Glad The Invader

November 5, 2014

…which is what my Mum accidentally called Vlad The Impaler when relaying my story over the phone to my sister. A slight mishearing that changes the entire history of Wallachia. Wouldn’t it be a lot better to be invaded by someone called Glad?

I haven’t written anything about breakfast on my trip! This is a gross oversight on my part. I love breakfast. All I can say is that each of my holiday days were so full of things that my first-thing-in-the-morning meal was completely forgotten. At Kalinder we’d already paid for our breakfasts, up to a certain cost. We had to pay again if we went over that but the amount was negligible so we figured we might as well enjoy ourselves! I mean, the main thing pushing us over the prepaid limit was pure orange juice, but I wanted it. So there. On the first morning I was overwhelmed by menu choice, and slightly confused at the items they considered breakfasty. Sliced cucumbers? MBS, whatever that is? I had a very tasty ham and cheese omelette and the vaguely listed ‘cereal and milk’. I was surprised to find that it was cereal with hot milk, and made a mental note to find out the Romanian for cold milk before we left Kalinder. The next day I had a fairly bland mushroom omelette, but nice bread, butter and grape jam. On our last Kalinder day I felt very smart for ordering cereal with cold milk, but I had the words slightly wrong. I’m not sure the wording was even that important though as when I said this, the waitress was writing in her notebook and may not have even heard me. I ate my unexpectedly chocolatey cereal with hot milk.

It was time to leave Kalinder and Busteni, heading for our destination. We ran around, taking some final pictures before getting the train to Brasov, waiting and hour and making our connection to Sighisoara.

Final pictures: Rural place, rural things.

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Ski resort cobbles together gate from only materials they could find:

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Train station times.

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I quite like trains normally. I don’t get travel sick on them. But we had to spend what amounted to around 4 hours on trains today, and it just didn’t agree with me. I tried to sleep through it but kept waking up and realising I’d only zoned out for fifteen minutes. My feet and legs felt restless and occasionally went for a walk to the toilet just for something to do. I felt unwell, and was going quite batty. In retrospect, I’d walked quite a lot the day before, and the day before that and probably just needed a long, relaxing lie in that didn’t take place on a moving object. When we got to Sighisoara I felt about as useful as a dead cat and probably looked worse. I felt a sinking feeling when I realised it wasn’t just a medieval town, it was a medieval fortress town and as such, was basically on a rock up high in the middle of the town ‘proper’. The perfect protected vantage point it may be, but up high meant more steps. I sighed, and realised the quicker I climbed them, the quicker I could lie down. Round and round and round we went, with my wheelie suitcase, as the staircase spiralled around the fortress walls. But when we got to the top they had quaint little souvenir stalls, and I suddenly felt much better. Magic, that is. Our hotel was also on the central town square!

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The whole town [the bit within the fortress walls – known as The Citadel] as a UNESCO World Heritage Site so after a quick lie down we decided we needed to get out there and explore before the sun set, as the next day we would be getting another train to Cluj. Potted history: it’s a German/Saxon town. As Citadels often have, it was built with fourteen towers, each named for a guild [Tailors’ Tower, Butchers’ Tower]. It’s best known though, for being the birthplace of the actual Vlad Dracul.

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This is no touristy invention, like Bran. This is verified historical fact. There’s a small weapons museum in the house with a restaurant upstairs. I’d read that even though it was geared towards tourists, it was actually a pretty nice restaurant and Andrew was quite attracted by the thought of eating in the house Vlad was born in, so we made a note to go there.

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I personally didn’t want to eat until later though so we wandered around souvenir stalls and had a look at the remaining standing Towers until the sun fully set and photos were no longer possible. It was really fascinating just wandering around the cobbled streets, seeing what we would find. We found more Vlad.

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Yes, I’m wearing a bat t-shirt. On purpose. These things are carefully planned! I have bat leggings too but thought they might be overkill, until I saw a girl on the train with bat leggings. I said “I should have worn mine!” until she turned around and I realised she was about ten years old. This says a lot for my taste in fashion. When time for food rolled around we didn’t pay the extra to see the museum, or the room that apparently has a man in a coffin who sits up when you walk in, but we really enjoyed looking at the armour on display, and the mural.

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We sat in the outdoor terrace and were amused by the bulbs of garlic hanging from the ceiling, along with the items on the menu that had ‘blood’ put in their description to make them sound more Dracula-ish. Blood [jam] pancakes, anyone? Even though I’d been feeling unwell earlier I had a hearty beef goulash, with some bread to dip in it.

Some of the places here have pretty self-explanatory names. The School On The Hill, and The Church On The Hill, for example. They’re on a hill. Some wise owl years ago decided it would be a good idea to build a covered staircase so churchgoers and schoolchildren wouldn’t be bothered too much by bad weather when climbing the hill, so the Scholars’ Stairs were born. I knew I wanted to do the 175 stairs [I can’t resist a staircase] but was going to leave it until daylight. Andrew quite rightly pointed out that we might want a lie-in the next morning before rushing to our train, so he would use the torch on his phone and we could do them now. The stairs were lit themselves, but the torch certainly helped me, as tiredness was seriously setting in by this point and I can miss steps when I’m tired. We could hear the chirruping again [this time, in Drac-land bats seemed a very real possibility] and we gazed up at the cobwebby ceiling of the staircase. Not too much gazing though. Sometimes you don’t want to see certain things! We had an atmospheric walk around the grounds of The Church On The Hill and tried to find some views of the lights of the town, but they were mostly obscured by trees. We found a war memorial though, and when Andrew went up by himself early the next morning he reported finding a graveyard, which we hadn’t seen the entrance to in the dark. Sleep was seriously calling at this point though, and after trying to check my emails at the ‘Business Centre’ [computer behind the front desk, which led to customers thinking I worked there and me being awkward enough to play along and give directions, etc]. I was locked out of hotmail as they couldn’t understand why I was trying to log in from Romania. Unfortunately my secondary email address locked me out too, and as it was a joint account with my ex band colleague I didn’t know the answer to the security question. He didn’t change it or anything, he just answered with something that I wouldn’t know. I actually Facebooked him and asked the answer to the question [about a band he liked] and he couldn’t remember either! I had to fill out a form on hotmail answering questions about my account such as the email addresses of people I regularly emailed [names wouldn’t suffice], titles of a few recent emails, last four digits of my debit card, previous hotmail passwords… Once I did this [what I could remember] they said they would process my application to get into the account within 24 hours. Nothing else to do but wait, going to bed and watching a bizarre, misery-filled film in which Clive Owen plays a father whose daughter meets a stranger off the internet who is not what he seems.

Perhaps I’ve been dragging these entries out a little too much, with unnecessary information. Perhaps instead of saying we spent the train journey the next morning chatting to a Hungarian man who tried to translate things a woman seemed really eager to tell us, I should just say that we took a train. I should say that we got to the hostel without complaining that I had wanted to get a taxi but was too chicken to actually come out with it and say I wanted one. I should say that the Transylvania Hostel actually ended up being pretty nice, instead of saying that when I first got there I got negative vibes from the place. In retrospect, my vibes may have just been grumpiness.

Things that made me feel better about the hostel:

Seeing that the mascot was a cartoon bat.
Seeing the pretty darn big room with double bed.
Seeing the modern shower that resembled a dalek.
Sitting down.
Seeing the noticeboard with Sunday’s plans on it. At 6pm a group of people were meeting and going to a restaurant about 10 minutes’ walk away. All were welcome! I thought this was a jolly good use of a noticeboard and as we were hungry we decided to tag along, except it wasn’t tagging along, as all were welcome! About 12 of us ended up going to Mesele Yesele [‘Happy Tables’] and the waiting staff went out of their way to push all the tables together [which they didn’t have to do, two separate ones would have been fine, especially as some of the guests smoked! – Smoking in bars/restaurants is legal in Romania]. When table Tetris was completed and the menus came Andrew shared his phrasebook round so we all knew what we were ordering [although by now I was really getting better at basic Romanian] and the staff were pefectly willing to go round each of us individually and talk us through the menu. I didn’t wait for this though, just plumping for pasta with chicken and gorgonzola sauce [they brought grated cheese and parmesan on the side!]. Andrew got a bit of menu help and ended up with something called ‘Gypsy Neck’ with a side of vegetables and a lot of crackling! The hostellers [I’ll mention them more as I go on] went to a pub afterwards but I needed my bed, and Andrew decided to start as he meant to go on by attending a late night short film screening as yes, Cluj was the location of the film festival his film was being shown at the next morning!

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