August 5. After visiting Bran Castle, I headed southwest toward Bran pass which had been strategically important in controlling trade between Wallachia and Transylvania. What incredible terrain! I passed Moieciu de Sus, a small village located in a dramatic valley bounded by rocky cliffs. The lovely couple I’d met a few days before in Poira Brasov had mentioned wanting to locate in this area when they retire. I can see why. It was suddenly pastoral, and much prettier than the other sections. I wanted to stop and take in the scenery but it was Sunday and the 35 mph Sunday drivers were out in full force. I’d passed enough of them that I feared getting stuck behind them again. The two-lane road was windy and passing lanes were few. Curtea de Argeş was my goal, as I wanted to see the Art Nouveau sytle Romanian Orthodox church which houses the tombs of Queen Maria and King Frederick, my favorite Romanian monarchs. The villages I passed after the castle on the way to Bran Pass were lovely and quaint, and I’d like to explore them on a return visit. I may have to wait 30 years for Romania to finish their highway system. They’ve only finished a short section of highway from near Bucharest to Constanza over the past 30 years. Apparently, Romanian politicians hire their own companies and then pocket the money. I’d been having nightmares about Romanian roads after driving through the northern Carpathians and between Câmpulung and Curtea de Argeş. There were so many holes and disjointed sections that I was sure I’d lose my tires.
It was another 100 F day. I arrived in Curtea de Argeş and located the monastery after driving past it twice. I had to ask directions of a nice man who miraculously spoke English (I’ve used French more here than in any country other than French-speaking ones). The monastery’s cathedral which houses the royal necropolis was a work of art. I spent an hour or so admiring detailed Art Nouveau ornamentation. I had to pay extra to take photos, but it was worth it. The united country’s first modern king, Carol I of Romania, had renovated the Curtea de Argeş Monastery and designated it as a royal necropolis in 1886. Curtea de Argeş became the burial place for the Royal House (dynasty of Hohenzollern-Sigmaringen) of Romania, including Carol I, Ferdinand and Queen Mary.
The royal necroplis resembles a very large and elaborate mausoleum, and was built in the Byzantine architectural style, with Moorish arabesques. The oblong cathedral sits upon a 7 foot raised platform, encircled by a stone balustrade. A dome rises in the center, with two smaller twisting and leaning cupolas in front, while a secondary dome, broader and loftier than the central one, springs from the annex. Each summit is crowned by an inverted pear-shaped stone, bearing a triple cross, emblematic of the Trinity. Above the molding is a row of circular shields adorned with intricate arabesques, while bands and wreaths of lilies are everywhere sculptured on the windows, balconies, tambours and cornices. Facing the main entrance is a small open shrine, consisting of a cornice and dome upheld by four pillars. The archives of the cathedral were plundered by Hungarians and Turks, but several inscriptions, Greek, Slav, and Roman, are left. One tablet records that the founder was Prince Neagoe Basarab (1512-1521); another that Prince Ioan Radu completed the work in 1526; a third describes the repairs executed in 1681 by Prince Șerban Cantacuzino; a fourth, the restoration, in 1804, by Joseph, the first bishop. Between 1875 and 1885 the cathedral was reconstructed by King Carol I, and in 1886 it was reconsecrated.
I’d found out from Bahai friends that I’d met in Poiana Brasov that Queen Mary was a Bahai, while her husband, King Frederick, was a quiet man with a passion for botany. Theirs was a rare marriage of love (at least in royal circles), and until the death of King Frederick, Queen Mary wrote and painted beautiful love letters to him. I was impressed by their modest living standards compared to most monarchs as well as their dedication to helping the poor. Being near their tombs gave me a sense of peace. It felt like their spirits were still on the premesis.
I left the monastery and looked for a place with WIFI where I could write. I asked if I could sit and write Hotel Posada, and worked there for several hours until, overcome with weariness, I asked to book a room. There was one room left, and it was reserved. But the couple hadn’t called in, and it was 10pm. The woman gave it to me, and I dragged my things upstairs. It had been deadly hot that day, and I was under the (false) impression that they had A/C. No such luck. The room was a balmy 95, and I attempted to cool it off by opening the door to the hall and balcony. Someone was grilling meat below and the mixed scent of charbroiled flesh and cigarettes wafted into the room. There wasn’t even a fan. By the next morning I’d developed a full blown flu.
August 6. Upon waking, I decided to summon my feeble energy to see the ruins of Poenari castle, a 20 minute drive up the Transfagarasan highway. In the 15th century, Vlad III Tepeş, realizing the potential of Poenari castle perched high on a steep precipice of rock, repaired and consolidated the structure, making it one of his main fortresses. This was not true of Bran Castle, which nevertheless attracts all the tourists. I longed to have a more authentic experience of the character who in part inspired Stoker’s Dracula. However, I was extremely weak and ill, and it took me 40 minutes to climb the 1480 stairs to the castle ruins. In hindsight it wasn’t worth it given the state of my health. Aside from a few crumbling walls and a tower, there was an impressive panoramic view up the river valley of the Transfagarasan highway.
I descended the 1480 stairs and started the drive toward Bucharest. I was so tired of Romania’s horrid roads (and drivers) that I was elated to find an actual highway with more than one lane. The drive was uneventful, and I was able to locate the Airbnb apartment that I was to rent for the next 4 days. It was another 105 F day, and coupled with a bad flu I felt like I’d been hit by a truck. I was glad I’d reserved a room with A/C. And wouldn’t you know, the A/C was broken. I was dying in the heat, as these apartment buildings had been hastily constructed without insulation during Soviet occupation. There was another bedroom door in the apartment and I decided to knock. A nice Aussie was holed up within, and he had working A/C. Go figure. I asked him about the other room and he said they’d sent someone to fix it but the guy refused. He suggested I move to another room (there were 4 in total), which was a little less hot. I asked if I could rest in his room for a while, and he kindly agreed. I ended up falling asleep on the floor, and he told me to use the bed. So I did, and around 7:30pm gave him back his room and attempted to sleep. I couldn’t. It was too hot, even with a fan blowing in my face. The only saving grace was the fact that the Aussie (name forgotten) was leaving the next morning and I asked if I could switch rooms. The host said yes and I said I’d pay extra for the A/C.