Braşov; The Black Church; Tâmpa Hill's cable car; Foiling a mugging attempt; Pipe-organ recital; A bad hostel

In the morning we bade goodbye to Elvira and the British guys,and walked the packs to the hostel all the way on the other side of town. It took more than an hour to walk, and in retrospect it would have been nicer to walk back to the train station and take the number 51 bus, but you know what they say about hindsight. We got there in the end and found the hostel. The place immediately turned us off in a big way - the receptionist was a snot and the whole place was plastered with signs full of juvenile sexual humour. The private double room, for example, was called the “shagging room” and after 11, guests were directed to use the common room rather than the terrace if they wanted to “try and get laid”. Not our sort of place at all - not to mention the nasty showers and extra mattresses crammed in every corner to maximize profits - including, horrifyingly, the hallway. We couldn’t be arsed to find the other hostel and move our packs there, ao on the principle that all hostels suck anyway (we were certainly right about that - see tomorrow’s entry) we decided to stick it out for one night

Once we got checked in, we went back out into town and wandered for awhile, looking for a place to buy camping equipment. There was one small place in town, but it had none of what we were looking for (it escapes me now what those things were). After that failure we decided to take a walk outside the old city walls to the base of Tâmpa Hill and take the cable car to the top. Sheryl and I are both suckers for cable cars and funicular railways of all kinds - don’t ask me why - and we’d been looking forward to this one. It was a quick trip up to 600m altitude, and the view was quite good. Braşov has a big white sign on the hillside spelling out the name of the town, Hollywood-style, and there was a path from the cable car terminal to a lookout point behind the sign. The air was clear, so we could see a long way. Braşov is a pretty town from above, all red roofs. There was a winding path or trail leading down the hill back to town, so we decided to walk rather than pay for another cable-car trip. This almost ended up costing a a lot more than it saved us. There was a middle-aged man at the top of the trail, leaning over a cane, and as we passed him he asked us a question about the trail in Romanian. We said sorry, only English, and started down. He began to follow us close behind, still hobbling with his cane, but moving surprisingly quickly. Suspiciously quickly, in fact - after a few turns of the path, he was still right behind us every time we were able to look behind. We were finally able to peek through the trees and see that he was actually trotting - without the cane - to keep up with us. We tried twice to stop so that he could pass us, the second time gesturing him forward, but he affected not to understand and refused to go ahead of us. It was at this point that we got angry and nervous, and started taking the situation seriously. When the trail passed underneath the cable-car wires, we stopped to take some pictures and Sheryl successfully moved him ahead of us. He was still playing the game, so he went, but waited just beyond the first turn - we could see his yellow shirt through the trees, so we knew he hadn’t gone on and was waiting for us. Time to start thinking tactically - my first concern was to lose him, and then to get past his partner who was undoubtedly coming up the path ahead of us. We took advantage of the fact that we were temporarily out of his sight and retreated to the last turn, where I’d seen a different way down. It was rough and steep - not a trail but a spot where the rain had washed a section of dirt bare. We picked our way down it, sliding most of the way out of control. It let us skip two or three of the path’s hairpin turns, though, and get far enough ahead of our pursuer that he couldn’t tell where we were. We took the rest of the trail as quickly as we dared - trotting down the safer parts and taking downhill shortcuts between bends whenever we could. He eventually figured out what we were doing and tried to catch up, but we had too much of a lead and were moving too quickly. When we judged that we were far enough ahead we stopped taking shortcuts and stuck to the path, and I picked up a long, thick branch in case we met the accomplice. We never did - only a couple of people passed us, neither of them remotely dodgy. The accomplice may not have existed after all, our man in the yellow shirt may have been acting alone - but if it were me doing it, that’s the way I’d have set it up. I was still suspicious enough near the end of the trail that, when a man passed me and headed for where Sheryl was walking, I faded back and stayed behind him with my tree branch until he’d proved himself harmless. Sheryl thanked me for it, and I told her I would always be happy to sneak up behind innocent unsuspecting people with a club for her. I’m sure we were safe at that point, but I think I was justified in being suspicious. It’s possible that the whole episode was only in our heads, but I doubt it very much. We both have pretty strongly-developed survival instincts, and our sixth senses were tingling the whole time. We both think it’s likely that we escaped a mugging.

Nothing so exciting happened the rest of the day, that’s for certain. We wended our way back to town - it was nearly 6pm at this point - and visited the Black Church. The Black Church is so-called because a fire in the distant past stained the walls black with soot. Centuries of rain have left it the same grey as all the rest of Braşov’s stonework now, though, so the name no longer fits. While we were circumnavigating the building a slightly odd Romanian lady asked us for the time, and then engaged us in the usual where-are-you-from gesture-conversation. Amusingly, when she heard we were from Canada she said “Canada!”, stood perfectly straight, and gave us a crisp military salute! Not a sardonic wave of the hand toward the brow, or a jaunty flick of the wrist, or a two-finger tick of the hat-brim, but a full, quivering-at-attention salute. I’m not sure what Canada signifies to her, but apparently something quite important. Conscious now of our role as ambassadors and not wanting to let her down, we were much more polite and formal for the rest of our conversation. We didn’t have any languages in common, so it was a short one - which was good because the burden of representing your country is a heavier one than we could bear for long and we collapsed in a fit of idiotic laughter as soon as she was out of earshot.

One nice side effect of this bizarre episode was that it delayed us from walking on for long enough that we heard the sounds of a pipe-organ from inside. That’s strange enough on a weekday evening to bear investigation, and so we did - and discovered that there was to be a recital in half an hour, admission 5RON. That’s about CAD$2, and I’d pay ten times that to hear a pipe-organ recital. It was a short programme - half an hour of Beethoven and Bach - and it was wonderful. Photographs aren’t allowed in the church, so Sheryl and I both spent the time sketching the organ and organ loft. The music was much better than my sketching, it’s been a long time since I’ve done any drawing - and it’s hard to create a masterpiece with a ball-point pen.


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Chris Liberty - Dispatches from a Gentleman Adventurer
Being the internal dialog of a vagabond who chased his own tail across five continents for 4 years and 2 days from May 2008 to May 2012, in search of something that never really became clear.
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