When Two Became One

Bite the Bullet
Sunday 12th October 2014

 

We woke up at 3:30am. We had too. We had a flight to catch.

It took us half an hour to get up and out but at least we were staying at the Hilton which was literally  connected to the South Terminal. The extra £50 (compared to other hotels) was worth it. I couldn't imagine having to catch a shuttle bus at this time in the morning. We only had to shuffle ourselves down a corridor and we were in the terminal.

Having already checked in our luggage last night all we had to do this morning was to walk through the security checks and we were in duty (not as) free (as it used to be) buying our customary two bottles of champagne.

Breakfast this morning was a coffee and a pastry from Pret-a-manger and we picked up sandwiches for our lunch rather than relying on whatever Easyjet had in there cupboards. No sooner had we finished eating breakfast our gate number came up. It was still only 5am.

 It was all happening very smoothly and surprisingly quickly. Julie appeared quite calm about it all. I think she was still half asleep, which helped plus the four diazepams. 

We boarded the plane and made our way to our usual reserved seats of 18E and 18F only to find someone already siiting in the window seat! I politely asked him to move and he replied with a "Why?" I was just about to launch into an angry exhange when Julie calmly explained to him her flying anxieties. "No problem" he said and moved but clearly by the look on his face he wasn't happy.  (We didn't speak to him again for the duration of the flight.)

The incident unnerved Julie  a little as a doomed look descended on her face. Her hands were shaking so much she couldn't put on her seatbelt.

The plane taxied to the runway, ten minutes later we were still taxiing. "Are we driving to Romania?" Julie wondered. Despite being petrified she hadn't lost her sense of humour!

Eventually we took off and headed South. We spent most of the three hour flight playing scrabble on the iPad. Before we knew it we were flying over the misty Carpathian mountains descending towards Bucharest.

We landed smoothly which greatly relieved Julie.

After collecting our luggage we took a moment to sit down and have a cup of coffee before following the Rent-a-Car signs to find the Europcar desk. We found it empty. 

There was a yellow post-it note on the desk with a mobile number on it. Thankfully when I called it worked. We've had problems in the past with our phones whilst on the continent. 

Mr. Europcar answered and said he'd be over in a few minutes. Many more minutes than a few later he eventually returned. We went through all the paperwork. He took a pre-authorised £350 deposit on-hold against our current account. (We really should get a credit card just to use for these sort of  circumstances.)

He then told us that they were out of the Chevrolet Spark we had paid for so we were getting a free upgrade to a Toyota Yaris. Woo-hoo! How lucky were we? (I'm being sarcastic here by the way in case you think we were actually excited to be driving a Yaris!)

After inspecting the car noting all the bumps and scratches, of which there were many, we got our hands on the keys and were all set to drive to Brașov, in the heart of Transylvania.

Julie wasn't looking forward to this part. She was almost as anxious about the car journey as she was about the flight.

We had hired a SatNav which was priceless. It gave us confidence that we were going in the right direction. Although it couldn't have been simpler. All we had to do was follow Highway 1 North all the way to Brașov. 

For the most part the road leading out of Bucharest was a dual carriageway, permanently flanked by houses. There didn't seem to be a break between one village to the next. 

Life by the roadside was interesting to witness, although we had to be contstanly vigilant of obstacles in the road. Pedestrians, cyclists, slow moving tractors, even donkeys crossing the four lanes without any care for their own safety.

On the outskirts of Ploiesti we saw a large sign for a Carrefour hypermarket and decided to pull over and stock up on some supplies for the next few days.  

We always enjoy shopping in supermarkets whilst on holiday, from the far superior fresh produce to decyphering the local staples. We filled our trolley with some essentials like beer, wine, tea, bread and something called Creminos cu unt which we hoped was butter.

It was a huge store with everything you could imagine and more. They even had a huge fish tank in the centre of the shop. How fresh would you like your fish!?

Back in the car we continued North along Highway 1 as the road gradually climbed up through some stunning mountainous scenery of the Southern Carpathians. We soon reached Sinaia, a popular ski resort in winter.  I had initially thought of stopping here to visit somewhere called Pelasti Castle but we were both feeling a little weary and just wanted to get to our apartment.

Having reached Sinaia the road then quickly went downhill through a series of hairpin bends. It wasn't long before we reached the outskirts of Brașov (pronounced Brashoff) where the SatNav earned its money guiding us through the sprawling modern city towards the medieval old town. 

As with most medieval old towns they weren't designed with the motor car in mind and finding a space to park was impossible. We ended up parking outside the city walls, in the suburbs, up a hill  but at least it was a safe place to park.

There was a parking meter nearby but we knew it was free on a Sunday. However, the tariff kicked-in from 8am Monday. "We'll cross that bridge when we come to it" I said.

Before lugging our cases through the streets of Brașov we decided to leave them in the car whilst we found our apartment. We were overlooking the red rooftops of the historical centre with the Biserica Neagră (Black Church) standing head and shoulders above them all.

"But it's not black" said Julie and she was right.

We made our way down to the church and then to the large open space of the Piața Sfatului (Council Square). Then we phoned Adriana from the White Mountain Properties who like human SatNav talked us step by step to the apartment. "Walk to the ReissBank on the corner" ... 

 She continued to guide us, as we continued along the pavement a short distance before turning left down a dark alleyway. "walk into the courtyard, find the green car, go up the staircase to the second floor and find a door with a No12."  The key had been left in a safe place (the classic under a plant pot) and we let ourselves in.

It was a lovely little appartment. You first came to a small room with a dining table, a fridge freezer and in the corner and a small but perfectly functional kitchen off to the side. You then continued into the next room where the bedroom and lounge were in one. 

The bar stools either side of the bed looked out of place but they were useful for sitting there gazing out the window. The apartment was in an amazing location, overlooking the main square.

We then noticed the feature wall was painted blood red on which hung a crucifix next to a fake bullet hole in a homage to Bram Stoker's Dracula. How fabulous! All we were missing was the garlic and a wooden stake and we would have had the full Van Helsing. 

Putting all the dracula stuff to one side, it was a lovely home for us for the next three night. There was only one thing wrong. There was a lot of someone's personal belongings in the wardrobes like shoes, clothes, shaving foam and so on. The kitchen cupboards were also full of food,  there was even half a loaf still on the worktops and the fridge was full of open packets of salami, sausages, and much more. 

It felt like we had broken into someone else's apartment.  We even went back out to check if there was a number 12 on the door. Of course we were in the right place, so we bagged up all the food and shoved them into one of the cupboards so we could at least keep our food.

We didn't waste time in getting back out into the bustling square. It had a great atmosphere.  Children whizzed around in hired peddle cars, young couples strolled arm in arm. There was such a wide range of people, from young to old, lovers and the lonely, all gathering around the focal point of an oddly shaped modern fountain. It looked so out of place amonst the stunning Baroque architecture. 

We drifted aimlessly around the square, drawn towards the market stalls which filled the corner nearest the City Hall. Many cafes spilled out onto the square competing with several food vendors in the market for our trade.

High on the forested Mount T‚mpa we saw a Hollywood style sign displaying the city's name in 20ft high white letters.  Apparently the homage was because of the amount of blockbuster movies filmed on location in and around Brașov.

A little further down a pedestrianised street we came to a Bureau de Change. I had earlier tried getting cash out of an ATM at the Reissbank but stopped in mid-transaction because they offered such a poor rate. The little hole-in-the-wall bureau was offering a much better rate. At  5.51 lei to £1 it was 10% better. 

I tried getting £100 worth with my bank card but the it had to be cash for cash. So whilst I ran back to the apartment, Julie found a table on the square and waited for me. It wasn't long before I returned with a pocket full of lei.

We felt a bit peckish so we ordered some some fried cheese and Transylvanian potatoes to keep us going. Breaded mozzarella triangles were fine but the potatoes fried with onion and seasoned with paprika were absolutely delicious!

It was also very cheap. It only came (including drinks) to 59 lei which was more or less covered by my 10% exchange rate saving.  I did feel pleased with myself!

Just as we were about to leave we heard a trio of trumpeteers announce the arrival of a troop of flag bearing soldiers. It appeared to be some sort of ceremonial changing of the guards. 

Dressed in their medieval finest, with large floppy hats and volumnous pantaloons they marched rather haphazardly across the square towards the city hall. The amature dramatics renactors could have done with a better drill instructor. They looked more bumbling Dad's Army than a crack troop of Marines but it was still a quaint tradition and entertaining to watch.

The sun was now settling down for the evening so it was time to think about returning to the apartment for a siesta. First however, we returned to the car for retrive the rest of our luggage.

There was a lot let traffic on the roads now which made for a lovely pleasant walk from the square towards the city walls where we past Poarta Ecaterini (Catherine's Gate), the most beautiful of exits, complete with fairytale turrets.

This at one time was the main entrance into Brașov's citadel and the only one through which Romanians were allowed to enter. Transylvania was ruled by the Saxons then and Romanians would have been considered the outsiders.  

It wasn't far to our car. We were back at our apartment in no time.

We then spent half an hour perched on bar stools either side of the bed, sipping our champagne whilst staring out over the Piaţa Sfatului square. The apartment really was perfecly positioned.

Having toasted to our good health we tried to get some forty winks but after an hour or so we gave up and decided to head out to find some supper.  It was now getting dark and Council Square had been tranformed, lit up by the street lamps.

After some quick research on TripAdvisor we decided on Restaurant Transilvania for tonight's meal. It sounded like a first class tourist trap but it had rave reviews.

I had a map imprinted in my mind of where to find it, 106, Strada Castelului, but we got a little lost. Although wandering around the atmospheric dark streets of Brașov wasn't a hardship. Eventually, when we began to feel hungry, we turned to Google maps to guide us in.

Two minutes later we were stood outside the restaurant.

It looked empty, which isn't always a good sign but when we walked inside we saw it had a second level, the smoking dining area, which was full of people. We chose to sit in the window, as far away as possible from them.

 

Vegetarian options were scarce. For starters I had the choice of either breaded mushrooms or polenta with cream cheese, so I went for both of them, to share of course. Unfortunately they had run out of mushrooms, and Julie despises polenta.

Despite my best efforts to get her to try the Dracula Pork she skipped the starters.

My only main course option was a Bulgarian salad, which was odd whilst sitting in Romania. Even then the waitress admitted that it usually came with wafer thin ham but they could make it up without. Nevertheless I was looking forward to it. Last year, in Sofia Bulgaria I really enjoyed the Shopkje salad made with a feta like cheese and plenty of tomatoes. Sadly what I had tonight was nothing like it.  A lot of lettuce with some bland cheddar like cheese.

At least Julie really enjoyed her grilled chicken "on the spite" (which was either typo or mistranslation but it was also how the waitress also pronounced "on the spit")

We shared a carafe of local white wine which came served in a bottle we normally associate with red wine, a thin neck opening out into a plate sized decanter to better airate the wine.  It wasn't left in there long enough to oxidise so it was fine, and it tasted great.

The best part of the evening was the very reasonable price of about 78 RON (about £14) Great value!

It wasn't late but after an exceptionally long day it was back to the apartment, too tired to do anything else other than crawl into bed and go to sleep.

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