Happy 66th wedding anniversary Mom & Dad!! We hope you had a nice meal and a chance to celebrate.
We had a bit of an early start today as the pick up for our tour to Transylvania's castles was at 7:40am. Since breakfast didn't start until 8, we'd asked if we could have a to-go one and they were able to do that for us; very nice.
The pick up bus was right on time and took us to a central meeting point where we joined 28 other people on a bigger bus. We weren't the only Americans (2 or 3 others); there were people from UK, France, Germany, Singapore, Japan and Italy. It was an english speaking tour tho. Our guide for the day, Roxana, told us upfront that it would be a long day--from 8am to 10 or 11pm depending on traffic on the way back.
It would be about 2 hours until we reached our first stop: Peles Castle. Along the way, Roxana gave us a short version of Romania's history. Basically, it was under the Ottoman Empire until about 1866 when, after various revolutions, the politicians of Romania invited Prince Karl of Germany to become their king. They wanted the allegiances that came with having a king to help Romania move forward and become free of the Ottoman Empire. In 1877, King Carol (he'd taken the Romanian spelling of his name when he became king), declared Romania an independent country. He ruled until 1914, when Romania had to decide whether to enter WWI or not; King Carol, because of his German background, did not want to fight against Germany and he died before the decision was made (officially of a heart attack but most historians think he committed suicide so he wouldn't have to make the decision). After that, he was succeeded by his nephew, King Ferdinand as King Carol and Queen Elisabeth had only 1 daughter who died at age 3. This family ruled Romania until 1939 the king was compelled to abdicate and appointed general Ion Antonescu as the new Prime Minister with full powers in ruling the state by royal decree. The Antonescu fascist regime played a major role in The Holocaust in Romania and copied the Nazi policies of oppression and genocide of Jews and Roma, mainly in the Eastern territories reoccupied by the Romanians from the Soviet Union.
In August 1944, a coup d'état led by King Michael toppled Ion Antonescu and his regime. Antonescu was convicted of war crimes and executed on 1 June 1946.
During the Soviet occupation of Romania, the Communist-dominated government called for new elections in 1946, which were fraudulently won, with a fabricated 70% majority of the vote. In 1947, King Michael was forced to abdicate by Petra Groza's pro-Soviet government.
In 1965, Nicolae Ceaușescu came to power and started to conduct the foreign policy more independently from the Soviet Union. Ceaușescu greatly extended the authority of the Securitate secret police and imposed a severe cult of personality, which led to a dramatic decrease in the dictator's popularity and culminated in his overthrow and eventual execution, together with his wife, in the violent Romanian Revolution of December 1989.
Today, Romania has democratic elections and is run by a President who appoints a Prime Minister. But the government is pretty corrupt and there have been large anti-government protests as recently as August 10th, 2018.
So...more Romanian history than you probably wanted but I thought it was interesting.
This first castle stop, Peles (pay less) was commissioned by King Carol as the summer castle in 1873 and completed in 1883. Peles Castle is a masterpiece of German new-Renaissance architecture, considered by many one of the most stunning castles in Europe. Its 160 rooms are adorned with the finest examples of European art, Murano crystal chandeliers, German stained-glass windows and Cordoba leather-covered walls.
It was the first castle with electric lights, Sentra heating , central vacuuming and electric elevator.
We spent almost three hours there--including a 1 hr 40 minute tour of the first 2 levels of the castle.
After that, we were back on the bus for another hour and half until we got to Brasov, where we had about 2 hours free for lunch and looking around town.
Brașov is located in the central part of the country, about 103 miles north of Bucharest. It is surrounded by the Southern Carpathians and is part of the Transylvania region.
The city is notable for being an important centre of Transylvanian Saxons in the past, and a large commercial hub on the trade roads between East and West. It is also the birthplace of the national anthem of Romania. The major attraction in town is the Black Church. Not sure when it was started to be built (they think around 1383), but it was built as a catholic cathedral and completed around 1476. The catholic services were replaced with Lutheran ones after the Protestant reformation. . The structure was partially destroyed during a great fire set by invading Habsburg forces on the April 21, 1689 (during the Great Turkish War).Afterwards, it became known as the Black Church.
For lunch, Jef and I ate at a small traditional Romanian restaurant. He had sausage, polenta and Romanian bacon; I had chicken schnitzel. I liked mine, but Jef thought the bacon and the sausage were way to fatty.
After lunch, it was on to the big deal of the day: Bran castle. It was almost another 2 hours to arrive there.
The fortress is situated on the border between Transylvania and Wallachia. Commonly known as "Dracula's Castle" (although it is one among several locations linked to the Dracula legend, including Poenari Castle and Hunyadi Castle), it is often erroneously referred to as the home of the title character in Bram Stoker's Dracula. There is, however, no evidence that Stoker knew anything about this castle, which has only tangential associations with Vlad the Impaler, voivode of Wallachia, the putative inspiration for Dracula. Of course, they play up the Dracula angle for the tourists in the town but the castle itself doesn't really have a lot about it. They do have a few displays on Vlad, the Impaler who truly sounds like a horrible character. Mostly the castle tour is the winding staircases and small rooms that the royalty lived in, basically a museum dedicated to displaying art and furniture collected by Queen Marie.
We spent about 2 hours there. Roxana told us the return trip to Bucharest would probably take 3-4 hours due to the Sunday traffic of the Bucharest residents returning home from the weekend...and it did take that long. We were dropped off at the hotel around 11pm!
It HAD been a long day but very interesting to learn all the history and see "Dracula's" castle!