--Sunday, 25 April 99-- (Continued)
First things first: I purchased my return ticket from a woman who spoke
French so it was not too painful. You can't buy round trips in Romania
but have to buy each segment separately.
It didn't take much walking to see why everyone praises Sinaia. It is
set in a deep valley in the Sub Carpathians. Streams rush down steep slopes
and add the lovely sound of water music to the mist-filled air. Sinaia
is above the floor of the plain here and only the tips of the tree branches
that were in regular sunshine had budded. The tree trunks were all moss
covered, lending a dark green color to the rich brown red of the leaf
colored forest floor.
I started walking up hill figuring that I would figure out where I wanted
to go soon enough and I was quickly rewarded with a schematic map on a
sign that pointed the way to Peles (Pelish) Castle, built by King Carol
I, the first Romanian monarch. It turned out to be a fair-sized (160 rooms
plus 30 bathrooms) German style (Carol was a member of the Hohenzollern
family), half-timber structure. It was designed to be impressive and,
in a small way, it was.
Pelish Castle in Sinaia.
I walked up to the paved area in front of the
building and admired the statuary. It came in the male, female and dog
variety in various stages of fig-leafed nudity, all covered by splotches
of moss that suggested various forms of skin cancer. There were two stone
dogs on a balustrade that I rather liked but I couldn't tell if their
markings were painted or just more moss. I took several pictures. A little
later I noticed a sign that said, "Fotografiera pe statui si balustrade
esta interzisa," but I don't speak Romanian and there were no translations
so I didn't worry about what it said. There was a fountain in front of
the center of the building and I noticed that it contained not only coins
but paper money as well. Inflation has made coins nearly obsolete but
Some of the statuary
outside Pelish Castle.
While in the waiting room filled with Americans,
a woman came out of the door leading into the palace and said, rather
loudly, "She's locked in a bathroom and there is no way we can get
her out!" I suppose, if you must make a splash, the place to make
it is the bathroom.
Allowing Americans to tour museums in groups can be a risky proposition
in more than verbal ways. Later on the tour, I saw an American squeeze
by a marble statue on a high wooden pedestal. He pushed against the pedestal
to get by and it rocked and swayed and I was wondering if the bust would
The tour of Peles was interesting, well managed and very professionally
conducted. The English tour guide spoke the language with a fine accent
and knew what she was talking about. Even nicer from my point of view
was the use a two tier ticketing system: foreigners pay more but they
get a separate entrance and English tour guides.
The castle was mostly designed and constructed between 1875 and 1883 but
was not completed until 1910. Its purpose was to impress its visitors
and it succeeds in impressing. A tremendous variety of wood was used but
mostly dark walnut. The windows have stained glass, the walls are dark
and have dark paintings on them. (We were told that Carol had eleven El
Greco's but we didn't see any on the tour.)
The overall effect is an impressive darkness, a severeness of spirit,
a gloominess that fits the personality of its builder who was noted for
his industrious humorlessness. He also had his oddities. When he shook
hands he gave one finger to most people and two to really important people
but never more. You might say he was eccentric.
Not far away but hidden in the trees is Pelisor (Pelishor) Castle, completed
in 1903 by Queen Marie of Romania, a granddaughter of Victoria and wife
of Ferdinand, nephew and heir to Carol I. Marie desired light and laughter
and couldn't stand the gloom of Peles so she built her idea of what a
royal home should be. Smaller (90 rooms, with baths in all the suites)
and MUCH more light. The dominant wood is bleached(?) maple and the dominant
style is a subdued Art Nouveau. There is much less stained glass and what
there is uses bright colors.
The comparison with Peles is dramatic. Carol I built an institution for
a Monarch; Marie built a residence for people. You admire Peles but you
are interested in relaxing in Pelisor.
There is a park up the hill behind the palaces and it contains a newer
structure of unannounced purpose but of a pleasant design. The stream
coming down the hill, after which Peles is named, has been channeled in
its own bed in such a way that instead of a steady drop, it runs horizontally
for short distances and then becomes a waterfall for various fractions
of a meter. In front of the unnamed building, the effect is to produce
what could be used as a small natural swimming pool. It looked so natural,
I wondered if it was part of a plan.
The third item worthy of investigation in Sinaia (named after a stone
brought from Mt. Sinai in the Holy Land) is a cable car that goes up the
steep slopes to the skiing areas. It goes only once an hour on the half
hour and returns on the 3 quarter hour so, as it happened, the times didn't
work for me.
The 4:04 PM train to Bucharest was late and late by at least 10 minutes.
There was an announcement over the station loud speakers that I did not
understand at all. Shortly thereafter a train pulled into the station
and I got on. I had no idea how to figure out the three cardboard tickets
I had bought for my return trip. When the staff gets tickets for me they
write the train, the car, the seat on the ticket. Having bought these
myself I had no idea what to do so I simply boarded the train and took
a seat in first class.
When the conductor came by for my ticket, he made it clear that I was
on the wrong train: "Rapide," he said so I looked as stupid
as I felt and he showed me a table of fares that seemed to say I should
have paid 77,000 lei ($4) when I had paid 41,000 lei so I gave him 50,000.
He returned me 20,000. Not exactly exact change but exact change is the
exception to the rule here.
As we rolled out into the plain, the gray sky blued a little here and
there. The sun bleached some of the gray to white -- nearly clear -- and
tepid shadows made their appearance. The numerous fruit trees with white
blossoms seemed to soak in the warmth. Soon the hills retreated and the
plain widened and the green spread like a table cloth over the land.
Soon I was back in Bucharest, looking forward to another trip.