We got off our riverboat (Steve’s idea of a perfect vacation) and started the second half: Taryn’ s Terrific Transilvanian Train Tour! Since my name is Taryn and my unfulfilled dream is to be a tour guide in Eastern Europe, it’s not hard to guess which way I prefer.
We visited three towns in the Carpathian mountains. Two are part of the seven Medieval fortified Saxon cities in Romania (called Siebenburgen). One was new to me, one I’d visited many times, and one only once.
Our first stop was Sibiu, in the Heart of Romania. I hadn’t been here since February 1991. I like to refer to that as the time I was held hostage, but probably house arrest is more accurate. Here’s what happened all those years ago:
The plane my roommate, Vicki, and I were on was diverted from Bucharest to Sibiu. The best we can figure, with facts being hard to come by in those days, is that the airport was closed because the exiled king tried to return. We foreign passengers were locked into our rooms in a hotel until the crisis passed. It was an exciting, yet at times scary, adventure. (You can read more about it in Chapter 5 of We Wait You.)
Steve and I revisited the location of the crime. I took a moment to reflect.
Back in 1991, I could see past the disrepair and barreness of winter to the classic beauty of the old buildings in Sibiu. Now it has become a fun, vibrant destination city, named the Capital of Culture for all of Europe in 2007.
Besides making peace with this gem of a town that once felt like a nightmare to me, I wanted to fulfill a long-standing dream while we were there. Disclaimer: Kids, what I did is not something I recommend for you to copy.
I asked around and made contact with a stranger who agreed to drive us to a castle out in the middle of nowhere, with one famous proprietor possibly being Dracula. The normal train and bus combo would take 8 hours, not counting time to see the Medieval castle, and we only had one day free.
This dear man agreed to drive us 180 miles round trip and wait there 2 hours for us to return. He only charged us $50. He embodied the essence of the Romanian character, hospitality.
Our driver, Teodor, talked the whole way. I was stretched by speaking and translating Romanian all day, but he was a pleasure. The conversation went something like this. Theodore would talk, I’d say “Wow,” then I’d tell Steve, “He said they got electricity in either 1904 or 1994.” I figured either way, it was Wow-worthy.
He liked us so much, he drove us to another nearby town, Deva, and threw in a second castle, a ruin from Dacian King Decebal, for free. (He refused to take more money, but we insisted more.) We’d just seen Decebal’s likeness carved in stone in the narrow Iron Gorge section of the Danube, so that made it especially fun.
The next stop was the new-to-me yet ancient city, Sighisoara. Sighisoara is most famous for being the birthplace of Vlad Tepes, the historical figure Dracula was taken from. We were greeted by a German oompah band as we entered the town that oozes quaint charm.
Nine remaining guild towers circle the Citadel, with a church sitting atop the hill. The towers are for tradesmen such as blacksmiths, tailors, bookmakers, etc. The motto for the city is “The name of God is the strongest tower.” I like that. I felt the presence of God, not vampires.
The third stop in our mountain towns tour was the only non-Medieval one. Sinaia is the site of Peles Castle, built for the imported Romanian royal family, the Hohenzollerns, in the 1870s. I have loved this place for 27 years. Steve and I came here together during his only other trip to Romania, 12 years ago.
Steve is a trooper, being married to someone who loves to make an adventure out of travel. He never complained as he hauled my over-stuffed luggage up three narrow flights in a spiral staircase in Sibiu, but he did say that once he turns 70, he’d appreciate me booking ground-floor rooms!
And he sure did appreciate the young Czech guy taking the bags from him as we climbed into our train in Sighisoara.
At each stop, we have met helpful, friendly people. Romanians, Hungarians, Aussies, Brits, Moldovans, and Germans.
These strangers have been angels unaware to us.