Tag Archives: Braşov

The Lutheran Black Church seen from Piața Sfatului in Braşov. Photo: Albert Ehrnrooth


Does the city of Braşov need the white Hollywood type of sign up on Mount Tampa? Not really, it can boast a far more interesting history than the sleazy capital of film. Transylvania’s second city is perhaps slightly lacking in confidence in its own tourism product. It shouldn’t, the place is worth a detour.

The Romans called the site Corona and when the Saxons settled in medieval times they named the town similarly in German, Kronstadt. This translates into Brassó in Hungarian. Transylvania was part of Hungaria before the war. In 1950 Braşov was rechristened Orașul Stalin (Stalin City) by some communist committee. Vlad the Impaler had 40 noblemen skewered and displayed on the local mountain, but he was a pussy compared to the Soviet dictator who was honoured here. In 1960 the local Romanians came to their senses and renamed the city Braşov. This is also the city where some of the first fierce protests against the Ceaușescu dictatorship were aired.

Braşov's Saxon wall just below the White Tower. Photo: Albert Ehrnrooth
Braşov’s Saxon wall just below the White Tower.
Photo: Albert Ehrnrooth

Braşov lies at the foot of Mt. Tampa (940). Its top can be reached by cable car or opt for an easy ascent. The Germanic people started in the 15th century the construction of the impressive wall around Braşov. A large part of it is still intact. Walk the path along the outside of the western section of the fortification, next to the stream. Climb up the stairs to the White Tower which offers a splendid view of the old town. From up here the Council House (1420) with the Trumpeter’s Tower in the centre of the square is the most eye-catching building. More interesting and dominating the skyline is the Black Church (Biserica Neagră). It is a German Lutheran church and exceptionally large for this ( mainly Romanian Orthodox) region. It was damaged and charred in a fire in 1689, hence the ‘black’ in the name. You do not have to be interested in religion to be able to appreciate the very unusual collection of Anatolian and Transylvanian rugs that were donated by wealthy merchants over the centuries and now decorate the interior. The organ (built 1839 by Carl August Buchholz) is also special and there are regular concerts.

Braşov's St. Nicholas Cathedral combines Byzantine and Baroque elements. Photo: Albert Ehrnrooth
Braşov’s St. Nicholas Cathedral combines Byzantine and Baroque elements. Photo: Albert Ehrnrooth

The centre of town with its shops, restaurants, narrow passageways and colourful façades is pleasant enough for a slow afternoon stroll. But the most genuine Romanian part of Braşov is the Schei district. Head past the 15th century Weavers’ Bastion, take note of the Kronstadt cemetery with German war graves from the First and Second World War and continue in southwesterly direction. During many centuries of Saxon rule Romanians were not allowed to live within the walled city. That is why the orthodox St. Nicholas Cathedral is in the Schei district outside the fortifications. The church was closed when I visited but there are a number of (faded) murals painted in Byzantine style on the outside and the carved wooden door is also a minor masterpiece. Next to the church is a 16th century school where the pupils for the first time anywhere were educated in Romanian. The charming church area, the grave-yard, the school and the small square with typical stylish Romanian architecture offers some tranquility, away from the very touristic old town. This is perhaps the most genuine corner of Braşov. For a hearty, traditional and very affordable meal in a rustic setting I recommend Casa Romaneasca in Piata Unirii (Union Square) which also gives you a view of the St. Nicholas Cathedral.

Tehhis is not what it used to be in Romania since the heady days of former world no.1 Ilie Năstase. Photo: Albert Ehrnrooth
Tennis is not what it used to be in Romania since the heady days of former world no.1 Ilie Năstase. Photo: Albert Ehrnrooth

Next day I decide to skip the trip I had planned to Bran and the ‘Dracula Castle’. Yesterday’s taxi driver (see previous blog) has put me off and I really need to visit Sinaia. This resort is on the train line back to Bucharest. I summon a taxi to take me (back) to the station.

This time I have a silent driver. I reckon he is in his sixties. Judging by his driving style he used to be a police officer. He seems to think he has a right to move past a minor traffic jam on the wrong side of the road, ignoring the solid white line and the oncoming cars that have to make way. I am sure this move felt a bit safer in the days when he could flash his blue police light. I also notice that he crosses himself every time we pass a church on the way to the train station. That happens three times and a fourth time he crosses himself from right to left (as is the orthodox way) after he has nearly taken out a car on a roundabout.

Braşov and Hollywood have nothing in common except for a white sign on a hill.

When he drops me at the station, he allows himself a smile and utters “Goodbye”. It is probably  the single English word he masters and the only smile he gives out professionally.


Braşov's Council House dating back to 1420. Photo: Albert Ehrnrooth


“My friend – Welcome to the Carpathians. I am anxiously expecting you. Sleep well tonight. At three tomorrow the diligence will start for Bukovina; a place on it is kept for you. At the Borgo Pass my carriage will await you and will bring you to me.” *

I did sleep well, but the Count never picked me up and I had to make my own way by train to the Carpathian mountains. You may have guessed that the quote comes from Bram Stoker’s absolutely brilliant novel Dracula. Stoker of course never visited Transylvania, but he did do Romanian tourism a huge favour.

Transylvania, the name conjures up images of wolfs, bears, gothic castles and forested mountains. Amazingly, all that and more  (hearty good food!) can still be found in this region. Transylvania is a surprisingly large province. As a matter of fact it is larger than Hungary, which it used to be part of, and has less than 7 million inhabitants.

After three days in stiflingly hot Bucharest (see previous blogs) it was time to explore the countryside. Bucharest to Braşov is a 2 ½ hour journey with a fast train. I recommend you book first class. It is not the Orient Express (which used to cross Romania),  but you do get that extra bit of legroom and it only costs the equivalent of £3 more than II class. The total cost of the 166 km journey is 70 RON or £ 13.80.

It is another sweaty late September day when I set off from the train station in Bucharest North. Ventilation is not included in first class. An old lady sitting opposite me takes out a wad of bills from her wallet. Is she really going to count money, openly like some gangster in a C movie? No, she spreads them out as if they were cards and then proceeds to fan herself with them! The notes are too thin and flimsy to do the job properly, but it is an amusing sight.

The first 45 minutes of the journey are no great shakes. Endless, flat stubble fields that have recently been harvested.  But slowly one by one wooded hills drift into view.  Having passed the massive oil refinery in Ploieşti the train track starts to follow the lower reaches of the river Prahova. I have read about Ceaușescu’s delusional renewal plans and how he ordered the destruction of thousands of villages and I am therefore pleasantly surprised to see that  at least some traditional architecture has survived in Transylvania. This stretch could potentially be a lovely train journey but the river and its banks needs cleaning up. The concrete weirs do look solid but they remind me of communist era defence lines.

After a while the hills increase and become fully grown mountains, peaking dramatically in the resort Sinaia. In the winter months this holiday centre will transform into a half-decent ski-resort. In my next blog I will make a stopover here, on my way back from Braşov.

 Braşov's medieval centre in the shadow of Mount Tampa. Photo: Albert Ehrnrooth
Braşov’s medieval centre in the shadow of Mount Tampa. Photo: Albert Ehrnrooth

Having arrived in Braşov I head for the taxi stop. I know it is only about 4 km to my hotel and I ask the driver what he is going to charge me.  50 RON, he says, which is almost £11. I haggle it down to half that price, knowing that even that is far too high. The little fellow then asks me with a sly grin if I am Russian. Should I take that as a compliment? It turns out that this ride comes with an unsolicited sales pitch. Tomorrow my trusty new friend wants to take me on a day trip to Bran and several other spooky castles. Bran is advertised as Dracula’s castle because Vlad the Impaler (the inspiration for Count Dracula) was imprisoned there long enough to register on a tourist map. It is a popular destination, looks sinister enough in the pictures and I am initially ready to consider my fixer-cum- taxi driver’s offer.

His name is Victor, I learn. He tells me to give him an offer he can’t refuse for a private tour. But I haven’t got a clue what the going rate is, so I change the subject to football. You can hardly go wrong with that in Romania, as they haven’t qualified for the World Cup 2018 in Russia. This theme brings out another, not completely surprising streak in the unshaven little chap with the glowing eyes. I ask him about the local football club. He launches into a shockingly sweary rant. He hates the effing  rich owner who, Victor claims, has destroyed his beloved FC Brașov which is currently lingering in the second Liga. The expletives continue to fly during the rest of our conversation and we cover an amazing array of subjects for a short ride.  I try to imagine what it would be like to have him as my personal chauffeur for a day, transporting me from one lugubrious castle to another,  while uttering profanities.  I am not given much time to contemplate this before Victor has changed tack. He tells me he recently bought a car in Leicester. Huh, did I hear that right!? Yes, it is cheaper to fly to Leicester, buy a second hand car and drive it all the way back to Romania, than it is to buy a vehicle locally.  Victor paid £600 for a luxury car and would I like to hire it?  It is a right-hand drive and therefore ideal for me, he says. All kinds of horror scenarios involving me and the right-hand jalopy in the Transylvanian countryside flash through my mind, before I politely decline Victor’s offer. Luckily we have arrived before he can come up with more sales pitches. Victor has delivered me slap bang in the middle of the old town without any problems. He did claim initially that it was rather complicated to get to the centre with all its narrow roads and therefore he would have to charge some extra money. It turns out that a major road cuts through the medieval market place where my hotel is. Before Victor gets back into his car he signals with his hand ‘phone me’.  His eyes light up like saucers and his cunning smile bares a perfect set of pearly whites, with the tiniest hint of fangs. Then he adds: “You can call me if there is anything you need! Anything! ”

I think I need a drink.



  • This passage is from Count Dracula’s letter to Jonathan Harker. It is taken from the first chapter of Bram Stoker’s Dracula.