A Travellerspoint blog

Sighișoara: Germanic influences

Sighișoara


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The first thing I did today was walk back to the train station to buy my ticket to Budapest in advance - 183 lei (£32). Best to sort this out in advance rather than just turning up on the day and a taking a chance on there being a spare seat.

After that I did more exploring, going up the 13th-century Clock Tower first and taking photos from the top.

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It's a working clock tower, with seven intriguing wooden figures representing the seven days of the week - so Sunday holds a sun, Monday is Athena/ Diana with a crescent moon on her head and a bow in her hand, Tuesday is a soldier (representing Mars/ Ares/ Tiw), Thursday is Thor... These figures are on one side of the tower, and there's another set on the other. This set has a drummer (who beats the hours on his bronze drum), the Goddesses of Peace, Justice and Fairness, along with two angels representing Day and Night. All of these wooden figures are set in motion by the clock's mechanism. Apparently at 6am the angel symbolising the Day comes out and at 6pm the angel for the Night does (carrying two 'burning' candles), but I never caught them at the right time to see them.

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The Clock Tower also holds the local history museum - artifacts from the Hatters', Linen Weavers', Tailors', Shoemakers', Tanners', Furriers', Coopers', Turners', Carpenters', Tinsmiths' and Blacksmiths' Guilds. It also had several special patterned wooden gingerbread moulds used by the Bakers' Guild. Aside from guild artifacts, it had a collection of historic clocks, pottery and prehistoric flint artifacts, massive carved wooden (and sometimes painted) chests used for transporting goods in the 17th - 19th centuries, and some other things.

I also went into the Torture Chamber, also held in part of the Clock Tower; this was used to extract confessions from prisoners and contains some of the machines used. The Weapon Museum, a collection of medieval arms and armour, was round the corner, so I saw that as well.

Some general photos of the town;

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Sighisoara is in Transylvania and has had extensive German influence ever since the 12th century, when Saxon craftsmen and merchants were invited to settle in Transylvania and act as a defence force by the King of Hungary. Apparently the Romanian spoken here has been influenced by German, and most signs are at least bilingual - between Romanian and German. German is a commonly spoken second language. The most modern signs have English as well, and sometimes French. German is everywhere! The citadel and most of the other medieval buildings are Saxon, the craftsmens' guilds were made up of Germans, even now there's a Society for Germans in Romania here. The graveyard next to the Church on the Hill (description to come in the next paragraph) is a German one.

After a toilet stop back at the hostel, I headed out again, this time to the top of the hill within the citadel. To get there, I walked up the Schoolboys' Stairs, a covered set of 175 steps (formerly longer) dating from 1642 which leads to the old school and the Church on the Hill at the top.

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The old school was interesting, as you'd expect - one big room, with benches in rows and two science displays along one wall. Apparently the school only closed in 1997, having been in use for nearly 400 years - there was a list of all the school directors on the wall. Old schoolbooks were placed on the desks - they were all in German. I don't know whether German continued to be the language used to teach in even after WWI, when Transylvania officially transferred from Austria - Hungary to Romania.

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The church was interesting too - a contrast to all the Orthodox churches I've seen in Bulgaria and Bucharest. Almost as big as a cathedral, very spacious and relatively plain, though it had several brightly painted wooden altars, and on the walls some fragments of 15th century frescoes. They were very faded, but I made out St George and the Dragon on one fragment. The church also contains a crypt - the only one in Romania apparently. Most of the spaces where coffins were held have been filled up, but two have been left.

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I wandered around the Lutheran cemetery for a while, looking at all the German names and other writing on the tombstones and taking in the lovely views. The gravestones dated from the 19th century to the present one, though I noticed older ones that had clearly been moved. Then I noted sadly someone who had died on Christmas Day, so I didn't look round for much longer after that.

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In the evening I had dinner at the hostel's restaurant - a delicious onion, red pepper and tomato mixture with an egg and some more cornmeal mush and sour cream - and ended up talking for ages with two new people who had moved into my dorm. One was from Brittany and turned out to be a Breton teacher - I had to resist the urge to ask him to speak some. I did however ask him what the words for 'bread', 'police', 'slow' and 'hello'/ 'good day' are in Breton, so I could compare them to Welsh. He'd just been talking about how the older vocabulary and the grammar of Welsh is very similar to Breton. It turns out that the word for bread is 'bara' - the same as in Welsh - but the other words are different. He said that they don't really have any words for 'hello' or 'good day' in Breton - something I was surprised by! He said that Breton speakers hold Welsh as an example of how they would like Breton to be treated; apparently France doesn't recognise it as a minority language. He also said that Cornish is very similar, and if he reads a written text in Cornish he can understand nearly all of it, but he doesn't understand as much when listening to it being spoken, as he has done on the radio in Brittany! It was all so interesting!

The other person who I spoke to was a Canadian girl from the Toronto area who lives in London and is visiting Scotland and Wales in the next couple of weeks - I ended up giving her loads of recommendations, writing them down in her diary after she gave me it and asked me to write everything down in it! She was really nice.

Posted by 3Traveller 07:01 Archived in Romania Tagged cemetery museum hostel romania german sighişoara transylvania clock_tower romanian_cuisine unesco_world_heritage_site Comments (0)

UNESCO World Heritage Site: Historic Centre of Sighișoara

Sighișoara


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I had a very calm and relaxing day today, recovering from the physical strain of yesterday and the day before. I felt quite stiff and without energy, though saying that my lovely late lunch gave me some! Stuffed cabbage rolls with more of the cornmeal mush with sour cream. The cabbage was stuffed with rice and minced pork and was seasoned very nicely.

Before lunch I had a nice gentle stroll round town. The majority of the old town is inside the ramparts of the medieval citadel - very picturesque. The houses here are all painted in different colours, and one or two of them have a curious feature - they are wider at the bottom than at the top, and the walls curve in diagonally.

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Round the ramparts are nine watchtowers, all built at least five centuries ago (originally there were more; only these survive), each named after the guild that was in charge of its upkeep. So I've seen the Tailors' Tower, the Shoemakers' Tower, the Furrier's Tower and the Blacksmiths' Tower so far.

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The Blacksmiths' Tower had a small contemporary art exhibition in it - my favourite was the wooden chair made from separate pieces like a jigsaw. The other towers I've seen are used for different purposes, not available to visitors (though one of them had a wooden staircase round half of the exterior, which I climbed).

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Next to the last one was a tiny park with a statue of a guy with the biggest quiff of hair I've ever seen - Petofi Sándor, Hungary's national poet and a key figure in the Hungarian Revolution of 1848.

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I also passed the house where Vlad the Impaler was born - now housing a restaurant and handicraft shop. I bought two little Christmas tree decorations; small squares of coloured glass, one green and one red, framed with metal twisted into a bow at the top, so they look like presents. Not sure if they are intended to be Christmas tree decorations, but that's how I plan to use them. I can hang them with one of the metal loops. I also bought a small interestingly-shaped metal bell and a tiny picture of part of a citadel tower, framed with white card.

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At one point on my walk round town I heard the sound of brass instruments playing, but I couldn't see where it was coming from. After looking around, I noticed a barred window set right next to the pavement... through it I could see a brass band practising in a room below street level.

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For the rest of the afternoon I sat in the restaurant attached to my hostel, following the Ashes cricket online. For dinner I returned to the Vlad the Impaler house. I've forgotten what I had for the main - something quite small I think - but for pudding I had something described as 'curd cake with jam and cream'. This turned out to be very similar to a fried doughnut ball covered in jam, with a flattened top which contained a smaller ball of fried batter sprinkled with icing sugar. Delicious, but very filling!

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Posted by 3Traveller 14:12 Archived in Romania Tagged art hostel romania sighişoara transylvania fortifications romanian_cuisine unesco_world_heritage_site Comments (0)

Arrival in Transylvania

Sighișoara


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I'm typing this in the restaurant attached to my hostel, as there's no wifi connection in my dorm. I've just had dinner at another restaurant - I had a traditional Romanian dish of cornmeal mush with cheese and sour cream (much tastier than it sounds).

If my return to the hostel last night in Bucharest was the most physically exhausted I've been since my trek up part of Cotopaxi Volcano in Ecuador, my walk from the train station to the hostel here in Sighișoara was only just behind...

The broken handle on my case hasn't made transportation up and down steps easy, and how I was reminded of that today! The steps up into trains have all been very steep and narrow, and there have been no lifts at any train station so far so to get to different platforms I've had to lug a near-32 kg case with a broken main handle up and down long flights of steps with one hand and a heavy carrier bag in the other.

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On arrival at Sighișoara I didn't take a taxi as I didn't think the walk to the hostel would be very long (I had no map, but I could see the citadel, which the hostel's directions told me to follow), but it actually took about an hour and a half due to me not really knowing the way for the first part of it and then having to stop all the time to rest my case-pulling arm - which was soon majorly feeling the strain. The centre of Sighișoara is exceedingly picturesque, and lies on top of a hill - the latter being something I would have appreciated more at any other time! By the time I found Burg Hostel I was literally dripping in my own sweat and was so knackered my hand shook as I filled in my details on the form they gave me.

After a very long, purposely cold shower, and a complete change of clothes, I felt much better. It's a 4-bed dorm, and to my delight I saw that the bottom bed of each bunk was much wider than the top. I bagged one ASAP, as there was only one other person in the room; another brand-new arrival - a lovely Swiss girl.

As I said, the centre of Sighișoara is incredibly lovely, and is compact which is good. I'm here for two full days, so to recover from the past two days I'm going to make tomorrow a rest-and-strolling day. I'll just wander round and visit a few of the sights at a very gentle pace.

Posted by 3Traveller 22:03 Archived in Romania Tagged trains hostel romania sighişoara transylvania romanian_cuisine Comments (0)

Bucharest

Bucharest


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Bucharest was incredibly hot and humid, almost at Guayaquil levels, but very interesting.

First of all I had fun exploring the old town, passing through University Square on the way.

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There was no free breakfast at the hostel, so I visited a bakery instead and ate the result (a small savoury pastry sprinkled with poppy seeds and filled with bacon and melted cheese) next to a small statue of Romulus and Remus being fed by the wolf.

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Then I came across the Old Princely Court, some remains of a palace used and extended by Vlad the Impaler, who as it happens was born in Sighisoara, my next destination after Bucharest.

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First of all I went underground into the brick cellars - it was interesting, with the bonus of being deliciously cool - and then I looked round the rest.

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This included the accompanying church - originally built in 1559, but much-restored since then. The Romanian Orthodox Church seems to differ from the Bulgarian in that the candle-stands are actually boxes and are outside in a separate area. I bought and lit a candle for Dad, and after I'd done so a woman came up to me, pressed two small packets of biscuits and two boiled sweets into my hands, said something in Romanian and walked away! She did the same with another woman, who hadn't lit any candles yet.

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The old town also contained the old and beautiful Stavropoleos Church. It was covered in frescoes on the inside and I had fun finding out the names of the saints in them via transliteration. It seems that Romanian used to use the Cyrillic alphabet.

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I also loved its pretty, peaceful little courtyard, where I stopped to sit down and have a cold drink.

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The old town was definitely well worth looking round.

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Last of all I visited the National History Museum, which was great. Special mention to the anthropomorphic pottery, the stuffed wild boar, the exquisite metalwork from 5th - 3rd century BC (helmets, cow head-shaped drinking horn, diadem of gold leaves and fish-shaped silver harness appliques) and the 14th - 16th century weapons.

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After a rest back at the hostel, during which I had two more savoury pastries for a late lunch, followed the Ashes cricket live updates for a while and caught Kate online for a bit, I headed back out. My destination was the cemetery where Nicolae and Elena Ceaușescu are buried, but on the way I stopped for a bit outside the infamous Palace of the Parliament. It was built on the orders of Ceaușescu and is the second largest building in the world (the Pentagon is the largest). A large part of the original city centre was wiped out to accommodate it.

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I found the cemetery OK, but it took much longer than I expected to walk there, so by the time I arrived at was nearly 19.30; it was supposed to close at 20.00. After spending about twenty minutes unsuccessfully looking for their graves, I had to give up and walk all the way back again. Although I knew which row and number their graves were, the numbers of the rows didn't seem to follow any particular order, and lots of the rows didn't have any number at all. It was quite maze-like and to be honest looking for the right graves was a bit like looking for a needle in a haystack! I'm still glad I went though, because it was interesting to see what a Romanian cemetery is like. Nearly all of the gravestones were shaped like crosses and were made of very white stone; there were some small mausoleums as well. I noticed lots of inlaid circular photos or pictures of the dead, like on the stones in the courtyards of the monasteries I've seen in Bulgaria. Outside the cemetery entrance there were lots of flower and coffin sellers with their wares on display at the side of the pavement.

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Instead of going straight back to the hostel, I made a diversion to an area of town I hadn't been to before, in order to have dinner at a restaurant I'd been recommended. I regretted it before I even got there, because I was so knackered (it was quite a long diversion) and as soon as I got there and saw a different restaurant there, I regretted it even more. It looked a bit posh and I was in not the cleanest of clothes and was literally dripping with sweat. Normally I would have just gone in anyway, but I was practically on my last legs by now and decided on the spur of the moment just to go in the nearest supermarket instead. I bought a pasta salad and a custard-like chocolate pudding, plus drinks, and tottered home. I knew that if I sat down for dinner at the restaurant, I wouldn't be able to get up again!

Posted by 3Traveller 08:57 Archived in Romania Tagged art palace cemetery museum hostel romania dad bucharest orthodox_church romanian_cuisine extreme_weather Comments (0)

Arrival in Romania

Train journey and Bucharest


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I'm sitting up in bed in my 4-bed dorm as I type this, fresh from an extremely welcome shower and feeling absolutely knackered. There's only one other person in the dorm and they're not actually here at the moment, so it's just me. I'm too tired to go back outside now, so I'm going to get an early night and (hopefully) plenty of sleep before a busy day tomorrow looking round Bucharest.

Even after the train started moving, it remained very hot and sticky in the cabin, so in order to cool down I had to move into the corridor and stand directly next to the window. After a couple of hours I had used up most of my water and was craving a cold drink. As luck would have it, soon after that we stopped at a tiny place where there was no platform. We stopped for a while and I noticed a pump at the side of the track next to a road. Water was streaming out of it. One or two other people had clearly noticed it too, because they asked the guard if they could run over to it and fill up their water bottles... we ran over the track as quickly as possible. The water looked crystal clear so I took the chance on it being OK to drink.

There was no more drama on the rest of the journey. As well as reading my book, I looked out of the window a lot. I loved all the fields of sunflowers, both in Bulgaria and Romania.

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At Ruse, the last Bulgarian town before the Danube border crossing, border police came on board and checked passports; then in Giurgiu (the first Romanian town on the other side of the river) Romanian border police did the same. They stamped some people's passports, but not mine. There were no baggage checks.

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On arrival at Gara de Nord (the north, main train station) in Bucharest I couldn't find my way to the hostel, so I tried to get a taxi - but the driver tried to not use the meter, offering to take me to the hostel for 20 lei instead. I knew for a fact that this was wildly overpriced, so I refused to get in. I gave the hostel a ring instead and they offered to pick me up, so I accepted. Turns out a taxi should only have been about 5 lei, and it's illegal in Romania for taxis not to use the meter, so I was glad I hadn't been taken in.

I haven't seen much of the city so far of course but two things I've noticed so far that are different, apart from the language and currency of course, are firstly the sight of traffic police actually directing traffic, and secondly people walking past cars at traffic lights trying to sell trinkets.

Off to sleep now - lots of sightseeing to do tomorrow!

Posted by 3Traveller 00:15 Archived in Romania Tagged trains hostel romania bulgaria bucharest Comments (0)

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