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Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Brasov, Romania: Olympic Tennis, Rope St. & Mt. Tampa

Last Friday, the 19th, we took the morning bus to Brasov's combined bus and train station where, we had been told in no uncertain terms by the hostel, to be VERY careful getting a taxi to the hostel: by ONLY choosing any of three specific companies, checking the fare in advance, making sure the meter was on AND at the day rate, etc. Certainly the farther east we travel, we're finding the more similar it is to our experiences last year traveling east across Russia. Of course, seasoned travelers that we are, we had our wits about us and safely got dropped off right by our hostel which was on a pedestrian only street. The hostel directions were great: after walking a couple of blocks, we just needed to turn left into the alley by the Sex Shop! Now, that was a first for us, I'll have you know. Dumped our bags and were off to explore Brasov since it was SUNNY!

Brasov was established in the 13th C. by Teutonic knights and became a mercantile colony named Kronstadt (the name’s still used on many storefronts today) and Brasso in Hungarian. The Saxons built ornate churches and townhouses protected by a massive wall that still remains. In the wintertime, it's a magnet for skiers from all over Europe as it's nearby ski resorts are a much cheaper alternative than the likes of Gstaad, Kitzbuhel, etc.

We made a beeline for Piata Sfatului, a huge square just a couple of minutes from our hostel, that made us think we were back in Poland. It was once the heart of  medieval Brasov and supposedly the square was the scene of the last witch burning in Europe! It was lovely to walk around as there always seemed to be a hive of activity there with a huge Avon sponsored Breast Cancer Awareness fair going on Saturday and a massive craft fair taking place on Sunday. So many pedestrianised streets in Brasov, it’s a walker’s dream.

Can't beat a tiny one lei cone - only .33!

Really fun to just stand and people watch in the square or listen to the many musicians plying their craft. One of them had a cardboard sign saying ‘Artists are never poor.’ Thought this fellow was gooood.

Next, we walked just off the square to the Black Church, the city’s main landmark and the largest Gothic church between Vienna and Istanbul, and still used by German Lutherans today. It was built between 1383 and 1480 and was named for its appearance after a fire in 1689. The original construction called for a far larger bell tower but funds ran out and that’s why it’s so small in comparison to the mammoth base. 

It was impossible to get any decent pictures of the entire church from so close but you'll see some good shots later in the post from above the city.

Loved seeing the painted pews with individually designed seats.
The Ottoman rugs were spectacular as I hope you can see from the photos.

Interesting learning about their beliefs in the after life.
Since it was so beautiful out, we walked along Dupa Ziduri Alley (the Alley behind the Walls) to see a side of the fortified complex of the medieval city. Two of the city's towers were located here.

The so called Black Tower (even though it's really whitish) offered great views of the city, including the Black Church, from the viewing platform.
A good view of town, including the Black Church, from the Black Tower.

Remember this picture for later as you'll see it from a different perspective!

Then climbed the White Tower which was indeed whitish; it was built in the 15th C
The White Tower again. with a view of the square from it. After climbing back down into town, we walked a few blocks over to the other side of town, via Catherine's and Schei Gates so we could see the other towers.

Catherine's Gate
In Saxon Brasov, the Romanians were not allowed to enter the walled city but were banished to the Schei District in the southwest part of town. Entry to this quarter from the walled city was marked by the Schei Gate, (above) built in 1825. The houses were far simpler in this area, we noticed. 
 On the other side of Schei Gate is Rope St., supposedly the narrowest street in Europe.
 You can JUST see the Brasov sign high up on Mt. Tampa in the photo.

As we were walking through the Schei District, we came across a lovely Orthodox Church that we spent some time in and its cemetery. I dare think after this trip we’ll have seen and been in enough cemeteries to last us for, I hope, many years!
I loved how the oh, so peaceful and serene cemetery was in the courtyard and not hidden away or in another spot away from the church. It just seemed a perfect fit really.

After leaving the church, we ended up walking along a lovely promenade seeing all the towers, passing the Olympic Tennis Training Center, below, on our way. 

The Weavers' Bastion

The Powder Store Tower
Mt Tampa towers above town and is where Brasov’s original fortress was built. Vlad Tepes, aka Dracula, attacked it in 1488 finally dismantling it 2 years later and, out of habit, impaling 40 merchants from its peak. Many visitors go by cable car that’s, sad to say, one big ad for Coca Cola. We  climbed up the generally very good, zigzag hiking trail to reach the Hollywood-style Brasov sign so we could see stunning views of Brasov way down below. 
True confession: we did this on the 21st, just 2 days ago, not on the 19th, when the rest of the photos were taken. Have included these photos because of referring to the Brasov sign earlier inthe post.

I did say the trail was generally good!
Nice seeing views of Brasov getting smaller and smaller the higher we hiked; only took us an hour or so reach the sign.

A hazy view from the top of Mt. Tampa.
Finally reached the sign. Would be neat to also climb to the top of the famous Hollywood sign one day. Anybody ever done it?
Steven always has his stash of rolls, often a couple of days old, to pull out of his backpack when an attack of the munchies comes on!

Annie's notes: For the first time this trip, I feel like I've just about caught up timewise with the blog so I'm not writing about something that's occurred either several days or cities ago. I hope I can keep more or less current the rest of the trip.

Thanks to each of you who've taken the time to not only read these somewhat voluminous posts but especially to add your own comments - they come to our inboxes and mean the world to me. I had been responding to them through my inbox until I finally checked a post and realized, after all that, my replies had gone into cyberspace and not on the blog. I apologize if you thought I didn’t see or care about your comments as I did and do!