Rafik’s Journey in Silent Heroes. An Afghan Village

Welcome to Rafik’s journey. The youngest character in Silent Heroes, Rafik travels from his Afghan village of Nauzad all around Afghanistan. It isn’t a journey made by choice, but out of necessity and bravery.

A critical political hot-spot for the past two millennia, Afghanistan is a country often mentioned in news headlines, yet one that few people choose to think of, and even fewer are aware of its natural beauty.

Life for Afghan children, the true Silent Heroes of any Afghan village

How was your life when you were a child of eight years old? When I was Rafik’s age, I wouldn’t even dream of going around the town on my own. My grandmother or my parents would still walk me to school. Yet Rafik and his friends venture daily outside their village.

boy and girl. Silent Heroes Afghan village
An Afghan boy a little younger than Rafik

They start their walk early, right after sunrise. It is a 10 kilometers march to the nearby stream to collect water for drinking, washing and cooking. Then they tread back, bent under the unforgiving Afghan sun and the liquid weight of their buckets and yellow plastic containers, for another 10 kilometers, home.

The water sings while their small feet dance on the hot sand. Sometimes a few drops would spill and the youngest children would laugh to see them roll away over land so dry that not even water can penetrate it. The older ones would scold them. Water is precious and they don’t want to take this journey again, later in the day. The sun is unforgiving and so are the landmines that litter the ground between their village and the stream, like weeds sprouting after rain, but planted by Taliban. So the youngest ones would burst into tears. That one word, Taliban, has this effect on them, as it has on their older sisters and their mothers.

Here, in Afghanistan, one does not need folk tales with monsters to tell their young. To scare them. Here, in Afghanistan, the monsters are real and they walk between the people.

Once a well-known bazaar, today Nauzad village, where Rafik lives with his mother and older sister, is no more than a ghost town, a dusty landmark lost in the shrub-lined valley of the Nauzad river. The only majestic landmark that still stands is that of the Hindu Kush Mountains, profiling in the horizon. With all their men gone to war, life has become a way of simply surviving from one day to the next, the hot climate being just as unforgiving as the Taliban insurgent group operating in the mountainous area rising in the north.

In the beginning of Silent Heroes Rafik is entrusted with a life-and-death mission…

‘Between their skirts, a skinny boy of eight moved along.’

‘Rafik wiped the salty drops invading his eyes with the dusty sleeve of his shirt, yellow-tinged by time and wear. His head was ablaze and sweat trickled down his neck, soaking the back of his pants. His feet bounced on the already hot sand. The boy was sure they looked like the naan his mom used to cook in the tandoor. Back when flour was still available. He would crawl behind her and grab fresh bread out of the basket to share with his friend. She would laugh and playfully snap at him. But not anymore. For the last year there had been no one for him to share his naan with.
One morning, his friend had left to fetch water and never returned. They found him on the field, halved by an IED.
Rafik felt his chest ready to explode with the pain of memories and wiped his eyes again, although no tears came. The rough sleeve against his face helped relieve the agony in his chest.’

Silent Heroes by Patricia Furstenberg
Afghan sunset over Hindu Kush mountains
an Afghan sunset

Placing an entire country on Google maps

I invite you to open Google maps and search for Afghanistan. Now zoom in. How many places can you actually visit? Why do you think it is still impossible to zoom into Afghan locations?

Did you know that the Afghan maps you do see today on Google Maps were not visible before October 2011? Most of Afghanistan was pretty much off the map.
A man named Hasen Poreya and his friends, the Afghan Map Makers, all volunteers, walked around Herat with pen and pencil in hand and filled in all the missing details from Google maps.

Herat is Afghanistan’s third largest city and it was a major historical landmark along the silk road. The Afghan Map Makers have put streets, parks and even the Herat University on the map – so that people from all over the world can discover their town all over again. They, too, are the Silent Heroes of any Afghan village.

Afghanistan before and after the Map Makers have added details on Google Maps
Afghanistan, before and after the Map Makers have added details on Google Maps (source, Google Maps blog)

Where will Rafik travel next?
Come back in a few days to find out – or subscribe to my blog posts.

Until then, you might like to read:
5 Remarkable Places You Will Want to Visit After Reading Silent Heroes, When Love and Values Are Worth Fighting

You can BUY Silent Heroes from Amazon UK, Amazon US, Amazon Australia, Amazon Canada, or Amazon Worldwide: link here to your preferred Amazon website.

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A Journey through the Medieval City of Sighisoara, Romania

Winter Journey to Medieval Sighisoara, Romania

If you journey through Transylvania, ‘the land across the forest’, (searching for Vlad Tepes, Vlad the Impaler or Dracula) and head towards Brasov along the banks of the Big Tarnava River, you will surely spot from quite afar the pointy towers of medieval Sighisoara City, with its centuries old fortress and churches. We traveled there by train one winter.

I give you the ‘Pearl‘ and the ‘Nürnberg‘ of Transylvania, Sighisoara!

A brief history of Sighisoara

Nearly two millennia ago here rose a Roman castrum, a military fortified camp for guarding the roads. But more proof of local human settlements dates back to the Bronze Age.

Looking at Sighisoara fortress from the Lower City
We see the fortress up on the hill, as we cross the river over Tarnava Mare

Sighisoara as we know it took shape during the 12th century when Saxon merchants and craftsmen settled here for a few reasons…

First, to defend against Tatar invasions the eastern and southern borders of the Hungarian Kingdom, formed at the beginning of the Middle Ages on the Pannonian Plain. This border was none other but the line of River Târnava Mare.

Second, in search of a better life. These settlers, who chose the banks of the slower Saes river to build their homes, were soon known as the Transylvanian Saxons. By the 14th century, Sighișoara was a well known royal center with the status of an urban settlement, Civitas de Segusvar, and by the 15th century its guilds had received the sole right to its administration.

As it was the custom during the Middle Ages, captains ruled such territories, or royal citadels, and these captains obeyed the Prince of Transylvania which, in turn, was a vassal of the King of Hungary.

Yet there was a third, less known reason. As the people already living in this land were Christians and the Pope loved converting new territories to Catholicism, the plan of populating this area with Saxons emerged. So, over the centuries, in Transylvania arrived first the military contingents, then the Saxon merchant settlers.

Dominican monks also settled here at the end of the 13th century, followed by the Franciscans.

Sighisoara view
Admiring Sighisoara from the very top of the hill

Today, a journey through the medieval city of Sighisoara is time-travel at its best, as this is one of the few preserved medieval cities still found in Europe and the only one fully inhabited found in Romania.

Sighisoara – the etymology of a town’s name

Castrum Sex, Castle Six, was the name of the fortress that existed here prior to the apparition of the first Hungarian military contingents. This fortress was first attested at the beginning of the 13th century, before being almost completely destroyed by Tatars.
Later we hear the name Castrum Sches, from Hungarian seges, or citadel, although it makes more sense to connect the fortress’ name with that of one of the rivers that run through it, river Şaeş.

Other names used for Sighisoara during the Middle Ages were Segusvar and Segeswar, as well as the German Schägesburh.

Vlad Dracul, Prince of Wallachia, was the first one to use the Romanian transcription of the town’s name, Schegischone, in a document from July 1st, 1435.

Sighisoara City – a layout with a purpose

One of the things I enjoyed about our journey around the medieval city of Sighisoara was that everything is within walking distance. Although the train station’s location is in the Lower City, Sighisoara’s modern area, it is easy to spot the walled fortress, atop a hill in the Upper City. The medieval citadel rises, colossal and gray, yet within close range, accessible through a bridge spanning across Tarnava Mare River.

Encircling Sighisoara fortress, one can very well admire the original defensive wall with its towers and bastions.

To recognize the craftsmen’s importance, each guild – and there were ten such associations in Sighisoara – received a tower of the citadel’s fortification. Thus, each guild was responsible for its own administration and it is still easy to guess which guilds were the most productive ones, as their towers are the best-preserved ones, and the biggest: Tailors’ Tower, Tin-makers’ Tower, and Goldsmiths’ Tower. But, above all, stands the 14th century Clock Tower and through here we made our entrance into the Sighisoara fortress.

The guilds were important as they fought against those who practiced the profession illegally. Also, their members enjoyed privileges with the Wallachian rulers.

Sighisoara City Map (Harta Orasului Sighisoara)
Sighisoara City Map (Harta Orasului Sighisoara) source

The story of the fortresses’ ramparts and towers

Apart from its 164 houses, what we admired the most during our journey through the medieval city Sighisoara were its 930 meters long defense wall and towers. Why so many – for such a small fortress?

During the Late Middle Ages, sadly, the danger of the Ottoman Empire escalated. Therefore, the first mention of a wall around Sighisoara fortress dates back to 1490. The very first wall elevation showcased crenelations and rose only 3-4 meters in height, principally intended for arbalesters (crossbowmen).

16th century came and the bastion rose by two extra meters. Meurtrieres were now built in the wall, either as floor-holes (for dropping hot substances onto the attackers) or as loopholes (arrow slits or cannoniers). After the big fire of 1676, the fortress’ wall was 8 – 10 meters in height.

Let’s make our way inside this incredible medieval fortress.

The Clock Tower

Placed on the eastern side of Sighisoara’s defense system of walls and towers, closer to sunrise, to mark its value, the Clock Tower was the first to welcome us on our journey. On a follow-up blog post we’ll have a detailed look at the other towers, each one with its own incredible history, but for now let’s start here.

The Clock Tower is the main entrance in the fortress and the first spot we visited during our journey through the medieval city of Sighisoara.
The Tailors’ Tower, on the opposing wall of the fortress, is the second way into the citadel.

Yet it is the Clock Tower that hides a few symbols.

Massive and everlasting, the Saxons built their Clock Tower out of a myriad of humble river stones handpicked from the banks of the nearby rivers. Each stone is insignificant on its own, their strengths coming from their number, much as a king’s army. Erected with the intention of being the main entrance in the fortress the Clock Tower, fortified accordingly, had only two levels. Its walls are 2.3 meters thick and three gates defend it, while its belly protects the stairway connecting the Upper City with the Lower City.

Only a handful of visitors know that the Clock Tower is a symbol of Transylvanian Saxons’ pride and craftsmanship. They desired to build the biggest, tallest clock tower in the principality – as horology had a long tradition here, since the 14th century.

The only path into the fortress takes you underneath the tower itself. It is the Front Gate ensemble and part of the tower’s barbicane, a fortified outpost.

journey medieval city Sighisoara

In 1844, inside the barbicane a courtyard appeared, the Old Ladies’ Corridor that you can see here. This is a wooden passage meant to ease the aged peasants’ access into the fortress, during heavy winters.

Sighisoara, Old Ladies' Corrisod - Galeria Doamnelor Batrane

Into the fortress we go, underneath the Clock Tower, through the belly of the beast:

Sighisoara: main entrance in the fortress, underneath the Clock Tower

And emerging into the fortress. The visitors’ entrance in the Clock Tower is immediately on the right-hand side. The ground level of the tower dates back to the 14th century.

Similar to the second gate tower, the Tailor’s Tower, the Clock Tower has a rectangular floor plan and a ground floor with two vaulted gates over the passageway.

Soghisoara Fortress - the visitorts' entrance in the Clock Tower

Hard to guess, but the Clock Tower, or the Big Tower of the Front Gate, reaches a height of 64 meters, of which 34 meters is the roof alone!

I admired the central, pointy roof with its baroque embellishments and its own main tower surrounded by four smaller ones, each rising at 12.5 meters. These four towers are a symbol of the city’s own judicial autonomy, right of the sword, meaning that back in the Middle Ages the Sighisoara City Council could give the death sentence and executions were also performed in the City Square.

The Clock Tower. journey medieval city sighisoara
The Clock Tower, Sighisoara

Unlike the other wall towers, each belonging to a guild, the Clock Tower belonged to the public authorities serving as headquarter for the City Council. Master builders added the upper levels during the 15th and 16th centuries and when the great fire of 1676 destroyed the roof, Austrian craftsmen built a new one in 1677.

The top of the Clock Tower, Sighisoara

At the very top is a golden sphere, atop which a wind vane in the shape of a rooster still stands. The bulb-shaped roof stands as the oldest proof of Baroque influence in Transylvania.
The golden sphere is a symbol of local power and has a diameter of 1 meter. Why? Because it is a time capsule hidden in plain sight. Inside you would find a copy of the Chronicles of the Clock Tower by Georgius Krauss as well as documents pertaining to the history of Sighisoara and that of the Transylvanian Saxons.

The Sphere, the Crescent and the Double-headed Eagle of Sighisoara

At the very top of the Clock Tower is a rooster weather-vane. But underneath, between the rooster and the golden sphere, now this is an entirely different story.
We now see the double-headed eagle, a symbol of the Austrian Empire between 1867 and 1915.
During the tower’s refurbishing from 1677 the three builder masters placed here a Turkish crescent, surely under political orders, meant to remind the people of Sighisoara of the Ottoman Empire’s ruling.
The crescent got damaged in 1704 by local insurgents or curuti, from Hungarian kuruc. New work on the Clock Tower was only possible in 1776. Then the double-headed eagle, in a nod towards the Austrian Empire’s authority, replaced the crescent.

A time capsule and hidden symbology of Clock Tower and its very top. Journey medieval city Sighisoara
The Sphere, the double-headed Eagle and the golden sphere – symbology in Sighisoara

The roof, as we see it today, dates back to the 19th century. It uses hexagonal, glazed shingle tiles in shades of red, yellow, blue, green, and white. Mostly birds, able to fly this high, can enjoy such intricate details.

The Clock Tower's roof  has glazed shingle tiles in shades of red, yellow, blue, green, and white. Medieval Sighisoara.
The Clock Tower’s roof has glazed shingle tiles in shades of red, yellow, blue, green, and white.
journey medieval city Sighisoara
The Clock Tower’s roof as we saw it on a winter’s day.

Yes, we climbed to the very top, to the balcony you see above – the sixth level of the Clock Tower.

Imagine living here in the late Middle Ages. The Tower, the tallest structure for miles, protecting you, and beside the sun, the keeper of time and your only measure for the time of day and the day of the week. Yet the tower was much more than that, for during important celebrations an orchestra would climb to the balcony placed at its very top and perform music that reached every corner of the fortress as well as those living outside its walls, in the Lower City.

And looking up at this medieval giant you will want to watch out, as the slits and murder holes are still visible:

The Clock Tower in Sighisoara - Medieval, solid rock.
Looking up at the Clock Tower in Sighisoara – Medieval, solid rock.

The two faces of Sighisoara’s Clock Tower

Well worth noticing as you journey towards and through the medieval city of Sighisoara are the two faces of the Clock Tower, on its fifth level.

The best feature of the Clock Tower is on the fifth level, its 17th-century clock mechanism. In 1648 craftsman Johann Kirtschel even improved its system. He included a minute hand, added quarter-hour chimes and the one-meter tall wooden statues representing the days of the week.

Facing the Upper City or the inner fortress we can see a niche carved in the tower, holding statues and located to the left side of the 2,4-meter diameter clock dial.
Here, Peace holds a trumpet and an olive branch, near a Drummer who marks quarter hours and full hours.
Also, two statues in blue dresses symbolize Righteousness, with her eyes covered, holding a raised wooden sword and Justice, with laurels on her head, holding a scale. Yes, here Righteousness has her eyes covered and not Justice.

Later, two more statues appeared here, placed right at the top, two angels. At 6 AM the Angel of Day shows up, with flames above his head, holding a burning heart, replaced at 6 PM by the Angel of the Night, holding a torch in each hand.

On the clock’s side facing the Lower City, we can admire a horse and a drummer as well as seven 80 cm tall statues depicting seven Roman gods, symbols of weekdays: Diana / Artemis, Mars, Mercury, Jupiter, Venus, Saturn, and the Sun.

Sighisoara - the Clock Tower - Turnul cu Ceas
The Clock Tower, the clock’s face and the statues’ niche its the left side as seen from the Upper City, the inside of Sighisoara fortress.
The Clock Tower in Sighisoara: the inner, fortress' side: spot Peace with a trumpet and an olive branch and the Drummer
The Clock Tower: the statues placed bellow represent Peace, with a trumpet and an olive branch, and the Drummer .
journey medieval city sighisoara. The Clock Tower, the clock's face and the statues' niche its the right side as seen from the Lower City, the  outside of Sighisoara fortress.
The Clock Tower, the clock’s face and the statues’ niche its the right side as seen from the Lower City, the outside of Sighisoara fortress.

The Seven Statues of Sighisoara’s Clock Tower

Diana / Artemis, the goddess of hunting, depicted in a blue dress holding a bow and arrow; she has a half-moon over her head, the alchemist’s symbol for silver.
Mars / Ares god of war, holds a spear and wears a helmet with a feather, and above is the chemical symbol for iron, also a symbol for the star sign Ares.
Mercury / Hermes, the god of commerce, holds a caduceus in his right hand and a bag with money in his left and has a pair of wings at his helmet and another pair at his heels. Above his head is the symbol for mercury or quicksilver – just like his temper.

Jupiter / Zeus, the god of sky and the King of gods, depicted with his right foot resting on a globe, holds a lightning rod in his right hand and a thunder in his left. Above his head we find the alchemy symbol for tin, looking like a 24.
Venus / Aphrodite, the goddess of beauty and love, has the alchemy’s symbol for copper, passion, above her head and a winged cupid.
Saturn, the god of agriculture and abundance, has the symbol for lead above his head.
Sun / Sol / Helios, depicted as a female goddess with a crown of golden rays, the symbol for gold.

The Warning Statue, a Vestige of Sighisoara’s Medieval Past

But the traveler is also warned on his journey, long before he approaches the medieval city of Sighisoara. Can you read the signs?
Two lone statues are easily spotted underneath the seven peaceful ones, depicting days of the week and crafty symbols. One of these two statues is a drummer, matching the one on the other side of the clock tower, and hammering away as the bells chime.
Lo and behold for next to him stands an executioner, who once held in his hands a whip and a hatchet…

Going up into the medieval Clock Tower of Sighisoara

220 years old, the Clock Tower’s museum is a place worth visiting. One can admire coins, weapons, medieval pharmacy equipment and a detailed layout of the fortress.

Up until 1566, the rooms located on the tower’s first floor accommodated the Council’s City Hall.

going up in the Clock Tower of medieval Sighisoara

But what you do want to visit is the roofed gallery at the very top, hugging the clock tower all around.

Up here a 360 degrees panoramic view of Sighisoara unfolds in front of your eyes.

We spot the bridge over Tarnava Mare River that connects the Lower City with the Upper City.

If you dare count, you will see over 150 medieval houses clustered in the old town, their red roofs and the stone-paved streets where once kings, artisans, and even Vlad Tepes strolled.

over 150 medieval houses are clustered in the old town of Sighisoara
There are over 150 medieval houses clustered in the old town of Sighisoara

There, on the left, below, is the house where Vlad Tepes, Vlad the Impaler, Dracula, was born. We’ll go there soon. Meanwhile, have you noticed the slanted roofs powdered with snow?

journey medieval city sighisoara

From the top of the Clock Tower, we even had a glimpse back in time, through the history of Sighisoara. The Church on the Hill, dating back to the beginning of the 14th century, was one of the first constructions the Transylvanian Saxons built:

The early 14th century Church Hill as seen from the top of the Clock Tower.
The early 14th century Church Hill as seen from the top of the Clock Tower.

From the Clock Tower’s top balcony one can get a panoramic view of the world as well. How good is your eyesight? Can you see as far as Moscow?

Clock Tower - 1368 km to Moscova, Moscow

Measuring from the Clock Tower, Vienna is 656 km away, Rome 1.096 km, Paris 1.680 km, London 1.872 km, New York 7.431 km, Tokyo 8.890 km, and Sydney 15.438 km away.

Sighisoara, Clock Tower - 14 025 kn to South Pole

It looks like someone has left a secret message for us. Can you decipher it?

footsteps in the snow in Sighisoara - a secret message?

As a child, Vlad would have played hide-and-seek through this passageway when he was a lad of five. Lucky times as later, during the 18th century, this small space became a prison. For when the Clock Tower was first built there were two dark passageways running through it – what better place for children to play?

After the great fire of 1676, when the tower was rebuilt, one of these passageways became a torture chamber / jail. In this very space the convicts had their hands and feet tied in chains. As a way of torture the convicts were tied to the infamy pole, in the city square, with 6 kilograms river stone hanging around their necks, for all to see.

The Clock Tower, Sighisoara. A secret saide gate. Vlad Tepes would have played hide-and-seek here when he was a lad of five.

Go ahead, take a peek:

I am sure that, as a child, Vlad would have engaged in snowball fights and even built animals out of snow. On the patch of snow you see above, we built a dragon to honor Vlad’s name derived from the Order of the Dragon awarded to his father:

A Dragon of snow in Sighisoara
A snow dragon in Sighisoara

I hope you enjoyed our journey through the medieval city Sighisoara thus far.

If I were you, I would follow this blog as there are three more legs to this journey: a visit inside at the house where Vlad Tepes, (Vlad the Impaler or Dacula) was born, a walk around the medieval towers of Sighisoara fortress, as well as a pair of horns on a building, a mysterious stairway, and a graveyard.

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Exploring Romania’s Top Movie Locations: Peles Castle

Romania Movie Locations Peles Castle

I invite you to join me in exploring Romania’s top movie locations – Peles Castle today! I’ll show you the locations as depicted in the motion pictures as well as the genuine places.

As a reader and a cinefile, I do love a good location, more so if I’ve walked the streets or explored the castles depicted in it. And if I haven’t, a visit is often planned. Or at least dreamed of.

A Princess for Christmas and Peles Castle, Sinaia

A charming Christmas romance suitable for all ages, A Princess for Christmas was shot during 2011. At the invitation of her late sister’s father in law, a young American woman travels with her niece and nephew to a castle in Europe ahead of Christmas, where she charms everyone with her kindness and art knowledge , including a dashing Prince… It is Europe, after all! Staring Katie McGrath, Roger Moore, and Sam Heughan (yes, Outlander’s very own Jamie Fraser) as well as a few Romanian actors, Razvan Oprea, Oxana Moravec, Madalina Anea.

Let’s go exploring this Romanian movie location, Peles Castle.

exploring Romania movie locations, A Princess for Christmas, Peles Castle
First sighting of Peles Castle in A Princess for Christmas
exploring Romania movie locations, Peles Castle featured in A Princess for Christmas
Peles Castle in the winter of 2016, when we last visited

Peles Castle belongs to Hohenzollern Family, a German ruling dynasty. The castle was built between 1873 – 1914 in Neo-Renaissance style, at the order of King Carol I of Hohenzollern-Sigmaringen. Kind Carol I was the monarch of Romania between 1866 – 1914 and under his reign Romania gained its independence from the Ottoman Empire in May 1877.

King Carol I first visited this pristine area in 1866 and fell in love with the majestic mountainous scenery. In 1872 the Crown purchased 5 square kilometers of land near the Piatra Arsă River naming it the Royal Estate of Sinaia.

Peles Castle in summer
Peles Castle during the summer of 2012

The architectural plans submitted by German architect Johannes Schultz were the fourth ones presented to King Carol I and the most original ones. The King did not want a copy of some European castle, but something unique. The cost of the work on the castle alone was estimated to be 16,000,000 Romanian lei in gold (over. US$ 120 million today). King Carol I and Queen Elizabeth lived in Foişor Villa nearby during the construction of Peles Castle.

exploring Romania movie locations - Peles Castle in A Princess for Christmas
Peles Castle in A Princess for Christmas, the Rolls pulls in front of the castle
Peles Castle as featured in the movie A Princess for Christmas
A wider shot of the castle’s main entrance
Main gate of Peles Castle in the movie A Princess for Christmas
A close-up of the main entrance
Peles Castle, Sinaia, the main entrance
Here is the same main entrance of Peles Castle during our summer visit.

Queen Elisabeth of the Romanians, the wife of King Carol I, on the building process of Peles Castle

‘Italians were masons, Romanians were building terraces, the Gypsies were laborers. Albanians and Greeks worked in stone, Germans and Hungarians were carpenters. Turks were burning brick. Engineers were Polish and the stone carvers were Czech. The Frenchmen were drawing, the Englishmen were measuring, and so was then when you could see hundreds of national costumes and fourteen languages in which they spoke, sang, cursed and quarreled in all dialects and tones, a joyful mix of men, horses, cart oxen and domestic buffaloes.’

Queen Elisabeth of the Romanians
exploring Romania movie locations. Sam Heughan at Peles Castle, Romania, in movie A Princess for Christmas
A close-up of Sam Heughan as he arrives in A Princess for Christmas at Peles Castle
exploring Romania movie locations
The same entrance as above – known as the visitor’s entrance.

Several auxiliary buildings rose simultaneously with the castle: the guards’ chambers, the Economat Building, the Foișor hunting lodge, the royal stables, and a power plant. Peleș became the world’s first castle fully powered by locally produced electricity.

King Ferdinand I of Hohenzollern-Sigmaringen followed King Carol I at the throne of Romania, 1914 – 1927 (his death), since King Carol I, his uncle, was childless. Ferdinand was nicknamed the Unifier’, Întregitorul as during World War I he sided against the Central Powers. Thus, at the war’s end, Romania emerged as a much-enlarged kingdom, including Bessarabia, Bucovina and Transylvania. Ferdinand I was crowned king of ‘Greater Romania’ during a gorgeous ceremony in 1922.

There was a heartbreaking romance budding between young Ferdinand I and Elena Vacarescu, one of Queen Elisabeth’s ladies in waiting. Yet they both knew that the 1866 Constitution of Romania was forbidding the heir-presumptive to the throne to marry a Romanian. Their love story stirred a dynastic crisis in 1891. Soon after, Ferdinand I married Princess Marie of Edinburgh, Queen Victoria’s granddaughter (of the United Kingdom).

King Ferdinand and Queen Marie also stayed at Foisor Villa during the construction of Pelișor Castle. Pelisor Castle is located near Peles Castle and was built by order of King Carol I for his nephew, future King Ferdinand I. Ferdinand and Marie had six children, the first born is future King Carol II who reigned as King of Romania from 8 June 1930 until his abdication on 6 September 1940.

A morning shot at Peles Castle in A Princess for Christmas
A morning shot in A Princess for Christmas
Peles Castle
And the picture we took 🙂

The symbology behind Peles Castle

Carol II, son of Ferdinand I and Marie, was born at Peles Castle in 1893. Carol I previously bestowed upon Peles Castle the label ‘cradle of the dynasty, cradle of the nation’, so the birth of his first son and heir here was the perfect embodiment of Peles’ true meaning. Carol II spoke Romanian as his first language and was the first member of the Romanian royal family to be raised in the Christian Orthodox faith (the religion of the Romanian people).

But Carol II had a tumultuous personal life that kept him too busy to rule. His son, only five years old, ruled Romania as King Mihai I between 1927 (when King Ferdinand I died) and 1930 when King Carol II felt like returning as a ruler. His ill-planned reign was marked by Romania’s re-alignment with Nazi Germany (something King Carol I of Romania fought against), the adoption of anti-Semitic laws, and ultimately it evolved into a personal dictatorship lasting from 1938 until 6 September 1940, when he was forced by his Prime Minister and authoritarian politician Ion Antonescu to leave the country and live in exile abroad.

Peles Castle as movie location in A Princess for Christmas
Peles Castle in the movie A Princess for Christmas
The same shot, taken during the day 🙂

King Carol II was succeeded in 1940 by his beautiful, smart and patriotic son King Michael I. These were dark times for Romania and the Royal Family. In 1944, King Michael I participated in a coup against military dictator Ion Antonescu. In March 1945, political pressures forced Michael to appoint a pro-Soviet government for Romania. From August 1945 to January 1946, Michael went on a “royal strike” and unsuccessfully tried to oppose pro-Soviet government by refusing to sign and endorse its decrees.

In November 1947 King Michael I was in London, attending the wedding of his cousins, the future Queen Elizabeth II of the United Kingdom and Prince Philip of Greece and Denmark. On the morning of 30 December 1947, Groza, the pro-soviet prime minister of Romania, met with King Michael I and blackmailed him into abdication – or 1 000 imprisoned students, supporters of the Monarchy, will be executed. Michael was forced into exile, his properties confiscated, and his citizenship stripped. In 1948, he married Princess Anne of Bourbon-Parma (thenceforth known as Queen Anne of Romania), with whom he had five daughters and lived in Switzerland.

The Castle was declared a museum in 1953 and is still open for visitors. Peles Castle is located in the northwest of Sinaia (use Sinaia train station to visit Peles). Sinaia is located 48km from Brasov and 124km from Bucharest.

If you do wonder, more movies were shot at Peles Castle, its majestic allure and romantic charm making it fir for royal love-stories and Christmas happy-endings (2018 Royal Matchmaker and A Christmas Prince: The Royal Wedding) but also historical drama (1975 Stephen the Great – Vaslui 1475, 2013 Roxanne, 2001 Carol I), documentaries (2011 Wild Carpathis), or adventure (2008 The Brothers Bloom).

Next time we will explore another one of Romania’s movie locations, Corvin Castle. Why don’t you subscribe to my newsletter and make sure you don’t miss a post?

And, you might like: A Journey through the Medieval City of Sighisoara, Romania.

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Looking UP: Street Lamps from Brasov and Fagaras Castle, Romania, part 2 #travel #pictures

Street lights of Brasov

I hope you enjoyed looking up with me and discovering the intricate street lights of Bucharest, some separating the past from the present.

Brasov, Corona in Latin or Kronstadt in German, is a historical and cultural city found in the heart of Transylvania, in the heart of Romania, and not far from Sighisoara. It was first mentioned in 1235 and, not many know, it was the birth place of Katharina Siegel, the only woman Vlad Tepes (Dracula) is said to have ever loved.

One of my favorite places in Brasov is not a coffee shop… but Rope Street, Strada Sforii, dating from 17th century, the narrowest alley in Romania and one of tightest passages in Europe, initially built to facilitate a quicker access for firemen. Its width varies between 111-135 cm / 44-53 inch, measuring 80 m / 260 ft in lenght.

A lamp post bordering Strada Sforii, Rope Street, in Brasov, Romania. Image by @PatFurstenberg
A lamp post bordering Strada Sforii, Rope Street, in Brasov, Romania. Image by @PatFurstenberg

Now let’s walk along Rope Street, looking up:

A light street looking like an eye on Strada Sforii, Rope Street, Brasov. Image by @PatFurstenberg
A light street looking like an eye on Strada Sforii, Rope Street, Brasov. Image by @PatFurstenberg

Now look up and far, do you see the giant letters spelling BRASOV, placed high on Mount Tampa? And opposite the “eye” street light there is a mural of an eye!

"Eye" street light on Rope Street, Strada Sforii, and the Hollywood-style 'Braşov' sign up on the mountain. Image by @PatFurstenberg
“Eye” street light on Rope Street, Strada Sforii, and the Hollywood-style ‘Braşov’ sign up on the mountain. Image by @PatFurstenberg

Next I saw this classic looking street light and his friends, the red carnations:

A classic street light and red carnations in Brasov, Romania. Image by @PatFurstenberg
A classic street light and red carnations in Brasov, Romania. Image by @PatFurstenberg

This modern, yet lonely light pole, neighboring an old, solo attic window, caught my attention:

A modern street light near an old attic window in Brasov, Romania. Image by @PatFurstenberg
A modern street light near an old attic window in Brasov, Romania. Image by @PatFurstenberg

The lamp post below is placed on Schei Gate. Down from here is Schei Gate Street where Katharina Siegel lived with her family, at number 20. Back then the street was called White Lane, Ulita Alba.

Lamp post on Schei Gate, Poarta Schei, Brasov. Image by @PatFurstenberg
Lamp post on Schei Gate, Poarta Schei, Brasov. Image by @PatFurstenberg

This light post, looking like Little Bo Peep’s curly stick, is located exactly in front of Katharina Siegel’s house, the light green one with three windows visible on the first floor and two windows on the attic:

Street light in Brasov, Romania. Image by @PatFurstenberg
Street light in Brasov, Romania. Image by @PatFurstenberg

I wonder if Vlad Tepes would have approved with this street light or he would have preferred something like these:

Street lights of Brasov, Romania. Image via@PatFurstenberg
Street lights of Brasov, Romania. Image via@PatFurstenberg

The street light attached to buildings seem to have such elegant arms and top caps, don’t you think?

Speaking of green houses, and the buildings of Brasov are vibrant, here is a street light matching its residence:

A green street light in front of a green house, Brasov, Romania. Image by @PatFurstenberg
A green street light in front of a green house, Brasov, Romania. Image by @PatFurstenberg

I looked up next and saw an elegant lamp post perched on a green building (what shade is this – sea foam, mint?), next to an entire row of red carnations:

Green buildings in Brasov, lampshades, red carnations. Image by @PatFurstenberg
Green buildings in Brasov, lampshades, red carnations. Image by @PatFurstenberg

I called this street light a serenading one, it just seems to be serenading the window placed above:

A serenading street light in Brasov, Romania. Image by @PatFurstenberg
A serenading street light in Brasov, Romania. Image by @PatFurstenberg

Now this street light looked like it was doing a split across the road:

A lamp post doing a split in Brasov. Image by @PatFurstenberg
A lamp post doing a split in Brasov. Image by @PatFurstenberg

Shadows come out in plain daylight too:

Street lights and shadows in Brasov. Image by @PatFurstenberg
Street lights and shadows in Brasov. Image by @PatFurstenberg

Believe it or not, this all dressed up lamp post was affixed to the building of the National Bank:

Spirals and leaves on a cast iron in Brasov. Image by @PatFurstenberg
Spirals and leaves on a cast iron in Brasov. Image by @PatFurstenberg

A frosted lamp post against a marble wall. It reminded me of iced cappuccino.

A frosted lamp post against a marble wall in Brasov. Image by @PatFurstenberg
A frosted lamp post against a marble wall in Brasov. Image by @PatFurstenberg

When two windows whisper to each other over a lamp posts and red carnations bend over the balcony to thank a street light, you have to stop and look up:

Street lights from Brasov. Image by @PatFurstenberg
Street lights from Brasov. Image by @PatFurstenberg

The lamp post next to the window that wasn’t meant to be:

The lamp post next to the window that wasn't meant to be. Brasov. Image by @PatFurstenberg
The lamp post next to the window that wasn’t meant to be. Brasov. Image by @PatFurstenberg

On Mount Tampa, the light poles are as tall as the trees. And so is the passion of those who keep them looking neat, such as this old Lady who was painting them on a hot summer’s day.

Lamp posts on Mount Tampa, Muntele Tampa, Brasov. Image by @PatFurstenberg
Lamp posts on Mount Tampa, Muntele Tampa, Brasov. Image by @PatFurstenberg

In Brasov Council Square, Piata Sfatului, light poles are as pretty at bell flowers.

In Brasov Council Square, Piata Sfatului, light poles  are as pretty at bell flowers. Image by @PatFurstenberg
In Brasov Council Square, Piata Sfatului, light poles are as pretty at bell flowers. Image by @PatFurstenberg

Last two pictures of lamp posts, and I hope you made it this far, are from Fagaras Fortress, built in 1310 on the site of a former 12th century wooden fortress:

A hand-help light inside Fagaras Fortress. Image by @PatFurstenberg
A hand-help light inside Fagaras Fortress. Image by @PatFurstenberg

Do you see the wire sculpture of a man on the horse? On the grounds of Fagaras Fortress there are plenty of modern light poles:

Light poles and the wire sculpture of a man on a horse on the grounds of Fagaras Fortress. Image by @PatFurstenberg
Light poles and the wire sculpture of a man on a horse on the grounds of Fagaras Fortress. Image by @PatFurstenberg

I hope you enjoyed the street lights of Brasov. Next in the #LookUp series are the lamp posts of Constanta and Mamaia, by the Black Sea!

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