When Two Became One

To the Point
Monday 13th October 2014


We were on the move today, so it was an early start. After packing and tidying up the apartment, leaving it as we found it including a bag full of left over food in the fridge, we sat down for breakfast.

I prepared the pomelo which was a task in itself. Its inch thick skin was a surprise, then the pith was reluctant to seperate from fruit. Eventually it was reduced to a nicely segmented bowlful for us to eat but our first impression of eating a pomelo was disappointing. It had only a hint of a citrus flavour and peculiar texture, certainly not worth all the effort.

Fortunately we also had some shop bought pancakes which were delicious and a fabulous cup of coffee from the small hole-in-the-wall cofee shop over the road.

With breakfast done, we left the apartment, handed the key back to Adriana and took our luggage to the car but before setting off for the capital Bucharest we walked back towards the main square so we could visit the Black Church. 

At 65m tall the15th century Biserica Neagra tall stood head and shoulders above all else in the old town. It survived a disatrous fire that destroyed much of the city in 1689 but the layer of blackness that gave rise to its name did not come from yhe soot of the great fire but from pollution of the 19th century industrial revolution.

It has since been cleaned up and is no longer black but the name has stuck.


The church was just opening its doors at 10am as we arrived. We entered, paying 8 lei, which also gave us entry to a small museum. There were "no photographs" signs everywhere so I just took a quick snap shot with my phone before putting it back in my pocket.

It was an incredibly tall building with columns rising to the heavens but compared to many churches it was quite plain on the inside, nothing too fancy. We looked around, admired some old tombstones, and the painted choir stalls were interesting. It was all very dark until we came into the light of the sanctuary.

We didn't spend long inside but it was still worth our time. Churches really are fascinating places.

We stepped outside to take a closer look at the statues that decorate the church walls and were greeted by an ominous shadow that seemed to be pointing at us.

It turned out to be a shadow cast by the statue of Johannes Honterus, a 16th century theologian and he wasn't pointing at us but at the people in the back row, "yes you" he seemed to say. In his hand he held a book. In addition to theologising he had set up a printing press and had published many books.  The most famous being Rudimenta Cosmographia, a collection of maps and verse. 

We continued to walk around the Gothic church marvelling at the statues inset into the spines of the wall, even if they we were too high up to see them properly whilst stood at the base.

There's a story about a child who was killed and buried inside the church to hide the crime. It's said that in 1385 a German child had climbed up the scaffolding and was taunting the Bulgarian builders who were working on its construction. Somehow he fell to his death, but instead of reporting it as a terrible accident the builders decided to hide the body inside the church building.

Before leaving we sat down at tables outside a German bakery called "Come Back",  had a coffee and some croissants, and wrote our postcards. We only send two these days. One to my father as he still gets excited to receive post and another to the grandkids, although I don't think they get excited at all about a postcard.  

As we wrote the "having a lovely time" messages we realised we hadn't learned any Romanian words, not even a please or thank you. In fact the only word I could say was Cuic, (pronounced chuck), and was the local beer.

Back in the car we set the SatNav for Sinaia and waved Brasov la revedere which Google transate reliably informed us meant goodbye.

We soon stopped for petrol at a garage on the outskirts and were served by a petrol attendant, which was a novelty. They are a thing of the past in the UK. With 200 lei of fuel in the tank we continued our drive to Sinaia. Little over a hour later we were pulling off the main road into the town. 

We parked up on a piece of rough gound being used as a car park. We paid someone who looked sort of official but could have been just a chancer. "10 lei for look after car" he said.

From there we walked uphill along a leafy lane, kicking the leaves as I walked. "You big kid" said Julie. I smiled. There's something quite rewarding about shuffling through a pile of autum leaves.

The road itself was cobbled, made from thousands of pepples. That must have taken some effort!  We were heading towards the town's main attraction, Peleș Castle.

Nestled in the mountains was a very pretty castle, although to call it a castle was a little far fetched. At the very least a castle should be a defensive fort and not just a very big house. It was built for royalty, King Carol of the newly independent Romania, as a summer retreat so technically it was more of a palace. 

It was officially opened in 1883 with lavish summer ball but work wasn't completed until 1914. So it was just celebrating its centenerary this year. We decided not to go inside as we didn't have much time. But as it happens I later read that it may have been shut on Mondays anyway.

We were more than content to look at it from afar. It really was a pretty looking palace. As with many similar "castles" built during the late 19th century it was a mix of many different styles, borrowing inspiration from Italian renaissance, German gothic and whatever else was fashionable at the time.

It certainly had an alpine look to it with all the traditional wooden inlaid frachwerk style,  It was incredibly ornate, adorned with embelishments at every opportunity. 

The main tower stood over 200 feet high to the tip of its pointy roof. It was as richly decorated as the rest of the stately home. It even had frescoes painted around the windows  just to fill the void if nothing else.

We didn't spend long here, only some five minutes perhaps, but it was enough.

There was a small market near to the entrance to Peleș Castle selling the usual souvenirs where we were cursed by a gypsy for refusing to buy a skanky floral posie from her.

Back in the car we asked the car park attendant who was still there looking after the car for directions to Sinaia Monastery."Right, and then right" he said. It sounded easy enough but as we came to the junction it was impossible to turn right given our tight angle.

We then went on a little mystery tour until we found oursleves back at the junction and could continue the journey.  It wasn't quite as straightforward as turn right then right but it was well signed so we found it quite easily.

We parked on the road outside and walked through the entrance gates. A rather flustered man came towards us, as if he wasn't expecting visitors today. He didn't turn us away though. Instead we paid him a small entrance fee and he showed us to a small side building. He unlocked the door and let us inside the monastery's museum. It had some interesting pieces, like the first bible translated into Romanian published in 1688, around the same time the monastery was established.

It was interesting to learn that the monastery was named Sinaia after Wallachian Prince Cantacuzino returned from a pilgimage to St. Catherine's monastery in Mount Sinai, Egypt. It then in turn gave its name to the town that grew around the monastery.

We walked around the monastery complex where there was a stand alone bell tower and also a large accomodation block. Over a dozen monks still live and pray here.

We then visited the Great Church in the centre of the courtyard. It wasn't expecially large but it was larger than the original old church, which still stood within the monastery walls. The entrance portico was stunning, with beautifully carved arches and columns and brightly coloured frescoes. Inside was a marvel of golden iconoclasticismitstics.

It was soon time to get back in the car and head South to Bucharest. Not wanting to drive into the city or pay for parking we had already decided to drop the car off at the airport and catch the bus into the city centre.

That was easier said than done. Finding the ticket booth to buy the bus tickets was challenging. We expected one in the arrivals lounge but that was just too obvious. After several well intended stangers we eventually found the one and only official bus ticket booth just outside a Bilet supemarket some distance from the arrivals terminal.

With our tickets for the number 783 in our hands we made our way back to the arrivals terminal from where all the buses left. Bucharest city centre was only 12 miles away but it still took us short of an hour to make our way to Piața Unirii, (Union Square) the heart of the city.

We were booked into the Hotel Europa Royale for the next two nights. We could see it from the where the bus stopped. It was in a really great location although we had to cross multiple lanes of traffic and the river Dâmbovița to reach it.

The foyer was a bright and airy atrium, rising five floors up to a glass roof. In the corner someone of importance was being interviewed by a flim crew. He looked like a politician. The receptionist welcomed us to the hotel and was pleased as punch to offer us a free upgrade to a junior suite. How lovely.

It was a nice room but after our free upgrade announcement perhaps we had raised our hopes a little too high. I don't know what we expected. The room was faultless, spacious and well presented. There was nothing to complain about yet we could shake the feeling of being underwhelmed.

It was almost 5pm and a little tired from our travels we were in danger of falling asleep early and missing out on an evening in Bucharest. We were afterall near the Lipansci district renowned for its lively nightlife. So instead of an afternoon nap from which we probably wouldn't have woken up until tomorrow, we decided to bite the bullet and headed straight out.

We began our evening in one of Bucharest's oldest surviving hostelry, Hanul lui Manuc. Although the 'M' really looked more like a 'H' in the sign above the entrance. 

It was a traditional caravanseri, a place for weary travellers to rest, refresh and stock up for their onward journey. It would have had rooms, an inn, stables and several stores. It was built in 1808 by an Armenian businessman, better known by his Turkish version of his name, Manuc Bei.

Today it was still a place of refuge and hospitality.  You could eat and drink and reserve yourself a room through booking.com! The only difference was they had nowhere to park your horse.  

Inside was a beautiful courtyard with hardwood balconies and Middle Eastern influenced arches all around. A few young trees had been planted around the place and any available space in between was filled with tabels and chairs. 

We decided it would be rude not to have something to eat or drink so we sat down at one of their tables and ordered a snack of baba ganoush (aubergine dip) and a tomato bruschetta. All really delicious and great value.

We walked back towards the hotel and popped inside the Church of St. Anton, the small unassuming church which we could see out of our junior suite window. Inside was a treasure chest of gold and precious stones. The power of the church was never more evident. If I were a poor peasant I would be in awe of the riches christianity offered. God is gold.

After walking a little further up Strada Smârdan, a street filled with bars and restaurant and already buzzing with anticipation we decided to catch that siesta after all. A few hours sleep would be neccesary if we were going to party hard tonight!

We left it to chance however and decided not to set an alarm. If we woke up then we would go out, if not we would have had a great night's sleep.

Three hours later (around 10pm) we stirred, thought about our options and decided "yes, why not?!"

We threw our gladrags on and headed out into the famous Lipansci nightlife.

It began with a very late supper at an Italian restuarant called Bell Mondo. It was a lovely warm evening perfect for dining al fresco so we sat outside literally in the road on the corner of Strada Covaci and Soarelui. The entire quarter was pedestrianised which gave it a wonderful relaxed atmosphere.

I ordered a "vegetarian" pizza topped with vegetables, nice enough although the base was too thin and crispy for my personal taste.  Julie couldn't go wrong with her grilled chicken with potatoes and we both washed it all down with a bottle of the house wine which was excellent.

We moved on being drawn into a bar called Bordellas by the live music. It had a great atmosphere. Apparently it was an 19th century brothel. They had risque manequins in the window and the walls were covered with sepia images of naked women. The photographs dated back to the 1920s and were found in the attic when they renovated the place.

We enjoyed the music until they went off piste a little and started playing a song associated with Benny Hill, followed by the Baloo song from Jungle Book. "Ooh, ooh, ooh, I wanna be like you ooh ooh" We left after that.

A few doors down we were drawn into another bar, called Bankers, again by the live music being played. They were technically a better band despite their sound being influenced by the 80s. I'm one of the decade's harshest critic. As the decade progressed the music was tarnished by the shit stick of synthesizers and over production.  

It was 1am and we decided to bring our shenanigans to an end. The band played on but we headed to bed.

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