Day trip to Sinaia; Sheryl narrowly escapes death by asphyxiation; Train seat confusion - car 3 vs. car 3b; Sinaia Monastery; Chanting, wood-banging and bell-ringing; Peleş Castle and its statues; Sprained wrist, but to damage to camera; No cable-car for us

Today’s side trip destination was to the town of Sinaia. It’s not difficult to get to, but we were eager, and so we were up and ready early, only to find that the breakfast provided by the hostel had already been completely eaten by the few early risers. This infuriated both of us. Hostel suck - yes. We both know that and have no illusions about them. But if you’re going to say in your advertisements that you provide breakfast, then provide it for every guest, not just those fortunate few who are fast enough to claim a share of a single loaf of bread. It was especially annoying because the last hostel had also claimed to provide breakfast, and it had been nothing but toast and jam. This new place, it was rumoured, gave you eggs as well - and so we were anticipating more than the usual, and got nothing at all, I think that’s why we were both angry. Being treated like trash is starting to get very old indeed. Maybe it will be different outside of Europe, where backpacking isn’t so common.

Anyway, we stomped out of the hostel on empty stomachs and walked to the train station. On the way, Sheryl had an allergy- and asthma-indced coughing fit. It went on for ages and I was getting very worried about her - she couldn’t get any air into her lungs without setting herself hacking again. We attracted a small crowd of bystanders, each trying to help in their own counterproductive way. With a very great stroke of luck, we were outside a pharmacy, and all the commotion attracted the attention of the pharmacists. They brought her water, some sort of homeopathic tablets to put under her tongue, and crystals of pure menthol for her to breath from, which I’d never seen before (I got to play with it some, later - they make your tongue go numb if you taste it). We felt bad that we couldn’t really talk with them and explain the problem properly, but they understood allergies and asthma and we could at least say mulţumesc (thank you). Sheryl was pretty shaky for a while after, but felt better eventually.

The unintended delay, however, caused us to miss our train by two or three minutes. We found a park across the train tracks, and climbed a fence to get into it (we found out later that there was a tunnel directly from the station - who knew?). It was a nice place to kill a couple of hours while waiting for the next train. The train, when we finally got on it, was an intensely annoying experience. We were in car 3, seats 31 and 32. We boarded, and wrested our seats from the people sitting in them, as usual - an old couple, so we felt a bit guilty about making them move and not sit together. Soon after departure, though, another family got on who claimed to have our seats. We showed them our tickets, they showed us theirs, and they were the same seats all right. This scene repeated itself all over the carriage, with much shouting and angry discussion. After half an hour of it, Sheryl was all for giving up our seats and standing between cars, just to shut people up and get away from the noise. I’d spent the time sinking stubbornly into my seat like a turtle into its shell and wasn’t about to give it up for anything - not when I’d finally got a first-class seat. The multi-sided argument lasted until we got off the train at Sinaia, where we looked at the sign on the side of the car and saw that what one man had been shouting was true - the car wasn’t car 3 after all, it was car 3b. Presumably the real car 3 was right next to it, probably completely empty while all its passengers fought over seats in car 3b. I’m still not sure which car we (or anyone) were supposed to be on, or if any of the big mess was our fault or not.

We got to Sinaia around 3 in the afternoon - much later than we’d planned but still with plenty of time to see Peleş Castle, the object of our visit. Sinaia is a lovely mountainside town. Our first stop, on the way to the castle, was the local monastery. This monastery was plainer than the painted monasteries in Bucovina, more like what I’d expect a “working” monastery to be like. And indeed, this was a working monastery. We heard chanting coming from one of the side buildings, and at one point a monk in a beautiful flowing black robe and headdress came out of the main monastery building carrying a three-meter-long plank of wood. He balanced this on his shoulder and circumnavigated the monastery grounds, tapping loudly and arrythmically on it with a hammer as he went. We had no idea at all what this might signify. Sheryl made a snide remark about his lack of rhythm, but no sooner had she said that than he re-emerged, crossed to the bell-tower, and began beating a set of drums with rhythm, timing and verve, like a Japanese taiko drummer. I told Sheryl that she owed him an apology and she agreed. We were distracted from apologizing, though, because after drumming the monk immediately set to ringing the monastery’s great bell. Aside from the bell, I’ve no idea what any of this signified, and those who are more familiar than I with Orthodox monastic practices are welcome to fill me in. I do think, though, that that monk had the best job in the whole monastery.

From the monastery to Peleş Castle. We hadn’t seen photos and didn’t know what to expect from the castle, only hoping that it wouldn’t be a reprise of yesterday’s disappointment at Bran Castle. Nothing could have been further from the truth, though - Peleş is enchanting. The building itself is magnificent and graceful, and the grounds are full of wonderful sculptures. We didn’t want to push our luck by going inside, thinking that the interior couldn’t possibly live up to the outside, and so decided to quit while we were ahead.

There was only one more thing we wanted to do in Sinaia, and that was to ride the cable-car to the top of the mountain. Not only was it a cable-car, which we both love, but it went all the way up to 2000m altitude, which would be higher than either of us had ever been before (I don’t know about Sheryl but my previous maximum was 1500m in New Zealand - though every meter of that was by foot). We wound our way up and down the steep streets of Sinaia, and up and down the little staircases that weren’t distinguished from the streets fn the map. For the last little bit we were trailed by a giant school group. We were terribly afraid that they were going to the cable car too, and that we’d be trapped in a carriage with a million screaming kids. So we rushed ahead of them until we got to the last steep staircase leading down, all slippery with mud and water, and I slipped and fell hard onto the steps, spraining my left wrist, slamming my camera down on the stone with my right, and getting mud all over my shorts. The camera was fine, which was all I really cared about. The wrist was in rough shape for quite a while (I can still feel it a bit two weeks later, as I write this). All the hurrying was doubly wasted, though - first because the kids streamed past us on their way to somewhere else entirely, and second because the cable-car had closed for the day two hours before. Bitterly disappointed, and with me unable to bend my wrist, we trudged down the hill and caught the train back to Braşov.


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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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