I haven’t disclosed this tidbit of information about myself yet, but I absolutely love wolves! And my traveling companion at the time absolutely loved bears, so when we caught wind of a wolf and bear tracker that lived up in the Carpathian Mountains of Romania, we obviously had to contact him. We were in Vienna, Austria at the time and I ended up purchasing a ridiculous wolf t-shirt at the Naschmarkt just for this specific adventure. It’s what initially brought me to the region of Translyvania – the land of Dracula.
We only had a few days to spare so the first stop was Brasov, a city ringed by the Carpathian Mountain Range and still encompassed by it’s well preserved medieval walls and watch towers. Among the sights to see are The Black Church, St. Nicholas Church and Square, Rope Street (the narrowest street in Romania and one of the narrowest in all of Europe), Tampa Mountain and it’s Hollywood-like sign, and Catherine’s Gate (the only original city gate to have survived from medieval times).
My personal favorite is probably the Black Church, a gothic style cathedral built back in the 1400’s. It inherited it’s name after the great fire of 1689, which blackened it’s walls with both smoke and flame. It’s bell tower is home to the largest bell in Romania, weighing in at 6 tons. It’s impressive 4,000 pipe organ was built in 1839, and it’s rich collection of over 100 Transylvanian rugs were donated between the 15th and 17th century. Some say you shouldn’t have to pay to enter a place of worship and steer clear of visiting, but speaking from experience I’ll say that it is absolutely worth the 9 Lei (equivalent to about $2.30 USD). The Black Church is nothing short of stunning. From June to September the church holds organ concerts every Tuesday at 6:00pm (with additional concerts on Thursday and Saturday during July and August). Tickets are available starting at 5:30pm.
*Please note that pictures aren’t permitted inside the church.
While in Brasov, why not take the cable car up to the top of Tampa Mountain. The views are fantastic, and the cable car only costs about 10 lei per adult one way, and 16 lei for round trip (less than $2.50 USD one way and about $4.00 USD for round trip). Children are a bit cheaper but not by much. You can also hike up and back down the mountain if you so choose, although I wouldn’t recommend it (and I love hiking!). There is no clear path, and it saddens me to say that it’s littered with trash and other debris. So if you decide to hike, be sure to have some durable shoes. Once you get to the top, take a right to head out to the view point and “Brasov” Hollywood-like sign. If you’re heading here for some sunset photos and wish to take the cable car, take note of what time the last cable car is in operation or you’ll be in for a long hike down!
*Current cable car hours are 9.30am-5pm Tuesday-Sunday and Noon-6pm on Monday
A breezy six minute walk from the Black Church you’ll find Strade Sforii, or Rope Street. This is a pretty cool little attraction to throw into the mix of sights you’ll see in Brasov. Only beat by Spreuerhofstraße, in Germany, and Parliament Street, in England, which are narrower, Rope Street is the third narrowest street in Europe. Who knew being “the third” of anything would get you recognition!? But this is one of Brasov’s top attractions. Easy to check off the list, you may as well take a stroll down this 111cm wide “street” if only for a picture.
Roughly 30km from Brasov you’ll find Bran Castle, one of the most beautiful medieval castles in Romania. Bran Castle is widely known – inaccurately – as the home of Vlad The Impaler and is why it’s such a touristy destination. Although it is probably true that Dracula did visit Bran Castle on occasion, he most certainly did not live here. Even though this castle is quite elegant, situated high above the Bran Gorge at the entrance to a mountain pass through which traders had traveled for more than a millennium, outside of Romania it’s percieved as a dark and dreary place, strongly connected to the story of Dracula and largely portrayed in the manner shown below.
Want to visit Dracula’s real fortress? It’s a bit less impressive due to the fact that it lies in ruins. Nearly three hours away from Bran Castle, you’ll need to climb 1,480 concrete steps up to Poenari Castle – not for the faint of heart! Legend has it that Vlad The Impaler imprisoned the surrounding villagers and forced them to build his fortress without any food, water, or rest until it was completed and every single one of the laborers had been literally worked to death. The size and location of the castle made it difficult to conquer, even so after Vlad’s death the castle was eventually abandoned. In 1888, a landslide caused by an earthquake brought down parts of the castle which crashed into the river far below. Although it was partially repaired, only a few of the walls and its towers still stand today. Here are a few pictures taken at Poenari Castle!
After learning quite a bit about Dracula, my most vivid memory being how he enjoyed to listen to the wailing’s of those impaled outside in his courtyard while eating breakfast, it was time to lighten up the mood!
Another three hours south led us to the village of Zarnesti, home of our wolf and bear tracker. A few others from our hostel accompanied us on our wolf and bear tracking adventure, and for hours we hiked high up into the Carpathian Mountains, thick with pine trees and snow capped peaks. We saw paw prints and bear hair stuck in the sap on tree trunks. Our tracking expert pointed out trees that the bears had been using as scratching posts. We even heard some animal rumblings and growls in the forest. We stopped mid-day for lunch in a mountain-top clearing. But after about six hours feeling a bit like Bear Grills and without seeing more than some bear fuzz on tree sap, we began our decent, more than a bit disappointed.
We headed back to Brasov that evening, having worked up quite the appetite. We polished off dinner with a round of Tuica, Romania’s most popular drink made of plums, apples, and peaches. Although it sounds like it would taste fruity, it’s a bit harsh. There are several restaurants that offer a shot of Tuica complimentary with any meal. A free cultural experience? Yes please!
Sometimes our adventures don’t end the way we wish, and this one in particular began a little more exciting than it ended. And although we tend to only share our traveling highlights, our best moments and memories, sometimes things just simply don’t work out (check out my day trip to Werfen and how that panned out!). After some dark Vlad the Impaler history lessons, and a bear and wolf experience that came up empty handed, we headed back to the hostel for a fun filled evening. Just before playing a round of Kings Cup, and still sporting my ridiculous wolf shirt I had been so amped up to wear, my friend took this photo. Captioned, “The only bear and wolf I saw today.”
Till next time, Romania!
Been here? Headed here? I’d love to hear from you! Share your thoughts and experiences with me in the comment section below!