|When Two Became One
Getting our Brasovs
There was one thing we were especially looking forward to on this trip; Monday morning, for that moment when we wake up and realise that we didn't have to go to work, then just roll over and go back to sleep.
With our alarms switched off we were fast asleep when bang on 7:30am we were rudely woken up by several jack hammers thudding their way through concrete. They were only digging up a part of the Council square right beneath our window!
We got up (it was pointless staying in bed with that racket) and walked back to the car, again pausing at the beautiful Catherine's gate along the way.
When we reached the car we couldn't see a parking meter anywhere. Julie asked a friendly passer-by "where do we pay?" He seemed to indicate that we didn't have to pay, either that or he was waving his hands about to say "go away, I don't understand you".
We quickly gave up and walked back down the hill towards the apartment.
Not having had any breakfast we decided to stop at a small pattisserie called La Vatra Ardealului for a coffee and a cake. I had a pastry called Plặcintặ cu Brặnzặ Dulce which was absolutely delicious. It reminded me of a dense slab of bread & butter pudding, a hint of custard with raisins.
By the time we finished our coffee the office of the White Mountain Properties was open. We still owed the balance of our apartment's rent in cash, in euros. We knocked on the door and entered to meet Adrianna, with whom we spoken yesterday. She apologised about the personal belongings left in the apartment without really offering an explanation.
We mentioned our car parking confusion and she said "No, you must pay or you will get a fine."
She explained that it didn't matter which parking meter we used. It could be any one in the centre, of which there were plenty. Then display the ticket in our car.
So, we found the nearest meter and saw that it was 12 lei to park all day. The only problem was it only took coins. We had a few but nowhere near enough. To make the task even more difficult even 1 lei came as a (modern tear free plastic) paper note. The frustration was building.
"We need to find a bank" I said, in between swearing.
We walked inside the Reissenbank on the corner of the Council Square and stepped up to the teller who refused to exchange anymore than 5 lei into coins! What was all that about!?!
I was outraged but didn't cause a scene.
We hadn't seen another bank. Then Julie suggested returning to the White Mountain office. Luckily for us Adrianna rummaged through her purse and had enough coins in there for us to make up 12 lei for the meter.
Now with a fist full of coins we returned to the nearest parking meter and began feeding it half lei (or 50 bani) at a time. After inserting 20 of the coins, we were now down to the smaller 10 bani coins, so we had another 20 more to go!
We were up to the 5th coin then it jammed!
The language that came out of my mouth was attrocious. The frustration boiled over. I tried cancelling the ticket so we could start over, but that didn't work. I tried slapping it to dislodge the jam, but that didn't work. Our only choice was to press the green button and get a ticket valid until 17:45.
It was better than nothing I suppose.
So off we marched out of the city and up the hill to place out ticket in the car window before the traffic warden could catch us and issue a fine.
We had finally sorted the parking out. The relief was real. We had wasted almost three hours.
A silver lining of all this walking back and forth to the car meant we had walked much of the city's old and beautiful streets. They were so full of character.
Before we began the our official sightseeing of Brasov we decided to fuel up with an early lunch. On the same street as the entrance to our apartment was a restaurant called Bi Brasovia. It was a simple place, where the smell of boiling cabbage, onions and potatoes filled the air as we walked in. It was like Sunday morning at my mothers!
We picked up a tray and moved slowly along the canteen counter checking out what they had on offer. Julie spotted the mash potato and a chicken fillet. Well, that was her lunch sorted.
I thought I would struggle but I filled my plate with a stuffed aubergine, spinach puree and cheesy roasted potatoes. For such an unpretentious place the food was all utterly delicious and, as with all the others, the price was incredibly good value. At 39 lei it was the cheapest meal yet.
Once lunch had digested it was time to head out and see a few of Brasov's must see places. We began by walking down to a large roundabout which was essentially the boundary between the old town and the new.
At this junction we turned first left, back into the historic centre but now just outside the city walls.
The first interesting sight we came across was a statue of George Barițiu an influential businessman and 19th century Brasovian polictican standing in front of a school named after him.
One thing for sure, they didn't look like they taught sculpture at the school. It was quite a basic statue with simple square lines as if it was unfinished, at the stage before all the fine work was carved. However it did have a quirky caricature charm about it.
There wasn't much more to see besides the old medieval walls along this stretch but it was such a beautiful day and it felt wonderful just strolling (instead of marching to the car and back). We fnally felt like we were on holiday.
The road soon narrowed, becoming a lane and then just a path. It was very peaceful spot away from the noise of the traffic. All we could hear were the birds chirping and the trickle of a small stream.
At this narrowest point we came across a flight of steps that just climbed up the side of the hill known as Warthe. No zig-zagging to ease the incline, just straight up, it felt almost like a ladder!
Of course, much to Julie's dismay, we had to take them. It was the stairway to Turnul Alb (the White Tower), a 15th century lookout post overlooking the city.
Once we were above the roftops the views just got better and better with every step we took. Although each time we wanted to admire the view we had to stop and turn around becuase it was behind us. That suited Julie as it gave her a moment to catch her breath.
When we reached the top we noticed the entrance to the tower was right in the centre of the facing wall, some five metres up. It would originally have been accessed by a ladder but today there was a much safer staircase to reach the front door. It was still a step too far for Julie as she sought a park bench to regain her composure after the exertion of reaching this altitude.
Inside the White Tower was a small museum but it was closed on a Monday. Although despite having made the effort to come all the way up we weren't that bothered. Instead I stood at the balcony by the door and marvelled at the unrivalled view over Brasov.
It truly was a breathtaking position. I could see the entire city, from the immense Biserica Neagră dominating to scene to the ornate tower of the City Hall looking especially beautiful from up here.
I could also the see a path where the cable cars travelled up and down the forested slopes of Tâmpa mountain. Although I couldn't see any movement and came to the conclusion they were also probably closed on a Monday.
It didn't matter as we had already written off going up in "those death traps" (sic. Julie) after reading about them in a guide book but to be honest, it was a blessing in disguise because it encouraged us to climb up this side of the valley instead, which to my mind had the much better panorama of the city.
It was also the best spot to zoom in on the Hollywood-style BRASOV sign. We weren't exactly level with it but it was a much better angle than down in the square.
When I eventually rejoined Julie I noticed the tower was a peculiar semi-cirlce in shape. From the front, it looked like a totally square structure but when I walked around the back I noticed it was curved. I don't know if it's unique but I've certrainly not seen one before.
From the Turnl Alb we had two options to get back down into the city, either return the way we came, a rapid descent down the steep steps or follow a more gradual path down through the woods. We took the easier option.
It was a lovely walk, the autumn leaves turning it into a magical scene. The path was well maintained and gravelled all the way. However, on the slightly steeper parts the loose gravel did shift underfoot which unnerved Julie.
Back down at street level we continued along the alley behind the city walls. Soon we came to another path, this time up to the Black Tower but we decided against anymore climbing up hills. Instead we returned to the Piața (piazza) Sfatului.
We returned to our favourite little bar on the corner of the square and people watched for a while. There were a lot of children around, bringing a joy and playfulness to the square.
We both agreed it was the most child friendly city we had visited, as if this was to where the pied piper lead all the children.
As we were discussing this we noticed a small statue of a whistle blowing pixie sat high up on a balcony. The coincidence made us laugh and reach for our phones to Google the Pied Piper. Turns out he was the Pied Piper of Hamelin, (which we sort of knew) which is a real place in Lower Saxony, Germany, not Transylvania. Although according to the Brothers Grimm the children who were taken from Hamelin settled in the region of Siebenburgen, also known as .... Transylvania!
We moved on, exploring the other side of the Centrul Vechi (historic centre). We had walked down the cobbled street of Strada Postăvarului last night but in the dark we hadn't realised it was such a lovely rainbow of pastel colours.
Once we reached the end of that street we returned back up Strada Castelului which ran parallel. It was a busier tarmac road but it still had a few gems, inclduing the restaurant in which we ate last night. All the houses hinted at their former glories with little decorative flourishes.
Next we reached the city walls, at the foot of Tâmpa mountain. These seemed more impressive walls than the other side which we saw earlier. Perhaps it was because we had a better view of them from a footpath or maybe the sequence of small towers incorporated into the walls added to their charm. We began with one that was called the Turnul Vannatorilor or the Hunter's Tower.
Next came Turnul Lemnarului (the Carpenter's Tower). I don't think these names were always the original ones. As in this case where it was originally a powder storeroom but after the restoration it was named to reflect the theme of the small museum inside.
Others however have the original name, such as the last one on the South-Eastern corner, called Bastionul Postavarilor (the Draper's Bastion). In 1646 the city gave the Draper's guild the responsibility of maintaing the tower and defending the city.
The wall here had strange openings, like ovens or windows. Over a dozen of them.
As we returned to the city we came across a small shopping centre. In the basement there was a Billa, a familiar supermarket chain we'd come across in Bulgaria. We popped inside for some supplies for a picnic lunch tomorrow. A jar of peanut butter and some sliced cooked ham were our chosen fillings.
Heading back towards the square we stopped at a bar called Vahla but also known as the Friends bar. We ordered a bottle of wine and settled in for some more people watching. As we were so close to our apartment I popped back to drop off the shopping. By the time I returned Julie had ordered some food.
The tomato crostini and a small bowlful of beetroot and horseradish salad were just a snack in between meals but were incredibly delicious. We sat in the square for over an hour sipping our wine and nibbling our crotsinis, watching the world go by.
When a trio of trumpetiers announced end of the day, the time was just right for a siesta so we headed back to the apartment to catch some sleep. By the time we rolled back out looking for somewhere to eat we had missed the sunset and it was totally dark.
We hadn't done any research, and had decided to stop at the first restaurant we stumbled across.
We didn't waste any time. Almost directly opposite our entrance was Bella Muzica. They had a stand with several food photos on it, which is never a good sign. Undettered we stepped in from the street into passageway towards a courtyard. At the far end in the dark was another lecturn with a menu on display.
It wasn't obvious in the beginning but the restaurant was connected to a Hotel of the same name. Most hotel restaurants tend to play it safe with their choices but this one rather oddly had a wide choice of Mexican food as well an eclectic mix of other cuisines.
Inside was a wonderfully atmospheric basement cellar with red brick vaulted ceilings and dark little candlelit corners. It seemed perfect for a romantic meal.
On the down side smoking was allowed at the table in all but one of the rooms. (What a filthy habit.) We had to wait a while for a table for two to come available in the non-smoking section but it was worth it.
The waiter handed over an over-sized menu (it needed to be in the dim light) and explained that because of the dungeon layout we had a button on the table which would page the staff that we required attention. Well we'd never seen anything like it, other than on an airplane or a hospital bed!
But it made perfect sense. Staff would not enter the multiple rooms that frequently so it could prove very frustrating trying to get their attention.
It wasn't long before we used the buzzer for the first time to summons someone over to take our order. Whilst they turned up promptly the actual service was incredibly slow. A waitress apologised for the delay and offered us bowl of nachos and red pepper sauce in compensation whilst we waited for our starters.
They eventually arrived. Julie some breaded mushrooms and I went for the "aubergine salad" which was exactly what I hoped it was, baba ganoush, a smoked aubergine dip. And it was divine!
We buzzed them again to order drinks, which the waiter served Julie's little 175ml screw-top bottle of cheap wine with the style of a grand sommelier. It did make us smile as he poured a small amount into Julie's glass and asked "would madame like to try".
Our main courses arrived. Julie had opted for the mixed grill which was a carnivorous feast. Piled high on the plate were sausages, chicken fillet, beef steak and a darker meat that she couldn't identify. "It's probably horse" I joked which didn't go down well.
I didn't have a main course choice on the menu, so I made up a plateful from three different side dishes, baked potato with sour cream, spinach puree and garlic mushrooms. It all worked into a tasty and fillng meal. The only thing I left on my plate was an artistic curl of carrot peel.
We buzzed them for a final time, skipping desserts and asking for the bill. At 158 lei (about Ł28.50) it was our most expensive meal yet but to be fair it was still good value.
Thankfully we didn't have far to go back to the apartment.
It was almost 10pm. Julie was ready for bed but I stayed up watching Belgium v Bosnia, a group game for Euro2016. It was of some interest because these two teams were in the same group as Wales. I was following the progress of the Welsh game against Cyprus on my phone.
Despite going down to ten men for the last half hour of the game they won 2-1 and now top the group after 3 games. Wales haven't qualified for a major tournament since 1958! Perhaps this could be their time.Next Day >>>
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