Cities / Towns Visited: 68
Countries Visited: 19
Steps Taken Today: 22,700
Steps Taken Around the World: 2,308,071
Another early start had us mumbling under our breath as we clambered out of bed and robotically dressed and ate breakfast, before making the brisk walk to the train station. We had been advised to catch this local Romanian train, to our destination of Peleș, by the lady at the information centre, as all of the other morning trains are on route from Vienna and Budapest and are often either full or delayed. With this in mind we climbed onto another aging train and found our seats. As far as I can tell the seat numbers in Romanian trains have absolutely no intelligible system; I can’t even figure out a different chair configuration which would give rise to the way they are scattered, but I digress. But a few minutes in our seats and we heard familiar voices as the British family from the Bear Sanctuary tour passed us and sat just a few metres up the carriage. The chirpy wife stopped a moment to chat as the rest of the family settled in, telling us about how they had gone on a great hike with the kids the day before (which sounded amazing, and we both wished we had time to fit it into our hectic schedule, but I guess you can’t do everything). She explained that they were getting off at the stop before us, to take a cable car up to a small town she had stayed in twenty years ago, long before she had married and settled down into family life. It made me smile to see someone both happy with their past and their present, so much so that they would want to introduce one to the other.
Less than an hour later and we were climbing off at our small station; rural enough that getting over to the main platform simply involved walking across the other tracks. From here we followed the signs along the winding path up the hill, through the garden lanes lined with gypsies selling tempting punnets of berries, until we finally found ourselves at our destination; Peleș Castle. As we neared, it was hard not to be impressed by its tall gothic tower, its almost Tudor style woodwork, its gabled grey roof, and its bright whitewashed walls, contrasting perfectly with the lush green forest which surrounds it.
This stunning royal home was built, fairly recently, in 1873 for King Carol I, but fortunately for us it is now open to the public to bask in its grandeur as the country is no longer under monarchical rule. Unfortunately we were most certainly not the only people who had decided to do just that, and thus we joined the long line at the ticket office to purchase our tickets. The only way you can enter this beautiful building is to join in on a tour, due to the sheer volume of people visiting every day. Thus we bought our tickets on the extended English tour which includes the upstairs section of the house as well. Rolling our eyes at the extra cost we also mildly reluctantly forked out the money for a photography pass. It’s hard to be happy about the fact when the pass to simply take a few snaps is almost the same price as the entry, but there’s not much we could do about that.
After an almost comically long wait to use the facilities before our tour, I was about ready to scream as I watched the men come and go within minutes, while I was stuck in line for the ladies for almost twenty. Surely by this point in history bathroom designers have realised that you need to allocate amenities at a ratio of 2:1 in favour of the women. A fair few of us simply gave up and marched right into the men’s anyway.
Moving on, we hopped in line, dropped our bag in the cloak room of the castle, donned our less than flattering bright blue shoe covers to protect the floors, and joined the sardine can inspired group filing into the interior of the house with the rest of the wave of tourists. With the rooms absolutely packed, it was a tight squeeze, and carefully angled photos above peoples heads was the only way to give the illusion of space. As you walk up the ornate staircase and into the main foyer, despite the uncomfortable lack of personal space, and straining to hear the guide over the voices of all those gathered, it’s hard not to be awestruck by the beauty of the place. Whereas most palaces are filled with ornate fresco ceilings, and marble and stucco decorations, the star of the show here is the huge amount of intricate woodwork decorating the spaces. The foyer spans the height of the three storey building, and is topped with a spectacular stained glass ceiling. The entire height of the bottom floor is panelled with truly impressive hand carved reliefs, as will as a series of landscapes masterfully created by fitting together small fragments of different types of wood. From the second floor up, the walls are painted with a bright teal colour, and in the corners sit amazing wooden spiral staircases.
The rest of the rooms on the bottom storey were equally as squished, but also equally as breathtaking, from the room displaying the royal families medieval weapons collections from not only Europe, but also abroad; to rooms which somehow don’t seem out of place in a palace of this size like an enormous ornate study, plush sitting rooms, music room with a full size grand piano and harp, a theatre with a stage and seating for eighty guests, and even a library with a hidden staircase behind one of the bookcases like you’d expect to see only in murder mysteries or haunted houses. Everything is a jumble of more and more elaborate woodwork, with the odd colourful Roman God inspired fresco, patterned Persian rugs, and more than a handful of golden chandeliers. The walls, where they weren’t panelled, were a mixture of brightly coloured paints, embossed and gilded leather, or pristine dyed damask silk; each room keeping to its own colour scheme and names to reflect this. The dark moodiness of the environment was closer to that of a psychological thriller or a horror movie, and maybe that was why I loved it so much. It was large, but somehow still cosy, and it’s completeness in decoration makes it seem as though it was lived in by Victorian era royalty just yesterday.
At this point the first half of the tour finished and we made our way upstairs with the much smaller number of people who had decided to fork out for the extended tour. With a lot more room to breathe, and much less trouble hearing our guide, we swanned around the remaining rooms; a concert room with a full organ for Queen Elizabeth (King Carol’s wife), who was a reknownly talented organist and musician; ridiculously over the top bedrooms; the exit from the libraries secret staircase; a surprisingly well plumbed in bathroom; and a few hidden doors dressed as wardrobes. If Tilda Swinton ever needs a hiding place, I’ve found her one.
Eventually it was time to, reluctantly, make our way back out to the gardens. We took this opportunity to admire the manicured space in front of this grand residence, with its collections of stones statues, from kings and queens, to Gods, lions, and even a hound. With a little time to spare we decided to also visit the smaller stately home located just through the trees; Pelișor Castle, a smaller, but similarly styled home built by King Carol I for his Nephew and heir Ferdinand and new wife Marie. Thus we purchased our tickets and entered.
Wandering through, it was clear that this was a much more subdued space, with simpler (but still luxurious) furnishings, fixtures, and decorations. As we snapped our photos we were approached by one of the workers and asked for our photography pass, which we showed, and were informed we had to buy a separate one for here if we wanted to continue snapping. To be honest this seems a little ridiculous considering both houses are run by the same company, you can’t buy a duel pass for both locations, and the cost of a pass is about the same price as entry. Surely it can’t cost them AU$20 per person per house to preserve the items inside from the damage of non flash photography, on top of the entrance fee which is around the same price. It’s clearly just blatant profiteering. I’m not sure why they don’t just let everyone take photos and increase the entrance fee slightly across the board. There are plenty of people who simply take photos anyway and play dumb when questioned about whether they’ve paid. Anyway, rant over. Shocked, and somewhat irked by the situation, we continued our visit without taking anymore photos. The most fascinating room (which we didn’t manage to get a picture of), holds a small chest containing the heart of Queen Marie, who had requested that on her death that it be kept at the palace.
With our visit at an end, we made our way through the forested path running down beside the river, stopping briefly to purchase some of the aforementioned berries. I will say, the gypsies may be less than reputable in their tactics of swindling money from unwitting tourists, but their berries are delicious and reasonable priced. It’s probably their most noble business venture as far as I can tell. After taking a quick wander through the town and scoping the options, we found nothing that caught our eye for lunch, and decided to forgo it and catch and earlier train back to Brașov.
Before long we were back in our apartment, settling in for another quiet night. It was so nice to be staying in the same place for a week, somewhere we can find a few moments or rest and relaxation, amongst our otherwise brutal travel schedule. As I thought once more about the palace, I took a moment to admire the bountiful talent of the woodcarvers who made the splendor of the interior a reality. I can only imagine the tens of thousands of man hours needed, not only to fill the palace with its signature decorations, but to simply learn the skills and finely tune them. I have been impressed over and over again on this trip by the artistic talents of the men (and a few women) whose work make these places what they are, and yet very few of us will remember their names, but rather only the names of those who paid them. We give the credit of the castle to the king who commissioned it, yet very little goes to those who put blood, sweat and tears into its construction. Much like in today’s society where we acknowledge the presidents and prime ministers of the world for great change, without giving credit to the low level politicians, petitioners, and civilians who push tirelessly for and vote to enact the changes we are praising. It’s like giving the glory of a war won to the general but not the soldiers on the front line, or handing the Oscar for best motion picture to the producers without acknowledging the extraordinary work of the crew members. We must always remember that it is, in fact, the little people that make the big people big, and we must never forget the power we little people can have if we unite, regardless of the power wielded by the privileged one percent.
It’s easy for the rich to look down on low income earners from the safety of their comfortable lives, but I think they often fail to see that without those workers, their creature comforts would not exists. My thanks goes out to every worker who is made to think their job is unimportant; the tradespeople, the retail workers, the cooks and hospitality workers, the garbage men, the truck and train drivers, the cleaners, the shift workers; the people in the background that keep things ticking along despite what you see. We are the ones who make the world go around, we are the ones that make the leisure time of the rich 9–5ers leisurely. They may have forgotten this, but I have not. You are important, you are worthy of praise, and you are not powerless. There is great power in numbers, and if nothing else we certainly have numbers on our side.