Cities / Towns Visited: 67
Countries Visited: 19
Steps Taken Today: 16,144
Steps Taken Around the World: 2,285,371
The day had come for the first of two day trips out of Brașov to towns some distance away. Today’s adventure would be out to Făgăraș, a large and historic town to the west of the city, to visit their medieval fortress. After a brisk morning walk to the main bus station, we found ourselves there with a little time to spare before our departure and thus dashed over to the train station to pre-purchase our tickets to and from Peleș the following day, and onwards to Sibiu later in the week. Eventually the time came to pile into the bus. With little surprise we found it was, once more, an aging model, lacking greatly in any form of air conditioning, with the addition of absolutely no openable windows; it was going to be a long and hot journey, but there wasn’t much we could do to help that.
Eventually we arrived and bundled out, sweating, with the rest of the unfortunate tourists and locals alike who had managed the lengthy trip in this mobile sauna. Our walk to the fortress took us past an incredibly ornate, orthodox church sitting prominently on a grassed area. With its highly gilded dome reflecting the morning sun, and it’s striped painted exterior, it was quite a sight; if but a little over the top for my tastes.
Just beyond the church lies the fortress, sitting equally as prominently, this rectangular defence with its star pointed corner watch towers sits safely surrounded by a water filled moat, with nought but a wooden drawbridge allowing entrance to its centuries old interior. This early 14th century construction looks so picturesquely serene for something that was designed to intimidate and decimate the enemy. It was once the seat of the Princes of Wallachia, but was ultimately the possession of the King of Hungary. After this, it was a military garrison, and it was during this period that the original interiors were removed, thus what is visible today is but a series of educated guesses at its former appearance.
Passing over the bridge, we bought our tickets, collected our audio guides, and stepped past the curtain wall and through the gate of the inner fortification. Entering a small room on the left we found ourselves in the dark, dank confines of the old prison cell. Upstairs from here, in one of the inner towers, beneath the wooden rafters of the roof, we entered a round room with panels explaining the feats of local women in the fight for women’s rights here in Romania. Unfortunately there was no English translation for their stories, but regardless I took a moment to quietly pause and look at each of their photos while silently thanking them for their important contribution to the continuing fight for equal gender rights in the world. These women, along with all other level-headed Suffragettes and Feminists (do not read that at man-hating Feminazis) are my heroes, and I am eternally grateful for the risks they took, and continue to take, to secure mine, and other women’s rights not only to vote, but to live freely, without fear, and out from under the thumb of misogynistic men (also do not read that as a generalisation of all men).
Coming back down to ground level, we finally made our way into the inner courtyard of the site. It’s three storeys of white washed buildings surrounding it on all sides, coupled with the potted shrubs dotted geometrically across the gravelled ground, gave both a feeling of enclosed safety and open airiness. First, entering the cellars below the first floor, we found ourselves in a barrel vaulted storage space, lined on either side with glass cases displaying children’s toys from simple old antique wooden pieces, to newer but still decades old dolls and board games, many of which were unfamiliar, but must have been popular in this part of the world in their heyday. Their connection to the fortress was unclear, but they provide an amusing addition nonetheless.
The main collection on the middle floor of the building displays a large and rather impressive collection of historic artifacts, from historic books, to medieval weaponry and armour; from local traditional folk handicrafts and costume, to rooms decked out in medieval Romanian furniture, as they might have been in the past. There was a whole room displaying an impressive collection of medieval stained glass, and even a room displaying information and bits and pieces from the 19th century when life for the aristocracy was full of lavish parties and dances. Here they had a fascinating collection of tiny dance books, which the ladies used to have the names of the men they danced with written in, as well as copies of dance schedules for the night so everyone knew the order of the dances. Ahh, back when everyone knew how to dance properly, instead of mindlessly flailing and gyrating to senseless noise.
The upper floor holds the throne room and a few other important rooms, decked out as they likely would have been during the fortresses early days. I must say these rooms were by far our favourite, with their clean and bright white washed walls, offset beautifully by dark wood ceilings and furniture. The floors sported the same dark wood, but we’re covered, for the most part, with Persian rugs for warmth and decoration. From the walls hung colourful medieval tapestries, and on dark wood stands around the room sat decoratively arranged period weapons and armour. It may not have been gilded, or ornate, yet it had an understated strength to it. It spoke of a ruler who was more interested in protecting his people than impressing his nobles and allied aristocracy with pointless baubles.
With the interior thoroughly viewed, we stepped out through a artisan’s workshop in one of the corner towers, pausing to admire some of the stunning wood carvings, and preserved stone statues on display, and on into the grassed area sandwiched between the outer and inner defence walls. We took some time to wander the space, passing the old gallows, and climbing the steep inclines up to the watch towers, which unsurprisingly gave a wonderful view of the surrounding town.
Our visit was at an end, and we realised that if we made a dash for it we could make the mid-afternoon bus back and save ourselves a lengthy wait for the next one; thus off we rushed. If we thought the morning bus ride was bad, we were not prepared for the sweltering heat of the afternoon journey. The blistering sun blaring into this metal hotbox, we found only mild relief by sitting near the centre door, which allowed a blip of relief when it opened to allow passengers to disembark along the way. Luckily for us the bus was not full, so we sat in our own row of chairs each to at least lessen the transfer of body heat made by sitting shoulder to shoulder. I can deal with the heat of my work, and a 50 degree kitchen, although painful is not unbearable (plus you can always cool off in the walk-in fridge or freezer), but I will admit if I’m hot outside of that setting I am a most miserable and irritable human. I am a cold weather being, and I am not ashamed of that fact.
Eventually the torture ended and we were released into the marginally cooler air of outside for the long walk home. I was understandably relieved to finally retreat into the notably cooler space of our apartment, even if we did not have air conditioning. It must be mentioned that we were to find out that all of the places we stayed in Romania would be lacking in this creature comfort, but luckily we were sensible enough not to open the curtains before our departure, thus repelling much of the heat.
As can be expected, our evening passed with little fanfare, and it wasn’t long before we were settling into bed early (well early for us, so around midnight), as we had a morning train to catch out of town for our next adventure. As I willed myself to sleep, I thought again of those little dance books, and imagined the giggling of young adolescent ladies as they compared names of eligible suitors who had chosen them as dance partners. Sometimes it’s hard not to despair at the state of the modern dating scene. Not that I wish to digress into the ‘chivalry is dead’ cliche, as it is somewhat contradictory to expect the old ways and also want equality between the sexes; besides I think everyone should hold doors open for other people regardless, because that’s just a polite thing to do. That being said, it’s hard not to notice that romance seems to be somewhat of a dying occurrence. Gone are the days when dancing with someone was a heart fluttering experience of brief restrained touches and coy glances; instead we have spiked drinks and drunk gyrating to thumping unintelligable music, often unwantedly, in the person space of any woman to pass them. A man turning up at your door with a rose has, for the most part, been replaced by a swipe right and a text message of ‘I’m out the front’. I’ll be the first to admit that I am more than happy to pay my own way when it comes to dates, in fact I am quite insistent about it as I find it uncomfortable to have things paid for me, as it makes me feel needy and strips me somewhat of my independence that I am fiercely proud of. I trait most likely tied to the fact I was raised by a single mother. We as women are brought up to desire and admire a hopeless romantic of a man, but we often fail to acknowledge that men deserve romance too; they deserve to be taken out for dinner, or to have love letters written to them, or to receive random gifts just because. Despite society’s insistence that they remain unemotional and unsentimental, they are, after all, emotional beings, just like the female sex. They require gentleness, comfort, and kindness in equal measure, even if it’s sometimes difficult to read it on their life hardened faces. Equality will only ever work if we are willing to give what we expect to get in return, whether that be romance, time, money, or respect. We are all responsible for challenging archaic social norms and changing the state of the world, equally.