Call of Romania (5): Braşov, the Romanian Krakow

August 2008

Constrasting with the crowded capital, always in a hurry and pointedly materialistic, a oasis of beauty and color, with historic and spiritual focus, but without losing the atmosphere and energy of an “important city” – that is Krakow for Poland, and that is Braşov for România.

I’m pleasantly impressed by Braşov (read: Brashov, accent on “o”). I knew it’s nice in the townhall swuare, Piaţa Sfatului. But this time, thanks to my friend N. (a.k.a. Q-S) I had the pleasure of an insider tour exactly matching my taste (we are not friends by mistake :): fast, intense, combining touristic and non-touristic insights, in the company of a good friend. There’s nothing more I’d wished for.

“Have you been to the Small Fortress (Cetăţuie)?”
“No.”
“To Salomon’s Rocks (Pietrele lui Solomon)?”
“No.”
“To Schei, the old neighborhood?”
“No.”
“Good. Then I know the route.”

And off we went. We had 4 hours, and we used them to the max.

We walked up to the Universitaty, for a first panorama with the city and the Tâmpa hill landmark, from a non-classic angle

and reached the Small Fortress. Which is a fully-grown medieval castle

from around 1580, hidden from sight from the city by the woods. Very well preserved,

refurbished and ready to host from teenage parties to formal dances to the Braşovian medieval festival of which I am hearing now.

Good start! Went on down to the park, for a color symphony,

joy and… weddings. I think we saw 10 brides – didn’t take pictures of them because of the crowd, and we had no time to lose. At the entrance to the old city center they made a flowery roundabout

(from where you can see how local nouveau riches are building their villas on a hill close by)

and placed explanatory signs for tourists, in Romanian and English. Good to know.

From the bus station at the bottom of this small hill

we took the bus towards Schei, at the outskirts of the old city. It’s the closest “picknick” area to the center, full of people in spite of the very hot day.

Apparently a king, Solomon, was chased by some enemies, reached this place and jumped with his horse from one rock to the other. The rocks to boths sides of the picture.

He was the only one who made it, and thus gave his name to the rocks. The place rocks too.

Having ticked that off, we headed back, on foot, through the outskirts, passing by a neat church

prepped with wedding folks, obviously

The bridesmaids, all very good-looking, were talking in Italian with Romanian accent. I had to laugh.

Further on, the more well-known St. Nicholas church,

with – you guessed – a wedding going on.

Not just a simple wedding, but one with a Hummer limousine. Like in da American ‘hood.

We smiled and went on to the Schei gate,

and took a peak at the “old town”.

But we didn’t go just yet, made a detour to Catherine’s gate, Poarta Ecaterinei

and then Behind the Walls,

a place of ill fame till recently, now refurbished

and featuring – no, this one you wouldn’t expect! – some wedding folks going for a photo session.

The center is not far,

on narrow streets of cobbled stone

to the most well-known walking street in… Romania, probably, which now bursts with terraces.

Piaţa Sfatului doesn’t need much introduction, the pivotal point of the city; they were building the stage for the Golden Stag music festival (Cerbul de Aur).

The Black Church is another landmark, with its colored clock and imposing silhouette of the largest gothic church in Romania.

“Do you want to take a picture of the Thread Street, Strada Sforii?”

Since we’re here already, of course.

It’s not everyday that you pass by the narrowest street in Romania,

also fully refurbished.

After a fugitive random look into a yard with an old Dacia car,

passing by a street undergoing refurbishment,

we reached the sports highschool arena – a surprising facility in the middle of the old town. Excellent for concerts and other activities.

It’s close to the Weaver’s Bastion, Bastionul Ţesătorilor, which is worth a visit,

apparently they have Shakespearian theatre shows here, you watch the actors in the middle from above. Cool.

Inside the tower there’s a model of the old town,

something both N. used to enjoy studying as kids.

Tennis courts hosting the ATP challenge tour in Braşov, are ideally placed close to the arena, the tower and the Tâmpa hill.

We took a walk around them to get to the other side of the old city, behind the other wall, also refurbished, including some defense towers.

A place to enjoy the city landscape

while sitting down on benches and watching your kids play.

Good lifestyle. They even have a football field “with panorama”

and are still working on other sports facilities.

The wall is looong, for a good stroll.

At the end we turned left to head back to the center, on the main street with terraces

and… the end. Had to catch a train.

Conclusion: yes, Braşov is a city you feel like living in. When they’ll finish building the airport, hopefully a low-cost hub, it will really be a Krakow of Romania. I feel better now, as a foreign tourist I would not be disappointed.

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