Featured Image: Muntii Carpati or “Romania’s Carpathian Mountains”
Blue Ridge Mountains and Blue Ridge Parkway, North Carolina
I considered myself a lucky child because I got the chance to spend all my school breaks in different parts of the country.
It was impossible for my parents to afford sending me to these places as often as I went. The Track club outside the school program, that I joined when I was nine, paid for all my expenses. The mountains became my favorite places. There was something majestic about Romania’s Carpathian Mountains that I was glad I was able to capture as a child.
Even though the Carpathian Mountains only reach 2.500 meters (about 8,200 feet), they have always been compared with the Alps because of their bold peaks, climate, and flora. “Edelweiss” is not only a symbol for the Swiss Alps. “Floarea de colt” or “Noble White” (the ‘Edel’ means Noble in German, and ‘Weiss’ means White) is a national symbol in Romania. It is a white star shaped flower with silver leaves and fuzzy hairs that protect it from cold weather. My parents had a pressed “Floare de colt” that they carefully placed behind the glass doors of a cabinet. I liked to hold it between my fingers because it felt like touching a piece of soft velvet. I treasured this flower because I knew how difficult it was to get a hold of one. It is usually found at altitudes of over 1.800 meters (close to 6,000 feet).
It only took about three hours to travel from Bucharest to Brasov by train. This route was very popular because people were able to visit beautiful places on Valea Prahovei (“Prahova Valley”) like Sinaia, Busteni, and Predeal along the way. I went for the first time to Sinaia with my parents when I was seven years old. I liked to keep the train’s windows open until we reached our destination. Once we passed Ploiesti and the cement factory in Posada I could feel the difference in the freshness of the air. I loved the cold air that was hitting my face. When we approached Busteni, we were able to see the snowy peaks of Muntii Bucegi (“Bucegi Mountains”) in June and Crucea de pe Caraiman (“Heroes’ Cross”) that was erected at an altitude of over 2.200 meters (7,200 feet) for the Romanian heroes of World War I. It was nice to travel with a slower train because I was able to watch the picturesque mountains for a little longer. (Also see “Bucegi Mountains” in Cool Romanian Traditions For the First Nine Days of March)
We wanted so badly to visit Palatul Peles that was originally constructed for King Carol I. I remember the stories my mom was telling me about the King and his family and the historical events that took place during their reign. There were not that many people willing to talk about that period of time. The Communist regime removed it completely from the history books. They closed the castle to the public that same year of our vacation. Only cultural personalities and military personnel were permitted there. We were only able to see an exquisite collection of fine ceramics that was displayed in a separate section of the property.
Even though the castle could only be seen from a distance I felt in love with its beautiful architecture and luxurious decor from the colorful postcards I picked at the gift shop. I find Palatul Peles to be the most elegant castle that has ever been built in Romania. It was reopened around the same time when I left the country.
I liked hiking. We could only hike safely up to Cota 1400 (1,400 meters, close to 5,000 feet). People could continue hiking to a higher elevation like Cota 2000 (2,000 meters, 6,500 feet). I was too young for such an adventurous trip.
We went on a day trip by bus from Sinaia to Poiana Brasov, Bran, and Risnov. Poiana Brasov is located 12 kilometers away from Brasov at an altitude of about 1.000 meters. It still is the most popular tourist location in the country not only for Romanians but foreigners as well. Two summers later, I went to Poiana Brasov for my first Track training session. Because it was expensive to find a place to accommodate about 25 kids, we stayed at the chalet called “Postavaru” that was located at a few minutes of hiking down from the chalet called “Cristianul Mare”. That was my first time riding a cable car and being up in the air at a higher distance than my parents’ apartment at 10th floor. I could see mountain peaks still covered in snow, green meadows, tall pine trees, mountain roads, Brasov, and Poiana Brasov that were becoming smaller as the cable car kept ascending.
Cable car – postcard Brasov, courtesy of Dan Nichifor (www.etimpu.com)
Around 9 A.M. we would run down the mountain from the chalet to the track in Poiana Brasov for practice. After a two-hour training session we had to hike back up on our own for about an hour to make it on time for lunch. Sometimes I had to skip lunch because I got there late. I never climbed the mountain by myself. I was scared that I might run into a bear.
We stayed at a chalet called “Zimbru” for a couple of summers. It was placed at the last bus stop before reaching Poiana Brasov. “Zimbru” is the Romanian name for “European Bison”. The Bison is a protected species and could only be found there in natural reservations.
When I had money I would take the bus for the last two kilometers to get to Poiana Brasov. Then I had to walk for about fifteen minutes to get to the track. I was so scared to take the road through the forest because a bear might show unexpectedly. Sometimes I had no choice. They might have been used to the presence of humans but were far from being friendly.
One Sunday, I went raspberry picking together with three other girls. We walked down the dirt road that lead to Brasov. We didn’t go very far from the chalet. However, we had not realized how deep into the forest we had gotten. All of the sudden we saw a bush shaking and heard a roar. We looked at each other and couldn’t speak. We knew it was a bear. My heart was beating so fast. I could not feel my legs and was unable to run right away. I managed to walk but slipped on a rock and fell. I made it to the side of the road and ran right back to the chalet.
We could see bears roaming around the chalet when it was getting dark. They were coming for food. Sometimes when they were very hungry they were getting into the food supplies room. They were also walking around the camping site next to the chalet and stealing people’s food. I felt much better knowing that I was sleeping inside the chalet and not outside in a tent.
During the summer of the Olympic Games at Moscow, in the former Soviet Union, there were a lot of Russians that came to visit Poiana Brasov. I remember I was sitting at the highest peak of Virful Postavaru and saw a bear coming out of nowhere to a small valley at the bottom of this elevation. The Russians got excited and started to call it “Misha” which was the name of the Olympic mascot. The bear ran away because of the presence of so many people in one place and the noise they were making.
Romania has the highest number and density of brown bears in Europe and is one of the only few countries to allow its hunting (Wikipedia). In fact, Romania’s Carpathian Mountains are a hunter’s paradise. Here, you can find chamois, red stag, red deer, wild boar, wolf, lynx, red fox, rabbit, and waterfowl.
The highest mountain I ever hiked was Virful Postavaru at the altitude of 1.800 meters. While I sat there one day, I could look down and see Predeal. I imagined how fast people would get there if there was a way to go straight down the mountain and not having to get back to Brasov and take the train. The steep and rocky slopes and dense vegetation made it impossible to build a road.
Predeal is a town located at the highest altitude in Romania (1.030 – 1.110 meters). I went there for Track training during summer and winter. I liked the trips with the ski lift. “Cabana trei brazi” was a popular place to visit at about 5 kilometers from the center of Predeal. I went there a couple of times walking together with my parents.
I was about ten when I went for the first time to Busteni. I went together with my mom. I couldn’t go hiking because my mom couldn’t hike. We took short trips, had picnics by the rivers, or just laid in the sun. I loved drinking the cold and fresh water from the rivers. I liked to pick flowers. I could easily find my favorite flowers Forget-me-not and red poppies. I kept some forget-me-not flowers in a glass until the last day of our stay. One day, we went for a walk through the forest and ended up in an open place on top of a big rock. We didn’t climb very far. I sat there for a while. I looked in the distance at the mountain peaks that were surrounding us and imagined how the Alps must have looked like.
Carpathian Mountains, Romania
When I was in college, we had to take a skiing course in the winter and a course in the summer to learn how to get around the mountains using maps and a compass. The school provided the skiing equipment because my parents could not afford it. The school owned a chalet that was located in Paringu Mic at the altitude of 1.850 meters. It was difficult to get around especially in the winter. We took the train, the bus, and the ski lift to get there. It was cold and got scary every time the ski lift stopped. We were in the middle of nowhere. I would not go there again. However, learning how to ski downhill was the one thing that I was proud that I got a chance to do because I knew I would not have another opportunity.
We went cross country skiing for about twenty minutes to get to the slopes and back to the chalet for about an hour. We normally practiced twice a day for almost three hours. The second year, we had to take classes about teaching children how to ski and learned about different skiing styles. I hated the cold. I wasn’t a very good skier. I figured out how to fall and avoid accidents. Some of my classmates got hurt. The first year, I worked very hard and made it to a more advanced level. The second year, I got in a class with experienced skiers and felt like a fool. I did my best. However, I could never compete with them.
I had the best time in the summer regardless that I could not find my way around the mountain no matter what. As part of our course, we went on day trips to different parts of the mountain with no particular names. There, I got the chance to see a glacial lake for the first time. It was surrounded by lots of Smirdarul or “Rhododendron Kotschyi” that is a protected plant in Romania. We used to buy fresh goat milk and cheese from the shepherds in the area. We were not allowed to leave the chalet after dark. We jumped out the window of our room at first floor to meet with them. They liked to gather around the fire and sing songs.
Smirdarul or ” Rhododendron Kotschyi”
There is no doubt that Romania’s Carpathian Mountains have many gorgeous places. Some more adventurous people like to hike at high altitudes. The higher you get the more unique and beautiful sights you will find. However, getting there it could be very difficult and dangerous because there are so many undeveloped areas. It is not worth losing your life because you just want to take some pictures. There are many locations at the base of the mountains that will offer similar experiences and are much safer.
When I moved to North Carolina, I visited the Biltmore Estate at different times of the year. I loved to look in the distance at the different shapes and colors of the Blue Ridge Mountains from one of the house’s higher balconies. I was surprised by their resemblance to Romania’s Carpathian Mountains. I haven’t been to Romania in a long time. I loved the mountains there. I am glad that I am so close to places that remind me of the ones I knew in my young life.
When I watched the movie “Cold Mountain” I immediately knew there was something familiar about the green lush of tall fir trees, steep and rocky slopes, and twisted dirt roads. Cold Mountain is a real mountain in North Carolina. I didn’t realize how well I still remembered some of those places until I found out that scenes on the Cold Mountain were actually filmed in Romania at different locations in Valea Prahovei.
I am glad that more and more people are visiting Romania. They are finally getting convinced that Romania is a beautiful country with a lot to offer. I don’t agree with a lot of changes that took place to modernize many locations in the Carpathians Mountains. I like to remember their rugged and primitive looks and the simple mountain life that I knew when I lived there.