Saturday, July 30, 2011

Romania: On The Trail of Dracula - Biertan, Gypsies, Sibiu and Tilisca Village

As we left Sighisoara behind us, we ventured out into next to last full day in Romania. Our first stop on the road was another typically beautiful Romanian village, Biertan.

As a reminder, you can see more pictures from the Romanian portion of our trip by going to my Flickr Photostream HERE. I've updated the set to include supplemental pictures that go along with each post up to and including this one. Once there, just scroll down to the last 4-5 lines of the set to see the pictures related to this post.

If you've been following my posts about this trip, you get the idea on how these villages are organized: German style houses mostly, linear street layout, hilltop church with fortification. Biertan is no different. Perhaps a bit more beautiful than some, however. So, this time, I'm just going to let the pictures do the talking. Check out these shots from Biertan...

Inspired by our breakfast the day before, before leaving the village, we bought some wonderful local honey. With that we were on our way.

Aiming for the city of Sibiu, we did stop once on the way to see some Gypsies on the roadside selling copper pots and other such items. Gypsies - or Romani as they are often referred to - are an ethnic minority in Europe. The stereotype is nomadic families or groups of Gypsies wandering around Europe picking up work or selling things when and where they can. I cannot speak to whether the Gypsies we saw moved around, but I can say that when we saw them they were indeed either doing manual labor (such as helping build haystacks as we observed) or selling things (such as we saw on the roadside.) (Left: Gypsies sell their copper wares on the side of the road.)

Sibiu is a larger city, along the lines of Brasov. Vlad Dracula would have been here a few times and his son was killed and buried there. So, we checked it out. After parking and walking in the muggy afternoon down picturesque streets we settled in for a lunch overlooking the old city square. After, we walked through the old town some more and went half way across a pedestrian bridge that our guide Andrei said was the "liars bridge." He said that the superstition is that if you are a liar and you cross the bridge to the other side you will drop dead. None of us decided to test the theory, most especially Andrei who said that he had told enough lies in his life that he would not want to tempt fate. Turning to go back the way we came, we ventured over to the huge Cathedral that is the centerpiece of the old town.

Now, by this time we had been in a number of Romanian churches and normally seeing yet another one might be going "a church too far." But, actually, this was not the case here. We got a nice tour by a local youth whose school was doing a tour of duty as guides for the church interior. The cool tempature inside the church was most welcome as  this obviously well educated kid showed us some interesting frescoes, how the local big wigs (including the son of Vlad Dracula) were buried within the walls of the church - noting that the more wealthy the person was, the more ornate and detailed the sculpted coffin covers were. (Right: Main square in Sibiu.)

There must have been some money in that town back in the day because quite a few coffin covers had virtually life-like renderings of the deceased carved into them, just as the people now inside would have wanted to be remembered. Our youthful church guide also noted that the particularly fancy ones would have been created before the person died so they were sculpted exactly what the person wanted to represent him (and it was always a him) on the outside of his coffin - another sign of wealth.

As we looked around the ancient interior of this church, a thunderstorm broke out and doused the city for about a half hour. A real soaker. We passed the time under the church awning watching it all come down on the old roofs of the town. When it lifted, we ambled back across the old town and to our car, stopping for pick-me-up espresso from a vending machine along the way. Side note - look for these little vending machines to hit the USA sometime. They typcially kick out your choice of espresso, capuchino, cafe with milk or straight coffee. Sounds a bit sketchy I know, but I have to say we never had a bad espresso from one of these. The best ever? No, but not bad by any means. Oh, and cheap. (Left: Cathedral in Sibiu.)

Our timing back to the truck proved excellent as not more than two minutes after we were back in, another - larger - thunderstorm broke out. Andrei piloted the truck through the streets, but he might as well have been driving inside a washing machine. I'm not sure I've ever seen so much rain come down in such a short period of time.

Outdoor Museum
Cris-crossing the city in this downpour, Andrei set a course for our next destination of the day, an outdoor history museum as he put it. As the rain let up, we parked and got out. Essentially a huge, leafy park, this museum had real life examples of old Romanian homes, mills, windmills, recreational activities and more. We toured this sight for about and hour and then set off for our next guesthouse village for the night. (Right: Traditional windmills.)

Tilisca Village
Off the main freeway we wound our way through rough and uneven roads, through a couple villages to ultimately arrive in Tilisca Village - site of our guesthouse. Right in the middle of all the normal older buildings and homes, this place actually was quite modern. Situated adjacent to a roaring stream and looking out on a green forested hillside where ancient fort ruins poked through, we instantly knew we'd like this place. The house owners were home - a school teacher and a musician - and happily greeted us. After a rest, we ate a wonderful home cooked meal of lamb and, at last, tried the regional "hooch" called Palinka. This is a sort of distilled plumb wine that is clear in color and super powerful. Think ouzo or grappa. (Below: The streets of Tilisca Village at sundown.)

After dinner, Andrei and I took a walk around the village as the sun set and darkness took hold - casting what turned out to be a bluish wash over the town. We walked past very old churches, through alleyways, over cobbled streets, across small bridges. Mostly quiet, the streets did yield some activity when we got near one of the bars - naturally. And yep, the youth of Tilisca were out for a good time as they could be seen and heard living it up as we walked by. After we returned, Andrei and I sat up with the guesthouse owners in their courtyard, drank beer, and compared notes on the world as the stars sparkled overhead in between big cloud formations. Fun. But, it was getting late so after a while I decided to call it a night. Good thing too. I think Andrei could have stayed up all night talking - which of course is a complement. It had been a long day and I just couldn't.

Diane had already turned in and was asleep, and so with the sound of the lulling stream sounding continually outside and below our room...I quickly dropped off as well and slept the sleep of another great day in Romania. Knowing that tomorrow would be our last full day in the country, as I drifted off I relished our last big stop on our tour - hiking up to the real Vlad Dracula's castle.

(Below: Diane and Marc with guesthouse owner Elina in Tilisca.)

NOTE: Pictures in this post were taken by or are the property of Marc Osborn and are not permitted for any use without prior written permission of Marc Osborn.

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