Romanian Interlude- Gypsy Palaces, Moats and Bear Pits. Because of course.

5 Jun

I know, I know. I’ve been an absentee blogger. But really, is anyone surprised?

Okay Italy, I’mgonnaletyoufinish. But before I recap the rest of our trip there, I’m going to interrupt to write about Hunedoara Castle. Why? I don’t know, I just feel like it. After this, I’ll be posting the rest of Italy, a few more Timi things, some Madrid, and our Transylvanian road trip. I’m going to do all this in the next few days because on Wednesday I leave again, FOR ROME! WITH MOM! It’s going to be amazing.

After our Italy trip, we were feeling very travelly, so we decided to rent a car and go to a castle we’d heard about in a place called Hunedoara. It’s about a three hour drive, so an easy day trip. We picked up our rental at a hotel downtown, loaded up the kids and a bag of pastries from the neighborhood bakery stand and drove out of town.

You know those rare days when everything seems bizarre and strange and you feel like you might actually still be asleep and just dreaming everything? That’s how this drive felt to us. All along the way Patrick and I kept seeing the strangest things until we were both just slap-happy and giggling at everything.

The road to anywhere in Romania goes through every single village it possibly can and every single village looks pretty much the same. A long row of small homes with large garden plots beside them, old ladies in headscarves glaring at passerby, old men standing around. Everyone in villages seems to stand and sit outside their house a lot. Like, a lot.

In one such village, we got turned around and so had to backtrack. As Patrick was backing up, I spotted a gypsy house (more on those in a bit) and started laughing so hard that Patrick was alarmed. After catching my breath, I pointed to the roof of the house and screamed “the Statue of Liberty!” Sure enough, it was a pretty close, if not exact, copy of the New York landmark. I glanced around to make sure no gypsies were watching and quickly snapped a photo, then yelled, “drive, DRIVE!”

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Not ten minutes later, we had calmed down and were driving along the road, passing through another village, when off in the distance on the side of the road we both saw something odd. We squinted, was that…? No way. As we got closer though, we realized that it was not, in fact, a Romanian mirage. What we’d both thought we’d seen was quite real.

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An airplane sticking out a house.

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AN AIRPLACE STICKING OUT OF A HOUSE.

I made Patrick pull over and circle around so I could see it again. Sure enough, it was a real airplane In the middle of BFE, Romania. In front of a house. With stairs leading up to it. Because, of course.

I have no explanation for you.

A few other things we saw: a random longhorn cow walking across a road dragging a stake that was tied to its neck by a rope. Oops. Better dig deeper next time, cow owner. Also, a massive, creepy, windows-broken-out Communist era factory that was just begging for Ghost Hunters International to visit. Also, several nuclear reactor smoke stacks in the middle of nowhere, on stilts, with no power plant in site. Like aliens had just dropped them there.

We stopped for lunch at a McDonald’s in Deva. It was a nice day, though getting cloudier, so we sat outside. Apparently all the pigeons from Centru in Timisoara, followed us to Deva because they all sat around us tilting their tiny little heads and begging for fries. There were a few plucky sparrows trying to get in on the action too. After the horrifying pigeon-in-the-hair incident in Venice, I was having none of it. Finn turned his head to watch me shoo the little flying demon-rats away, when a sparrow saw its opportunity and hopped up, snatching a fry from Finn’s bag and flew away triumphantly. The kids were endlessly amused by this.

We reached Hunedoara shortly after lunch, parked the car, and headed up to the fifteenth-century castle. The ruins at Soimos were pretty fun, but this. This was a real castle. It was on a hill, in great condition, surrounded by a real moat. I love sites that give you a real sense of what life would have been like there way back when and this was one of them.

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We crossed the cool long drawbridge over them moat and entered the castle. Immediately to your right and left are the prison dungeon and the torture rooms. Y’all, they weren’t kidding around. There were signs posted everywhere that kids under 16 weren’t allowed in, and good thing. I went down into the torture dungeon, made it about halfway down the narrow stone passage to the second torture room and turned right back around. It was creepy as all get out. It gives me the shivers just thinking about it. Then, like an idiot, I went across to the prison, thinking it would be safe. I walk into total darkness, turn a corner, and see a bloody man hanging in midair on a rack. I screamed and ran out. The guard by the door just about wet himself laughing. I’m sure he sees that reaction about ten times an hour. But seriously, using lifelike mannequins to demonstrate the torture instruments. That’s just sick. These Europeans and their torture.

Anyways, apparently Vlad the Impaler, AKA Vlad Dracula, was held prisoner for seven years in these dungeons. Shiver. And incidentally, this was a place that Ghost Hunters International actually DID visit. Just found that out. Huh.

The Hunedoara segment starts at 45:00

Wow, that’s a really bad show. On the other hand, it’s kind of fun to see all the places we visited last week on our Transylvania road trip.

The rest of the castle was less gruesome. There was the Knights Hall with it’s ancient coats of arms carved everywhere, the King’s bedroom with a real lute player entertaining guests, the council room where people…counciled.

The most interesting parts though, were all of the details that added to the castle’s defenses. The narrow wooden parapet between towers that could be burned in case of invasion, the tiny arrow slit windows where the kids shot their imaginary bows and arrows at invading hordes. Up on one wall, there was a door to nowhere. Just a door in the middle of a wall, about fifteen feet up. I wondered out loud what that was for. Rhett immediately piped up, “it’s a trick! So they could tell bad guys on the other side to walk through the door, and then they’d fall and get smashed!” He has a mind for trickery.

There was also a bear pit. I’m glad I didn’t live back then.

As we were heading through the castle courtyard on our way out, a camera crew popped out of nowhere and put a microphone in my face. They asked me to spell my name and then asked where I was from, what I’d liked about the castle, how I had heard about it. Um, okay. I smiled and answered all their questions. They thanked me and then kept filming us as we were walking out of the castle and taking pictures on the drawbridge. Every time I looked up, the camera guy was filming us from a distance.

Later that week, one of Patrick’s colleagues said, “Hey I saw your wife on the national news last night!” Apparently, it was a news program that was covered a big European castle festival that was going to be taking place at Hunedoara the next week. Patrick was the star of nighttime television in Cairo. I guess it’s only fitted that it’s my turn to shine in Romania.

On the way home, we drove through the back part of town. It was full of gypsy palaces, as they’re called here. Huge, gaudy homes that the gypsies come back to when they’re done travelling. It seems like springtime is when the gypsies come back because I’ve seen so many more around Timisoara than were around before. Anyways, as we were passing some of the houses, Lucy yelled out, “Hey, we’re in China!”

It was such a weird, bizarre day that it wouldn’t have surprised me if we had, in fact, ended up in China.

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