August 1. With a heavy heart, I awoke after almost no sleep. I had to use the bathroom but did as thorough a search of the area around my car as my bladder could bear. Then I headed to a nearby restaurant and asked to use the bathroom, and passed Poenari Castle. In the 15th century, realizing the potential for a castle perched high on a steep precipice of rock, Vlad III the Impaler repaired and consolidated the structure, making it one of his main fortresses. Although the castle was used for many years after Vlad’s death in 1476, it eventually was abandoned again in the first half of the 16th century and was in ruins by the 17th century. The size and location of the castle made it difficult to conquer. I had planned to hike the 1400 steps to the ruined citadel, but that was not to be. I drove as quickly as I could back over the treacherous pass, allowing myself to enjoy the fresh air and scenery. Being in the mountains always fills me with deep peace. By the time I’d gotten to Sibiu, I felt more calm about the lost tent poles. I headed to my camp spot, envisioning how I’d feel when I found them, but no luck. I wondered whether someone had taken them to use for a pointer or handy building material. Life is pretty desperate here, so it wouldn’t be too surprising. But I decided to check every place I’d stopped, and headed to downtown Sibiu where I’d aired out my tent before I left for the Transfagarasan. No luck. I checked trash cans, bushes, and got down on the dirty pavement to look under all the cars.
Disheartened, I headed back to the Astra open air museum. It was Tuesday, and the museum would be open. I figured I’d get to see what I’d missed Sunday, including taking a photo of the wooden church’s interior. What I didn’t realize was that all the building interiors were closed as it was a weekday. I wandered the vast area, disappointed at the closed shutters and doors. After an hour I gave up and headed to Rășinari to get money from the ATM. Something told me to check the nearby museum, and I was happy I did. The museum in Rășinari has a wonderful collection of ethnographic objects from life in the village. One of its main exports was dried grapes (thus the name) to the neighboring village of Cisnădie as a cloth dye, as well as straw baskets and other handicrafts made of straw. There was a villager who traveled the world in the 1910s, and there was a large collection of postcards and stories from his travels. He spent time in Asia, Africa, and the Arabian peninsula, as well as Europe. There were some beautiful handmade costumes in a chest which smelled of perchloroethylene (moth balls). It was a hideous smell, but the costumes were lovely, and I admired the fine embroidery, linen, lace, and silk contents. Apparently silk had been manufactured in Cisnădie, which had an active textile industry and wool rug factory.
I had decided I’d make the best of my mishap, and headed to the 12th century fortified church of Cisnădioara. To get there I drove a few miles through a lovely beech forest, then spied the imposing stone church on the hill overlooking the town. It had been closed the day before, so I was glad to see within the walls. Saint Michael’s Fortified Church was given to the Monastery of Carta in 1232, which was controlled by the powerful Cisterician Order. In the 15th century it passed to the Evangelical Church of Sibiu. For centuries it served to protect villagers from enemy attacks, which were numerous until the 18th century. The thick stone walls and fortified gates belied its defensive past. The medieval interior is stark and only a tiny portion of frescoes painted during its catholic past were left. Protestants were not much for church decoration and would paint over such fanciful artistry, associating it with idolatry. The woman who maintains the church and the grounds grew up in the village. She has memories of the church during Soviet occupation, and works long hours from 9 to 9. I liked her.
I headed back down the steep path and on to the nearby town of Cisnădie where the rug manufacturing factory had been located until the 1990s. I walked in the small historic center and its main street lined with the homes of Saxon (German) merchants. On the way back I found a market and bought a lovely nectarine, which was so ripe I ate it on the spot. Then I spied a museum of textiles, and the curator was just leaving. I asked whether I could see the exhibit and she said yes. She turned out to be a lovely woman who spoke Spanish having working for years in Madrid. Her husband currently works there as well. She explained the exhibit to me in Spanish, as there was almost no information in English. Her parents, aunts and uncles, and grandparents had all worked at the rug manufacturing plant. She spoke with sadness about its demise. It seems that with the fall of communism in the late 80s, like many other means of production that had been owned by “the people”, the factory was sold off to party cronies at a pittance, and the equipment was destroyed or scrapped. It had employed 7,000 or more people from the village and environs, and its loss meant the loss of many livelihoods. Another tragedy.
I was ready to bury my head in the sand. Geez, enough already with all the bad news. I didn’t want to know the réal politique. It was too depressing. I left, thanking the woman for her kind tour. I asked to be friends on Facebook, as I wanted to stay in touch when she moves back to Spain. She said life is much better there. I agree. Her boys are almost grown. She will leave in a year or two when the youngest finishes high school. I got on the road and headed to Brasov. Twelve miles down the road in Avrig, I decided to visit the former summer residence of the Transylvanian governor Samuel von Brukenthal. The same whose palace I had visited in Sibiu a few days earlier that hosts his amazing collections of coins, stamps, books, paintings, archaeological relics, and armor, to name a few. The historic baroque manor at the foot of the Transylvanian Carpathians showed the ravages of time. But one could still feel the charm of the spacious gardens, which also dated from the 18th century. The estate had once been called “Transylvania´s Garden of Eden”, and still featured an orangerie and lovely flower gardens. I asked to see inside the manor after looking at a collection of traditional Transylvanian furniture and costumes. I saw rooms that were in various states of decay, some with mold on the walls, others with plaster falling from the ceilings. It had good bones, as they say in real estate, and I imagined that if someone were to pump money in, it would revive. But Romanian’s current government is as corrupt as the Trump administration, so the chances of such an act were slim.
After walking the grounds, I continued to head to Brasov. I arrived around 8pm and parked above the old town, as most parking in the center is reserved for residents (literally marked with space numbers and the threat of forced removal). I complied and walked to what seemed like the main street. A young man was talking with some English-speaking tourists, and it turned out he had just finished giving them a free 2 hour walking tour. I planned to attend another day, and asked whether there were any backpacking stores in town that might carry tent poles. He said that Decathlon might, and had the cheapest prices, so I headed there straightaway with the help of my phone. I brought my tent and fly in, and someone showed me the fiberglass replacement poles, but they were too long, inflexible, and thick to work. I left, having made a makeshift replacement the day before of a supple elm crown sprout, and decided it would have to do. I had no idea where to camp, but decided to head toward the mountain, and after stopping in the Ramada Inn to use the WIFI for a bit, I headed to Timișu de Jos and turned off the main road which quickly devolved into a dirt road. I spied a gap in the fence 5 minutes up the road, and pulled in and parked. It turned out to be a great camp spot, and I ended up going back the next night. I fell sleep to the loud gurgling of a nearby brook.