Monday 26 November 2018

VLAD LAND SATURDAY A castle and a palace


Today we have two objectives: Bran Castle and the King’s summer Palace both close by and both swarming with tourists. These places are Romania’s equal to Times Square, St Mark’s Square, or the Shibuya crossing in Tokyo.

Bran Castle is in the immediate vicinity of Brașov, is a national monument and landmark in Romania. It is situated on the border between Transylvania and Wallachia. Commonly known as "Dracula's Castle" (although it is one among several locations linked to the Dracula legend. 

The castle is now a museum dedicated to displaying art and furniture collected by Queen Marie. Tourists can see the interior on their own or by a guided tour. At the bottom of the hill is a small open-air museum park exhibiting traditional Romanian peasant structures (cottages, barns, etc.) from across the country stalls and huts settling all kind of tourist jumble.

My journal records:
People too much 
Noise too much.

Every nationality was represented tramping round the rooms and floors, scrabbling for a selfie.


PeleșCastle is Neo-Renaissance pile in the Carpathian Mountains, near Sinaia. Like Bran Castle it is on an existing medieval route linking Transylvania and Wallachia. It was built between 1873 and 1914 for King Carol I, under whose reign the country gained its independence. 

On his first visit to the area in 1866, he fell in love with the magnificent mountain scenery and decided a nice palace would be a good idea. 

A German architect got the job, inside and out there is a distinct Germanic solidity to the place.

Queuing for a considerable time; “we found this when we went to the Taj Mahal” 

remarked at fellow traveller for a rapid tour,  round some of the state rooms for which we donned blue plastic overshoes. Wise  move  given that between half to one million feet schlep through the place each year

Saturday 24 November 2018

VLAD LAND FRIDAY - The road to Brazov

A sort of Gutenberg-affair 
Early in the morning members of our coach tour are emerging from their rooms, unsure of which is the way to the stairs or elevator shatters the peace. Another day of fussing and politesse has begun. 

Chaos in the Breakfast Room and a big crowd we count one woman going to the cereals counter eleven times 

However before we got on the Friday bus to Brasov we walked round the town, climbed the steep steps up the Tower of the Citadel where people used to muster to pour hot oil on any passing invaders. I made some drawings of 14C wooden chests use to protect or transport peoples’ possessions and headed back to the street. (Later that day I wondered why I’d drawn them. ‘Oh yes, I remember to avoid climbing to the top of the tower and unveiling my vertigo’.

Autumn was in her glory in the two-hour coach dash from Sighişoara to Brasov. I made a drawing of the medley of colours, terrains and vegetation, which was every shade of ochre, gold, hello and orange. Sometimes along wide planes and at others in to deep valleys which where the sun filtered through impossibly tall beech trees.   
The School Room Museum in Brazov

By noon we were on the outskirts of Brasov. We stopped at swish and swanky gas station so everyone on the bus could have a piss. There was the customary disruptive queuing and fussing in the shop. Mike reported that men’s room was awash (with water) so I crossed as busy single lane road and dived into some bushes along a dirt track nearby which was all to the good as far as I was concerned.

Walking in Brasov.

On the Agenda was a visit to The School Museum and curious building to the left of St Nicholas Basilica. We were given a lecture in Romanian, simultaneously translated by TGA, about life in school in the 1700’s and then shown a printing press built in 1640. A sort of Gutenberg-affair and shown a block of type. It used to take two years and 800 blocks to make one book; had they not heard of blogging? In ten years of high Communism, most of the books of Brasov where burnt, this is according to the old priest giving the talk.

We took a late lunch in the main square. We were dismissed and walked back to our hotel by 16:00 hours. We were grateful beyond imagining for three hours in our room at the Aro Palace.

Friday 23 November 2018



BUS CHATS Each day on the bus TGA gives us all a mini lecture on given topics. Thus far we have covered history (several talks on this) and some geography, taxation, education, healthcare, cars in Romania, talks on politics, with more promised, also opened up for us; the Roma people, the referendum last weekend, the former royal family, and promised for today, Thursday, the Jewish community – origins and current state in Romania. TGA’s political and social disposition is thinly disguised and I have yet to come to a view. There will be more time for this on these bus-chats.

The museum tour in Sibiu
Thursday and a museum tour in Sibiu - This is a delightful collection of Romanian art and artefacts from homes and churches across the country. The whole collection and was brought together by a Samuel Bruckehthal, a wealthy nobleman who also gave his house, in the main square, over to have all these knickknacks properly housed.  Worth the wander, lot of Baroque decorative pieces, silverware and paintings and icons from churches, plus a Gothic font which was lovely to look at. 

More coach time. It is another day of medieval rooftops; cobbled streets and line wash ochre walls. Our morning coach takes us to Biertan and then onwards for an afternoon arrival in Sighişoara. 

We arrived in the fortified church in Biertan. 

The church, which sits in the highest point of the village, was encircled by three sets of walls. Graceful inside the church had been heavily restored by its worth and character shone through on this warm morning, the sun blistering through the East window and onto a small font which was situated in the chancel, afore the alter which was unusual.  However outside a view across a hundred rooftops and once the other visitors; our tour party, a gaggle of Japanese and two delightful Italian boys had defended back down into the town, all was peaceful.

Cake, coffee and back on the coach.

These places, in spite of the punishing schedules, time deadlines; rendezvous points and such, these places can be delightfully quiet. This morning when I awoke at just before 5 there was silence apart from the distant and consistent barking of one dog high up in the town here, Sighişoara. No traffic, no airplanes and no builders’ din which where we live is constant. From morning to night.

By just before 3pm yesterday we were deposited at the hotel and given the rest of the day off.  

After unpacking the four of us went exploring. One hundred and seventy nine steps took us up to the top of the town to a lovely church ‘The Church on the Hill’. A real piece of Gothic loveliness restored yet unbowed. On this occasion the late afternoon such crept in through the windows as I made a drawing, the first piece of serious Gothic draughtsmanship I have attempted for sometime. This church, like that that at Biertan was taken over and loved-up by the Saxons of Romania.

Wednesday 21 November 2018



Bright dawn

Wonderful night’s sleep with the promise of less time on the bus today. We will see.
Wednesday morning finds me in better, akin to cheerful, spirits. The breakfast room is large and lovely in glass aquamarine blue however fellow coach buddies (!) sit scarily close which is worrying given this room is so very huge.

Baroque Alba
It was a day of sun for sure and up to 23deg. C in the afternoon. The bus time was less than Tuesday. Medieval cities were the theme. Morning it was Alba Julia (White Castle) 

and the afternoon was Sibiu.
In the evening we ate in the Jules Bistro and restaurant. White and stylish beyond credulity. Our first red wine of the trip. Local, full bodied and of mature fruit. It was hard to decide whether to sip it or dab in behind one’s ears. Food equally satisfying.

I’d found a post office in Sibiu. This was a longed for experience and I was not disappointed. There was a long queue, of folk tut-tut-ing and only one serving area open. The place was all drab marble, old wood and crumbling posters. Most excellent! I managed, sort of, to jump the queue for seeing one of the counter staff move to where I was standing I beckoned her over and asked for ‘timbres’ Romanian for stamps as we discovered the day before. (Where I had asked for stamps in a children’s clothing shop mistaking it for a Post Office.).
Anyway, yesterday, in a real post office Maria served me with ten stamps for the USA and UK. I was also given some Air Priority stickers as well; my charm and anxious body language did not fail me.

Both cities were reached by the same AutoRoute one of the few in Romania. There is funding for more from the EEC/EU however the current government have not figured out away to skim the funding for their own aggrandisement and for the health and wealth of those road and infrastructure companies who are lucky enough to be awarded the contracts, according to our local guide.

Sibiu  Cathedral Interior 
So, two medieval cities today. Both polished to perfection by EEC/EU funding. Cobbled streets, young people, parked cars, every church either being refurbished (and sadly closed) or freshly painted and open for business. 

Sibiu, with its communist apartment blocks and factories well away for the city’s centre, was another cobbled and polished confection. A remarkable number of pharmacies and phone shops all designed to blend in with the overall medieval charm of the place. 

Monday 19 November 2018


A day of mixed fortunes. Siân sick in the morning, suspected cause: pineapples to which she has an allergy that induces projectile vomiting. Fortunately this latter manifestation did occur. 

We left our hotel near the motorway at 0830 by 10:00 we had our first toilet break of this six hour ride. One toilet, twenty-five people, in the group, chaos and queuing and much displeasure. Siân languishes in the back of the bus. I make plans to escape, with her, back to Bucharest and wait out the remaining days until the flight home on Saturday.

Decided I (we) am (are) not bus tour people! Whole idea becomes an anathema and will remain so.

The huge coach trundles up alpine slopes and I expect to see Julie Andrews and Von Trapp brood at any moment. Lovely scenery huge sun and blue skies. Trees just turning orange and gold. The morning starts with a mist, a thick band of across a broad landscape then up into hills and more mist. 

By toilet time we had bright sun. Onwards, higher to and through a mountain pass at which a hotel was built (by the Communists) to be Dracula’s Castle Hotel. There is no such place except in Bram Stoker’s imagination. 

People have clamoured for another piss break so we stop and admire the mountains and Stoker’s Castle.

Sun and then a steep decent onto a broad plain another ‘breadbasket’ of rich agricultural land. 

By 13:30 we are in Bistrita (another former fortified town – 

there are nine in the region) and Tour Guide Alex lets us off the bus for lunch. Twenty-five slightly dazed people walk along a broad boulevard of houses and closed shops. Looking for lunch is the common purpose. We circle back to where TGA is and have beers and mici (sausage things per Sunday’s lunch). Sian recovering so all is good and she has the Greek Salad.

I look for a Post Office and find one however the coach is back at the RVP and Alex is a fiend for punctuality so I dare not risk crossing a busy road to by stamps. 

Two more hours +/- in the coach or there abouts and so we enter Cluj (our overnight halt) in the low later afternoon sun. Much exciting abandoned agricultural buildings on the outskirts of the city and on the edge of town some of the MOST EXCITING soviet-style architecture I have seen so far. Now I want to PAINT IT. 

Shit, shave, shower and shampoo in the hotel (excellent) and off into the main square for a lovely walk around. 

We fall into the arms of a very trendy young person’s bar and restaurant called BOEMA and stay for a wonderful meal. Good beer, pizzas, ribs for Lucy and salad for all. 

After naughty deserts we walk back to the Double Tree by Hilton.

Saturday 17 November 2018


Outside our bedroom window was a field of good produce: tomato’s, apples, faggots of kindling wood, gourds, green peppers, all basked in an early light. Fecundity was to be a characteristic of the entire week as we raced through the Romanian countryside.

Through villages, up hill and down dales and low hills we visited two painted churches; Voronet and Sucevița. 

Round these parts you’d build a church to celebrate a victory (Voronet) or for defensive purposes (Suceviţa) to help protect the land from invaders, the Ottoman hoards. 

Either way the nobles who sponsored this activity also hired the very best of decorators to cover almost every inch of the church with wonderful characters and objects to depict every story in The Bible. Languages were not established and certainly not the written word so these wonderful portrayals was the way to go.
It is remarkable that these places were decorated inside and out.  And God’s work has stood the test of time. Seeing all these paintings and have them enthusiastically explained by Tour Guide Alex was a blessing. Inside each was an almost pungent atmosphere of Holiness that even the ungodly tourist hordes with cameras and smart phones could not banish into the outer darkness. 

Both establishments, Voronet and Sucevița were policed by nuns who took your 10 lei for a permit to use your camera, sold you post cards and ensured that you did not take photographs in the interiors of these treasured places. People did.

So these were the churches of Moldavia. A land that has been ruled by Dacian, Romans, Hungarians and Ottomans all before finally forming a country from three principalities; Walachia, Transylvania and Moldavia itself. 

Tomorrow, Tuesday, we would be travelling west through the Carpathian Mountains to Transylvania proper.  

Thursday 15 November 2018


The Palace of Sighs

Out in the Open Air (Museum)

A palace, bigger than most: Second only to the Pentagon in size!

This morning, our coach wizzes us along the wide streets of Bucharest, light traffic because it is Sunday. Clear skies and sunshine. It was comfortable night in the Crown Plaza hotel. Its breakfast room was reassuringly populated with half of Asia. Good breakfast sets us up for the day.

Open Air Village Museum
In 1930 someone had the bright idea of uprooting a hundred houses across the entire country and plonking them down in the OPEN AIR VILLAGES MUSEUM. What a good idea it was. For in sixty minutes or more, if you have the time you can get an appreciation of Romania’s vernacular architecture and way of life of its people. This is an important primer for our time here. I was smitten by the 18C sub Carpathian pigeon loft. Also enjoyed the most excellent espresso.

The Palace.
Ortillia is our tour guide, she was quite brilliant shepherding us round the Palace of the People. It was an edifice only second to the Pentagon Building in size. This was Ceausescu’s great memorial. He never saw it completed as he was topped in late 1989 and democracy established. It is a remarkable place. Over 1000 rooms, built at a cost of US$ 3 billion (gold leaf does cost) with 220,000 square metres of carpet. The list of incredible facts goes on.

Our 1.5 km tour with Ortillia took us up and down 200 stairs. Marble everywhere and rich brocades and chandeliers. The place dripped with these ostentatious accoutrements. Wonderful, wonderful and so much off it and we saw a mere fraction. And were impressed as Mr and Mrs C thought we should be.

A view from the balcony showed that Mr C thought the whole area surrounding his impressive gaff should not be unlike the palace. He achieved just this with a wide boulevard leading off from the main entrances leading down into the city centre  - fountains, playing water canons, completed the effect.

The Old Town of Bucharest
Ceaușescu thought old towns were a waste of time and tried to lay waste to the one in Bucharest. 
But not quite and now the EEC are pouring money into this part of town to turn it into ‘the Old Town’ that every Eastern European capital should have; to trap tourists and bring money into the country.

We had a kick  a beef and pork confection. Skinless sausages 

The Sunday flight north 16:00
We take off in something with propellers into the late afternoon sun after an excellent stay in Ceaușescu-ville. 

Wednesday 14 November 2018


Tarom, the Romania national airline is excellent. 

The flight was good except for the heat on board. Mike makes a plea for less heat and it appears to get hotter. The upside a free airline meal (VG) and a glass of red wine, which is relaxing and helps me cope with the temperature. One of the cabin crew looks like the actress Kate O’Mara (perhaps she was).

Fab flights by Tarom

We were on the way to Roumania. 

Eight days of cutting through the Carpathian Mountains by coach. A land criss‐crossed by rivers, and hemmed by the Black Sea and Danube delta. 

Romania is home to a lively capital, lovely medieval towns, legendary castles, seven Saxon citadels, and countless cultural events.

Tuesday 13 November 2018


The eleventh Curious Coast Jaunt, begins in the former Cinque Port of New Romney, in Kent. 

Trevor and I relished the ‘full English’ at Elaine’s Café, a yummy and fulsome start to this ten-mile tour along the Kent coast in the direction of Folkestone. It was a dull morning weather-wise, yet spirits were high as we regained the car and headed the mile or two to the beach: Littlestone Beach.

Littlestone Beach is not so little and its broad sands, scoured by a stiff wind gave way to Greatstone Beach. Here there was more lovely low water magic and the occasional drop of sun on the sand. South of Greatstone, in the distance stood the three shoe box-like shapes of Dungeness. Dungeness was a 2015 Curious CoastJaunt.

We left the beach and up onto the road, The Paradebecomes Coast Driveand thenGrand Parade, a not to be missed architectural romp past some of the most curious bungalow designs and dilapidation. A walk of little over one and half miles takes you past a PVC clad Dutch Gable End house, then a modern architect’s flight of fancy, further along, a low ranch-style dwellings and an imposing place that would sit well on South Beach in Florida.  There is something for everyone.

One real treat is St Peter’s Church. The Romney Marsh net website informs: 
The present building was made possible by a generous bequest, and was opened in April 1962 by Michael Ramsey, Archbishop of Canterbury. The shape of the building is intended to reflect the shape of a boat
There is more detail on this delightful church and others at

It is a straight road from Littlestone Beach to Hythe, another Cinque Port. Hythe was busy, lots of cars and pedestrians on narrow streets, all seemed fractious.

Making a sharp right turn and we escaped to West Parade and the beach. Here we swapped the sand for crunchy shingle and we walked in sunshine at last. 

Fishermen on the beach, in their igloo-like brightly coloured windbreaks cast, cast again and adjusted their lines. Mackerel appeared to be on the lines of some lucky chaps. 

West Parade pulls itself up sharp and there is what remains of the Hythe fishing fleet. Several boats are hauled up on the beach against the backdrop of crow black fish sheds and colourful crates and buckets.

A little further and we reach the Martello towers and the intimidating MOD signs for the MOD’s practise Ranges are here and seem to stretch along the beach for miles. Keep Out!

We about turned and buy fish at Griggs of Hythe. Skate Wings for Trevor and Fish Pie Mix for yours truly. We walked back for coffee and then headed home through the M25 grind back to Bucks.

Saturday 3 November 2018


Treasure is tucked away in the north-eastern part of Oxfordshire, close to but far enough away from the M40’s roar. Almost secret, criss–crossed by well behaved ‘A’ roads and good bus service. Three villages, three churches a few miles from each other, each one listed in Jenkins’ big book, England's Thousand Best Churches. *Simon Jenkins 1999.

And along with me was Rosie the Puppy.

Mr J was at his mischievous best in his report card all three churches; Adderbury, Bloxham and South Newington.

With Bloxham, Adderbury is considered the other twin glory of North Oxfordshire. A helpful Church Warden directed me (on this phone) through a chancel door, indicated by a trail of electrical cables. They are in the middle of a big makeover, steeple, tower and something high above the Rood Screen. One of the chaps doing the work said several more months’ work was in the offing. 

Jenkins:a Decorated structure adorned by the north Oxfordshire school of carvers…both inside and out their gallery of vernacular art, Animals, grotesques and humans tumble along the cornice line.
With Bloxham, Adderbury is considered the twin glories of North Oxfordshire.

Another grand steeple is in evidence here too and with more virtuoso stone carving outside and in. One high spot is the Milcombe Chapel, as classic 15thC Perpendicular.
Jenkins: Light floods in past the delicate concave piers of the arcade, like a conservatory tacked on a gloomy stately home

Milcombe Chapel Bloxham: like a conservatory tacked on a gloomy stately home

SOUTH NEWINGTON St Peter Ad Vincula**
Before visiting the church, Rosie and I went for a pint in The Duck on the Pond which is is a delightful Pub & Restaurant, set just off on the A361 Banbury to Chipping Norton Road. Newly done up and they provided a warm welcome and a good beer.

Out of the pub, across the road, the lane and there is St Peters with its bizarre porch favoured in a late work by my hero John Piper.

Oh joy! Discovering the wall paintings herein, the best of which are on the north aisle including one depicting the murder of Thomas a Becket.

Jenkins:This familiar scene of early medieval piety is singularly horrific, with Becket’s head spouting blood as the sword cleaves it in two.

South Newington: Oh joy! Discovering the wall paintings

SPECIAL THANKS TO The Revd Dale Gingrich, Vicar of
Bloxham, Milcombe and South Newington for his guidance on the churchs' 'opening hours'

Rosie and I have more churching jaunts planned for what is left of this year and next. With Mr Jenkins’ magnum opusreadily to hand

*Simon Jenkins 1999
Simon Jenkins has travelled the length and breadth of England to select his thousand best churches. Organised by county, each church is described - often with delightful asides - and given a star rating, from one to five. 

The author acknowledges the copyright © Simon Jenkins, 1999,2000

**Saint Peter ad Vincula (Saint Peter in Chains) alludes to the bible story of the Liberation of Saint Peter, when an angel rescued the Apostle Peter, imprisoned by King Herod. Frequently seen translations are: English - St Peter in Chains. ... Latin - Sancti Petri ad Vincula.