The city of Brașov, with its medieval towers and Saxon architecture, surrounded by gorgeous mountains and ski slopes, stands out in my memory as being a idyllic place to live in Romania.
We were very fortunate to have met Bogdan in Casa de Cultura Permanenta— our temporary home in Cluj-Napoca. Bogdan owned an apartment in Brașov and was gracious enough to give us a place to stay while we were exploring the city. For five nights we had a wonderful home in Brașov, as well as a room-mate named Eduardo who brought us to some of his favourite restaurants and pubs. Eduardo was a young man from Australia who had moved to Romania to start an online business. With Romania having one of the fastest internet speeds in the world, as well as cheap living expenses, settling in Brașov is certainly a tempting idea for anyone who can make their income online.
Besides quaffing cheap beer by the litre, during the day Ashleigh and I enjoyed the tranquil beauty Brașov and the surrounding countryside had to offer.
Developed and fortified by the Transylvanian Saxons, who settled in the area in 1141, today old town Brasov is still intact with an impressive set of defences. We spent half a day simply walking along Brașov’s feudal walls, which once repelled countless enemies, and visited its many medieval gatehouses, bastions, and towers.
A towering, Gothic edifice in the centre of town, the Black Cathedral is Brașov’s greatest landmark and most popular attraction. Built in 1476, the Black Church is a massive structure with a six ton church bell, the biggest in Romania (who knew!) and an impressive, 4000 pipe organ to blast your eardrums out. Though the exterior is both dramatic and charming, I would have to say that the interior of the Biserica Neagra was a bit of a disappointment to me (even though it took almost 100 years to build). Thanks to the Protestant Reformation, all frescoes and adornments had been removed, leaving the inside of the Black Church looking a bit plain. Nevertheless, the Biserica Neagra stands apart as one of Europe’s largest, Gothic cathedrals and an impressive apex in old town Brașov.
Despite all that Brașov had to offer, we couldn’t leave Transylvania without visiting the famous Bran Castle, only 30 kilometres southwest of the city. Built by the Teutonic Order in 1211, Bran is your classic, Transylvanian castle, with an uneven set of twisting spires, perched high on a rocky outcrop. Such stark beauty is said to have inspired Dracula’s castle in Bram Stoker’s notorious novel, and the owners of Bran have no problem using the Dracula myth to attract more visitors. Given its fame, the exterior of the castle lived up to my expectations and I equally enjoyed wandering around Bran castle’s bedrooms and living spaces. Each room in Bran has been outfitted with antique furniture, rugs, and fireplaces that makes it feel like a real living space. The courtyard and balconies overlooking the mountainous countryside add to the whole experience, and even though the admission fee was a bit hefty (for Romania), I was still able to enjoy everything about this fairy-tale castle.
A favourite site of mine that we were fortuitous to discover was one of Transylvania’s fortified churches. With incessant attacks from eastern enemies, and without the money or resources to defend the whole town, the Transylvanian Saxons chose to fortify churches where villagers could hole up in during sieges. Storehouses and sleeping rooms were included inside the fort, and with the church there, villagers under siege were able to conveniently pray for their lives. One fine, sunny day we visited Prejmer fortified church and spent many hours scrambling up and down creaky stairways within the circular bulwark. We peeked into hundreds of tiny rooms and walking the enclosed ramparts where soldiers once posted to defend the keep. Prejmer looked like a whole village could cram themselves in, and the whole thing reminded me of a medieval apartment complex!
With a significant amount of Saxon architecture under our belts, new friends to keep in touch with, and a temporary home for a few days, I’d say our venture in Brașov was a complete success! The town itself is so laid-back, quiet, and stunningly beautiful, and along with the cheap beer, I’d have to say Brașov is a city I could imagine myself settling in. But, for now, the incredibly long journey continues!