September 20, 2008 Saturday
I was almost packed and ready to leave Sighisoara at 1000 when, for no reason in particular, I tried to start up my laptop which had been unresponsive for 5 days. I was delighted when it suddenly fired up and also found a wireless connection to the hotel’s internet.
I immediately downloaded and backed up the photos that had accumulated over the days and caught up on some e-mail. I have hand written several days’ worth of journals but it is unlikely that I will transcribe them into Word until I return home.
This delayed my departure until noon. The hotel had a compact parking lot with several obstacles. I was focused on avoiding and oddly parked car and a concrete wall off to my left and didn’t see a concrete lamp pole behind me. I ended up scraping the paint on the left rear door which I suspect will cost me dearly when I return the car in a couple of days.
I headed southeast through bucolic farmland to Brasov. After 50 km. I took a detour at Bunesti onto a sporadically paved road to visit the Saxon fortified church at Viscri, one of the hundred or so such churches in the region, and, according to all accounts, one of the nicest.
Viscri has a couple hundred traditional Saxon homes most of which are in good repair. The location of the church is not immediately apparent because of large trees but I caught a glimpse of the steeple as I drove through the town’s muddy roads. Thankfully, the gate to the outer wall was open and I made my way up a shady walkway under another day of cloudy skies and periodic rainfall. As has been the case with the half dozen other fortified churches I’ve visited, the entrance to the inner walls was locked tight. Thus, I walked around the exterior of the walls, perhaps 400 meters in circumference. I came to a crew of three men and a woman who were up on scaffolding restoring a section of the wall. The three men were applying mortar to cracks and the woman was left to mix the mortar and haul it up to the men in buckets on the scaffold. They understood my interest in finding a key to gain entry to the place but professed not to have one. Thus, my tour was limited to viewing the guard towers and church steeples from outside the wall.
I was the only tourist until an Israeli couple arrived and we chatted for awhile. They had no specific plan and had come to the region just to enjoy the mountain air and escape Tel Aviv.
I started to return to the car and noticed a pathway that wound down to a cemetery. At the foot of the cemetery a beautiful panoramic view unfolded of the church, the watchtowers, and the walls. I would have liked to seen the inside but in this case, half a loaf was almost as good as the whole thing.
The drive to Viscri and back to the main highway, about 15 km. total, afforded many more views of rural life and the primitive way it is stilled lived with axes, horse drawn carts, tree limbs to herd sheep and the gypsies (Roma) harvesting walnuts from the trees that line the highway in many areas of the region.
Last night, my waitress friend Andreass at the hotel clarified the difference between gypsies and Roma.. Gypsies do work, and specialize in many crafts such coppersmithing. Roma, on the other hand, tend to be vagrants who indulge in thievery, scamming and con games.
On 3 or 4 farms there were acres and acres of fields used to raise pole beans. Large metal cables connect anchor the poles which appear to be 15 to 18 feet tall.
A few miles before I arrived at Brasov, I turned off onto some country roads NE of the city to visit the Saxon villages of Harman and Prejmer. I spent a good part of the next two hours being lost but did manage to find both places on ambiguously signed roads. When I finally got on a good four lane road that would take me to the heart of Brasov, I thought I would arrive at a civil hour and have a relaxing evening. Instead, traffic quickly ground to a halt and word filtered back to us that there had been a big accident a couple of miles closer to town.
It took a little over an hour for traffic to start moving again. When I passed the accident scene a brand new BMW and two other cars had been reduced to crumpled hunks of metal. The ambulances had long departed but I am sure they did not extract many survivors.
My streak of late day bad luck continued upon my arrival in Brasov. My target hotel was on a busy one way street with no apparent check-in parking. Thus, I sort of pulled up the sidewalk with the left edge of the car hanging out in traffic lane. As I entered the hotel I opened the door for a group four men my own age who turned out to be Brits who had been hiking for a week in the nearby mountains.
There was some question about which of us should go first at reception but I waived them ahead as they appeared to be tired and rain soaked. Hearing them speak English, I jokingly said that I didn't mind them going first as long as they didn't take the last room. The receptionist turned white and meekly announced she was giving them the last two rooms.
So, I returned to the maze of one way streets and finally located a barely three star hotel whose rooms were nicer than its lobby. By the time I got parked and settled in the room, it was almost 7:30 PM and things on the nearby pedestrian mall were winding down quickly. In a rare stroke of luck on this day, there was a McDonald's 50 meters from the hotel that was still dishing out burgers. I confirmed that they would stay open until 9 PM and then had a quick walk around the center before having dinner.
I was back in my room by 9:30 PM when there was a thundering of fireworks that lasted about 10 minutes. This, also being a Saxon town, I suspect the fireworks had something to do with the holiday.