Travelling Light

Brasov, Transylvania, Romania: Heritage Zone Deluxe!

Brasov is a beautiful city. Somehow, they have managed to preserve acres and acres of mediaeval buildings, and across quite a large area the streets are paved and closed to vehicles (except delivery vehicles at certain times of the day).

The cafes, bars and restaurants take advantage of this by providing outdoor seating everywhere in the old town.

The central piazza of the main old town area, Piata Sfatalui, is surrounded by rows of stunning buildings. It was heart-lifting just to walk into the square.

We arrived in Brasov at 6.30pm, and got a taxi to our booked accommodation (or as close to it as he could drive – Piata Sfatalui), and tried to raise someone from Reception. Eventually, we found a girl who worked there, and she said they were full.

But we booked yesterday, we said. You didn’t phone us to confirm, she said. We had a confirmed booking, we said, showing her the email headed “Booking Confirmation”. And we don’t have a Romanian SIM card. Well, anyway, we are full, she said. There is a hotel on the edge of the city park.

Growling, we used their WiFi to book another guesthouse in the old town. Just to be sure, we rang them. They were full as well, but the woman who ran it organised us a room on the other side of the city park from the old town. She even drove us there, which was good, because it was about a kilometre, which is a long way when you are carrying a 20 kilo backpack.

It wasn’t as convenient a location, but it meant we got to see the statue of Romulus and Remus suckling from a wolf. Mythology nerd points for recognising them!

Our first day in Brasov started well, with the discovery of a sociable cat on the windowsill of a pharmacy. Tom also spotted a cart selling kürtős kalács (“chimney cakes”, the Hungarian conical sweet bready thing coated in carmelised sugar).

We walked around the old town, marvelling at the consistency of the buildings, and the beauty of the old churches. Remarkably, the largest church in the old town, The Black Church, is a Lutheran (Protestant) church. Tom was feeling a bit ordinary, fighting off a fluey thing, so we took it easy.

We decided that it would be a bit much to try to do a day trip to Bran and Râșnov while Tom was feeling sick, so we booked ourselves a couple of extra nights – this time in absolutely confirmed accommodation in the old town – and took some much-needed rest.

We did find the street that Brasov claims in the narrowest in Europe. It wasn’t as narrow as the one in Kotor. To whom do you report misleading advertising by tourist destinations?

Tom put on his superhero underpants and fixed the WiFi at our pensiune, so we got to stay one night for free. Apparently, the model of router they had is so difficult to fix that we should have had a week for free!

Rest days involve chocolate. Fortunately, there was a high quality chocolate shop beside Piata Sfatalui. We had one of those brown packages totally wrapped in a sheet of chocolate – it is black forest cake on the inside.

Brasov is full of archways and courtyards – just about every building is hollow! The glimpses into other worlds are enchanting.

On our last morning in the first guesthouse, we went up the hill behind the guesthouse to the fortress, since we were already halfway there.

There is a slightly odd air to the fortress – it has clearly been restored, and there must have been a grand plan to make it a magnet for tourists. In one corner bastion is a “Disko” sign, and in another is an area of outdoor seating with no cafe or bar to serve drinks.

We almost missed the restaurant that IS there, because it is up high in the central building, and very poorly signposted. They did a great traditional bean soup and Bulgarian salad for us.

Then we found this sign – upside down. Mute testament to the lapsing of someone’s grand tourist scheme.

The fortress wasn’t big, but the view was excellent. It was from here that we first saw Nuova Brasov. Until that moment, we had been able to imagine that the architectural horrors of the 20th century had completely passed Brasov by.

Sadly, it seems that the communist era left no town untouched. At least they clustered them away from the historic old town, on the other side of a hill where they can’t even be seen.

The full set of photos from the fortress is

And then it was time to move to our new digs!

Not only was it smack in the centre of the old town, two streets from Piata Sfatalui, it had a space-age shower with jets from all directions, and a massager!

The staff spoke fluent English, and we got great directions on finding the bus to Bran the next day. They even said they would do our laundry for us at no extra charge. Bliss. We highly recommend Pensiune Noemi in Brasov.

But before we settled in for the night, there was more to be done. Up the cable car for a bird’s eye view of Brasov, and exploring the old city walls.

Piata Sfatalui looks so tiny from up here! And the fortress – like a tiny toy castle.

The city walls were built by Saxons, who looked upon the local Romanians with disdain. In fact, the local Romanians weren’t allowed to live in the walled city – they built a Romanian town outside the city gates. The gates are still there today, but the wall across the valley has been demolished. The side walls and the bastions remain intact, though.

Looking at the gates, we can only conclude that Walt Disney had a trip to Romania before designing his Magic Kingdom.

Everywhere you turn in Brasov, there is another spectacular scene begging for a photo. We took far too many pictures to put them all in notes, so make sure you check out the album: