I figure that Vero and I spend so much time running, talking about running, figuring out where and when to run that I should probably write about running occasionally. We don’t have internet access unless we go down the road to our host’s house, so there have been several good runs since this one, but for me it stands out.
17 kms of Pure Joy
Last Tuesday’s run was a beauty! I ran uphill all the way to the next village about 4 km from our cottage. Things got pretty muddy from all the cow traffic, so I turned around and headed back.
Before I got back into our village, I cut over the small ridge into the next valley. The road there goes 2 km up into the foothill of the Fagaras mountains before it becomes a track through dense forest. This track is only used by local woodcutters and gypsies out hunting mushrooms. I’ve run there three times now and haven’t seen another human. In fact, because I usually run early in the morning, I rarely see anyone at all.
I’d love to follow the wooded track to see how far it goes. Tuesday I couldn’t follow it far what with my little detour to the next village. I had already run 10 km to get to the entrance to the woods. The first time I went in I went farther, but still only about 3 km in. That far in you climb all the way, but never get a view. The trees are just too dense and it’s mostly younger growth due to the woodcutting. I was just getting to bigger, older trees when I turned around. Deep in the dark Transylvania woods at 7 AM, when the sun barely penetrates the leaves to light your way, it’s easy to start thinking about…. wolves. I’ve been told there are bears in the area, but bears don’t generally hunt people. Wolves on the other hand…
The way down and back is just pure speed-way. A two lane track with a grassy middle on a slight decline, wide open and fast. The last 3 km home were my fastest by almost 45 seconds per km. 17 km round trip and the last 3 were the fastest by far!
Shortly after our arrival in Bucharest, I began the search for a Romanian WWOOF. No, that is not some cutesy term for dog, like pupper or doggo. WWOOF stands for Willing Workers on Organic Farms and represents farms all over the world that accept volunteers. The usual arrangement is that you exchange your work on the farm for room and board.
Generally the farms are focused on organic farming, perma-culture, and environmentally responsible practices. In some countries the farm must (I think) be certified organic, but not in Romania.
I sent out 6 emails to farms that were in the Brasov area and looked like they might have accommodation for a family of four. Two farms replied (as of the writing of etc.), one for immediately and one for Sept-Oct.
We emailed back and forth to figure out arrival times and directions with Agnes at her farm, called Albastrea. They were having a raspberry festival that we had hoped to attend, but it clashed with a visit in Brasov from my university buddy Razvan.
We arrived the day after the raspberry party and instead arrived just in time for a spectacular thunderstorm complete with hail and horizontal rain. The local villagers say they haven’t seen a storm like that in 50 years.
Agnes explained the arrangement to us. Free accommodation in exchange for cleaning and renovations to the small cottage we’d be staying in. They had purchased it a year ago and it has stood empty since then except for a week when extended family were visiting.
Our hosts Agnes and Jan had their hands full for a couple of days, pumping out their flooded outbuildings and checking the crops for damage, so we set to cleaning. Four days later we were done inside the house and made a good start on the front garden and forest of stinging nettle outside.
Since then we’ve helped Agnes fix the plumbing in “our” house, we’ve picked choke berries and beans of all colours, and we’ve hosted the local mini-flock of sheep in our yard. It’s been terrific, and the kids love it! I can’t believe how much they love to pick berries; they even toughed out two hours of bean picking in the rain!
The village is called Sarata-Colun (with some accents on the a’s) and it’s about halfway between Brasov and Sibiu. It’s not far from the famous Trans-Fagarasan highway (boondoggle) built by the Ciaucescu government. The entire place is built along the banks of a little stream. One lane on each side and a bunch of little bridges accross. There’s one and a half shops for food, no restaurants, and that’s it. You want gas? Next town. You want broccoli? Even farther. A carton of soy milk? Day trip.
That said, we love it here. It’s quiet, there’s more horse and wagon traffic than cars. Our wonderful hosts stop by to check the sheep and ask “Do you like corn?” The kids scream “Yeeeeessssss!!!” and they stop by later with a crate of corn, peppers, onions, and tomatoes. All organic, all from their garden. Tomorrow we’re picking tomatoes and we might install a counter-top to make our kitchen a little more user-friendly. We’ve got hot water now and our cupboards are full. What more could anyone want?
We often associate Transylvania with spooky mountains, weird necktie/cape combos, and exsanguination. So far, the city of Brasov is a total disappointment. The mountains are pleasantly wooded with the occasional bear attack, I haven’t seen a single cape, and I swear I’m just naturally pale!
The city itself has two personalities. There’s a newer section with the usual banks and industry and apartment blocks. Mostly people focus on the older part with a big, ancient church, the university of silviculture, and lots of pubs and restaurants.
This part of town really is lovely; the aforementioned pleasantly wooded mountains surround it on three sides. There’s even a nice children’s park on one side. No bear attacks in the park, either.
There is a nice little zoo, a water park, and an adventure park in the new city along with shopping malls and grocery stores. We went to the zoo because our kids are too short for the adventure park and they can’t swim.
Right at the zoo entrance they had a nice little raptor and owl display, and the kids got to fight over the bear and the lion ticket all day. They both wanted the lion.
Brown bears (of which grizzlies are a sub-species) are fairly common in Romania, so they have many at the zoo. At least one cub and around 8 adults.
There are lots of birds, including ostriches, swans, peacocks (we saw so many in Sri Lanka, but the kids are still impressed) and various raptors.
One of my university buddies is Romanian and is now working in Switzerland. He just happened to be in Romania visiting friends and family while we’re here, so we re-connected in Brasov. Razvan showed up after a long drive and we made him climb a mountain with the Little Fella in tow.
Mount Tampa has a variety of trails up the side, and Vero and I had been taking turns running up it early in the morning. The trails are well maintained and mostly switchback up the front side. There’s a beauty marked with a blue plus sign that requires a 3 km run through Old Brasov (from our apartment). It’s worth it for the winding ascent that ends up in an alpine-feeling meadow near the top.
Back in the old days, they planted some contrasting trees to spell out “Stalin” on the mountainside. I’m not sure if they cut those trees down or if Nature herself just re-absorbed it. Now there’s a 10 m high “Brasov” sign with a cable-car to ferry (lazy) people up and down the mountain.
Technically it’s not really Dracula’s castle. Bran castle was one of Vlad the Impaler’s homes. Vlad was the inspiration for Bram Stoker’s Dracula. He was pretty awful by anyone’s standards. There are no spikes on display at the castle in Bran, but spikes were integral to Vlad’s preferred method of revenge.
The castle is quite compact (small) with narrow, winding staircases and lots of Harry Potter-esque rooms under stairs. Many of the rooms are decorated with furniture, artwork, tapestries, and suits of armor.
The one thing that really surprised us was the crowds. The line-up for tickets was 15 m long. Our wonderfully helpful Airbnb hosts George and Monica said they’d never seen it so busy. Most of our visit to the castle we were restricted to shuffling along behind the masses of other tourists.
Even the outdoor areas were packed, with no balcony left empty. We managed to find an empty corner to sit and watch the people throw money into the 1.5 m deep well, and watch other people try to fish it out.
Bonus Tractor Pic
We’re now in a tiny village called Sarata-Colun. We found it via the WWOOF network, and are trading some cleaning and renovations for free accommodation. It’s a nice, quiet change from the city.