The Adventures of the Roving Route #6
We started off this week heading to what has to be the most-watched city in the world. No we didn’t go to Pyeongchang or London, we went to the small Romanian town of Sibiu, where the buildings literally watch you. Dotting the rooftops on a good portion of the buildings are small oval-shaped windows with curved shingles that look identical to eyes.
Historically, the attics in Sibiu were used as drying rooms for meats and cheeses with small circular windows being needed for air circulation. We are not sure why or when they chose the oval "eyelid" versus the standard peaked window coverings but the town has now really embraced them for their tourism efforts. It was sheer joy wandering around to try to find the one with the best eyes.
We have debated for a while what route we wanted to take during our Romanian road trip. With so many beautiful things to see and do sometimes it’s hard to settle in on a plan. However once we decided to hit the road we have not turned back. With the wind in our hair… just kidding we don’t have that kind of money to rent a convertible, we drove the highest (2,145 meters) and oldest (2nd century AD) mountain pass in Romania, the Transalpina. This mountain pass was used by the Romans when they made their way to concur Dacia’s capital. While this is not said to be the most beautiful pass in Romania (that pass is still closed due to snow) it was one for our books.
We continued to the far south-west of Romania to Europe's Tallest Relief Statue. Decabalus, the last king of the Dacian tribe that ruled Romania during the first part of the 1st millennium was a key figure in keeping the Dacians in control of a very important region. Always at war with the surrounding tribes and especially the Roman Empire, Decabalus lead his people to victory after victory and succeeded in expanding their territory and power. Fast forward almost 2,000 years, and he is still not forgotten by the people of Romania. Overlooking the Danube River, the historical southern edge of Dacia, a wealthy Romanian decided to buy a rock and hire a team of a dozen sculptors to carve it in memory of Decabalus. This took 10 years to complete but in 2004, the massive sculpture was unveiled and is even taller than the heads of Mt Rushmore.
For anyone who has ever seen the gorgeous ivy-covered train tracks in the Ukraine, we expected a bit more from its Romanian "Tunnel Of Love" counterpart. Maybe it has just become too overgrown, or maybe marketing has done its job over-hyping it, but it is just a set of abandoned train tracks with the smallest of resemblance to a tunnel. That being said, with some effort and many mosquito bites, we were able to get a couple cute photos!
Next stop was Hunedoara Castle which is not only beautiful but notorious for its cruelty to prisoners. The infamous Vlad the Impaler is thought to have been imprisoned here awaiting his trial. It is said that during his wait the bloodthirsty psychopath almost went insane from the screams of people being thrown into the pits of hungry lions and wolves. With this aside, the Castle was gorgeous with one of the most impressive wooden bridge as its only entry point.
With so much history in the area, we decided to visit the old capital city of Dacia, Sarmizegetusa. This unique fortified city was built on a hill and was almost completely dismantled after it fell to the Romans. Though extensive digs have found lots of tools and everyday items, there is not a lot of the original structures left. That being said, they have recovered quite a bit of information about the area and what it was used for. Inside of a short but very thick outer wall was the religious center of their culture. This unique site has the remains of 5 regular temples but also 2 circular temples that act in someway like Stonehenge allowing light to enter into the main chamber on specific days of the year. In addition to these, there was also a massive sacrificial stone complete with drainage tunnels.
With such a long day we debated extensively whether it made sense to visit what is said to be Romanian’s oldest Christian church built in the 11th century. Well, we can tell you right now is was one of the best decisions we’ve made on this road trip. Once arriving in this small town we parked our car and noticed the church was in a gated area. Jacki having known that the church was apparently able to be visited all hours of the day made her way to the gate. Derek on the other hand stood back and was approached by an elderly local woman who started speaking Romanian to us and smiling. That then brought on another woman who gestured us to go visit the church. With gratitude, we smiled and thanked them. The church wasn’t much but still beautiful to take in the history behind it. With our already awkward encounter, we were unsure if we were able to explore the remainder of the property and decided to head back to the car. Jacki laughing as she walked back noticing a tunnel that was much more apparent than the tunnel of love we visited earlier, pulled out the GoPro, and started videoing without noticing somebody standing at the other end. He came over speaking Romanian and asking us questions. Once realizing our confused faces he asked us in English if we were here for the church. To our astonishment, he pulled out keys and said he had some time to show us around and that he was the one who wrote one of the few articles written about the church!
What an amazing experience to be brought around by him. Not only did we get a private tour of the interior of the church but we also saw a Protestant church on the same property from the 14th century which was built using marble from old Roman buildings around the town. After talking for a while he told us about a few other things to do in the town including a waterfall and an old Roman bath. While we realized time was ticking we gained a spurt of energy from the amazing encounter we were blessed on having. We weren’t going to pass up on the opportunity to explore the area more. It was absolutely worth every minute even when it also ended up costing us all opportunities to eat dinner, resulting in us going to bed hungry.
What we thought would a lovely gorge hike resulted in Jacki scrapping her knee pretty bad on a fall and causing us to learn about Romanian health care at the hospital. Thankfully she is almost back to new but will be heading home with an exciting souvenir of 2 needles and a scar on her knee. What we learned however is that emergency services in Romania are free for both locals and foreigners. As a law created no one is turned away or has to pay for emergency care, which of course was a nice surprise for us! Less paperwork!!
We are finally coming to an end on this lag of travels. We are currently heading to our last city in Romania, Cluj, which will be our final city before we make our way to London for a layover and then back to Toronto to visit Jacki’s family.