If you come by train from Bucharest to Brasov, Romania you have already had a mountain-side seat to view the Carpathians. Legendary mountains of beauty (true) and vampires (maybe not so true), you have already formed an opinion about the countryside you came to see. Transylvania. It is truly pristine, with tall triangled pine trees, rock-tiled streams, and towns along the way that make you question your choice to visit Brasov over the many other cities and villages out the window of the train.
But I had done my research and picked Brasov for what I hoped would be a classic Transylvania visit. There is always a gamble in traveling to places you haven’t been before. I simply had to let this adventure play out. After the train reached the Brasov station, I hailed a taxi and asked the price to ‘Piata Sfatului’, the Old Town Hall Square, doing my best with the pronunciation. Thankfully, the driver answered in English, and we set out. After a five minute drive through the soviet-era apartment neighborhood, I was delivered to the town square and back into Medieval Times. If it weren’t for the people, dressed as if they were from today’s world, I would have looked for someone lighting a candle in a store window as the afternoon began to give way to evening.
The streets were so walkable they beckoned my footsteps to add to the multitude that have passed this way over centuries and centuries of people going about their every-day lives. There was a procession in the late afternoon of Medieval soldiers who walked the Romanian flag to the Main Square in a casual arrangement of mismatched footsteps. They chatted along the way and passersby watched for a moment or two, then proceeded with their own business. It was an encouraging mood, a daily ceremony to be enjoyed but not taken too seriously.
Walking into the older neighborhoods, I found tiny streets not much wider than the span of my arms. The polished stone underfoot reminds travelers how many others throughout the centuries have walked these steps. That constant march of people, only the soles of their shoes changing with style and technology, leaves a sheen of history. Looking up at the road ahead, as it climbed into a tighter and tighter twist of ancient homes, gave me a respect for the workers who built the steps so long ago.
Back in the Square, I noticed the slogan on each wide umbrella covering the tables outside every restaurant: Brasov – Probably the best City in the world. At once humble and proud, who could deny this charm? I was certainly convinced, and happy with my travel choice.
Biserica Neagră: The Black Church, watched attentively from the end of the square, a dark gray menace next to so much optimism. Continuing to walk, I was drawn to the darkness of this church’s entrance, feeling insignificant next to the enormous doors and heavy rock exterior. So imposing, the church itself seemed to challenge my plan to chance a visit inside. But, curiosity won and I passed through the massive doors into the 14 and 15 centuries. Tall, slim windows along the sides let in very little light. Benches close to the doors were meant for peasants, while the seats closer to the altar for richer folk. The gloom of the interior matched the outside threatening look of the church. I hadn’t paid too much attention to the legend of Dracula, and had been told by several Romanians that they weren’t too fond of the connection. But here, in the Black Church of Brasov, I nearly believed.
I walked outside in the midst of a sudden rainstorm. The streets filled with run-off and people had fled. But it passed, the waters receded from the streets and I continued walking to reach the city wall. Constructed hundreds of years ago to keep residents safe from outsiders like myself, I walked along the grassy top and looked back to brick-roofed buildings and cobbled streets. As I looped back to the town square, the encroaching darkness reminded me it was time to search out the hotel.
I wanted to congratulate myself for an excellent choice in finding this lovely walkable city. But I know the truth, that I have simply had some wonderful travel luck in picking Brasov. Like the slogan says – probably the best city I will visit in the entire world. Or, at least until the next one.
Linked to Restless Jo’s Monday Walks, a wonderful way to find walks all over the world: