Romania at 50kph. (May/June 2012)

We decided to hire a car to travel around Northern Romania.

It was a good decision on two levels.

Firstly we had the flexibility to stop off wherever we wanted and secondly the trip was so slow that we got to see a lot more than expected.

The Romanian authorities are obsessed with controlling the speed of drivers, especially going in and out of the villages.

In theory this is a great idea, as it keeps the drivers at a safe speed.

In practice however, it fails on every level.

We were told by the car rental company to obey the speed limit, of 50kph, in the small towns as many of them have radar.

So we did.

The trouble is that once you leave one small town, driving at 50kph, you find yourself in the next small town.

You rarely get above 50kph.

The locals don’t hold to the speed limit as we continually found out.

To them the 50kph doesn’t seem to be obligatory, especially if you drive a Mercedes, Audi or BMW. Even the Dacias were leaving us in their wake.

By adhering to the required speed limit we got to see a lot of the county side, especially the locals hard at work.

From what we saw, from our slow moving VW Golf, were locals of all ages toiling in the fields, on building sites, repairing roads and even reconstructing forts.

In many respects this is still a feudal country, with much of the hard yakka being done by hand.

Our Romanian road trip took us north from Bucharest to Suceava and the region of the painted monasteries.

First we visited Punta, which isn’t strictly a painted monastery, as it only has frescos on the inside, these were stunning enough.

We then went to Sucevita, Vata Moldovitei and Voronet, where there were two monasteries.

These are Romanian Orthodox churches built in the 15th and 16th centuries, with many being listed as World Heritage sites by UNESCO.

Inspired by Stephen the Great and continued by his son, Petru Rares, the architects of these Medieval churches took the frescos outside and adorned their walls with beautifully crafted and colourful images of Christian belief.

Saints and stories from the Old and New Testaments were depicted as well as frightening images of hell and damnation.

They are like graphic novels in the way they tell their stories, frame by frame. This was perfect for teaching and converting a mainly illiterate community.

We then headed back south to Transylvania and the beautifully preserved Medieval town of Sighisoara home to Vlad Dracul, father of Vlad the Impaler.

More important than Dracula is the Citadel with its many towers that were built by the German artisans and craftsmen who came to settle there in the 16th and 17th Centuries.

We also stopped at Brasov, on route to Bran, it’s another well preserved Medieval walled city with artisan built towers and a fine Gothic church.

It was just our luck that on the day we were in Brasov a local folk festival was underway in the town square.

Romania is as much a country of youth as it is history, everywhere you go there are kids.

Bran boasts the castle that seems to inspire most people who are searching for Bram Stoker’s Dracula.

There is a lot of controversy about Vlad the Impaler in Transylvania. There he is seen to be more of a Robin Hood hero, than a blood thirsty tyrant.

On our last full day in Romania we went from Bran to Targoviste via Sinaia.

Sinaia is a retreat town for the rich and the royals.

The Rumanian royal family built a number of Summer palaces there in the 19th Century. They are an unusual architectural style that seems to mix Neo Renaissance with local influences, all set amidst verdant green forests.

Our last stop was Targoviste, which is only 88km from Bucharest. There isn’t much left of its past, except parts of the Royal Voievod Court, the Chindia Tower and a few churches.

But again there were loads of kids, as there was a puppet festival running in the nearby, Chindia Park.


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