Sunday, 6 January 2019

Sinaia

Beautiful Brosov - my favourite city in Romania.
I'm hungry!
Hello there!
Summer camp was over and all the kids had gone home. The adventures at Poiana Marlului were over for this year - but I'll be back in 2019 for sure. It'd been a wonderful 4 weeks of working with good people and great kids, hiking, enjoying the countryside and seeing a salamander and even bears. One last thing that I did while at camp, that clearly tops all of the other things, was save the life of 3 little kittens. It was the final week and I'd needed to get out and go for a walk, the stress of summer camp was starting to show and I peace and quiet was needed. There was a storm approaching, I could see it and also hear its loud warnings, but I struck out from the hotel anyway, confident that I could make it to the village and back. Being me, I'd taken too long taking photos on the walk and had left the way back a little late, but I couldn't help myself as the photo opportunities were there, the sky a lovely shade with the storm and the grass so green. I was on my way back when the storm finally couldn't contain itself any longer - there was a loud crack and the sky opened up, drenching me in a few seconds. My wet weather gear was on but there was no stopping this kind of rain - nothing is waterproof forever. Trudging back alone the road, somehow I overheard a faint meowing, I still can't believe that I'd heard it, but at the time I thought that I'd imagined it. I crossed the road and looked down to the now flooded river and saw a plastic bag sitting precariously on a rock in the middle, moving slightly and making a noise. I slid down the 3 metre, muddy banks of the river, splashed through the water, which was running swiftly around my calves, grabbed the bag in one hand and a little kitten, who'd managed to get out of the bag, in the other. I drained the bag of water and found 2 kittens in it - a put all three back in the bag and clambered out of the river and continued my journey home, with 3 additional passengers. They kept quiet for most of the way but just befor reaching the hotel they started to recover a little from their ordeal and meow constantly, even scaring away a deer on the road that hadn't seen me. I got them back to the hotel and blow dried them and make a little bed for them. I'd just saved 3 kittens from death by plastic bag in the river, a fate that sadly many animals still get dealt. I cared for them over the net 4 days in my hotel room, keeping it a secret from the manager (but not the cleaning staff, but they were very cool and understanding), and with the help of the teaching team, found a woman in the nearby village to take them. She runs a shelter of sorts, helping dogs and cats get medical treatment and eventually re-homed. It was sad and tough to let my little babies go after all we'd been through, but I had to let them go and knew they would be looked after.

The 3 newly rescued kittens getting a blow-dry.

The cutest little things in the World!

Celebrating 100 years of the formation of Greater Romania.
Brasov in the summer.
Brasov is a beautiful city and would be hard to top, but I'd only heard good things about Sinaia. I've visited Brasov before and I never get tired of it, there is always something new and exciting to see or do, a new bar to check out, something. The time I stayed here this time was different as I chose a small backpackers out of the centre, right at the opposite end of the city. It turned out to be the quiet end of town, right up against the hills that are all around the city - but this was a good thing! I got off the station and grabbed an Uber, another cool thing about Romania as these private taxis are banned in many countries (including Australia and Spain). The driver Adrian was very friendly, he spoke to me in English and Spanish on the drive to the hostel, and even offered his services for a trip to Bran or anywhere else I wanted to go. I asked him about Uber, and how he became a driver, and found it interesting and surprisingly easy - all you need is a car, registration and insurance papers and you're done! I like Uber.  The 'taxi' ride only took about 10 minutes and didn't cost very much at all either - maybe a few Euros. The first thing I liked about the hostel was their cat - a big, fat and very cuddly moggy. Whenever you sat in the kitchen, she sat with (on) you, liked cuddles and just chilling out with people. The hostel served as a good base to explore from as well, as there was a great restaurant across the road that served traditional Romanian food (I love the soups!), and the sleeping arrangements were interesting too - I slept in the attic with a  load of other people in small beds, but because it was the attic there were cool little windows in the roof. The only downside about this hostel (and it's nothing personal) was a snorer during the night. This guy wouldn't stop, it was as if he was training for the snoring Olympics! I clapped my hands, usually this sudden noise is enough to wake them slightly, threw things at him, kicked the bed, kicked him... nothing worked. He may have been dead apart from all the noise he was making. I finally decided to cover him up with his own blankets, not smother him mind, just hoping it would drown out some of the noise. It made it worse... until he over-heated/ran out of oxygen and woke up. 5 mins later he was back at it. Nobody slept. He wasn't there the next night. Apart from that the hostel was great! I don't want to mention the name, you'll just have to find it yourself!

Brasov.

The chilled out hostel cat.
Goodbye Brasov.
Hello Sinaia!
I got on the train in Bucharest with some friends who were also going the same way and off we went to Sinaia. Train trips in this country are always interesting - the trains usually have a cabin-style arrangement where you sit in a small booth with 5 other people, a little table in the middle, luggage overhead, and the corridor running down one side of the carriage, just like in all those old movies. It didn't take too long, only about 3 hours, and then we were there, right in the mountains and slightly cooler weather. Sinaia is a town in the Bucegi Mountains in the middle of the country, and is mainly a ski and hiking town. More famously than the skiing is Peles Castle, and the reason why most people come here. But more about that later! Walking around the town was lovely, you can clearly see that it's a ski town just by the styles of the buildings and it reminded me of Andorra, Queenstown in NZ and even Aspen (only seen in movies). Although there were plenty of people around, I think it would get a whole lot busier in Winter with all the skiers. Old-fashioned hotels mixed with new, funky hotels, nice cars driving around and people in hiking gear everywhere - not a bad place to be. I would love to come back here and do some serious hiking in these mountains - you can just see them peaking their way out behind the tall hotels, teasing you even. The main part of town is basically a one-street affair, flat and straight, but to get to the castle and Monastery, there is a windy, up-hill road that I saw and thought it would be best to get a taxi up. All four of us got in the cab and gave him our directions, but I'm pretty sure the castle is where everyone goes. There were people walking the hill, but mainly down, and it was only after 5 or so minutes when we reached the top and Peles Castle, not even breathing hard.

My first real view of the castle.

Peles Castle.
Rugs, china, paintings - such decoration.
Amazing craftsmanship.
When King Carol I visited the area, he fell in love with the mountains and the beauty of the location, so much so that in 1866 the Crown bought 1,300 sq kilometres and started the construction of a royal hunting lodge and summer retreat. The first 3 designs were rejected by the King, saying they were copies of other castles in Europe, but finally settled on a design by German architect Johannes Schutz who chose a mix of European styles that suited the mountain hunting lodge feel that the King wanted. The work took some time, as it was no small undertaking, lasting between 1875 and 1914 and slowed down due to the Romanian War of Independence. 300-400 men worked on the project from 14 different nations and the final bill was around 16,000,000 lei on gold, or US$120 million. Wow! After the Second World War and the abdication of King Michael I, the castle was used briefly as a tourist attraction then it was taken over by the Communists, closed down to the public and used for military purposes. The castle is huge, over 3,200 square metres of floor and over 170 rooms, including 30 bathrooms. Each room hallways included, are extremely lavishly furnished in different styles and themes, showcasing rugs, find china, ivory, stained glass, statues, paints, tapestries and even arms and armour. The castle is impressive from the outside, a huge stone and wood structure with pointed roofs and vast gardens. We paid out entrance fee to go in (60ron/$20  for the 1st floor and an additional 30ron/$10 for the 2nd floor) and waiting in line for a long time - sadly the organisational skills of the staff were terrible and there were simply not enough people to cater for large tour groups. There was no option to walk around yourself, instead we were herded around like cattle by a small, boring and very quietly spoken guide with a thick accent which was hard to hear or understand. The staff were rude and kept yelling at people to stop taking photos - there was an additional charge of 60ron for any sort of camera (including a mobile!) which I and many others refused to pay as it's overpriced and rude - not even the Louvre charges for photography! Overall, I enjoyed seeing the castle and the rooms, but felt the whole experience dampened by the rude staff (even the Spanish in our group said they were rude!), stupid rules and the prices.

Inside the great castle
The huge and impressive Peles Castle.
Lest we forget.
The beautiful Sinaia Monastery.
The Monastery is a shorter walk from the centre of town and this one I did on foot, which gave me the chance to see the large mansions nestled along the hilly streets. Although Sinaia gets busy, I'm sure it was much busier in the past and more people lived here - going by the size of these houses and the state of neglect, this was some time ago, but I liked to imagine it as it was, beautiful, opulent and very much the playground of the Romanian wealthy. The Monastery was founded in 1695 and today is inhabited by only 13 Orthodox monks, it's open to the public but woman do have to cover their legs in they go in - a lovely gentleman was ready with long skirts for hire at no extra cost to the entrance fee of a few lei. The first thing you see when you enter is the Great Church, built later in 1897, but very impressive. Fine carvings on the old door and stone columns over the doorway, and the interior is stunning, with colourful paintings so typical of Orthodox churches in this country. You head through a small doorway into the inner courtyard where you'll find the 300 year old building, the Old Church, smaller but still a fine building in its own right. The first buildings were designed not only as a monastery but also as a fortification, like other churches in Romania, and it did actually come under attack during the Russo-Turkish War (1735-39) - the forces inside the walls were defeated and the walls damaged, but before fleeing, the monks hid their treasures in the bell tower, which still stands today. Its a nice place to visit, cheap to see, quiet and very beautiful - smaller and less touristy than the castle but there is not reason not to do both. We walked back down to the town, paying our respects at a small War Memorial for those soldiers who fought in WWI, and headed for the train station. We had a train to catch back to Bucharest (again) but leaving that same night for Sofia by bus. My time in Romania had come to an end but another, new country, was calling from just across the border - Bulgaria!

The interior of the Old Church at the Monestary.
The Great Church.

UncleTravellingMatt. August 2018.

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