Cities / Towns Visited: 71
Countries Visited: 19
Steps Taken Today: 12,949
Steps Taken Around the World: 2,382,363
We rose early, and hurried to ready ourselves, before scurrying downstairs and bundling ourselves into the car of our waiting tour guide for the day; Florin. It was going to be an hour or so before we reached our first destination, but the time was happily filled with the usual pleasantries of meeting a local as a tourist, like discussing the culture of Romania and the unseasonably rainy weather. The conversation eventually, and somewhat naturally, turned to food, what with me being a chef, and literally everyone else in the world just simply liking food. We learnt that Florin was a bank worker for the most part, who does personalised small group tours in his spare time during the high season, but we was looking into making tour guiding his full time gig, as, unsurprisingly, it is notably more exciting than the 9 to 5 daily grind.
Before we knew it we were pulling up in a side street, bundling back out, and walking through the gates to our first sight; the Ulpia Traiana Ruins. The next hour or so was spent with Florin showing us around these fascinating almost 2000 year old Roman ruins. You see, the Romans had invaded this area during their heyday of ruling most of Europe, fighting the native Dacians back to the other side of the river which ended up being the natural split between the two rival empires. They had then set up their capital here and named it Ulpia Traiana. The other ruins we had planned to see in the forest some distance from here, but were cut off from accessing due to a weather induced land slip, were the remains of the Dacian capital at this time; Sarmizegetusa Regia.
Walking around the site it had all of the hallmarks of a Roman capital, from its huge amphitheatre, religious temples, and massive old forum, including the old treasury, and what was essentially the Roman version of a judicial court. As we passed between the ruins, Florin picked us some wild plums which hung ripe from the trees we passed. They are everywhere here, which explains why Romanians drink a lot of plum brandy, better known as Rakija, in case you feel like ordering it here. Florin was a wealth of information, explaining everything we could ever want to know about the ancient history of this area. I even got to add another fact to my repertoire of things that make perfect sense but I’ve never given any thought to. That being that because the Roman’s always built their main city crossroads in a perfect North to South and East to West formation, archaeologists can almost date their sites to the day because of the way the earth’s alignment changes ever so slightly every year, meaning what was East to West then isn’t now, and likewise North to South. A little maths and astrology and you have yourself the birthday of this important historical city. I love the way travel keeps your mind active, even if everyone calls it a ‘holiday’.
As we clambered around the ruins, taking a plethora of photos, Florin took the opportunity to take some drone footage, which he showed us later. It really did help you get a better perspective of the immense scale of the city and its place in modern day Romania. By this point we were a little peckish and we stopped at the cafe just outside the gate to grab some Virsli (a traditional sausage made from goat and lamb), and Cascaval Pane (crumbed fried cheese), another traditional favourite from these parts.
Before we headed off to our next destination, we quickly popped into the small museum across the road which houses a number of artifacts dug up from the ruins during their excavation; from weapons and armour, to stonework with neatly carved Latin and stone statues, plenty of pottery shards, and smaller trinkets and jewellery which must have been lost by their owners all those years ago. Unfortunately photography costs extra, and we weren’t inspired enough to pay the fee, but the pieces did help us to imagine what life must have been like here during Roman rule. It’s funny imagining the typical picture we associate with centurions off in the wilderness of Romania, or in the freezing winters of Northern England, and yet they were all over Europe, in all kinds of climates, conquering it all until they pushed out too far, stretched their power, and crumbled.
Back in the car we hopped and were soon being shuttled off to our middle destination. A short drive, and some windy rural streets, later and we were pulling up outside an old church. This tiny skerig of a holy house of God, Densus Church, is unique for two reasons; it looks much more like the pagan temple it replaced architecture wise, and more importantly, it was partially built using stones from the very ruins we had just left behind. We’re not talking non descript stones either, we’re talking Roman pillars, old stone sewerage pipes as windows, and stones with Latin carvings taken from their specific prominent places in the Roman capital and simply stacked into the back wall of a miniscule chapel in the middle of nowhere. It’s almost laughable to see how little historical preservation was considered in centuries past, before UNESCO started governing over the protection of such significant locations in our history as a species.
After a little exploring while Florin, once more, flew his drone, we jumped back in the car to trundle off to our final stop for the day; Corvin Castle. As we parked and stepped out of the car it was hard not to be gobsmacked by the sheer beauty of this medieval castle. I know castles are a dime a dozen in Europe but there are some that really make you do a double take, and this is one of them. This hulking fortification sits proudly on a pedestal of stone, surrounded by a natural dry moat filled with a thick blanket of lush green trees; the only way to reach its gates being a long wooden bridge.
We spent the next two hours exploring this stunning place, with Florin reciting the history of its creation. It was built from an old keep on the sight in 1446 by John Hunyadi, who’s father Voyk had been gifted the castle by Sigismund, the king of Hungary. Hunyadi was also later elected regent-governor of Hungary, which seems to fuel the fire of the rumour that he was in fact not Voyk’s son, but Sigismund’s illegitimate child. The castle was later expanded by Hunyadi’s son Matthias Corvinus , who became the king of Hungary, Croatia, Bohemia, and the duke of Austria, and is from whom the castle now takes its name.
Corvinus was another name used by the Hunyadi family, and is derived from the word corvus, which is Latin for raven; the animal that is depicted on their family crest with a gold ring in its mouth. There is an amusing legend behind the raven too. Like I said, John Hunyadi was apparently the illegitimate son of King Sigismund, and his mother, Elisabeth, was said to be a very beautiful woman from the Hateg region of Romania. In order not to dishonor her, the king married Elisabeth to one of his knights, Voyk. Sigismund also gave her a ring, as a gift for the child, which would help him be recognized when he grew up and went to the royal court. The legend says that during a trip, the family stopped for lunch, but when they were not paying attention, a raven stole the ring, you know, because they like shiny things. That’s when John Hunyadi took a bow and shot the raven in order to get the ring back. When the King heard the tale he was impressed, so he decided that the family’s symbol should be a raven with a golden ring in its beak. Who knows if that story is true, but given the amount of illegitimate children that were had back then in the aristocracy, it’s not too far fetched.
Anyway, back to the castle. It has everything you would expect from a castle of this period in this part of the world; red brick roofs, strong corner towers to repel attack, gothic arched windows, gravity defying vaulted ceilings, rainbow hued stained glass windows, covered cloisters, and a quiet chapel. The only addition we were truly startled to see was a rather cruel and unique mode of medieval execution; a bear pit. Given our recent experience at the bear sanctuary I think it’s safe to say we felt more sorry for the bears than the criminals.
Corvin may not be fully furnished with period pieces like others, but to be honest, I prefer it that way. There is something more truthful about seeing what remains without inserting in cupboards, tables, and beds from all over Europe, just for presentations sake. It’s like reading the book instead of watching the movie; you get to make it up in your head from the story, instead of simply seeing other people interpretation of it. It was somewhat reluctantly that we left, making one last stop at the dungeons and torture rooms on the way out of course.
Before too long we were back in Deva, and Florin kindly dropped us off at McDonald’s so that we could wait out the on cue late afternoon shower, and piggy back off their WiFi for the price of a sundae for an hour or so while we uploaded photos of our adventure for the pleasure of our friends and family, and also to ensure no one began to panic we’d died in some kind of freak Romanian travel accident. Sometimes the internet is a great thing, but I often think we’ve become so used to being able to reach people instantly that when they go MIA, if only for a day, we all become a little too pessimistic about their fate.
Our evening went much the same as our first here, with a quick home cooked meal and a movie, and we found ourselves tucking into bed early. It was going to be an arduously long travel day the tomorrow as we attempted to get from rural Northern Romania, down to the capital, and finally navigate our way back to the airport for our flight to Dublin. As I dozed, I mused on the strangeness of the reality of living, even temporarily, in Europe. We would wake up in the morning in one country, and fall asleep that night, sometimes after only an hour of travel, in a completely foreign land. A country with a completely different language, culture, and history. My home takes up almost the same amount of space as this collection of 40 or so countries, and yet I have learnt something very poignant during my travels so far. That we have seen more of this continent than the majority who live in it. It’s funny how close proximity to something makes you take it so very much for granted. It becomes so easy to put off seeing and experiencing these places because you can simply say, ‘We’ll just go next time’, until you realise its been decades and ‘next time’ never came. That’s no to say that we are not guilty of the same thing. We have now seen more of this continent than of our own, but in doing so it has strengthened out commitment to ensuring we do a full trip of our home before completing our travels. What is my point? I guess what I’m trying to say is, try not to become complacent in your position, procrastination has its place, but do not continually put off all of the places you have longed to visit; the years trickle past too fast, and before long ‘next time’ becomes an unreachable eventuality; ‘next time’ becomes ‘next lifetime’.