Monday, October 10, 2011


Enough of Draculaville.

Our journey is coming to an end and we are nearing Bucharest for our departure. One last detour was in order before our weekend in the big city. Our destination was Curtea De Arges and the Arges Valley and to get here from Bran we had to take a 1200 metre mountain pass with switch backs and spectacular views.

Curtea is a a small town of 30,000 but has an important monastery that was built of white marble in the early 1500's and beautifully restored in the late 1800's. In it resides the tombs of four kings and queens, the latest being Queen Marie(1938). Gold leaf embellishes almost every interior surface and the grounds are stately gardens. Also here in the centre of town lies a 14th century church built over the ruins of a 13th century palace. The grounds of the church are the foundations of the palace. Also found here is an excellent communist county museum with displays of antiquities from the year 400 right up to 1970's propaganda on the mighty industrial machine of modern Romania.

North from Curtea is the Arges valley and the start of the Transfagarsan Road, another one of the Genius' mega projects. Built in the 70's, this road provides a central path over the mountains for strategic purposes in case the Russians attacked. It comes out near Sibiu, one of our first Transylvania stops, and reaches 2000 metres at its highest point.

About twenty minutes north lies Poienari and this is the location of Vlad III or Dracula's real castle. The point is marked with a small government tourist sign beside a power generation station. Getting to the castle involves walking 1500 steep crudely cast concrete steps through a beech tree forest. An earthquake in the late 1800's wiped out a good portion of Vlad's pad but you still get an idea. as they say in real estate location, location, location. He built here to control the Arges valley passage and tax it but also high enough that raiders could not easily kill him. Once you complete the thirty minute climb, a vendor sells you admission tickets for 1$(now he tells me!) Admission to museums and attractions is ridiculously cheap with most public institutions charging $1-$3.

After the climb we head up the highway to visit the spectacular hydro dam and accompanying Lake Vidraru. The road passes switch backs and tunnels and then snakes around the lake which is absolute wilderness and full of marked hiking along with free overnight cabanas. With a little imagination, I could easily be somewhere in Canada. This country has the largest population of large mammals in Europe including bears and it is not hard to see why. We come across a brand new four star hotel  on a rock crop overlooking the lake. We had lunch here and the manager gave me a tour, very posh with steam rooms, indoor pool, bowling alley(why is Bowling so important here??) all overlooking the lake. 65 Euros for a double an excellent value and fully booked up. The power was down and an emergency generator was running things while we were there. The site housed one of Ceausescu's summer homes before.

Back in Bucharest staying near the main airport, it is an easy $7 cab ride down town and I explore the city on foot. The nation's capital is eerily quiet on Sunday with the main boulevard closed for a marathon and a NATO summit has the palace on lock down with troops positioned strategically around in armored personnel carriers. The summit means I cannot access the palace National Gallery Art Museum as it is closed for security.

This is definitely a walking city with all its crazy streets. The subway system is also quite extensive and cheap to ride on for about $1 - $2

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