Travelling Light

Sinaia Monastery and Peleș Castle, Sinaia, Romania, September 1-2, 2014

We arrived in Sinaia in the early afternoon, and at the station when we arrived was a gorgeous old train in beautiful condition – on closer inspection, it turned out to be The Orient Express!

We had no booked accommodation. Our plan, as it always is in such circumstances, was to find a cafe, park one of us with the bags, and walk around comparing prices and value. Sinaia is a ski town, so in the summer we expected to have no trouble finding a cheap room.

We were prospected on the walk up the hill from the station be a lady who spoke no English at all, but who had a “pensiune” available. We discussed number of nights and prices in German, and agreed to have a look.

It was a comforable room in a family home, with its own (cramped but OK) ensuite. We decided it would do. And it had a ginger cat – bonus points! There is some blocky monstrosity being erected next door, which is a shame, because most of the buildings in the town are traditional Transylvanian drop-dead gorgeous architecture.

Photos of the town are here:

There is not much to Sinaia – it is a hub of tourist activity because of Peleș Castle, and while people are here they stop in to see the smaller Pelișor Castle, the monastery and a museum. Pelișor Castle and the museum are only open on weekends, at least in the summer, which will give you an idea of the sleepy feel the place has.

Less than five minutes of walking from our front door is the monastery. This monastery was named after Mount Sinai, and the town takes its name from the monastery.

The bell tower is one interesting feature – during construction, they ran out of money, so the bell tower is much shorter than the massive base would suggest it should be. This running out of money business is a bit of a theme throughout the whole of human history, isn’t it?

By the time there were 70 monks, the old church and living quarters were full to bursting, and the monastery expanded outside its original walls, building a new (and much bigger) church, and more monastic “cells”. With the flowers and gold-trimmed decorations, they didn’t much seem like “cells”!

The old church seemed tiny by comparison, but it was decorated in a mcuh more cheerful style. Less pomp and more cartoon characters. Tom definitely preferred it, but by this stage of our travels we are both often feeling a bit “churched out” and jaded. Usually at different moments, though, so our gentle readers get photos taken by one or other of us wherever we are allowed to take them.

More photos of the monastery are here:

From the monastery, we walked up a wide, paved pathway (which Google Maps calls a “road”) to Peleș Castle. It was lined with tourist traps … we mean local artisans selling their wares … which may or may not have been hand-made. We did buy some blackberries and raspberries from one vendor, because when you are in the forest, you should eat the forest fruits. And they are so cheap here! Less than AUD$2 per kilo.

It is lovely approaching the castle from below, rather than coming in the vehicle entrance. It is set on sweeping green fields (which one poor chap was whipper-snippering – these folk need to learn about ride-on mowers!) with mountains all around. It is impossible for it to be anything but scenic.

Peleș Castle was built as the summer home of Carol I (Charles I) of Romania (when Romania was much smaller than its present-day boundaries) and his wife, Elisabet. It took decades to build, and was finished in 1914. It is one of the most modern castles, having air conditioning (natural, not electric), an electric elevator and ducted vacuum cleaning.

We had to put on overshoes before going on the tour. Very stylish. You wouldn’t want the carpets getting messed up by the dirty feet of the hoi polloi, after all.

Like many other tourist destinations in Romania, Peleș Castle charges a “photo tax”, which you have to pay in advance if you want to take photos. We find that a bit outrageous, especially since the tax is usually about two thirds of the entry fee.

Unlike other tourist destinations, Peleș Castle has staff stationed in every room to make sure that only people with the “PAID” sticker take photos. We managed to sneak a few, and you can see them in this album:

King Carol only lived in the castle for a few weeks. He died in his quarters on the first floor, it is said of a broken heart because his council ignored his wish to support Germany in World War I and opted instead to remain neutral. Wise in hindsight, but Carol I never got to see it from that angle.

Carol and Elisabet’s only child, a girl, died aged three, so the crown passed to Carol’s brother in 1914.