We are shown above in front of a statue of Vlad Tepes, or the famous Vlad the Impaler. He was the Romanian ruler in the mid-1400’s who defended Wallachia, a region in Romania, from the Ottoman Turks. He is remembered today because of Bram Stoker’s 1897 novel, “Dracula” is loosely based on him. We arrived back in Belgrade last night after a week long stay in visiting Transylvania.
We stayed with Claudiu Fuiorea pictured above to my right. He is from Sighisoara, the hometown of Vlad. On our final day with them, he took us on a tour of the city. Sighisoara one on of the 7 fortified cities built by German immigrants in the 12th century in Transylvania. Claudiu lives in Belgrade and works for a multinational corporation. We have become good friends and he and his family were wonderful hosts. We ate and drank extremely well, and got much insight into Romania.
We visited the Bran Castle near Vesna’s (Claudiu’s wife) hometown of Brasov. The castle looks like Dracula’s castle in Stoker’s Gothic novel, but was actually customs office for traffic coming into Transylvania from Ottoman lands to the east. The town of Bran really plays up the precarious relationship with Dracula. The market was full of vampire kitsch and was packed with tourists.
I wondered what it would have been like for those German immigrants 800 years ago. They went to the far eastern part of the Austro-Hungarian empire, lured by the chance for freedom and land. They built fortified cities to defend themselves and the empire from invaders from the east. It was an interesting relationship they had with the local Romanians. Basically, they were not allowed inside the citadels. The immigrants had very separate lives. Sadly, almost all of the descendants of the Germans and Hungarians have now left. Most left during the communist era (1945 – 1989) and the horrible rule of Romanian dictator, Nicolae Ceasescu. He sold visas to families wanting to escape the horrible conditions. He also made them sign over all property to the government. They did leave these beautiful old cities however, the today they are tourist attractions.
The effects of Ceasescu are quite visible in Romania today and it will take a long time for the country to bounce back from his horrible rule. Friend’s of Claudiu were telling us of the December 1989 revolution. One of his friends was in university at the time and he went out and tore down posters of the dictator immediately after his execution in Bucharest. It was a strange time he said, as everyone was confused about the transition. As with other “iron curtain” countries, the secret police kept extensive files on everyone and had many informants. Also, most people joined the party as they had to.
One thing I noticed were the many socialist housing blocks built during this era. They are more prevalent in Romania than Serbia. Below is one of the nicer apartment buildings. They were built for workers for the truck and tractor factory in Brasov. The factory sold low quality vehicles to other eastern block countries and it today abandoned. The apartments however, are still occupied. Vesna was telling me that they were designed for single men, many from Moldovia and Wallachia, specifically in Brasov to work for the company. Today families live in these, despite having shared bathrooms and kitchens at the end of the hall.
In the 20 years since the opening up of the country, Romania has come a long way. We noticed many more products in grocery stores and department stores in Romania than Serbia. It is part of the EU and the economic development that comes with it shows. They do have a ways to go however and it will be interesting to see where they are in another 20 years. The Romanian language is fascinating. It was the first of the Romance languages to split from Latin, the language of the Romans. There are many words similar to Spanish, and Nadia and I tried to speak Spanish when a Romanian did not understand English. The Romanians are generally darker and shorter than the Serbs and a bit less outgoing. It is hard to form a solid opinion because of limited amount of time in the country and not having visited the capital of Bucharest.
We really enjoyed our holiday there. A huge thanks to Claudiu, Vesna and their extended families!