July 28. As I said I awoke to a German-speaker delivering something to a wealthy gated house in the hills across from Sighișoara. It was early, and I decided to hit the road. I had breakfast in a nice cafe called the Boulevard and worked on my blog for a few hours, then left around noon. I decided to head on the same road I’d driven the night before when all I saw were gypsies hanging out on the road. Hopefully during the day it wouldn’t be as sketchy. It seemed like every 5 miles there was a village and a fortified church. I skipped the first few, as there were a host of gypsies hanging out at the entrance. I imagined them descending upon me like a cloud of mosquitoes if I braved the gate. I was traumatized. I decided to stop at one village where the walled church had a well-manicured grassy area. I assumed that meant that it was open. Sadly that was not to be. I came across several which were firmly locked, looking like they’d been that way for years. I parked in another village that had a fortified church on a hill, only to be descended upon by three gypsy kids yelling ‘tour tour’. I said no, just photo, and they waved their hands and said something in Romanian. I offered them food but they said no, they wanted money. Then I jumped in the car and drove away. I was probably still traumatized from the time I was cornered by a group of gypsy kids in Kusadashi, Turkey who’d threatened me if I didn’t give them 100 USD.
I drove on, and despite my better judgment decided to brave another church. I tried the door to a covered walkway leading up stairs to the church, but it was locked. Then I tried a green gate which led to a house below the church. It was open, and I crept through, wondering if a dog would jump out and bite me. I was wearing a summer dress and flip flops, and as I walked through the barley field a village woman with a hoe looked up and laughed. It made me happy that she laughed, and I decided it was safe to continue. I walked through an opening in the wall encircling the church and crept into the open church door. A man was lying down on a pew sleeping, and I tried to be quiet so as not to wake him. But he awoke anyway and when he saw my hesitance, he bid me enter. It turned out to have more centuries-old frescoes than any I’ve seen since. And no one asked me for money, like they do at most other walled churches. I took some photos while he laid back down on the bench. Apparently he and the other man were doing restoration on the church. I was glad I’d taken a chance.
I went on to Agnita, half way to Sibiu, and met some friendly Spaniards who were enthusiastically taking photos in and around the walled church, which was closed. An impressive tower stood in front. We talked for a bit, and then I wandered around the town, buying some veggies at the open-air market. Then I headed on to Sibiu. I stopped at one more church, I think in Cașolț, where a German-speaking woman gave me and some Germans a brief explanation of the church. She had grown up in the village and had been forced to leave as a child. This had been the case of many German Saxons, as they were called, even though they’d come centuries before from the Rhine and Mosel regions of Germany. She was sad recounting the history, and said that she comes back every summer, as do other Germans in this and neighboring towns in Transylvania. The current population of full-time Germans in Romania is a scant 30,000. The aftermath of WWI resulted in huge deportations of Germans, and post WWII saw Russia sending many Germans to gulags, most never to return. She gave us elderberry flavored water, and I enjoyed meeting her and learning more about her story.
I finally arrived in Sibiu. There was still daylight, so I parked and walked in the historic old town, through the large square where they were setting up for a rock concert. It turned out to be ear-splittingly loud the next few days, and I wondered at the intelligence of hosting a raucous concert in the middle of an ancient old town.
I found the church where Glad the Impaler’s three-year-old son was assassinated in revenge. He was a duke of Wallachia twice and wasn’t the horrible guy that everybody said he was but rather he wasn’t liked by the nobility who wanted his power. Apparently his father fared similarly. So it wasn’t because he was an evil horrible guy even though the cross simply said bad on it. I had a feeling there was more to the story. He did inhabit a few castles but Bran castle was only a very temporary residence for him. I’ve been in his birthplace but hadn’t toured his home. I result to learn more about him and had the feeling that he been demonized. When you have power sometimes people don’t like you.
I found a great coffee shop called hug café and ended up working on my blog and charging my phone for a few hours. Then I headed into the mountains towards the lake but I decided not to go there instead went past a small village in the foothills. There was a soccer field and I thought that would be a safe place to camp near as it was community space but there was a cattle rancher Who owned a home nearby who jealously guarded his land and did not seem to want me camping there. He essentially sicked his dogs on me and I was afraid and so I moved away until I could no longer be seen. Between that and the logging trucks they kept pounding down the mountain it was a restless night but I survived.
July 29. I woke and headed back to Sibiu. On the way I explored the dam above the small village of Gura Raului and I was hoping to see the water but couldn’t see much. And for short walk up into the hills and saw a few nice plants but mostly it seems like the forests are pretty devastated. I walked around and got some water from the well and then I headed back to Sibiu for museum day. I bought a ticket for the six museum complex making up the Brukenthal National Museum. The main exhibit is housed in the palace of Samuel von Brukenthal — who was Habsburg governor of Transylvania and who established its first collections around 1790. The collections were officially opened to the public in 1817, making it the oldest institution of its kind in Romania. The palace houses an impressive art gallery of 1,200 works belonging to the main European schools of painting, from the 15th to the 18th century: Flemish-Dutch, German and Austrian, Italian, Spanish and French Schools. The palace also houses collections of engravings, books, numismatics, and minerals, as well as a library of about 300,000 library manuscripts, incunables, rare foreign books, old Romanian-language books, contemporary books and specialized magazines. Unfortunately, the library wasn’t open to the public. I love old libraries.
It was a whirlwind tour. I determined to do all six in one day. So after enjoying the palace’s collection of European and Romanian paintings, I headed to the Museum of History, which is housed in the old city hall and which is considered to be the most important ensemble of non-religious Gothic architecture in Transylvania. The museum focused not only on the history of Sibiu but the entire area of Southern Transylvania, as well as housing Brukenthal’s lapidary collection including many Roman monuments and statues from the area, especially from Alba Lulia, a former Roman citadel. The Museum of Pharmacology is located in an historical building dated 1569, where one of the oldest pharmacies in present-day Romania was located. It is the basement of this house where Samuel Hahnemann invented homeopathy and developed his version of treatment. Some of his vials and plans are on display. The museum is organized as a classical pharmacy and includes two laboratories. It contains over 6,000 ancient medical instruments and dispensing tools from the time when Sibiu was home to more chemists than anywhere else in Transylvania. A reconstructed shop is decked out with wooden counters and stacks of glass jars creating the atmosphere of an 18th-century apothecary. A valuable collection of wooden pharmaceutical jars, marked with paint, is also featured. Unfortunately photos were forbidden unless one paid $40. I snuck one photo but there were cameras and the curator came out and gave me a disappointed look.
From there I rushed from the small square across the large square down a maze of side streets to the Museum of Natural History. This collection began to take shape in 1849 through the foundation of the Transylvanian Society of Natural Sciences, which had as members important local and foreign figures in science and culture. The collections of the museum comprise over 1 million exhibits, including mineralogy-petrography, palaeontology, botany, entomology, malacology, the zoology of the vertebrates, amphibians, reptiles, as well as ichthyology, ornithology, and the zoology of mammals. Phew – what a list! It smelled strongly of formaldehyde, which made sense as I made my way through the old building. It was filled with jars of specimens, and the chemical stench was enough to make me pass out. So I limited my time to 15 minutes. There was too much information. I felt like I was taking a cram course in zoology, and was reminded of my days at UCSC studying biology and environmental studies.
I rewarded my valiant museum-going with an ice cream cone and a sit on the small square. Finally, cigarette smoke drove me away and I found my way back to Hug the Mug cafe where I’d found solace that morning. I ended up writing for several hours, and made contact with one of the employees whose mom works in Sacramento and wants to save money and then return to Romania. I decided to head to the mountain resort of Păltini. I’d heard good things about it from a tourist info site. I arrived around 10:30pm. It was dark and I decided to take a dirt road at the beginning of town, which quickly led into meadows. I parked and tried to set up my tent, but was warned by the barking of about 10 different dogs that I was near a shepherd’s flock. Then the shepherd began walking toward me with a bright flashlight. Yikes. I drove further up the road, and when I felt like there was a bit of distance between us, I parked and set up for the night. I had an uneasy sleep, and imagined the shepherd letting the air out of my tires (or worse) in expression of his anger at my being in his territory. As I fell asleep, I heard the tinkling of sheep bells as the flock moved past into the darkness.