We flew from Paris to Bucharest on “Wizz Airlines”, which in American English translates to “Piss Airlines”, haha, I just can’t help myself but to smile stupidly every time I see their logo:
We got really lucky, because in the plane, we met a nice Romanian metal girl who told us tons about her country! Cristina helped us to basically plan our whole trip. Thanks a lot!! She also told us that it would be very hot in Bucharest. I was quite excited because everything has been so cold in Europe so far… but I take it back now. Bucharest was like 40 degrees celcius, and every meter we walked made us sweat a liter.
Bucharest is Romania’s capital – where most Romanian metal bands come from. It is also where the bloody dictator Ceauşescu reigned, and destroyed a shitload of medieval buildings (1/6th of the city!) to build a huge, costly monument; the House of the People. The city didn’t strike me as being really beautiful, but it certainly had character!
We went to a restaurant called Caru cu Bere, which is apparently the most famous restaurant in Bucharest. It mostly offers tasty Romanian cuisine, inside a beautiful ancient building. I had Sarmale cu mămăligă, wine leaves stuffed with meat, served with soft polenta (some kind of cornmeal). It was so delicious!!! I haven’t had sarmale OR mămăligă this good for the rest of our Romanian trip.
Romania is one of the most religious countries of Europe, and you can see Orthodox churches pretty much everywhere, and in each neighbourhood. I don’t know much about Orthodox Christianity but I do enjoy byzantine and icon art quite a lot, so I was quite happy to explore their rich history here! We went to the patriarchy, who is the heart of Romanian Orthodox Christianity. The building looked really weird, and a bunch of funny looking priests were walking around. We stepped inside the church, and there was a mass going on! Many women had a veil on their heads, and some were doing prostrations. The choirs also sounded quite evil… it was an unusual experience for us; and we didn’t stay very long. Haha!
We also went to the Buna Vestire church in the old center of Bucharest. The inside was richly decorated with gold and with many icons everywhere. Outside, women were praying and were lighting candles. I always wonder why it’s mostly women you see at churches! Do they sin more than men? Haha
Downtown Bucharest was also the ruins of the Voivode Palace (Palatul Voievodal), which was built by Vlad Ţepeş (the impaler). Ţepeş is also the inspiration for Dracula – and is a national hero for having impaled and massacred many many Ottoman invaders. I guess you could say that Romania has influenced metal quite a lot!
So, that’s what we did in our four days in Bucharest! We also were a bit sick (we were both had pretty flashy-coloured mucus) so we didn’t do much else. Except laughing at this funny mall name; Zizi mall. Zizi means penis in French-Canadian. Usually for small boys haha
Getting to Sinaia by was really easy and quick. We were excited to visit our first Transylvanian destination! It was raining outside, so it made everything looking a little bit more horror-movie like!! Sinaia is more like a tourist resort – where people come to do skiing in winter and enjoy the breathtaking scenery of the Carpathian mountains. Many nobles found the place suitable for building summer retreats and castles, so we went to visit one of them – the lush Peleş castle, built by Carol 1st. It was actually the first European castle which had electricity!
Before we got to the castle, we were quite hungry, and had a Transylvanian speciality; Kurtös Kälaks! It means “chimney cake” and actually, it was imported by Hungarians who lived in the region. It’s basically rising dough that is wrapped around a stick, and baked over hot embers. It is usually dusted with sugar and baked until caramelized! It can then be covered with cinnamon, nuts and all sorts of yummy things.
So, we ate the whole thing and started ascending Sinaia on the way to the castle. There was a bunch of Rom people selling juicy-looking berries in cute hand-made baskets. I resisted the temptation, I was full anyway! The scenery was startling… it was nice to see a bit of nature.
We had to pay 15$ to take photos inside, so I didn’t, unfortunately. I just took two sneaky shots before the guards gave me evil eyes:
The castle was really beautiful inside – I never visited such a castle (usually they are in ruins!) and I kind of felt privileged to be able to see its insides. We had to wear some kind of shoe covers so we wouldn’t ruin the carpets. Everything looked so rich inside, it was really crazy! But I wonder, these people probably didn’t have much fun… everything was so proper and well-mannered and all. They had secret passages in EVERY room so the servants could appear and disappear without the guests knowing!!
Anyway, we had to leave after visiting the castle because we had get to Braşov, which was only a couple of hours away…
We arrived in Braşov just in time for dinner. It was Sunday and everything was closed, except for some touristic restaurant near our hostel. We deserved a nice big meal after our day of sightseeing, so we ordered two Romanian specialities:
The food was much blander than at the restaurant we went to in Bucharest, but it was still very satisfying. We also tried a dark Romanian beer, Ursus Black:
The square near where we lived was very pretty; it had historical buildings including the first Romanian school, as well as a really epic-looking church from the 1400’s
Our hostel was really nice in Braşov; our breakfast was huge, we had a free beer every day, and they had a really cute and insanely HUGE sheepdog as a pet. That monster dog breed is named “Mioritic Shepard Dog” and they are ancient ones that came from the Carpathian mountains. It must have been around 33 inches tall, and the biggest dog in the world is 35 inches tall! I was beyond impressed.
We did quite a lot of exploring in the city – mostly staying in the heart of the medieval part of town. We went to visit the Piaţa Sfatului (centre of the town), and its gothic-style Black Church. This part of town was actually the last place in Europe to be where witches were judged and burnt down!
We were lucky enough to be there for an organ concert in that very church. They only played about 45 minutes, but the organist was on fire!!!! He played four pieces, Andante and Fantasie by Mozart, as well as Choralvorspiel/Preludiu de coral and Praeludium und Fuge by Bach. It was bone-chilling, and totally François and myself goosebumps. Imagine hearing such evil-sounding organ in a gothic Black Church amidst Carpathian mountains in the middle of Transylvania. It couldn’t get cooler than that.
We also went to see some medieval towers and fortifications that were built to protect the city against Ottoman invaders. They weren’t that impressive, but it was cool to see anyway:
Near Braşov is the small village of Bran, where stands the Bran castle – misleadingly named “Dracula castle”. Vlad Ţepeş never had anything to do with that quite recent castle (he was from the 1400’s!) but it looks so evil that it was named that way. Sadly, we couldn’t really see it because it was shrouded beneath a mini-forest. We knew it was a tourist trap, but we still went because I wanted to buy some cool souvenirs haha
The interior was really disappointing and pretty much useless. It looked like a half-ass attempt on showing the inside of a castle. It seriously looked like it was a school project or something! And yet, we paid something like 8$ to enter. A real rip-off.
On top of that, the souvenirs were not that cool! They were really non-imaginative and 90’s looking Dracula paraphernalia. The t-shirts were ugly, everything was really amateur looking. The only pretty cool thing I found was a Vlad Ţepeş beer and plate set. Haha
Now, onward to our next destination…
We took a slow train, and arrived in the Transylvanian medieval town of Sighişoara in early afternoon. The temperature was absolutely hot, and we had to climb the stairs to the citadel with our bags. Not fun! But we arrived to a nice little hotel, which had a beautiful garden and some comfortable beds.
The citadel part of Sighişoara was small and we could visit it in 15 minutes, really. It was nice to walk around to relax and discover colourful medieval houses. This rich historical centre has also been classified Unesco since it is the last inhabited medieval citadel in Europe, and one of the best preserved.
Sighişoara is Vlad Ţepeş’ birthplace, and his childhood home is still standing. Unfortunately, it’s been turned into a cheesy Dracula-style cafe, with bland overpriced food. Still cool to be able to see it though:
Outside the cafe was a totally lame looking Dracula who was posing for tourists. I couldn’t resist the temptation… what a horrible makeup job though! Haha
A day before, François got some incredible news from home… he actually got offered a really good job at his old workplace in Montreal – therefore, we are already set for when we come back to Canada. What good news!!!! To celebrate, we went to a semi-fancy restaurant, which served some nice traditional Romanian food:
A weird thing happened on the second day. A Swedish guy with a sleeve full of morbid tattoos and an Amebix shirt arrived in our dorm room. We were surprised! Not only have we been alone in dorms since we started travelling in Romania, but this was the first time since the beginning of this trip that a total stranger and fellow traveler had exactly the same musical tastes as us!!! He even was in Muskelrock and loves pretty much the same metal and punk that we do. His name was Viktor, and together we had many beers, and we hiked to an ancient oak conservation park.
Daniel told us something that kind of fucked the rest of our trip in Romania. He told us that SAINT VITUS, one of our favourite bands ever, were playing in a few days in Budapest, the capital of Hungary. We looked at our things, crossed out some cities we wanted to visit, looked at train schedules, booked flight tickets and the next day, we took a bus to the town of Targu Mures, then flew to Budapest…
Budapest felt like a little bit like Prague, which we visited 5 years ago. The buildings are decorated with finely sculpted ornaments, and the food was a bit similar… but more expensive (at least in our neighbourhood). We could easily spent 30$ on a meal, which is a big change from Romania – which cost us 10$ similar food! We really wanted to explore its culinary side, but we simply couldn’t afford to eat out all the time – so we had tons of sandwiches, haha. We did try a their very famous goulash soup and beef stew though!
The Saint Vitus gig was the day after we arrived in Budapest, and in the afternoon before the show, we relaxed the whole day at the beautiful Gallért baths, which is one of Budapest’s most famous spa (what a way to get ready for a show!!) So, we stayed 5 hours bathing and relaxing in rich thermal water, filled with minerals and other goodies… only to ruin it all by banging our heads like maniacs and drinking like fishes!!
The show was at the A38, which is a boat-venue located on the Danube river. At sun set, we walked there from our hostel, armed with pre-drinking beers and singing Saint Vitus songs. We imagined how the show would be… would they sing Burial at Sea?
We were there pretty early as usual, so we hung out and talked to people around. I noticed SAINT VITUS hot sauce (!), which is hand-made by their roadie. They were selling them for a lot of money, but you could trade them for some amusing stuff:
They were also selling a tom skin, filled with funny drawings and signatures:
But the coolest was a pink (!) “Born Too Late” shirt, which was François’ dream for years! Unfortunately, he tried it on, and it looked really really bad on him, so we didn’t buy it…
There were three Hungarian bands that opened the show; WALL OF SLEEP, MAGMA RISE and a third one that I forgot. They were ok, but didn’t really have a stage presence or really insane riffs that made me go crazy. Perhaps they were a bit too influenced by the Southern Rock scene. Baah. no problem, I was keeping all my power for the Vitus anyway! Finally, after a few hours, they started playing. It was unbelievable… I saw them twice before in festival settings, but I never saw them from that close, in a smaller venue like this. The sound was loud, and I basically had the whole band playing right in my face… arghhh! On the left of me was a Spanish couple, which I discovered were the roommates of my friend Dopi of MACHETAZO! What a coincidence! So together with François, we headbanged the hell out of our poor necks.
The band was really on fire, they ripped a really incredible set, playing songs like “Clear Windowpane”, “Born Too Late”, “Dying Inside”, “Saint Vitus”, “White Stallions” (they played it twice as fast, I almost shit my pants haha, it was so good!), “Living Backwards”, “Let Them Fall” (from the new album), as well as two other songs from the last record. But no “Burial at Sea”… the manager later told me that there are certain songs they wouldn’t play in some situations… haha! Chandler was playing with his mouth as usual, and even used the Spanish girl’s hair for soloing. He later thanked her by dropping his guitar pick in her shirt. What a gentleman! Hahahaha
After they played, the band members went inside the crowd and talked with the fans. Dave Chandler actually recognized me from the cover of Hellbent for Cooking (!!) and was so excited, he took a photo with me to show his wife! Apparently, he worked in a herb or natural store or something, that distributes it. It was weird to be taken in photo like this haha! We also talked a bit with Wino, who had a Blue Oyster Cult conversation with François (he was wearing the shirt)… After that, we got together with the Spanish couple and went for some post-drinking! We stopped at some Janis Joplin pub, had a huge beer, then bought some more cans in a convenience store. Let’s just say that I was beyond hungover the next day haha
Speaking of being beyond hungover, I woke up with a bruise on my eye. I think I accidently knocked my head on an amp or something. It looked pretty cool anyway haha. Battle scars!
So, we only had one day left in Budapest before we went back to Romania. We had to do SOME touristic thing at least, so we walked around and discovered the city. We ended up walking something like 10 kilometers, being hangover as hell, and in the extreme heat. It actually helped to walk that much, I was feeling way better at the end of the day! We started by visiting the impressive parliament building, which has been built in a gothic style. It looked really cool from up close – with gargoyles and really realistic looking statues of all sorts of characters:
We then walked up the castle hill and saw the dominant neo-gothic church of St-Mathias, which we didn’t enter (it was 5$ – screw that). The outside was nice though, especially the patterns on the roof! Never seen something like that before. Around were some sculptures and statues of kings and even some sort of Viking-looking men…
We also saw the outside of the palace, but it was pretty uninteresting. It might not seem like alot, but I can say that it was really difficult with our monster hangovers to walk in the heat like that haha. Ahh well.
The following day, we took an early train over to Cluj Napoca, in Romania, which took about 9 hours to arrive. What really sucked about it was that the air conditioning was broken in second class, so we were in something like 40 degrees for a big part of it. We couldn’t do anything, we were just baking under all that heat. When we crossed the Hungarian border, the staff took pity on us and moved us to the first class, where there was nice air conditioning. Ouf!
Cluj is a modern youthful city with one of Europe’s largest universities. We only had half a day to explore it, but what I’ve seen was pretty cool! I especially enjoyed the large Orthodox cathedral – which had many byzantine-styled mosaics in the inside. We also found a cheap restaurant next to our hostel that served really really nice food for real cheap.
The restaurant made everything totally by hand, including pickles. They are some of the best pickles I’ve ever had, and honestly, it really makes me feel like doing some when I come back home! They also served green tomato pickles, which were particularly delicious.
The hostel we picked in Cluj was not very well laid out. We picked a 8-bed dorm, but there was another 10-bed dorm attached to it. We had a toilet in our dorm, as well as the exit – so you can just imagine the kind of highway our room was the whole night! It was really shitty and I barely slept that night. Anyway, our next destination is the region of Maramureş, which was another good 5 hours in an oven-train. Haha! I never sweated so much in my life!
Maramureş is the most northern part of Romania. A little bit more north, and it’s Ukraine! We went there basically to soak in nature, and see the more rural side of Romania. In fact, this region is quite famous for its timeless villages, traditional wooden churches, beautiful mountain landscape and its merry cemetery.
We started by staying in Baia Mare – the biggest city in the region, and then taking a mini-bus to the countryside. We found a guesthouse in a tiny village called Breb, which apparently hasn’t changed very much in hundreds of years. We had to walk two kilometres to reach our guesthouse, since the bus didn’t directly go to it:
Our guesthouse was absolutely fantastic. Although it was quite expensive (50 euros per night!) we got a gigantic breakfast and a rich dinner every night, as well as never ending alcoholic drinks. It was so peaceful at night, it felt good to be able to have real nights of sleep!
The food was excellent – although very rich (we were craving veggies after staying three days haha). And of course, you always had to take a shot of ţuică (plum moonshine) before each meal. This region is very famous for its extremely strong ţuică. In fact, I think they call it palinca when it reaches a certain degree of alcohol! That was one flammable, so it was pretty fucking strong haha
The meals themselves would always start with a soup, a main meal and then a light dessert. The best were always the soups – I think it’s the Romanian specialty. The best soup (which I couldn’t stop eating) was this one:
Other kickass meals were legs of chicken served on chicken pilaf rice, stuffed cabbage and mămăligă stuffed with cheese!
Oh yeah, I forgot to mention the epic breakfasts we had every morning. They consisted of veggies with home-made ham, fresh cheese with dill, fresh bread, home-made jam, coffee, tea, fresh milk (straight from the cow haha) and PANCAKES! What a way to wake up in the morning, damn!
We chose that specific guesthouse because they rented bikes as part of a “friendlier-environment” thing. I don’t know what I was thinking, bus when we saw the mountains, we knew it was not very bike friendly… nevertheless, we still did a day of biking. We walked half the time, and the other half, went down crazy slopes! It was actually quite fun!!!
So we drove our bikes an hour and a half to the village of Deseşti, to see its famous wooden church of the Holy Paraskeva. Built in 1770, and classified Unesco in 1995, it might look small and innocent on the outside, but the inside is really impressive…
The inside is fully painted by an artist called Radu Munteanu, and its colourful iconography includes scenes from the Old and New Testament… It was also decorated with traditional crafts and many ancient icons. It was really awesome to see all of that…
We met a really nice French family who invited me to come with them a little bit further in the north to visit a market as well as the infamous Merry Cemetery. I was beyond stoked – I had kind of given up on going because we either had to rent a car or go with a guide… and both was too expensive for us. So, we woke up early and started with the Sighetu Marmatei market!
After that, we went to the Merry Cemetery in Săpânta. So, what’s so merry about this cemetery? In 1935, a craftsman and woodcarver had the idea to lay aside the sadness and dark aspects related to death by adding witty poems related to the person’s life on their grave. He died in the late 70’s, but his work was carried on by one of his apprentices. The result is a really colourful cemetery with curious drawings of the deceased! Only one of these cemeteries exist in the world, so it is very unique and was very interesting to visit. I couldn’t read what was written on the tombs, but according to my guidebook, one of them went like “Here lays my step mother/If she wouldn’t have died/It would have been me” – which I found really funny!
Săpânta also apparently has Europe’s tallest wooden church. It’s actually pretty recent (2003 I think?) but its size is very impressive! It’s unbelievable that it’s all been made with wood…
On the way back, we stopped to do a bit of groceries for the French family. I saw some funny items that I couldn’t help but take a photo of…
We came back to Baia Mare for a night, and then took the plane to Bucharest (as it was like 15 hours away and we simply didn’t have time to travel all the way there!)
Bucharest (part 2!)
We were hosted by our friend Andrei for our last couple of days in Romania, and we had a really good time together! We listened to music (SLAUGHTER!!! AUTOPSY!!), did some cooking and drinking, and we went to Bucharest’s cemetery. I wanted Andrei to taste poutine, so I made one of the Italian varieties:
I also made some sort of mushroom goulash with a full bulb and a half of garlic. It was really good, I will definitely make some again!!
On Friday night, we went to Private Hell, which is apparently the best metal bar in Bucharest. They played really bad songs, but I told them it was my birthday and wrote them a big playlist. It was brilliant when they started playing it!!! But then we got the hell out when it was done haha, all they played was modern metal…
On Thursday, Daniel, Andrei’s young 13-year old NWOBHM fanatic brother, came to join us at the apartment, and then we went to visit the city’s biggest cemetery. It was a nice cemetery – just like I like them. Lots of vegetation and worn out tombstones! They even had some traditional graves scattered here and there:
Contrary to that Merry Cemetery I’ve been to in the north, sadness was represented here. I tried to make this one merry…
There’s also a very special tomb of a young girl called Iulia Hasdeu. Andrei told me that this little girl was a real genius – she wrote many poem books, knew seven languages and was incredibly talented. But she left the world too early; she died at 18 of tuberculosis. Apparently, her father got in touch with her through a medium, and she dictated him exactly how he wanted him to build a castle (including decorations and everything) as well as her grave! And that’s the result…
We then took a photo of all of us in front of some cool-looking grave thing. A security guard was carefully watching us so we don’t do any desecrations… haha
The next day, I woke up at 3AM, jumped on a plane for Germany, and here I am – in Nuremberg at my friend Seb and Nikki’s place! In a few days, I shall be going to Hell’s Pleasure, then take a bus to Paris and head home back to Canada… only a week is left before the end of our trip, arghhh!!!