Friday, September 29, 2006

From Bad To Not So

I was musing so hard that I almost missed the bus stop for the Old Town.

The Book had touted Brasov as The New Prague. At best this was an old, totally down at the heels, mini-mini Prague. Besides a big old Teutonic gothic church, a big old town center, and an 'arbat' stroll with mostly dreadful stores and two bit cafes, that was about it. Actually, just about any semi-preserved town in Germany looks a lot more impressive. And as for setting, it could have been anywhere in West Virginia.

Okay, I'll make the best of it. The Book also said that a ten minute walk up the hill would bring me to a delightful little penzione. I started up the steep cobblestone alleyway.

About fifteen minutes into it, I looked on the map and determined that I wasn't yet halfway. However, there was another penzione right there, so I checked it out. $30 for a kind of tacky room, but, hey, it was kind of a nice view and I was already there, so I checked in.

Now, though, I had to head out to Romania's biggest tourist attraction, the castle at Bran. Cab to the bus station, then get on the bus for an hour's ride out there.

For some reason I was expecting a scenic, winding mountain road. Uh uh. Flat farm and industrial wasteland. When we finally got to the town below the castle, I looked up and realized that Disneyland had better castles than this. Definitely everywhere in Western Europe did.

Nonetheless I paid my $5 and walked on up. It turned out to be a rather spartan summer retreat for Queen Marie in the 1920s. Looking out from the 'ramparts' the hills were kind of okay, but nothing special. Romantic Transylvania? I couldn't even imagine Count Chocula living here.

Dejected, I took the bus back to town, wandered around the arbat for awhile, climbed the hill again, and, exhausted, fell asleep.

Thirteen hours later I was contentedly lying in bed, thinking that maybe on my next trip that's what I would spend all my time doing. Now the previous afternoon a nice lady at a travel agency had printed out the timetable for the trains to Sigisoara, my next destination, and I had briefly noted that they went out about every hour. So at 9:38 I lazily pulled the paper out to look at it.

Yes, they did go about every hour up until 10:01. Then the next one was at 2:40, getting me there as the sun was going down. As Steve Irwin used to say, Crikey!

At 10:43 I decided to try for it anyway. I packed up, left the penzione, and carefully went quickly downhill on cobblestones. About a third of the way down, looking very incongruous in the alley, was a taxi! I climbed in, told him to step on it, and at 10:50 off we went.

He tried gallantly, but many traffic lights later, at 11:00, we were at the last major one, and the sign said it would turn green in 70 seconds. I paid him, got out, and then, through heavy traffic, made a mad 250 yard dash over to the station. When I got there, the 10:01 had already been taken off the board, but undaunted I ran through the underground passageway. Off at the end I saw some people emerging, so I ran up those stairs and saw a train. I asked 'Sigisoara'?, they said yes, I got on, and 20 seconds later the train took off.

Huffing and puffing in my seat, I realized that maybe I really am getting too old for this.

Anyhow, rural scenery unfolded, and after a good night's sleep, my opinion of Romania had softened. So had the landscape, showing gently rolling green farmy hills and an infrastructure that wasn't as dreadful as I had concluded yesterday. Contrary to my expectations, there were no soaring mountains here, and virtually every country in Western Europe has more impressive ones, but once you accepted that, it was actually quite rural and pleasant.

It was also true that save for the bus incident (thieving gypsies!) the Romanians were pretty friendly and helpful. And with the Romanian language being a Romance one it was pretty easy to figure things out.

We got to Sigisoara and I could immediately see that the tourist literature was finally proving true. A relatively small place, it was quiet and tranquill, and the Old Town on a small hill in its center was suitably old, cobblestoned and pretty. Not much was going on around here, especially because it wasn't the tourist season, and that suited me just fine.

So I spent the day just sitting around, walking around, making a short hike across the town and up the opposite hill, and back to just sitting around again.


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