I'll fill you in on the happenings in the Romanian towns of Sinaia, Brasov, and Timisoara.
The "y" and "z" are in opposite places on the Hungarian kezboard so zou must forgive mz tzpos...
Sinaia was our first stop after Bucharest in Romania. It's a popular ski village destination so it had several larger hotels that were largely vacant since it's the offseason. While it was highly recommended by our guidebook, I suspect that it's highly recommended during ski season only. During the summer, it's a shade on the sleepy side. Or maybe I was a shade on the sleepy side. Or perhaps both.
My personal highlight in Sinaia was our movie outing to the local cinema. Our last movie night had been in Cairo where we saw "Troz" which those of you on an English keyboard call "Troy". Since we seldom have a TV in our hotel room, and if we do, the only thing in English is Euro MTV, movies are quite the treat for us to feel at home. In Sinaia, the theater was showing "Lord of the Rings: Return of the King" which neither Dana or I had seen previously. So we were in luck. "Return of the Kings" as it was meant to be seen! On the silver screen, popcorn in hand. We quickly determined that it was a "BYOP" theater so I bought the popcorn from a street vendor before going in.
Upon entering the theater, we couldn't find the ticket saleswoman as she was on a smoke break 10 minutes before the start of the show. The theater was a large space with a cavernous lobby in an old forgotten strip mall. The lobby was dark and damp and perhaps lit by a single 100W bulb hidden somewhere under a blanket. The bathrooms were frightening enough that I've permanently blocked them out from my memory. In fact, I would be thrilled if never recall a single bathroom from our travels.
We entered the theater moments before the film started. It was completely dark without a single light to find your seat by. Just absolute blackness. So we stumbled in and sat down in a seat which I later convinced myself was moist. The space had a grandmother's basement smell to it. Old, musty, damp and freezing cold. The kind of space you never want to see in broad daylight. Who knows what forgotten treats lurked below the once regal velvet theater seats. Perhaps severely genetically mutated Twizzlers and Raisinets.
Once the other 6 patrons were settled in too, the film started. They cut straight to the Hobbit shire. No trailers. No opening credits. Just "Lord of the Rings" and narrative. The left edge of the sheet being used as the screen had several wavy wrinkles in it which I stopped noticing once the "sloverture" kicked in. (sloverture - n. a musical overture that warbles due to the film moving through the projector at a varied pace). After monster after monster appeared on screen, I became increasingly convinced I could feel monster breath on the back of my neck. Or that a monster would steal our camera tucked between my feet.
We were soon entranced in the story though Gollum's speech was indecipherable. Other than a few reel changes where we saw the "End Reel" written across the screen, all went smoothly til the final reel when the frame break line jumped to sit midway down the screen such that the Romanian subtitles started on the bottom of the screen and ended at the top. Lucky for us we weren't reading the subtitles.
The film ended without event and I felt like I got my money's worth for the $1.25 entrance fee. This was probably a better moviegoing value than had we gone to the movies at the mall outside Brasov, Romania where they were showing "Troz", Adam Sandler's "50 First Dates", and Eddie Murphy's crowning achievement "Haunted Mansion".
Besides watching jaw dropping special effects and reel changes in Sinaia, we also took an excellent mountainous day hike and toured an impressive, relatively new royal palace. For the day hike, we rode a cable car to the moutaintop, and then hiked down the mountain back to Sinaia. The whole adventure took us ~6 hours. We met a Canadian woman, Rachel, at the start of the adventure and enjoyed her company for the hike. Having just graduated from college, Rachel was traveling through Eastern Europe on her own for a few months before heading home to Toronto to find a job or cook up more travel plans. Rachel treated us to several funny anecdotes about her travels in Bulgaria and also took a few fine jumping pics of us. (See our jumping contest entry!) Most notable along the hike was our passing what appeared to be, or recently was, the Romanian OIympic ski team training center. It was simple but it was at the top of a mountain where they must get a ton of snow so it does the trick I bet.
Peles Castle outside Sinaia was built by the Romanian king in the late 1800s and finished at the turn of the century and was pretty interesting since it seemed hundreds of years old but then had modern conveniences like central heating and electric built in from the start. It was a proud representation of the central guiding principle of interior design that "any room becomes more beautiful once gilded and filled with massive oil portaits of sour-faced people". I'll be convincing Dana to try this in our living room upon our return.
In Brasov, we stayed in a "rent a room" arrangement run by a woman named Maria. Maria's business is meeting all the incoming trains at the train station and stalking all of the arriving foreign backpackers to convince them to stay in one of her many apartments scattered around town. It's a good deal for decent accomodation but Maria was a bit too helpful. She was the English speaking information guide we'd been longing for but she talked as though she'd just left a Starbucks "all-you-can-drink espresso happy hour". Within an hour, Maria had planned our time in Brasov for us and had graciously sold us a day trip to Dracula's castle in Bran as well as the neighboring hilltop fortress in Rasnov. Brasov, Bran and Rasnov are all located in Transylvania. Yes, the Transylvania. Much to my disappointment, Maria did not greet us at the train by saying, "I want to suck your blood." In fact no one said that the whole time we were there. How strange. Or perhaps they said it in Romanian and I just missed it.
Dracula's castle was interesting because it was built in 1378 and is a real, old castle with a secret stairway. Because it is so old and original, it wasn't nearly as impressive inside as the Peles Castle built this century. Dracula liked his castles white and spooky without flourish. More like the Sinaia movie theater.
Brasov today still has an attractive central town plaza surrounded by shops and restaurants. We rode the funicular, a rail trolley running up the mountain, to go up and see the view of the town and surrounding countryside. This region has quite a few rolling hills and is green and lush with a great deal of farming spread throughout.
Other Brasov highlights: A buzz cut from the local beautician (I just used my fingers to show her how long I wanted it. And she cut it an inch shorter than that.); a solid attempt at a burrito and nachos at the Bella Musica restaurant; excellent grilled pork n ribs at an outside patio restaurant.
After Saliste (which Dana wrote about), we headed to Timisoara for a night en route to Budapest, Hungary. We were only there for less than a full day but really enjoyed its picturesque main square surrounded by wonderful buildings including the opera house and a Romanian Orthodox church. A second piazza was equally scenic surrounded by several coffee shop cafes. Inevitably, whenever we were in search of a lunch restaurant, we would find 5 "cup o joe and a smoke" cafes first. Romanians also appear to enjoy McDonalds quite a bit given its central location in several towns.