Cities / Towns Visited: 64
Countries Visited: 19
Steps Taken Today: 18,086
Steps Taken Around the World: 2,215,640
As is always a good idea, we had decided to use our first day in Brașov to orientate ourselves in the town, by visiting some of the noteworthy historical buildings which reside in and around it. With this in mind we muddled through a quick breakfast, before heading out to one of the most impressive, and closest, sites in the old town; the 14th century Black Church. Now, don’t get your hopes up too much, the church itself isn’t so much black as it is heavily greyed by the passage of time, and it still sports a red tiled roof, as do many of the city’s buildings. The name is mainly due to the fact that it suffered from a huge fire in 1689 when the Austro-Hungarians invaded during the Great Turkish War. This aside, the towering presence of its gothic spire, and the brightly coloured clock that adorns it, makes for quite the first impression. Unlike most churches it does not sit surrounded by lush green grass and tall shady trees, or even a small rough and tumble churchyard full of graves. Instead it is nothing but a few long strides from the corner of the town square, across the gravel, to its base. It may not be the most picturesque setting, but I kind of love the starkness of the place, especially when its accentuated by the crooked skeleton of a dead tree standing stoically beside it.
Unfortunately, photography is forbidden inside, but rest assured that it is well worth the visit, even if you are not a person of faith, just like me. Whereas the exterior is all dull grey stone, the interior greets you with its huge vaulted ceiling, walls, and pillars all plastered and painted a crisp clean white. The arches holding up the balconies on either side are offset with a warm golden hue with painted detailing to give the effect of the stonework underneath, the ribs of the ceiling arches are splashed with a pale green, and the frames around the huge gothic windows sport a blush of red. It is just as bright and colourful as it would have been back in medieval times.
From the aforementioned arches hangs something that seems rather an odd addition to anyone who’s experience of churches is purely westernised; Persian rugs. Given the strong ties this country has to the Ottoman empire, it’s not entirely out of place for then to be here. They were donated long ago by Transylvanian Saxon merchants; you know back when buying fancy things for the church was a sure-fire way to have your sins forgiven and get you a first class ticket into heaven. These beautifully weaved rugs provide both decoration and warmth to this otherwise huge open and cold space. The other trappings of the church are similar to many others; a incredibly old font, centuries old private pews for the wealthy folk to see and be seen during the Sunday service, and the warmth of morning sun streaming in through the massive arched windows. In one of the side chapels they also exhibit a large amount of information about the history of the church across the centuries, especially in regards to the fact that it was originally a Roman Catholic church, but changed to become a Lutheran place of worship after the protestant reformation. It’s strange to imagine that one day they were following the strict Roman Catholic procedures, then all of a sudden they had swapped over to a new way of thinking. I can’t imagine the change on beliefs, large or small, was an easy task for many of the faithful.
With the church done and dusted, we decided to make a quick stop into the information centre to grab a map and some information about the best way to go about our planned day trips out of town during the remainder of the week, before heading up the hill at the far end of the city to visit the first protective structure of the day; Brașov Fortress. Passing by the white dome of a rather striking orthodox church, and after a somewhat sweaty and tiresome hike up the hill we arrived at the top to be greeted by the red brick of its strong pointed walls. You cannot go inside the fortress, I’m assuming because it has not been restored, nor is it safe for tourists to ramble around in. No matter though, we were more than happy to simply bask in the stunning panoramic view over the sprawling city below. You see, the old town is but a small fraction of the huge regional centre that is Brașov. There are very clear areas of industry and factories, as well as some more than obvious concrete apartment buildings which I am going to guess are more than likely the remainder of the region’s communist occupation by the Soviet Union.
Clambering back down the hill we made our way over to the edge of the old city, to spend the remainder of the day exploring the ancient city walls and bastions which protected the townsfolk over the centuries. Weaving through the streets we eventually reached the our first bastion in our path, the Graft Bastion. Brașov had seven bastions in total, all of which were built, resided in, and protected by the largest tradesman guilds. For example the graft bastion was built by the saddlers, whereas the other six were built by the weavers, drapers, goldsmiths, furriers, rope makers, and blacksmiths, and are named as such. This one houses a small museum but we gave it a miss as we passed up the stairs, over the small river, and onwards to the first of the two fortified towers which also protected the city. This one is named the White Tower, for obvious reasons, and although you cannot enter, it was still interesting to see the strategic view it commands over the medieval town.
Descending back to the path which runs between the river and the outside of the city walls, we continued until it splayed off to the right and we ascended once more to see the fraternal twin to the white tower; the black tower. This seems, much like the black church, strange, given that it is not, in fact, black. It’s name is due to the unfortunate circumstance that in the 17th century it was struck by lightning, twice. Later in its history it was also used as a quarantine area for sufferers of the plague, thus is history has been somewhat blacker than its surface. It was left to decay for a long time, but has since been renovated, giving it a strangely modern glass top section which seems out of character and out of place in my opinion, but each to their own I guess.
Continuing our travels around the circumference of the walls we arrived at the mountainside corner which is capped by the largest of the bastions, that being the weaver’s (which kind of makes sense though, given the fact that you kind of need a large space to weave things). Within its walls it houses a museum, and after a somewhat confused search, we managed to locate the intricately carved wooden entrance, squirreled away in the back streets. Inside there is a rather impressive model of the town from centuries ago when these bastions were in full swing, as well as a few medieval artifacts of weapons, and armour, from this time period. Outside in the courtyard the wooden galleries and covered battlements have been restored and it really gives the entire space the feel of being thrown back in time. As though some tunic weaving weavers are about to haul out a length of cloth from inside. Under the shelter of these wooden walkways sits a collection of medieval carved stone pieces from around town, kept here for preservation. There is even a carved tablet depicting the towns coat of arms, a tree trunk with bare roots topped with a crown. This symbol comes from the legend of the Hungarian King Solomon, but that is a story I will tell you a few blogs from now when I regale you with the tale of the day we went hiking at Solomon’s rocks.
From here we continued our walk around the exterior perimeter of the city, admiring the smaller bastions and the lush green slope of Mount Tampa on our other side, until we had finally come full circle. With a quick stop at a larger supermarket to gather provisions for the next few days, we lugged everything home. At these point I heard news from my brother that he and his travel companion who we met in Turkey, had made it into town, and after a shower and sorting themselves out they would be around, baring drinks, for dinner. Upon their arrival a few hours later, the night was whiled away with much drinking, eating, sharing stories about everything that had happened in the three months since we had last seen them, and making plans to have another epic food adventure when we see each other again in another three months in Italy. For those of you who do not know, my brother and I used to live in a share house with some friends of his some years back when he was in university, and we took it upon ourselves to indulge in some rather ridiculous forays into cooking; we’re talking ‘The 12 meats of Christmas’ which involved cooking what was essentially an out of control turducken but with 12 different meats including an entire suckling pig, and a half ribcage of beef; and ‘Pie Day’, which ended up with us making about 80 pies on a whim, with flavours ranging from your usual steak and mushroom, to taco flavoured, and Thai green chicken curry; we even managed to fit in a sweet sour cherry and apple pie. Oh the grandiose plans you make under the influence of alcohol and good company. Whether or not our plans for a ravioli extravaganza comes to fruition in Rome you will have to wait and find out.
As the night followed on into the early hours of the morning it was time to bid them farewell so that they could go and catch some shut eye and we could all sleep off the alcohol before the next days adventures. You see, we would all be spending the day together going to visit Bran Castle, and had agreed to meet at the bus station at 9:30am. As I lay in bed it was with the warm glow of both intoxication, and the comfort that comes from spending time in the company of those you care about. I am very lucky to have a good relationship with my brother, especially seeing as I do not necessarily have the best relationship with quite a number of my family members, and I thoroughly enjoy being able to spend time chatting for hours with him. Families are complicated, and there are a lot of grey areas in life, but our friendship has always been easy, and one of the only cut and dry, black and white, things I can always rely on, and I am extremely grateful for that. We are so very similar, not so much in looks, but in personality, that it is almost like talking to yourself at times. Our flaws mirror each other, a fact most likely attributable to our upbringing, but I am more proud to acknowledge that our positive attributes, level headedness, and general intelligence is also something that we both share. I value his advice and input simply because, like most people, I rarely take my own good advice. Sometimes it takes someone else to point out something obvious about yourself before you can truly see it. We are both a little broken, and I’m sure one day he’ll get around to reading this, and it will probably make him either angry or upset, because that’s the same ridiculously nonsensical response we both share to compliments or praise of any kind. I’m sure we would be a psychiatrists dream study, and maybe one day we’ll learn to have a more sensible reaction; until then though, I will continue my job as his sister of both raising him up and knocking him down a few pegs in equal measure whether in person or from the other side of the world.