July 5th, 2010
Romania is kind of like an old Communist era Trabant car (a “peoples car”) – a bit beat up, doesn’t run too well, but somehow manages to get the job done. Trains are always late (they are not all old, just the local ones, I think the main issue is all these infrastructure projects as the lines are very old in some parts and being replaced, trains have to stop a lot and just can’t go fast!), stations can just be blocks of cement, in fact I went to a place called Siniai today, where even though there was a proper station you got out of or on the trains on the tracks (no idea why?)! At one stage I had two trains going either side of me and I just had to wait!
For all the chaos and run down towns and villages in Romania, there are really friendly people, great food, amazing scenery, wildlife, beautiful buildings, castles and palaces dotted about. Oh and Gypsy’s – if they are not trying to beg from you, they are trying to sell fruit – even on the trains whilst travelling between towns!
Siniai in the Transylvania’s Carpathian Mountains had the palace of King Carol I (1839 – 1914) – Peles Castle. A beautiful place set in the forest amongst mountains it is highly decorative, with lots of marble and wood. Luckily during the Romanian communist era (1947-1989) the palace was maintained and did not go to ruin.
Watching European brown bears the other night on the outskirts of the city of Brasov (one side houses, the other forest) was an unusual highlight. A group of us from the hostel went with a local Romanian guide and we drove around the garbage bins – they have given up trying to secure them in cages as the bears just destroy everything! We saw 2 large males and an even bigger female – most of the time we were on foot only a few metres away. At one stage one of the males starting heading our way…quite a rush having a large bear check you out at extremely close range (apparently a few people get killed by the bears in these nearby forest each year)!
Another highlight was going to Bran (Dracula) castle – not that it really has anything to do with him (Vlad Tepes the inspiration for Bram Stoker’s Dracula may have been imprisoned there for a few days). All in all nothing particularly ghoulish about the place – but it was once a Teutonic Knight castle and used by the Romanian royal family, so an interesting place anyway. I went for a hike in the nearby forest and got eaten alive by mosquitoes going up the mountain, but the view – especially of the castle was worth it!
I also did some hiking in the mountain range above Brasov. Lots of old people up there picking herbs and maybe berries and mushrooms. Great views over the town and surrounding mountains. All the mountains in this area of Transylvania are part of the Carpathians.
The language is pretty tricky, but I am getting around ok, and of course never go hungry – the few words I know do help i.e. “Buna” hello, “La Revedere” goodbye, “Da” yes, “Nu” no, “Verog” please, “Multzayesc” thanks…plus picking up other travel and food related words.
I am now in Bucharest, the Romanian capital. Once the former stronghold of the communist dictator Nicolae Ceausescu (26 January 1918 – 25 December 1989). He ruled Romania with an iron fist from the 1960s until 1989, demonstrations started to occur as they did with the fall of Communism throughout Eastern Europe in that year.
Nicolae Ceausescu gave a final speech (here is part one and part two of the speech) to the people of Romania from the balcony of the Communist Party Headquarters in Bucharest on December 21st, 1989 basically stating that reforms would be made, working conditions improved and basic wages increased. He seriously misread the crowd before him and from there, the protestors grew and grew, demanding free elections. The police and military fired on the people and it was not a peaceful revolution compared to other former Soviet Bloc countries, but this violence and oppression did not stop people power! Eventually the police and military sided with the people.
Nicolae Ceausescu and his wife met a grisly end at the hands of his army during the revolution only 4 days after that speech. Initially they escaped by helicopter from the rooftop of the Communist Party Headquarters (December 22nd) as the protesters were entering the building (just behind them), they landed outside the city after the pilot said there were issues with the helicopter and tried to escape by car but were captured by the military. They were sentenced to death by a military “kangaroo court” on charges ranging from illegal gathering of wealth to genocide, and were immediately executed by a firing squad! Thus essentially ending the Romanian Revolution of 1989 and bringing freedom to the Romanian people.
Nicolae Ceausescu must of been a bit mad at the end of his reign. Check out this info from wikipedia:
“By 1989, Ceauşescu was showing signs of complete denial of reality. While the country was going through extremely difficult times with long bread queues in front of empty food shops, he was often shown on state TV entering stores filled with food supplies, visiting large food and arts festivals, while praising the “high living standard” achieved under his rule. Special contingents of food deliveries would fill stores before his visits, and even well-fed cows would be transported across country in anticipation of his visits to farms.”
Tomorrow I go to the enormous Palace of the Parliament, built for Ceausescu, it is one of the largest buildings in the world and a large part of the city was destroyed to build it. Apparently it is still not fully completed (construction began in 1983)! This building is the ultimate symbol of his delusions of grandeur!