The war in Ukraine has shattered the world, as it should have happened with the wars in Syria, with the ones in parts of Africa and in many other places of the world where populations have been or are still being displaced or killed for political reasons. We didn’t see this kind of international response in those other cases, but this is another conversation that the world should have, because as people we should all be treated the same, regardless of race, religion, gender and of the other kinds of social markers.
It is the war in Ukraine I would like to talk about today. In the past week I have been in touch with people from my birth country, some of which are in powerful political positions. Besides getting official information, I also get to see the inside of how Romania is responding to the crisis in Ukraine.
I’d like to bring up a story, from the town where I was born, Targu Jiu, which has about 80,000 inhabitants. Not a big place, not a lot of people, not extremely rich, still…. people are pulling together to help the best they can their displaced Ukrainian neighbors.
Dana Constantinescu, the Director of Inspectorate of Education of Gorj Country, has mobilized the schools within the county’s jurisdiction and organized centers where people can donate household items, food and everything they can spare to help the refugees of Ukraine.
Photo: Dana Constantinescu, Director of Inspectorate of Education of Gorj country
This is what it looked like yesterday……..
Amazing, isn’t it? And this is just one county…
The Romanian government has launched a platform to coordinate the help for Ukraine Impreuna Ajutam mai Mult. They did this in record time. This is a platform where volunteers and organizations can mobilize and coordinate help for refugees, and it is also a place where refugees can find official information about how to get medical services, find jobs and obtain asylum in Romania (this is for long term- because immediate help is provided at the borders).
Romania is also sending medication, hospital beds and medical equipment into Ukraine.
Photo: Romanian Government/Facebook
According to UN, as of March 9th here is how refugee are distributed across Eastern Europe:
Poland has taken in 1,412,502 refugees
Other 255,000 people have gone to other European countries, the UN says.
I have recently realized an interview with Alina Costache, Niculescu Publishing House Bucharest, about my book “Under the Iron Curtain” that just came out this July 2021, in Romania. I have plans to publish this book in english version. I am not sure if youtube provides subtitles, because the interview is in Romanian language, but the link for it is below.
Va invit sa urmariti un interview realizat impreuna cu Alina Costache, Editura Niculescu Bucuresti, despre cartea “Sub Cortina de Fier” care a aparut in luna iunie a acestui an in limba romana. Cartea o puteti achizitiona de la librariile din tara, sau de pe site-ul Editurii Niculescu.
There are many places that seem out of a fairytale in Romania, and this is just another one that I visited a few days ago. It is a Village Museum, in Romanian language called Muzeul Satului. It is situated in the South-West part of the country, called Oltenia and represents houses that were traditional in this region. A while ago I have visited a similar museum in Bucharest, that is much larger, with houses equally beautiful as the ones in the pictures below.
This museum is the result of a remarkable effort, as houses were moved from their original locations and reassembled on new foundations, according to their original techniques. Some of the houses you find here were built in 1700s! To me, they don’t look so old, because believe or not….houses like this are still inhabited in this part of Romania.
Together with the houses you can also find a fountain and a church ( the property of a former Romanian prime minister, Tatarascu, that was removed from his seat once the communists took over the country). The church is small inside, very cozy, and it features the original furniture. The church’s bell, shown in the picture below, was imported from Italy, and when the guide hit it gently to show us how it sounds, I got a feeling that it resonated through the surrounding hills and villages.
Some houses you can visit inside, others you cannot. The ones open inside display objects that were traditional in the rural life. The village is beautiful and I will let the pictures speak for themselves, with the mention that the smell of flowers and the fresh air adds to the beauty of this place.
Hello everyone! Remember I have told you I am writing a novel, about the life of my father and my experience as a child, living in communist Romania? I am in contact with a few publishers, but the novel is not in print yet. So, I decided to treat you with an excerpt……
John is my father and here is a short excerpt in which he recalls some of his young years….
John remembered the time during World War II. War meant little to children, and most of them didn’t even know or understand what was happening. As a small child, John did the same as the other kids around him. He continued to play hide and seek, hopscotch and all kinds of childhood games. He did not know who the Nazis, the Russians and all the others were. For him these names were faceless. For him, war was when there was no daddy.
But some memories sneak in and they can never be erased. And so were his memories of the Russian invasion and of what came afterwards. At that time Romania was under Nazi occupation and Hitler’s army was pillaging the country of its resources. The Nazis took control of oil wheels and they were helping themselves to the country’s food crops, causing food shortages for native Romanians. Then the Russian army invaded. The Russian soldiers were looting and burning homes, they were killing the men and raping the women.
The day when they arrived in their village his father’s brother was at their house. One of his legs was permanently injured in a hunting trip and that is why he was not on the front like his dad. He jumped off the back fence of the house with a gun, trying to organize other villagers against the invaders. Left on their own, John’s mom took him and his brother down in the cellar, where they had tens of wooden barrels. Some barrels were full of wine and others with tuica, a Romanian traditional drink made out of plums. There were some empty barrels too. They hid in one until the Red Army soldiers were gone. He remembered clutching on his beloved stuffed bunny. He also remembered the screams and the thunderstorm of machine guns outside. When they came out, John saw their dog crying. He was sitting next to the corpse of his father’s brother. The dog had an old man’s eyes.
But what John recalled the most was the time afterwards.
His father’s family was a remnant of the old nobility that once owned most of the land in the Kingdom of Romania. They still owned a lot of it, in fact in the present day, the village was seating on part of their land. Their household was like a small community, and everybody working there felt like extended family. There were few people working in the stables, others helped raise their farm animals, and others worked in the house. But WWII brought a lot of changes. Most of these workers were men, got drafted and they were gone. The house felt empty. John was grateful that the cook, a chubby woman that was giving him cookies in secret, did not leave. Her enthusiasm when making dough was utterly genuine and John had a lot of fun squandering flour and pretending to help. He also liked the carriage driver, an older man who during the war became some sort of domestic worker that helped with everything. These two people, his mom and brother, made him feel safe while the war was raging.
When the war was over, his father came back. John saw him from far away, walking on the village’s road in his military uniform. He screamed “Mom! Dad is coming!” and then he ran to him and jumped into his arms. His dad was well, not injured on the outside but after a while, John felt that something was wrong. He did not play with him and his brother anymore and he didn’t hug them like he used to. Instead, he stayed closed in his study room. When John would see the door open, he would go inside to find him absorbed, with dark circles under his eyes, writing on scraps of paper. John felt like someone hijacked his dad and put instead an odd soul. Then, from being completely reclusive, his dad started having meetings with his friends behind closed doors. John would still very rarely see him, and when he would come out, it was not as his dad was present. His mind was always preoccupied with something else.”
I haven’t read any books about Russia for a long time. Russians have beautiful literature; they have Leo Tolstoy, Dostoyevsky, Pushkin, Chekhov, Gogol and many other wonderful writers. I did not stop reading their books because I didn’t like their stories; I did like their literature. Though, I guess my rebellious mind unconsciously protested against anything that had to do with Russia because I grew up in a communist country and I blamed communism and everything that had to do with it on Russia.
Indeed, by the end of WWII in the countries that the Red Army ‘liberated’, communist-dominated governments took power. By 1949, all the governments of Eastern Europe, except Yugoslavia, became Stalinist regimes.
The map of Europe looked like this….
Romania became communist in 1947. I wasn’t born back then but my grandparents were. Unfortunately we were a noble family and that was really bad! The Communists took everything my grandparents had, all the lands and….everything. Later on they sent my father and my uncle to a correctional school because they had to “un-noble “ them and they had to be educated in the “communist spirit”. Appalling ….but other people had it worse….
My grandparents never talked much about this past.
I don’t really have a feel of what was life before communism but I do know what was like growing up under communism. Here are some things that I remember:
–It was allowed only 2 hour per day to watch television between 8 and 10 PM and usually they will put just news or documentaries about Ceausescu and his wife. As kids, we would only have cartoons 10 minutes a day and in the weekends it was half an hour. I remember all of us kids running from outside where we were playing to go in front of the TV so we can watch some Tom and Jerry….
— The communist party was trying to denigrate the image of Christmas, as it was considered too religious. So we did not have Santa Claus, Santa was banned! Instead we had Mos Gerila, a kind of slim, funny version of Santa. They wanted kids to believe that this guy was bringing presents from the state…..and that it wasn’t a magical creature. We still believed though, because our parents somehow managed to nurture our imagination…..
This is a picture of Mos Gerila from a newspaper in 1947. Still, our image of it was the one with beard and it pretty much looked like Santa, because our parents, the ones who dressed up like it, never looked so hunky :))).
–When my aunt who moved to Germany sent me a pair of jeans it was a miracle. In communist Romania, almost nobody owned a paired of jeans because that was a luxury.
–I remember my parents planning to go in vacations or visits during the weekends. The planning was a whole production! Why? Because depending of your license plate you could only drive your car two weekends a month! They would alternate between even and odd license plate numbers! In some weekends you could only drive your car if the license number plate was ending in 2, 4, 6 e.g. and in others the ones ending in 1, 3, 5, 7 e.g. If they caught you with wrong plate number you would have been arrested. How weird is that!!
–Every month you could only use 20 L gas, that is about 5 gallons a month!! Yes, that was all you had! So you had to plan your travels carefully and save gas if you wanted to take a longer trip! Also, we had a car but to own a car back then was a complete luxury. In 1989, before the revolution, in Bucharest there were only about 200. 000 cars. Now there are millions of cars in Romania…..
–During communism the borders were closed. Nobody could go outside the country. We never imported many goods, so imagine when after 1989 when finally products were imported! Juices, cigars, sweets were things nobody tasted in their life!
So yes, I remember all these things and others too. Russia, communist rule, our lives. I never wanted to go back, not even in my mind. And apparently I kept everything away, even the wonderful Russian novels that were completely unrelated with the spread of communism and what it did to us……
I’ve bought these three books from my neighborhood bookstore, in California. I think what attracted me most were the covers and the old feel! These books are over 50 years old; they were published in 1953. Who knows who left them in this bookstore ….
This author is not Leo Tolstoy, but some sources say that they were distant relatives. I don’t know much about their relationship, but whereas Aleksey was not an influential global writer as Leo Tolstoy, he did leave an interesting legacy that includes many wonderful works.
And so, I read them….
The story revolves around 4 main characters, 2 sisters and their husbands. Dasha and Katya are the sisters and Telegin and Roshkin are their husbands. I was swept by the true love between these people but most of all I was swept by how the turmoil of historical events shaped people’s lives and their destinies.
This trilogy traces the development of the Russian society during the critical years of WWI, the 1917 Russian Revolution and the civil war in Russia.
Russia fought WWI on the Eastern Front. As many other armies, Russian army too lost a lot of soldiers, and more …because the Russian Army had about one doctor for every 10,000 men. Thus, many wounded soldiers died from wounds that would have been treated on the Western Front.
Then the Russian Revolution started in March 1917, the monarchy was abolished. The Civil War followed….
The Civil War was between the Red Army, known as the communist Bolsheviks and the White Army, who greatly favored nationalism and monarchism. And in between, there was also the Green Army that rose from the peasantry. The Greens grew tired of the Red Army requisitioning their livestock, food, and able-bodied men so they rose to protect their communities.
As the history of Russia was being made, people’s lives were turned upside down to the point that soldiers and officers that fought together in the WWI ended up fighting against and killing each other in the revolution and in the Civil War.
Reading these books made me think about a distant past and about these people, about how much they went through and about how much they suffered. Then about the Russian Revolution, the spread of communism and what it did to people living in Eastern Europe…
People and places, our lives
You see, we create meaning through the exchange between spheres of different rationalities. Depending to what we are exposed to, we create our identities and shape our life trajectories.
During communism, people were in a deeply flawed position. They learned gobbets of information and wrong teachings and information were stored in the society’s collective memory banks. Thus how could one give a reasoned critique to what was really happening?
I saw what happened to my family, what they took from us, how they transformed our lives. But I was just a child. Human mind displays great ingenuity and so I blocked everything that had to do with Russia, even their literature. Looking back, this was crazy……..
I will have to ponder about it more, but one thing that comes to my mind now is that are all people, we are individuals with similar fears, needs and desires. We are all living histories; we are told or untold biographies. We have to take time to learn about the world and about other’s views of the world. Our lives are our own and we have to keep learning.
Since tomorrow is Christmas, let’s try to give our best to the ones around us! Peace and love from me to all of you.
This is a story of creation, rejection, madness, broken heart, pursuing your dreams. This is a story of life.
Camille Claudel, Auguste Rodin and Constantin Brancusi are three sculptors, of 19th century, each of them distinct, but also connected through their art. Claudel and Rodin were also lovers.
Camille Claudel (1864-1943): a woman genius, a broken lover, victim of her family’s betrayal
Camille was born in France, in December 1864. She is best known as the mistress and the muse of the French sculptor Auguste Rodin and I am not sure why this relationship overshadowed her remarkable talent and work.
Since early childhood she loved sculpting. She went with her brother Paul Claudel (who later became a known poet, playwright, essayist of the first half of the 20th century France) digging for clay in the woods nears their house. She used to be a rebellious girl, one that wanted to pursue her dream of doing what she loved: being a sculptor. In the end her rebellious spirit was punished but you will see how as this story follows.
Right from childhood, she felt the urge to model with clay. She used to do clay figures in her family’s barn. Her father brought the sculptor Alfred Boucher to see her work and of course, he saw her potential. Boucher pursued her father to move the entire family to Paris and there Camille started studying at the Académie Colarossi. That is because the more famous École des Beaux-Arts remained exclusively for men until 1897. Yes, that is right, this academy, which is one of the most famous art schools in the world and which was founded in 1648 by Cardinal Mazarin, was a men only school. But Académie Colarossi was forward thinking and here female artists were not only admitted, but where they were also allowed to draw from the male nudes (this was highly controversial at that time!).
In 1882 Claudel rented her own studio space in Paris, which she shared with three British sculptors Jessie Lipscomb, Amy Page, and Emily Fawcett. That is because neither of them could afford to pay the rent on their own. They were mentored by Alfred Boucher, but he had to leave Paris for Italy. He asked his friend Auguste Rodin, who by then had established a strong reputation as a sculptor, to take his place and teach this group of women.
Photo:Camille Claudel and Jessie Lipscomb
It was in 1883 when Camille met Rodin. She started working in his workshop and she became one of his pupils and also his muse and lover.
In the meantime, while her father continued to support her life choices, the rest of her family condemned her and forced her to leave the family home. This was so very sad!
Camille thrived artistically, she become recognized for her ingenuity in the portrayal of emotion and human nature. She was an innovator, working in different mediums and her creations were driven by her own individual experience.
In order, the sculptures are: La petite chatelaine, The Waltz and Sakuntala
Camille’s relationship with Rodin lasted for 10 years. These were times filled hard work, misunderstandings and disappointments on both sides. She worked with him on some of his most famous pieces, The Kiss(1882) and on The Gates of Hell (1880-1890). But after a 10 years affair, their relationship fell apart as Rodin refused to separate from Beuret and marry Camille. Rose Beuret was one of his first women assistants that became his loyal companion. They lived together for a long time and he didn’t marry her until his last year of his life!!!
Their separation marked Camille, and you can see that in her artworks. Some of them display emotional sorrow. She continued to work and to exhibit until 1905. Some of the most famous pieces The Gossips (1897-marble, onyx, bronze), The Mature Age (1899- bronze) and Clotho (1893, plaster) evoke her sophisticated style and her ability to work with difficult materials like onyx and marble. Below are the pictures for each, in this order.
I feel sad when I think what happened to Camille in her later life. As she was approaching the age of fifty, just one week after the death of her father, she was committed to a mental asylum.Doctors tried to reason with Claudel’s family that she was by no means insane, but the family wanted Claudel out of their lives. For the following 30 years, she lived in isolation at the asylum of Montdevergues. She abandoned sculpture completely.
She died alone in 1943 at the age of 78.
Rodin(1840-1917) : facing rejection and standing your ground
An older Rodin
Rodin did not have an easy life either.
This is a sculptor that had a huge influence on modern art, but he did not become established until he was in his 40s.
He was born in Paris and as a young boy he struggled to follow complicated lessons in his math and science courses. That is because he had an imperfect eyesight. So he started drawing, things that he saw or that he imagined.
In his young years he developed skills as an artist, and began taking formal art courses. At 17 he applied at École des Beaux-Arts, but he was denied admission.He then decided to pursue art in his own way and by the mid-1860s he’d completed what he would later describe as his first major work, “Mask of the Man With the Broken Nose” (1863-64). This piece was rejected twice by the Paris Salon due to the realism of the portrait!
“Mask of the Man With the Broken Nose” (1863-64)
Talking about what is socially accepted! Talking about times, places and cultures and about how all these shape the way we think!
His work, “The Vanquished”(1876) that was first exhibited in 1877, encountered serious accusations that sculpture appeared so realistic that it was directly molded from the body of the model! That is because the realism of his work contrasted so much with the work of his contemporaries!
“The Vanquished”(1876), Rodin
His originality came from his talent, he captured the body and the soul! His style of work was also unique. Instead of copying traditional academic postures, Rodin preferred his models to move naturally around his studio, even though they were naked. He made their sketches in clay and then fine-tuned these. They the models were cast in plaster, bronze or carved from marble.
Rodin continued to be rejected in various competitions for monuments to be erected in London and Paris, but finally the success of The Age of Bronze (a life size nude male in bronze) established his reputation as sculptor at the salons of Paris and Brussels in 1880. He was then 40 years old.
Throughout his life, Rodin created several iconic works, including “The Gates of Hell”, The Age of Bronze,” “The Thinker,” “The Kiss” and “The Burghers of Calais.”
The Gates of Hell, were created for a museum that the city of Paris planned to build: the Museum of Decorative Arts. Although the museum was never built, Rodin worked on this sculpture for the last 37 years of his life. This sculpture is beautiful and depicts scenes from Dante’sInferno. The original plaster is displayed at Musée d’Orsay in Paris and 3 other original bronze casts are found at museums in Paris, Philadelphia and Tokyo.
Photo: The “Gates of Hell”, Rodin, source Creative Commons
His work his beautiful. I like that he challenged the conventional thinking and the way sculptures were produced at the time. I think it’s only through challenge that we are able to advance, so we should all strive our best to follow our individual ways of creation.
Although at first rejected by the official academies because of his originality, Rodin became a sculptor of success. By the time of his death, he was likened to Michelangelo.
Brancusi(1876-1957) – a life journey from rural Romania to a world- renowned sculptor
I am not sure how many of you, if you’re not an artist, have heard of Constantin Brancusi. He was a sculptor and his work is recognized worldwide. Just last year, Christie’s sold Brancusi’s culture “La Jeune Fille Sophistiquée” (1928/1932) for a record-breaking $71 million. I walked past some of his masterpieces almost everyday, because they are displayed in the city where I was born.
I was lucky enough to grow up surrounded by his work. I walked past some of his masterpieces almost everyday, because they are displayed in the city where I was born.
Photo by Edward Steichen of Brâncuşi’s workshop in Voulangis, FranceConstantin Brancusi(1876-1957)
Brancusi was born in 1876 in rural Romania. His father was a peasant, and if you go visit the village where he was born, they have preserved his house. The village is called Hobita. Sometimes there are artistic festivals there, in honor of his work.
Brancusi grew up distinctly outside of the traditional Western European narrative and like Rodin, challenged the art world to reconsider what sculpture really was and what it did.
Although for a while he was Rodin’s student, he and Rodin had different approaches. Brancusi’s goal was to capture the essence of his subjects—which included birds in flight, a kissing couple—and render give them life in sculpture with minimal formal means. The history has it that cubism was the creation of two artists – Georges Braque and Pablo Picasso – but let’s not forget Brancusi. He created in the Cubist style.
His tendency towards simplification made some call his work abstract. But it wasn’t abstract, it was very much alive and you can tell the story of his work by looking at it.
I think that like any artist, it is frustrating when your work is misunderstood, because your work is your soul and your. He said:
“They are imbeciles who call my work abstract. That which they call abstract is the most realistic, because what is real is not the exterior but the idea, the essence of things.” —Constantin Brancusi
Brancusi’s work resides at the Centre Pompidou, the Tate Modern, and the Metropolitan Museum of Art. But his most famous pieces resides in a city in Romania, Targu Jiu. Below are the photographies of 3 monumental pieces, as taken by a very talented photographer and friend, Ionel Scaunasu.
Photo credit: Ionel Scaunasu
The endless column is is a 98-foot-high (30 meter) column of zinc, brass-clad, cast-iron modules threaded onto a steel spine. This sculpture was commissioned by the Women’s League of Gorj to honor the soldiers who defended the city of Targu Jiu against a Germans during World War I. In the 1950s, the Romanian communist government planned to demolish the column. How appaling!!! Thankfully this plan was never executed!
Photo credit: Ionel Scaunasu
The table of silence is a circular stone table surrounded by twelve hourglass-seats, which symbolize time. The seats are not located close to the edges of the table.
Photo credit: Ionel Scaunasu
The gate of kiss….where one can kiss their loved ones….
The gate is made of travertine and is gigantic. The pillars are decorated with a circular motif, two half-circles separated by a decorative line that runs to the ground level. Some art critics say that this motif represent eyes looking inside the gate, while others see a couple kissing in it.
These three pieces, the column, the table and the gate are arranged along an axis stretching from the floodplain of the Jiu River. During five decades of communist rule the landscape drastically changed around them. The sculptures remain emotionally charged places, there not only symbols of Brancusi’s talent but also places that encourage you to reflect about life and your purpose in it.
I didn’t mean this to be an art lesson. But I think it turned to be one, as well as a lesson and an example of perseverance to always follow your dreams and to always do what suits you best. From small you can become big, from unknown you can become known.
If you love mountains and scenic drives, this is a place where you should go: Transfagarasan, Romania. This road is not fully open all year long! The whole road is open only from June to late October, the rest of the year a portion of about 27 km is closed because of snow and avalanches.
Also called the “the Road to the Sky”, the Transfagarasan stretches for 71 miles (114km) and it links the highest peaks in Fagaras Monutains in Romania. It also connects two of Romania’s historic provinces Transylvania (the Center) and Walachia (the South).
This is a dynamite-forged road and it was built for military purposes, during the communist time. The views are breathtaking and it’s also nice because you will go through a series of tunnels (5), you will cross viaducts(27) and small bridges( there are 831 small bridges!!). You might not even notice all these, because your eyes would be captured by the mountain passes and peaks and by the beautiful views all over. If you are the driver though, keep your eyes on the road!! The road is relatively easy to climb but it can get very curvy.
Poenari Castle- Vlad the impaler’s home
If you enter Transfagarasan from Curtea de Arges, the first touristic objective in your way is Poenari Castle. This castle was the home of Vlad the Impaler, which was built around the beginning of the 13th century by Wallachians.
The castle is now abandoned and left in ruins. You can visit it, if the climbing path is open!!! To get up there you have to climb no less than 1.480 steps.
When we went, the climbing path was closed for safety, as bears might cross paths with the ones who would venture the way up. At least that was the explanation we got and at first I thought they just closed it because they didn’t want people to man up the castle for tourists….
But then…..as we were peacefully driving along Transfagarasan…..we saw something right by the edge of the road….right by the edge!! It was a bear!!! He was eating berries……We rolled down the window and he gave us a look!
The highest point – Balea Lake
The highest point is 6.699 ft (2042 m) – Lake Balea. Here you will feel like you’re touching the clouds, because you literally are. The cloud ceiling can go much lower than Balea Lake and if that happens, you’ll feel as you’re at the top of the world.
Balea Lake is a glacier lake. So, even if it’s hot when you start your ride at the bottom, bring warms clothes because by the time you reach the lake, you will for sure need a jacket. If you want to walk by the lake, you will need some good shoes, as there is snow.
When you get to the lake, there are many local shops and food. The shops sell all kinds of manufactured Romanian products and crystals (I am not sure if these are found on these mountains). The food is good, they sell Bluz ( a Romanian traditional dish of friend polenta with cheese in the middle), fresh grilled fish, steak with vegetables, corn….and other things. Do not expect fancy seating, as everything is set up in tents or buildings with just the roof:).
In winter time they build here an Ice Hotel, which is made by blocks of ice all collected from the lake! Each year the hotel has a new theme. Here are some pictures from the previous years.
Vidraru Dam and Lake
Vidraru is an artificial lake, created in 1965. The only way it’s accessible is through Transfagarasan. The construction of the Vidraru dam took five and a half years starting in 1960. The lake is gigantic. To make it, it took 42 km long underground galleries, the excavation one million cubic meters of underground rock and nearly one million cubic meters of poured concrete. The dam is around 160 meters high and to get to the dam you will go through a tunnel. The views are breathtaking…
Plenty of waterfalls
Along the way you will encounter a lot of beautiful waterfalls. They take their water from the lakes in the mountains and they almost never get dry or frozen. I don’t know their names but here are a few pictures I took while we were driving.
This drive is amazing and I would do it again! If you’re planning to go there and have any questions, let me know!
Sighisoara is an old medieval town in Transylvania, Romania. Perhaps not so well known as other older places in Romania, but equally beautiful and worth visiting…..not only for its history, but also for its beautiful surroundings. It is not big in size but it is one of the most beautiful well-preserved citadel-city in Europe.
From Bucharest, you can take the train or you can rent a car. The train ride is really cheap, about 10-15$ and it would take about 5 hours. By car, it’s about the same amount of time, about 5 hours on 300 km, but you get to see beautiful scenery and also stop wherever you want.
The city was built around 1280 and it played an important strategic and commercial role in Europe. It was a place of resistance against Ottoman invasions, which is why the city is so fortified. The city is surrounded by walls and there are 14 towers and 5 artillery bastions. Vlad Dracul (the father of Vlad the Impaler-Dracula) has lived here in exile. They also say that Vlad the Impaler was born here, but there is no actual proof of the house where he was born.
Prince Charles has visited the town; he owns a beautiful 18thcentury cluster of houses in the village of Viscri, which is about 45 km away from Sighisoara. You can rent rooms and spend time there.
What you must see
The Clock Tower
This is the symbol of Sighisoara. It began being built at the end of 13thcentury, but it was destroyed by a fire. The construction of the tower as it is today dates back to 1676. There are many things that make this tower special, but the main attraction is the clock with the puppets inside.
There are seven puppets that represent each day of the week, but they also represent seven ancient gods, seven planets and seven metals. This one in the picture is Friday: a female character representing Aphrodite or Venus, goddess of beauty and love. She is admiring her beauty in a mirror held by a little person. She carries on her head the symbol of copper, a metal that is associated with passion and beauty.
There is a window glass through which you can see the mechanism that is moving the clock.
The tower is also the place for the History Museum of Sighisoara. To visit, you will have to climb some steep set of stairs and it is very narrow. Watch out your steps! Traffic up and down can get awkward.
The museum has interesting pieces; there are cases that display layouts of the city and different things that people living in the city owned and some archaeological discoveries. I saw this doctor’s kit and I was so happy that I didn’t have to live during those times!!!!
The balcony of the tower clock has panoramic views. From every corner and place the views are breathtaking.
The Church on the Hill
This was a crazy ride! I started counting the stairs then I gave up!! So many steps! I searched on google after and they say you’re actually climbing 300 steps to get there! I was impressed, because at the top there is also a school, and kids have to climb these stairs everyday to get up. Imagine how fit they are! Besides the school there is the Ghotic church( The Church on the Hill), which is quite beautiful. Inside you can find the only ancient crypt in Transylvania.
The colorful streets
Sighisoara has beautiful , colorful streets. The citadel is quite small so not a lot of walking, but the streets are paved with stones; you will need good walking shoes. By no means DO not wear high heels!
The medieval festival
If you visit this place during the month of July, you can be part of the Medieval festival. People dress up in medieval costumes, there are concerts of flute, mandolin, tambourine, games of jousting. You can assist public trials, convictions …In all, you will experience the fascinating atmosphere of medieval times.
Where to stay
We stayed at a Domain called Dracula Danes, that is only 6 km away from Sighisoara. From the accommodations, to the food and horses, this was one of the most wonderful experiences we had in the area. The rooms are beautiful, clean. Our room had a fireplace, so if you’re going with family or for a romantic trip, that might be a nice touch.
If you feel like walking, the domain has a beautiful park. There is also a small zoo that kids might enjoy and a pool.
This place is wonderful. Here the love of nature and animals comes together. These people love their horses and you can tell! Their stables, the manege and everything about their horses is well kept and very professional.
Here you can take horseback riding lessons, you can go riding alone or you can simply rent a horse drawn carriage to enjoy the landscapes together with your family or friends. We did both, horse back riding ……
And the carriage! I have learned how to steer the horse and….this was a fancy carriage! It had breaks! The horse was one of those that they use in October fest to drag the carts full with beer barrels ! I forgot my horse’s name, but I started riding with a stranger and we came back friends…
At the restaurant, the food is yummy. You can try some authentic Romanian food; this in the picture is called bulz, a dish with polenta, cheese and sausage. Or….you can try more common dishes, made with a special touch, such as burgers. Your choice!
All that being said, I hope you do go visit Sighisoara and you do go by Dracula Danes. You’ll have a wonderful experience. And if you have questions while you’re planning your trip, I’m here. Ask!
Bran Castle, Romania has probably gained his fame because of the legend of Dracula, a fictional character created by Bram Stoker.
Stoker’s Dracula was a Transylvanian Count, a centuries- old vampire that inhabited a castle in the Carpathian Mountains. His book was published in England in 1897 and there were many, many movies made after this legend! I have seen a few myself and my favorites are Bram Stoker’s Dracula, ( 1992, cast: Monica Bellucci, Keanu Reeves, Winona Ryder) and Dracula: Prince of Darkness(1966; cast: Christopher Lee, Barbara Shelley, Andrew Keir).
The easiest ways to get there are by train or by car. I got there by car, driving from Bucharest to Bran (Bucharest-Poliesti-Sinaia-Bran). The distance is about 190 km and in good days it would take about 2.30-3 hours, but there is often traffic (especially in the week-ends) and it could take significantly more. The drive is beautiful as you would pass though some amazing scenery.
What is the history of Dracula? Did Dracula as is presented in the movies and stories really exist?
Romanian mythology is rich in stories about troubled spirits that rise from the dead that can transform into animals and suck the blood of their victims. In Romanian mythology these are called strigoi and here you can read more about this. In Bran Castle you can find an exhibition of spells against strigoi.
I felt chills reading this poster; I’d really like to ask Psykhe, the Greek goddess of the soul, what actually happens to the soul! But Psyke is also a myth…..
If anything that the myths say is true, you should eat a lot of garlic! Romanians eat garlic, because this is supposed to repel the strigoi and prevent them of getting close to people….haha.
Who was in fact Dracula?
If you think about Dracula as vampire count, then you’re probably a bit far from reality. Dracula, the character from Bram’s book is associated with a Walachian Prince, also known as Vlad Tepes or Vlad Dracul. He was the ruler of Walachia and his favorite method of execution was to impale his enemies. It was a slow and painful death. This is one of the reasons why Vlad was also called Dracul, which in Romanian language means “the devil”. Dracula, Bram’s character is fiction, while Vlad Dracul is the Walachian ruler that actually existed.
I read that Vlad Dracul si related with the Queen of England, or at least that’s what Prince Charles said. Really!!!!
“”The link, it appears, is his great-grandmother, Mary of Teck, who was grandmother to Britain’s current ruler, Queen Elizabeth II, and was queen during the reign of King George V. A Wurttemberg princess, Mary – the woman for whom the liner Queen Mary was named – was believed descended from two of Vlad’s sons””
The Castle is at the top of a steep hill, looks like is coming out of the mountain stone! I wonder how they built it like that….
The entrance door has an exquisite door knob; I’m imagining people pounding the door in old times, to get the door open : )
The castle was a royal residence for Queen Marie, also known as Marie of Edinburgh. She was the wife of King Ferdinand 1. Their daughter Ileana ran a hospital here in World War II.
The rooms are not gigantic, not like in Buckingham palace, but they’re large and with beautiful sculpted furniture.
There are also displays of armor and posters that explain different parts of the history of the castle.
Queen Mary ordered the building of a tunnel, through which she could go down to the garden undisturbed. The tunnel remained forgotten after the royal family was forced to leave in 1948. In recent days the tunnel has been renovated and you will get down to it through a specially designed elevator(the elevator is built into a former water shaft that was built more than 600 years ago, in 1377!!). The ride is 31 meters down and during this time the elevator displays special media shows; there are some hologram vampires that are creating the feeling that you’re going down to the underworld. It’s an interesting experience!
At the bottom there is a horizontal gallery and as you move through it you are part of an interactive media exhibition that explains parts of the history of Transylvania and the royal family.
The garden and the restaurant
Casa de Ceai is a cute little restaurant in the Castle’s garden. They have fresh , tasty food!
For Halloween they have a party. The party costs few hundred euro but you can go for free if: ”You don’t have a reflection in the mirror, You decompose when sun light strikes you, You’re over 200 years old, Can use your wings to fly to Transylvania”
At least that’s what one of the organizers, Dracula Tours say . Try to see if you qualify for free…..haha.
Bran Castle is the most visited attraction in Romania. If you go you would enjoy not only the castle but also the mysterious and beautiful land of Transylvania. But that’s another story…….one I will write about another day….
In the meantime, let me know if you’re planning to visit Bran Castle and if you have any travel related questions.