August 2. I awoke to the gurgle of a stream and a cool breeze, a refreshing way to start the day as the next few were supposed to get over 100F. I headed towards Bucharest to Sinaia and hit traffic in Predeal. When in traffic, get out and explore. So I headed up a road at the beginning of Predeal which wound up into the mountains and down into a small valley to Cabana Trei Brazi, which had a lovely traditional Romanian restaurant and a terrace with a breathtaking view. I ordered a mushroom omelette, latte, and sheep cheese (Brinza) with bread. It was wonderful. I felt like I’d wiped the stress and disappointment of the last few days clean. I sat and checked email, and looked out at the magnificent view. I talked with one waiter who was from Predeal who recommended visiting Bucegi Natural Park. I wandered up a dirt road behind the cabana where I found a shepherd’s abode, 2 horses, and a great view of the majestic Bucegi Mountains which I’d admired from the terrace.
I wasn’t eager to get back into traffic, so lazily made my way to the main road. I hit another impass in Bușteni, a very touristy town with a few stoplights. The lights had the effect of backing up traffic for miles. I turned off to escape the congestion, and ended up at a ski lift at the base of Bucegi Mountain. Then I drove back roads, went for a little hike in the forest, and got back on the main road. I walked around town some, snapping a few photos and admiring the old architecture before continuing to Sinaia. After impatiently waiting in traffic, I arrived and found a parking place near the famous casino. Sinaia had an interesting history beginning with its discovery by King Carol I of Romania (1839–1914). More about that in the next post.
I wanted to go into the casino turned conference center, as I saw some people wandering around inside looking at art. Both the casino and Palace Hotel were built in 1911, on the initiative of King Carol I of Romania, after a fire destroyed his villa and a stately hotel. There had been several initiatives to create a health resort in Sinaia wanted to create a health resort featuring the area’s clean air and mineral springs. The building of the casino and new hotel was supervised by Petre Antonescu. The main shareholder in the casino was Baron of Marçay, a shareholder in the Monte Carlo Casino. The opening was celebrated with fireworks and a piano recital by George Enescu, and it became a major attraction between the wars. After the communist takeover in the 1940s, gambling ceased.
So I went to the side door and asked if I could see the place. 15 lei to see the art exhibit, 50 lei to see the conference center. Okay, I’ll take the cheaper. They were featuring some local Romanian artists. There was one who I thought was quite good, somewhat like the artists who did the etchings that my mom and her husband both bought independent of one another. Then there was an exhibit of a supposedly famous Romanian painter whose work I didn’t really like. It was in the expressionist genre, and the gawdy colors and big forms left me cold. I left the casino and poked my head in the “new” Palace Hotel. It had a pretty lobby. Then I started the trek up the hill to Peleș Castle.
On the way I stopped at the Sinaia monastery, built in 1695, around which the town was later built. The monastery consists of two courtyards surrounded by low buildings. In the center of each courtyard there is a small church built in the Byzantine style. One of them—”Biserica Veche” (The Old Church)—dates from 1695, while the more recent “Biserica Mare” (The Great Church) was built in 1846. After admiring the paintings in both churches, particularly the old church, I headed to the treasury, where I admired the craftsmanship of the artisans of their day. Old manuscripts, detailed filigree and gold embroidery, fine silver and gold work. No expense was spared. The library is also a repository for valuable jewels belonging to the Cantacuzino family, as well as the earliest Romanian translation of the Bible, dated 1668. Take Ionescu, former Premier of Romania in 1921, is buried on the grounds. I visited his tomb, not realizing his station. It reminds me of the grim retorts written on graves in the 1600s and prior: Here am I, so shall you be. It doesn’t matter how famous or acclaimed someone is, everone will die.
I found out that Prince (Spătarul) Mihail Cantacuzino founded the monastery upon his return from a pilgrimage to Mount Sinai. The first buildings were completed between 1690 and 1695. It was designed to serve as a monastery as well as a fortified stronghold on the route from Brasov to Bucharest. The initial plan was for the monastery to hold 12 monks, to imitate the Twelve Apostles, but in time the number of monks grew. In the midst of the Russo–Turkish War, 1735–1739, before deserting the monastery, monks hid the valuables by burying them inside a bell. During a battle, the Turks defeated troops stationed within the walls of the monastery. The Ottomans burned the area and broke through the wall in two places. Until 1850, Sinaia consisted of little more than the monastery and a group of huts. In 1864, however, the monastic estate was assigned to the Board of Civil Hospitals (Eforia Spitalelor Civile), which opened a hospital and several baths, and helped develop mineral springs in Sinaia.
Surfeited with holiness, I climbed the rest of the way to the castles, unaware of the time. It was 4pm, and the last tour was at 4:15pm. I waited in line, scared that I’d be turned away. Not only was I and others, but they closed the line 5 minutes early. Strange. Only in a third world country like Romania would they arbitrarily jettison tourists. I shouldn’t have been surprised. I took a few photos of the grounds and inner courtyard, then descended and headed back to Brasov for a look at the upper town. I had a nice walk in the park above the town where a number of mills had been located in days of old. There were some historical placards which helped me picture what it had looked like 100+ years ago.