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Phespirit goes to Romania
Poiana Braşov     July 2002

Bears. Brown bears. Big and bristling. In Romania the woods are full of them, not least of all around the outskirts of Braşov and the nearby Alpine resort of Poiana Braşov. Nevertheless, this is where Phespirit decided to base himself for a week in south-east Transylvania, to take in the clean air of the Carpathian mountains, to visit a few mediævil towns and villages ..... and to mind those bears.

Poiana Braşov is nearly three hours drive from Bucharest, passing alongside fields of golden sunflowers and sweetcorn, plus the occasional nodding-donkey oil well on the way. The resort nestles on the north side of Mount Postavaru, which at 1800m is not the highest peak in the Romania but still provides good 360° panoramic views. Phespirit caught one of the two cable cars up to the summit, and then made the long descent on foot - an exercise which took almost two hours but was not interrupted by bears.

Down in the old town of Braşov - where the mid-afternoon temperatures reached 31°C - there is much to be commended. The large Gothic 'Black Church', dating back to 1383, is the central attraction. Deriving its name from the flame and smoke damage sustained during a great fire in 1689, today the interior has 17th and 18th century Anatolian carpets - "the most important collection of its kind in Europe" - hooked around the walls to brighten up the place. Contrast with the Church of St. Nicholas in the Schei quarter, which has a beautiful fairytale exterior but remains blackened and musty inside. Elsewhere, Braşov has cable cars which ascend nearby Mount Tîmpa, but dense woods then block all views to the town below. And bears? Oh yes, Braşov has bears, and Phespirit has a photo to prove it.

Bucharest - with temperatures of 35°C in the late afternoon - is home to the monstrous Casă Poporului, or 'House of the People', a place that can only be seen to be believed. While the Romanian people lived in want of food, clothes and even electricity throughout the 1980s, Ceauşescu built this colossal palace on an almost incomprehensible scale. With a surface area of 330,000m² it is ranked second only to the Pentagon as the largest building in the world. The full statistics are phenomenal, both in magnitude and the fact that Ceauşescu was indulged as a modern day Nero for so long. No surprise how it ended.

But there's much more to Bucharest and Romania than the legacy of one dictator's madness. There is:

  1. a wealth of Dacian, Roman, Hungarian, Saxon, Ottoman and uniquely Romanian history;
  2. a people who are good humoured, friendly and generous, who serve a potent tot of brandy;
  3. a clean, unspoiled, wild countryside containing something in excess of 6,600 brown bears.

So go to Romania and enjoy it all ..... and don't mind those bears; they're essential to the experience.

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