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Sighișoara and train journey to the Romanian/ Hungarian border

My train to Budapest wasn't until 17.00, so I had a lot of time to kill in Sighișoara before then. I got up late, checked out at the latest possible time and put my big case, carrier bag and rucksack into their luggage room. Then I went for a walk down the hill into the new town. I found a small supermarket and bought snacks and drinks for later. I was overjoyed to discover a bag of caramel flavoured boiled sweets with what looked like delicious melt-in-the-mouth chewy toffee-like centre.

After a sit-down in a small park and some photos of the beautiful view of the top of the clock tower, I returned to the hostel and had a lovely leisurely lunch. I stayed in the restaurant after that, writing a long email about the day before and doing other stuff on the internet until it was time to get a taxi to the station.

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The train was a little bit shabby, but no worse than some I've seen in the UK. It was nearly empty. The train layouts have been very confusing to be honest, on every train trip so far - I don't think I've ended up in the right seat on any I've taken - and this was no different. Both carriage and seat numbers aren't always logically ordered. For example, on this occasion there were four long carriages on the train; I was supposed to be on carriage 409, seat 66, but both middle carriages were numbered 409 and claimed to have seats 22 - 80 or something similar.

I got on the nearest 409 carriage; there was a woman in seat 66 when I got there, so I showed her my ticket. She said 'Sprechen Sie Deutsch?' and I stood for a few seconds trying to remember what 'a little' is in German; Bulgarian and Spanish seemed to have pushed it out of my brain, however, so I ended up just saying it in English. She said 'English?' and I nodded, and she let out a short flood of German, which I managed to get the gist of (I'm quite proud of that actually, considering the many years it's been since I've had proper contact with the language). She was saying that she and her daughter had tickets for 65 and 66, but there was space opposite for me. She then showed me her ticket - it did say 66. I looked around and saw how empty the train was, so I just took a different seat across the aisle and at the front of the carriage.There were loads of free seats, plus I figured that if the ticket inspector had a problem with it, he or she would sort everything out.

When he came round, it turned out I was in the wrong carriage - he pointed at a sign which had 408 written on it. It said 409 on the outside and 408 on the inside! I should have been in the next carriage along. The carriage was so empty, though, he said it was fine for me to stay where I was.

Until the sun went down, the Transylvanian countryside transfixed me for quite some time; field after field of a particular type of crop I didn't recognise, hills, rivers, level crossings. Villages of shacks, colourful houses with terracotta-tiled roofs and the occasional wandering horse and cow. Every village seemed to have a church, often white, with a distinctively shaped tiled tower and spire. Sometimes the railway track ran so closely to the side of the road, pedestrians could have reached out and touched the train. As sunset drew closer I noticed an increase in flocks of birds, especially crows. One field we passed had a carpet of crows busy pecking at whatever crop it held; I'd never seen a field with so many birds on it before.

Posted by 3Traveller 00:15 Archived in Romania Tagged trains romania german sighişoara transylvania Comments (0)

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)

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