Walking Brasov, Romania

romaniamoldova 031
taking off from Bucharest

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.

romaniamoldova 070
There are castles,
romaniamoldova 060
and more castles along the way

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. romaniamoldova 040romaniamoldova 048romaniamoldova 049

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.romaniamoldova 039

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.

romaniamoldova 044
quick rainstorm

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.

romaniamoldova 061
steps worn through the centuries

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:

 https://restlessjo.me/

 

 

 

Advertisements

Walking Moldova

tanya'sdachaand all 059If you live in Ukraine and travel to Moldova, you are warned by people who care for you. The borders are contested, they say, and crossing them can be a problem. The Moldovan people are not friendly, there is no place to stay, it is such a small country, why do you plan to go? At this point, you wonder about your plans, but since you want to go to Romania, and Moldova stands in your way, you go.

And never regret the visit. The bus ride from Odessa is through rolling hills that become lined with vineyards the closer you get to Moldova.

At the border, the bus driver collects all the passports, hands them to an official-looking man, who hands them back to the driver in a short time, who then hands them to the woman sitting closest to the driver, who opens each passport to the photo page, and gives them back precisely to each traveler on the bus. It seems everyone but you knows the routine, and you are grateful you are in the company of people who know what to do.

You pass through village after village of beautifully-organized streets with one-story houses that are well-cared for, each seemingly with a new roof that gleams in the sunlight. The houses, all rectangular tile-roofed and designed simply with rows of windows along each side, have tidy gardens that surround the houses and grow flowers and vegetables. You see fruit trees as your bus passes by, thinking maybe they are peach or apricot.

romaniamoldova 011
Boksol – Train Station

When you arrive in Chisinau, you are delivered to the front of a beautiful train station. You walk around the interior, dazzled at the architecture. Just before you begin to worry about getting a taxi and finding a hotel, a driver waves you over to his taxi. You wonder what language to use. Perhaps neither your sad attempts at Russian nor your English will be appreciated. But your concern comes to nothing as the taxi driver knows better than you where you belong, and verbal language is not necessary for communication. He talks the entire way with hand motions, and you understand a good deal of it. Very quickly he delivers you to “Hotel Cosmos”, really the best place in town for travelers like you.

The hotel is a humorous short story come to life in plaster and crackle-mirrors. You remember reading that the hotel has certain floors that have been renovated, and that it is essential you request one of those floors. But you can’t at the moment recall: is the 4th-7th floors to be avoided or the ones you should request? Regardless, you are given a key and directed to the elevator. When you arrive, you decide it is to one of the newly renovated rooms, but wonder about some of the furnishings.

You have a view out the window that helps you get to know the city, giving you a nice introduction to places you want to walk. Most people would not consider Chisinau beautiful, but you feel its charm as you take your first, tentative walk around. Just outside the hotel, there is an enormous concrete street corner that seems to be more a monument than a street corner, with steps and a statue, and that ends in a busy traffic round-about.

Which way should you walk? You let the traffic pull you up the hill, and walk toward the modern shopping area. You see all the usual stores and the glass and steel architecture, but there are also lovely overhanging trees that make your walking pleasant.

There is a group of people setting up for an outdoor concert, and people beginning to bring a dinner to sit and enjoy. You begin the walk back to the hotel, searching for food along the way, intrigued by a sign that seems to be advertising burritos, Mexican style. You follow the signs and your appetite and wonder about tortilla chips in Moldova.

romaniamoldova 013
time for dinner

No need to worry. Up a concrete ramp way, across the traffic circle from the hotel, you sit in an authentic-looking Mexican restaurant and order burritos. They come with tortilla chips and salsa, and you are very happy. It’s not that you wouldn’t have wanted a Moldovan meal, but that it’s nice to see a bit of the western hemisphere well-received so far from home.

romaniamoldova 008
busy

The next day you walk toward the farmers’ market. Along the way, you see the more typical eastern-Europe cityscape, with tall apartment buildings, each apartment with a small balcony dangling from the living room. You see a mass of electrical wires and a mish-mash of vehicles crossing the streets. And at the market, you walk past stall after stall of all those luscious vegetables and many fruits that you saw growing on your ride into the city.

A woman walks up, greets you by grasping both your forearms, talks in a language that is not quite Italian, and pats you on the shoulder as she leaves. The woman completes what the city has begun. You feel you have been welcomed to a country that is very pleased to have you pass through.

 

Linked to Restless Jo’s Monday Walks

Walking Kherson, Ukraine

may15 001
Ushakova Boulevard

Ushakova Boulevard in Kherson runs straight from the railway station to the Dneiper River quay. Along its sides, many of Kherson’s important buildings have stood for decades. The street is lined with broad pathways and sidewalks, covered by enormous green leaves from chestnut trees in the summer, made dangerous by ice and snow in the winter. If you walk one street in Kherson, it should be Ushakova, and it should be in springtime.

Like many post-Soviet railway stations this one impresses you with complex walkways from the many possible railway lines. There are overhead walkways, round and about walkways and zig zags. Follow the other passengers exiting the train, and you will soon enough find yourself in the reception area, filled with high ceilings, wooden walls and Cyrillic-lettered notices. Pass through the station, head toward the sidewalk and soon the street becomes a grand Avenue. Ushakova.

Near the station, the buildings that line the street are Lenin-era buildings, kinder and gentler than the newer concrete-block buildings. The Stalin-era buildings, the concrete ones, were built to last not built to be loved. The Lenin-era buildings were built with love, wood, and high ceilings. Many are beginning to slowly crumble, waiting for someone to decide their future.

Soon, you pass by one of those newer concrete buildings, and notice that even it is beginning a slow crumble of neglect. Other buildings, the Music College for example, are loved and well-tended.

There is an extravagant Naval College and a long, industrial-looking post office. From your sidewalk, you peek though an open lot and see a beautiful little Orthodox church. Tall feathered stems from grasses wave between you and the church, surrounded as it is with a graveyard that grows field grasses high during a quick and vigorous spring.

Ushakova here becomes a true boulevard. Benches for sitting divide two wide walkways that line each side of the street. The traffic portion of the street itself is wide, but not so wide as either of the pedestrian walkways. More buses than private vehicles fill the avenue. But there are many, many people, like you, walking. You have to set a truly fast pace to keep up with your Ukrainian sidewalk companions. If you want to just sit and watch for awhile, pick a bench and rest.

march 26 2010 010
The former Lenin Square

But don’t stop yet, for farther down the boulevard is Lenin Square. When I was taking this walk, in 2010, a huge statue of Lenin stood in the middle of the expanse of concrete. I have seen You-tube videos of the statue being pulled down during the Maidan protests of 2011-2012. Whatever else is left in the square, the size of this rectangle of concrete will impress you. Massive public areas, a leftover of the Soviet Union, are here and there around Kherson. Once a city of 500,000, now retreating to near 200,000, this amount of common space seems almost overwhelming.

march 20 2010 021
Suvarova

All along Ushakova, you have passed restaurants, many with cafe tables along the sidewalk. Now, as you pass the pedestrian street of Suvarova, you see there are many more, as well as shops and perhaps some sidewalk artists and vendors.

march 20 2010 015
Dneiper River walk

The street begins a fairly steep descent to the Dneiper River. There is a beautiful wharf walk along the river that runs through a park that is allowed to grow wild with spring grasses, then just in time, trimmed with weed whackers in a fit of tidiness.

Something invades your peaceful river thoughts – the Hotel Fregat. A futuristic design sixty years ago, the building and grounds now look like a sad mockery of the 1960’s. It hasn’t fallen into disrepair, just fallen wildly out of fashion. Maybe a little disrepair, too.

But the river is glorious. Ushakova ends here, at the wide, powerful, decisive Dneiper. Large and small outboard motor boats can take you back and forth to the islands just across the current. Large yachts sail by, but not often. Large commercial ships ferry goods occasionally. Most of the time, you can stand here at the quay with just you, your thoughts, and the steel-colored waves.

march 20 2010 008
Mighty Dneiper

 

Linked to Restless Jo’s Monday Walks

Walking Chernigiv, Ukraine

chernigov6 007

For a westerner’s eye, like mine, photographs capture the beauty of this city in northern Ukraine better than words. We have separated the world, giving an east/west classification that may be simple, but it is not descriptive. Ukraine is easily distinguished from many western countries, and Chernigiv is unlike any city in my home state of California in the USA. But different can be beautiful, and it is always interesting. Let’s prove that by seeing the sights  in Chernigiv. Let’s take a walk.

Drain spouts hang politely over the sidewalk, buses pass by, and you walk past forested areas as you near the city center. The season is autumn, and it is felt in your toes as they contact the stony cold of the street or sidewalk, and in your lungs as you breathe crisp cold. You feel the cold on your nose as you try to figure out ways to cover up in the coming winter. Autumn is coat weather, but pleasantly so. As you walk, you gather some steam, for there are hills to climb in Chernigiv.

chernigov8 014First, you walk past older homes, one-storied and rectangular. Their corrugated metal roofs are a study in geometry. Electric wires invade a building made before electricity, searching the easiest way to enter the home. Three-paned double windows line up along the houses’ sides, but only the smallest pane is open and only a few of those.

chernigov5 012A river rambles by. Or maybe it is a stream off the main river. There are so many trees that it is hard to get a view. Until you walk up to the top of the hill, and then there it is, a panorama memorialized by the residents of Chernigiv. A shrine is placed at the top of the hill, and the view is suddenly extraordinary. Orthodox domes, one after another line up into the distance. A wedding party gathers in the bright yellow fallen leaves, posing for photos. The houses nearby give off steam, adding to the mist of the day, swirling this landscape in a beautiful uncertainty.

You stop at the restaurant by the river, amazed at the fireplace in the center of the dining room, and grateful for the warmth. The meal is plentiful and robust. Dark bread and buckwheat, roast chicken with vegetables. You drink hot tea simmered with leaves still on the twig in a iron-wrapped tall glass.

Now, you walk to the main avenue of downtown Chernigiv. You can walk on either side of the street on the broad sidewalks, or you can venture down the promenade in the center of the street, passing water fountains that you are told shoot colored sprays during festivals. Of course, there is a statue of Lenin in the middle of this concourse, and several other statues. You recognize the name of a famous poet, but struggle to read the Cyrillic letters on the plaques.

Continuing, you pass a school, then the side street that leads to a large outdoor market, and the underground entrances to the walkways that take you to the opposite side of the avenue. You decide to use one of these underground crosswalks, and are delighted to find a string of small shops hidden beneath the street. You linger a bit and make some purchases. On the other side of the avenue, you wander into a large apartment complex and past a neighborhood grocery store.DSCN0373

You feel chill in the air and decide it’s time to return home. Past the apartments, through the forested area and back to the older one-storied homes, you are grateful for those two-layered windows. For the first time, you realize the significance of the complex design of the three panes and the double layers. You open the larger pane at the bottom of the interior windows, then reach through to the small pane of the outer one. You take off your coat and scarf and gloves and hat – your boots have already been left at the door – and let the steam leave through the window. Then, you close everything up again, and are grateful for the two layers of protection from the cold.

DSCN0154Residents of Chernigiv have structured their city in a way that makes sense. The cold, the ice, the beauty of the autumn leaves, the wandering river, the church domes all remind you that California is half a world away, and you are so lucky to be seeing this place that is new to you.

Linked to Restless Jo’s Monday Walks