in fact fir trees. Fir trees are used only for those persons that were virgins and/or never married, In such case, the deceased(male or female) is dressed in white- and especially (if it is a female), in wedding dress.As for the second funeral procession, the “food” carried on the table is something special, ritual and orthodox which is called “coliva” and “capete”, which are sanctified in the church during the funreal service and then parts of this is distributed to the priest and to certain persons from the procession to eat…it is food-very good and tasty, but something prepared and eaten only in such sad event. The large wood croos is to install at the cemetery, after the burial of the deceased..
-Stray dogs/every foreigner is afraid of them, I don’t know why, but they only use to approach every one in search of food, as here everybody feeds them, they are also God’s creatures…
-Certain creeks that still have clear water are stil used to wash clothes
-As we are almost all orthodox, from Monday to Saturday people use a certain type of (weared) clothes to dress, usefull for their all day work. Only on Sunday they use better clothes. And they use their best clothes on the occasion of the weddings and christenings or when they travel away from home, by train or bus.
-About cars and horse carts….In all the villages in Romania, where people have to work the land every day, it is sure that the cars (be it American or other makes) aren’t good and aren’t usefull.. You cannot use a Buick or a Lincoln, a Renault, a Mercedes, an Opel or any other make intended to be driven only on asphalt roads for the transport of 5 or 6 persons) to transport hay, to plough , to carry wood or to do whatever works are required in a farm, where the small portion of land can be best worked only with a horse. Work in the village starts first time Monday morning and ends late in the evening, Saturday afternoon.And if you ask them what they prefer, they will always tell you about horses and carts as for them. A car for village family will never generate the required quantiy of food for the family. But don’t worry, I understand your opinion, as I was born in a city of Romania…therefore , if you ask me what I prefer, a horse& car or a car, I will choose the car…
Posted by: George | September 13, 2011 at 12:52 AM
wow...super interesting! love the photos..some were just awesome!!
Posted by: kathryn | September 07, 2011 at 07:33 PM
Found your blog via Shutter Sisters. Thanks so much for sharing all of your pictures. I really want to go to Romania now. It looks like something out of a fairy tale. It must have been an amazing adventure!
Posted by: Jill | September 07, 2011 at 01:26 PM
"Fascinating" is exactly the word! You really have the gift of making a place come alive ~
Thanks so much for sharing ~
Posted by: bobbie | August 17, 2011 at 07:35 PM
I so enjoyed your beautiful photos! I found your blog thru a link from your Textured Tuesday photo blog...from yet another link. My Mom's family came from near Rovno Ukraine in 1910. I never knew Romania was so picturesque! I loved how you explained the history, esp. the graveyard and the funerals, which fascinate me. I love to learn about other cultures. Thanks for such a unique posting!
Posted by: Loretta | August 02, 2011 at 10:59 AM
Awesome! Just awesome! :)
Posted by: Kia and Zeno | July 29, 2011 at 11:46 AM