Editor’s Note: Pam Johnson and her husband Woody are in the midst of a yearlong trip abroad, visiting 12 countries in 12 months. Pam will file monthly stories along the way.
By Pam Johnson
Predeal, Transylvania, Romania: a ski resort with scrumptious restaurants, picturesque chalets, majestic mountains, dense forests, and one of the most magnificent Orthodox churches in the country. But at closer range, you’ll see sidewalks in much need of repair, abandoned once-exquisite villas, garbage-strewn streets, and a community maybe in need of some TLC.
That’s my honest initial assessment. However, after living there a month and gaining a better understanding of the area and its people, I was better able to overlook the “unsightly” and focus on the beauty. The positive aspects certainly far outweigh any negative first impressions.
Romania is a poor nation still climbing out of the Soviet era and the rule of a harsh dictator. But, like those in Estonia, the people are resolute and take pride in their country. Yes, the streets and sidewalks are in need of repair, but we saw work crews out in force addressing the damage. There are abandoned, crumbling houses and buildings, but the sounds of construction rang constantly through the town. And the garbage—at least in Predeal—isn’t because people are littering the roads, but because the bears are.
Yes, brown bears; 6,000 of them in the Carpathian Mountains of Romania, and they’ve become a bit of a nuisance to populated areas. Two or three times a week, they made an appearance outside our apartment window. We were basically confined inside at night when they roamed. All over town, they dumped garbage bins and scattered trash. I don’t know why the bins aren’t bear-proofed—it’s quite a prevalent issue—but I guess that’s just life in these mountain towns. (Personally, I loved seeing the bears; just glad it was always from the safety of our house and not out on the trails.)
But don’t let the bears discourage you from visiting this area of Romania. Transylvania is inspiring, and the mountains around Predeal—especially surrounding the nearby town of Busteni—are stunning. In the spring, summer and fall, trekkers swarm the area to tackle the many hiking trails. And in the winter: skiing! Though we’ll miss the winter season, I can just imagine the lively crowds packing the dozens of hotels, chalets, and restaurants of Predeal.
Even in the off-season, the tourist industry is quite busy. And eating out seems to be the thing to do whether as a local or tourist. Wherever we dined, the food was hearty and delicious. I especially enjoyed bulz, a traditional Romanian dish of polenta, cheese, and sour cream (so much for staying dairy-free). Most places also serve potatoes, beets, duck, venison, beef, lamb, bean soup (in bread bowls), tripe soup, and an abundance of luscious desserts.
Besides the cuisine, mountains, hiking, and skiing, tourists come to the area to explore its culture and history, as well as its impressive number of castles. Old Town Brasov, with a rich medieval past, is popular year-round. And not too far away, above the village of Bran, sits what’s known as “Dracula’s Castle.”
Bran Castle gained fame because of the popularity of Bram Stoker’s classic novel Dracula. In the book, he describes a castle in Transylvania as the home of his infamous character, and while Bran Castle fits the description, Stoker never actually visited the castle or even Transylvania. But he did research on the evil ruler of the region, Vlad the Impaler, and loosely based Dracula on him. Vlad lived not too far from Brasov, and rumor has it, he was at one time imprisoned in Bran Castle.
From the outside, the castle looks rather ominous, but inside isn’t as threatening; it is decorated and furnished as when Queen Maria and Princess Ileana lived there during the early 20th century.
Besides Bran Castle, we visited Peles and Pelisor Castles in Sinaia, and we saw Cantacuzino Castle in Busteni. If you’re a castle enthusiast and medieval buff, Romania may be the perfect place for you to investigate.
Romania was not on our original itinerary when we planned our year abroad. But we’re so glad we changed our plans and experienced such an intriguing, beautiful, and somewhat unsettling country. The history, the myths, the bears, and the splendor made our stay there an unforgettable experience.
The forests may whisper
The mountains allure
Like a siren’s bewitchment
the heart, the mind,
the very soul of those who dare to enter.
I’d love for you to follow me on Instagram and TikTok@amimionthemove, and my blog at pamtheeditor.wixsite.com/amimionthemove. If you have comments, suggestions, or questions, please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. Check back next month to read about the next stop on our journey.