On Saturday the 31st of January I had to be in Predeal for the first national tourist guide forum and thought: Hey! Why not make this a long week end and go explore a little bit. Of course I dwelled on the idea of whether I should go solo or not.
To clarify my pondering, in Romania doing something on our own is frowned upon and seen even a little crazy, I may say. We take friends or family members to go with us to the doctor, the dentist, grocery shopping- and I can go on and on. The list of things that are acceptable to be done alone is quite short and travelling is not close to being near that list.
Anyway, I managed to survive the shocked looks and the eventual pity party when I told them I am going alone on a mini-trip and on Friday morning I took off for Prahova Valley and Brasov.
It was somewhere 30 kms away from Bucharest when I realized I was alone. I did not have to care about anyone but me for three whole days. It felt liberating! And with the proper tune I can see this turning into an addiction.
Prahova Valley may just be the most popular destination for Bucharestians. About 130 kms away from the capital city, the mountain resorts are the first pick when you want to escape the craziness of the city. And its understandable, with its scenic roads, spectacular mountain peaks and legendary castles, Prahova Valley is one beautiful place.
The mountains just before you enter Sinaia.
The star of the area is, without a doubt, Peles Castle in Sinaia and second place goes to the Brasov’s Bran Castle or better known as Dracula’s Castle. Having visited these two countless times, I traded them for the less known, the underdogs of Prahova Valley: Iulia Hasdeu and Cantacuzino Castles.
Iulia Hasdeu Castle will have its own blog post on Roaring Romania but until we get there, a few words about it won’t harm anyone. It was built in 1896 by BP Hasdeu in memory of his beloved daughter, Iulia, who died at the early age of 18. The grieving father coped with her death through spiritism sessions in which he contacted her spirit.
It is said that the plans for the castle were given by Iulia from the afterlife during these sessions. Locals say that her ghost still makes an appearance on the castle grounds from time to time.True story, I’m not kidding! The castle is definitely something else and if I got you a bit intrigued, you will find Iulia’s castle in the little town of Campina, just before Sinaia. Schedule about an hour for your visit.
Castles aside, Prahova Valley is all about the mountains. There are four major mountain resorts: Sinaia, Busteni, Azuga and Predeal, Predeal being the town situated at the highest altitude in the country: 1.030-1.110 meters. These are the country’s headquarters for skiing, snowboarding, trekking, hiking and a lot other ‘-ing’ actrivities. A definite must do is the cable car, either from Sinaia that takes you up the mountain to an altitude of 2.000m or Busteni that takes you to see the awesome rock formations Babele and the Sphinx.
The not so good parts of going to Prahova Valley include the nightmare traffic towards Bucharest on Sunday afternoons, the quality vs. price ratio for accommodations and services and the secondary roads that look like mining fields. Seriously, you can break your car if you are not careful.
But the view is so unbelievably spectacular that you get over everything and just feast your eyes with the sight of the wild Carpathians and remember you are, after all, in roaring Romania.
This was the view from my hotel room in Predeal.
As you go over the mountains you will arrive in Brasov, my last stop on my solo journey.
I have to admit that I have visited Brasov many times but only scratched the surface of what this town is all about. My visits usually consist of a walk around the main square, a couple of pictures with the Black Church, a panorama picture from the White Tower and either food at the Bella Musica, drinks at Festival 39 or coffee at my favorite café in the country: Dr. Jekelius Pharmacy Café.
1. up the steep stairs to the White Tower 2. panorama picture 3. down the steep stairs (preferably without fainting)
This trip I took my time to properly roam the streets of Brasov. I followed the itinerary proposed in In Your Pocket Brasov edition which starts on the alley called Dupa ziduri (trans. Behind the walls) which is...behind the walls, of course. Then passes by Ecaterina Gate, the Towers at the foot of Tampa to end up at the Black Church. I took a detour at Ecaterina Gate towards the surprising Schei neighborhood.
Behind the walls
You should know that Brasov is a town that has been established by German settles, the Transylvanian Saxons and it was one of the seven powerful medieval citadels alongside Sibiu, Medias, Cluj, Sighisoara, Oradea and Bistrita.
The rule back then was: the Saxons lived inside the defense walls of the citadel, the Romanians outside the walls on the flank of the hill in Schei neighborhood. Romanians were allowed only one day a year to enter the citadel without paying. Now, it’s a lovely part of Brasov. The buildings are a bit run down and its less glamorous than the main square but it's also less touristic, one of those hidden gems that everyone is looking for.
I highly recommend a visit to St. Nicholas Church and the school-the first school in the country in Unirii Square. The building of the school was built in 1495 but the Romanian school in Brasov had been mentioned a century before in a papal bulla from 1399 so we cannot know for sure how old is the school exactly.
The school can be visited every day, on Sunday only after church so around 12:00. Professor Olteanu will be your tour guide, a man deeply passionate about the history of the school, the exhibition and the Romanian traditions of Schei neighborhood. And when you have some of the oldest, most valuable books in the country, it's understandable.
1. Unirii Square & St. Nicholas Church 2.Reproduction of a 200 years old classroom 3. Professor Olteanu showing us how a medieval press worked
The old book collection in Schei was hidden in the tower of the church in 1949 to protect it from being burnt, forgotten about it and discovered only by accident in 1967. An old man working at the church went one day to the tower to search for timber slots, pulled one of them and that’s how he discovered the old books, all 6000 of them.
This is just one of the fascinating stories the professor will share with you. I could tell you more about the elaborate process of how the first books were printed or how thieves tried to steal the oldest Romanian bible three times but never succeeded. I could tell you but I wouldn't want to spoil the fun of hearing them straight from professor Olteanu.
Don't forget to share with us your favorite stories from Prahova Valley and Brasov!
This is someone's yard in Schei. I love the view.
Sfatului Square as seen from the Black Church
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