Monday, August 3, 2009

Day 8 - Transylvania

This morning, we had breakfast at the resort, then headed back to Brasov to visit the Black Church*. Its construction began in the late 14th century, and it was completed during the late 15th century. The church was partially destroyed during a fire set by invading Habsburg forces in 1689, during the Great Turkish War, after which it became known as the Black Church. It houses a six-ton bell (the biggest in Romania), a 4,000 pipe organ built in 1839, and a collection of Oriental carpets. These carpets were donated during the Middle Ages by Transylvanian Saxon merchants, who offered their most valuable carpet as a gift in thanks for a safe return home.
We also did a little bit of shopping at the booths around the square, and I exchanged the rest of my money (which should last me the rest of my time here).

Lunch was at a restaurant whose name I don’t know, but the sun shined through the ceiling.

Next we drove back to Bran and visited Bran Castle*. THIS IS NOT DRACULA’S CASTLE. There are persistent myths that Bran Castle was the home of Vlad the Impaler, who (supposedly) inspired the vampire legend. These myths are not true. It was not his home, and while it’s possible that he may have been imprisoned there a night or two, those claims have not been proven, either. The castle was first used in the late 14th century, as a defense against the Ottoman Empire, and later it became a customs post on the mountain pass between Transylvania and Wallachia.

From 1920, the castle became a royal residence in Romania. It was the principal home of Queen Marie and was inherited by her daughter, Princess Ileana. After the expulsion of the royal family in 1948, the castle was seized by the communist regime. In 2006, the Romanian government awarded ownership to Dominic von Habsburg, the son and heir of Princess Ileana, and the next year, he put it up for sale for $78 million, with the condition that he would only sell it to a buyer “who will treat the property and its history with appropriate respect.”

In January of this year, it was revealed that the family decided not to sell the castle. Instead, they turned it into a museum dedicated to the legend and history of Dracula. (I definitely think that’s treating the property and its HISTORY with appropriate respect.)

After we returned from Bran Castle, one of the free activities the resort offered was a zipline (aka a flying fox, zip wire, aerial runway, aerial ropeslide, or death slide). I was so psyched to go on it, even though we all expected it to be really small and not-so-exciting. And it was. But it was still an experience. I wasn’t told how to “properly” do it (knees up, lean back), so I didn’t go fast enough, and I got stuck about 25 feet from the end. I had to pull myself to the end, and then the guy had to help, too. Ugh. Embarrassing.

A couple more people wanted to go on the zipline, but it started raining a bit, so the staff announced that there would be a “break” until the rain let up. Some of the group stuck around, to try to wait out the rain, but Trent and I decided to run up to the villa. It was absolutely pouring by the time we got up there; my clothes were soaked, and I was freezing. So I took a shower before dinner and changed into the only clean and dry outfit I had—-a dress. Then I realized that Amy had locked me in the room because she didn’t know that if she locked it from the outside, I couldn’t open it from the inside.

Dinner was, again, at the hotel restaurant, and I got chicken soup with noodles (it was supposed to be with dumplings, but the noodles were good, too). The “activity” that night was a traditional dance performance, and while watching it, I noticed that Romanian dance seems to be very male-focused, as the men were the main dancers. I found that to be kind of odd, because in other cultures, it seems more balanced. Here, the women were just the accessory, I guess.

*Unfortunately, we were not permitted to take pictures inside the Black Church (at all) or Bran Castle (unless we paid a tax for it, which I did not).

Black Church
Black Church
Brasov, Hollywood-style
Zipline, on my way down
Pulling myself to the end. My hands got so dirty. :-(

Some pics of the hotel room at Vila Bran:

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