Here’s some of what the Lonely Planet – Romania & Bulgaria has to say about Braşov:
“Gothic spires, medieval gateways, Soviet blocks and a huge Hollywood-style sign Braşov’s skyline is instantly compelling. A number of medieval watchtowers still glower over the town. Between them sparkle baroque buildings and churches, while easy-going cafes line main Square Piata Satului. Visible from here is forested Mt Tâmpa, sporting Braşov in huge white letters.
According to local legend, the Pied Piper of Hamelin reemerged in Braşov. Indeed, this playful town has many tales as colourful as its pastel-hued streets. Locals will eagerly spin a yarn about Vlad the Impaler’s romantic dalliances, a noblewoman revived from her grave, and the time a bear waddled into the main square (at least the last one’s true).
Between 1950 and 1960, when Romania still considered itself Moscow’s buddy, Stalin’s rule tampered with more than the town’s name. Ruthless forced industrialization yanked thousands of rural workers from the countryside and plunked them down on the city in an attempt to crank the totalitarian motor of industry.
Beyond historic Braşov, many more diversions await in the surrounding hills. Most popular is Bran Castle, thanks to vampiric associations that most visitors are content to leave un-fact-checked.
Romania’s largest Gothic church rises triumphantly over Braşov’s old town. Built between 1385 and 1487, this German Lutheran church was named for its charred appearance after the town’s Great Fire in 1689. Restoration of the church took a century. Today it towers 65m high at its bell tower’s tallest point.
Draped across the church’s spare interior are 16th to 19th-century Anatolian rugs; these were once placed on pews reserved for church donors. Look closely at the columns, a couple of which bear scars from projectiles fired into the church during the events of 1989.
The exterior of the church bears scrape marks, thought to be from soldiers sharpening their swords – after all, who better than God to prime a weapon for battle?
This wide square, lined with cafes, was once the heart of medieval Braşov. In the centre stands the 1420 Council House (Casa Sfatului), topped by the Trumpeter’s Tower, in which town councillors would meet. These days at midday, traditionally costumed musicians appear at the top of the tower like figures in a Swiss clock.
The pedestrianized Str Republicii provides respite from the traffic that detracts from the charm of the rest of the Old Town. At the promenade’s northern end is the wooden-cross Memorial To The Victims Of The 1989 Revolution. Across Bdul de Noiembrie is the Heroes’ Cemetery, a memorial slab listing local victims.
Formerly an access route for firefighters, Strada Sforii is one of the narrowest streets in Europe at 1.2m wide. Lurid tales have sprung up about Vlad Tepes snatching a kiss from his future wife in this very lane, but it’s mostly modern-day lovers who squeeze through.”
KAPOORS ON THE ROAD
We were delighted to find Uber rides available in Bucharest, in fact we’d taken an Uber from the airport to our AirBnB apartment when we arrived from Sofia. We used Uber again to take us to the train station, very reliable, quick and affordable. It took us some time to find the ticket booth for the early train to Braşov, mainly because it’s run by a private company and not the government. Tickets in hand, we made our way to the platform and were delighted to find a very modern coach with comfortable seating and what I would call 5-star train toilets.
We settled back in our seats for the two and a half hour journey to Braşov, where we would have to hire an Uber or a taxi to take us to Bran. Once we were out of the industrial area that surrounds Bucharest, the countryside opened up and we enjoyed the trip immensely. We were seated facing forward and had two other seats opposite us, with a small table in between. I was able to take out my laptop and make use of the time to work on my journal. There was even a power outlet to keep my laptop charged.
For most of the journey, the train surged along the track but we eventually came to more rugged terrain, and the train slowed down as it passed through the mountain foothills. I put my work away and sat back to enjoy the small villages and farms along the route. As we neared Braşov, we found ourselves in a large valley with fields on either side of the tracks, and the sky filled with visible pollution. It was rather shocking to see.
After disembarking, we walked out of the colourful station and I called an Uber on my phone. Just then, a taxi driver approached us and asked if we were heading to the Bran Castle. I had an idea of the one-way charge on the Uber app, but he told me he would charge us the same rate as Uber, but would wait for us in Bran while we toured the castle. He wasn’t insistent in any way, appeared very friendly, and we liked the idea of having someone eliminate the hassle of finding an Uber for the return trip.
I cancelled the Uber trip before the driver even arrived (the first time I’d ever done so) and discovered that I would be charged a very small fee for cancelling a ride. That was entirely acceptable. We piled into the taxi and were on our way. We learned our driver had spent several years living and working in London, so his English was excellent. He was able to tell us a lot about the surrounding area, and I learned that there was a lot of industry as well as several major motor vehicle plants in and a round Braşov. That helped to explain the pollution I would see in the air.
We whipped along the two-lane road to Bran, passing through a village with unusual looking homes. Our driver explained that many Germans had settled there long ago and built houses that reminded them of their homeland. They had eventually left Romania and the houses were now owned by local residents. Forty-five minutes later we arrived in tiny Bran, lined on both sides of the street with countless souvenir stalls and fast-food eateries.
After touring the castle, the driver suggested to us that we could get much better food in Braşov, and for a more affordable price as well, so we headed back to the city. He pointed out a traditional Romanian restaurant and we were delighted with his choice. We agreed to call him when we were ready to head to the train station, as it was a few kilometers away from the historic centre. It was now 2:30 and we didn’t have to catch our train until 5:00.
I was slightly surprised that the restaurant was in the basement of the building, and was a little unsure after our experience in Bucharest at the Caru’ Cu Bere, but the restaurant was incredibly light and airy, with whitewashed walls, dark wooden beams, and skylight-type windows that let light into the dining room. True to form, I once again ordered the cabbage rolls, they were served as usual, with polenta and sour cream, and I was really impressed with the presentation and the quality. The chef at the Sergiana Restaurant served the rolls on a bed of caramelized onions and topped the sour cream with a hot green chili pepper.
After such a heavy meal, it made sense to spend the rest of our free time exploring Braşov on foot. We started off by making our way to the Memorial of the Victims of the 1989 Revolution and then up the pedestrianized Str ??Republicii to the town square and the Black Church. We deviated slightly along the route in order to walk through one of Europe’s narrowest streets, designed initially to give access to firefighters.
I had hoped to peek inside the interior of the Black Church but was not aware that it closed to the public at 4:00pm. I arrived at the main entrance about seven minutes beforehand, but the grouchy employee at the gate wouldn’t even let me have a quick look inside; he was too busy ushering others out. I walked off in disgust, only to see him striding off towards the square at four minutes to the hour. So much for an official closing time!
We called our taxi driver to take us to the station, and once there, we set off looking for the ticket booth for the same private train company that brought us to Braşov. No one at the station seemed to know anything about it. I even tried showing them a photo of the train and the logo. We eventually were forced to purchase our tickets from one the regular ticket windows, and didn’t even consider asking for first-class seats because the train had been so modern and comfortable on our way there.
To our disappointment and dismay, we were assigned seats in a car that had four seats abreast, in place of what one would normally think three would be installed. It meant that we were confined to narrow seats that didn’t recline even a slight bit, and we faced four other passengers, also crowded into narrow seats.
The 5:00pm train to Bucharest was almost filled to capacity, and a group of young students travelling together boarded with huge suitcases and backpacks, when there was little or no storage place available. They ended up putting their luggage in the aisle of the train, which extended down one side of the carriage, not up the middle. This made moving to the toilets at the end of the car almost impossible. Anil made the trip once and reported back on the condition of the facilities, and I decided to tough it out till we got back to the city.
It had been a very long day, but for the most part, a fantastic one filled with sights on one of the best castles I’ve ever visited, a great meal in a beautiful restaurant and a stroll around a lovely old town centre. It was unfortunate that it had to end in a cramped, stuffy train car, filled to capacity. We made the best of it though and were thankful that we hadn’t lingered longer at the Bran Castle or in Braşov, with plans to return on the 7:00pm train.