Euro Trip Day #5: Alba Iulia : A city with a star-Fortress

29th August 2014

I woke up only when Andreea called me for a breakfast. The food was the typical Romanian cheese, breads and spreads. She also made me a nice hot cup of tea. When we were about to be off, I realized that I cannot wear my sport shoes. They were very salty the other day and I had to wash them. They were not dry yet. The weather was sunny and funny part was that I wore formal shoes with shorts and T-shirt!

Anyways, here is a little etymological description of the city of Alba Iulia: Alba in Romanian means white and comes from the time when the Slavics called the settlement Belgrade (“White castle”). Iulia comes from the name of the Romanian prince Gelu (Iulius in Latin) who ruled over the land around Alba Iulia during the 10th century.

We went to the old town area by car and started exploring the historical monuments all clubbed together in the small town. It is surrounded by the Alba Carolina Fortress. The fortress was built between 1714 and 1738 with a perimeter of approximately 12 kilometres. This is the most representative baroque, Vauban-type star-shaped fortress which is one of largest of this kind. It looks very spectacular if viewed from the sky. Of course we did not have an access to the helicopter, however we found a floral depiction of the image in the garden which I would like to present here:

Floral model of the Alba Carolina fortress, Alba Iulia, Romania

Floral model of the Alba Carolina fortress, Alba Iulia, Romania

Inside of the fortress/castle is renovated in such a way that one should feel the legacy and the intimacy with the glories of the bygone age. Most important monument in the old town is the Orthodox Unification Cathedral.  On 1st December 1918, in this very cathedral, the unification of the province of Transylvania with the Kingdom of Romania was announced officially.

The Orthodox Reunification Cathedral

The Orthodox Reunification Cathedral, Alba Iulia, Romania

This cathedral was built in 1921 after the reunification. Not so far from this cathedral, is the Roman Catholic Cathedral which stands firm since 14th century, however its tower was built in the 17th century:

The Roman Catholic Cathedral, Alba Iulia, Romania

The Roman Catholic Cathedral, Alba Iulia, Romania

The fortress has seven bastions or bulwarks (Eugene of Savoia, St. Stefan, The Trinity, St. Michael (that is Mihai Viteazul, whose statues are ubiquitous in Romania), St. Carol, St. Capistrano and St. Elizabeth). Most of them were well equipped with cannons and other old school guns. Some of them are still kept for display.

Tuna (Cannon in Romanian)

Tuna (Cannon in Romanian)

Every Saturday, at 12:00, one can observe cannon salutes (Yes, real firing from the cannons) which can make the whole fortress lively. On every other (ordinary) day, The Changing of guards ceremony is conducted at 12:00. We made it to the entrance of the Route of Three Fortifications where the ceremony started. It was a very spectacular event with one king-guard giving instructions to the uniformed guards and they performed some drills with their swords. After the ceremony, we entered the Route of Three fortifications which allowed us to walk 2 km of 12 km perimeter of the fortress. We found two of the many guards chilling in the garden there (after their march and drills). They were so cool that they participated in our little photo-session !

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Cool Guards in the garden of Alba Carolina fortress, Alba Iulia, Romania

Guards of honor ?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The bastions and routes connecting them offered us unique views. We thoroughly enjoyed the walk in the bright and warm Sun:

Third Gate of the Alba Carolina Fortress (in the background)

Third Gate of the Alba Carolina Fortress (in the background)

While all the gates of the fortress are magnificent , the third gate stands out because of the sculptures and because of the important monumental pillar / cellar in front of it. The peasant revolt that was executed on 28th February 1785, was led by three revolutionists on the Pitchfork Hill ( Horea, Cloşca and Crişan). This revolt had turned the city into a symbol of the fight for justice and freedom. The technical university of Cluj is named after these guys.

The cellar of Horea, Cloşca and Crişan !

The cellar of Horea, Cloşca and Crişan !

We were naturally very hungry  after finishing a long walk in the route of three fortifications. Andreea had it all planned: a nice restaurant in the heart of the fortress. “Pub 13 Medieval Restaurant”. The name suited its location. I had some salad with baked vegetables: singular as it sounds ! On our way back to the car, Andreea showed me the university whose name was most surprising. Check this out :

1st December 1918!

1st December 1918!

On our way home, Andreea confirmed a queer thing which I had been observing this since Cluj: Most Romanian men stare at women all the time. On the streets, in the parks, in the  buses… all public places. It is so common that every woman is aware of it and they don’t care about it.

We also visited a hair saloon for I wanted to get a hair-cut ! (It was cheap there and I was to attend a wedding on 31st). Afternoon I spent at Andreea’s home doing Skype calls with my friends while she worked on her thesis. Later in the evening we watched the tennis match of Simona (Sania Mirza of Romania). Unfortunately she lost the match.

We went out for dinner in a very good restaurant in the city. The pasta was not one of the best pastas I had had. Except the tennis match and the pasta, Andreea had made my day with her enthusiasm and alacrity to show me the city!

A view from the Route of three fortifications, Alba Iulia, Romania

A view from the Route of three fortifications, Alba Iulia, Romania

Euro Trip Day #4: The Dungeon of Cluj and the Salt mines at Turda

28th August 2014

Today, I made sure to be in the kitchen before 9 to get the pancakes! Jack (the guy from South Africa) and I had 11 AM appointment at the Dungeon. The concept was new to me. They locked us in a cellar (hence the name dungeon) and we were to find the key to the door which was hidden in the room. It was like a treasure hunt with hints and clues all around the room. The details of the dungeon are not appropriate to disclose here (I do not think it is ethical) but it was a lot of fun to do! I would highly recommend it though, to visit the dungeon with a group of four people at least. It was too difficult to solve all the clues for two of us.

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Jack, A friend in the hostel, Cluj

After the Dungeon adventure, I had a short GoodBye session at the reception of the hostel.

Cristina, a kind receptionist at the hotsel, Cluj

Cristina, a kind receptionist at the hotsel, Cluj

I wanted to catch a bus to Turda, my next destination. I had to ask for the directions. A helping woman walked with me to the bus-stop. She curiously asked me about the news that she had heard recently : “rape in some part of India”! I was shocked that such a bad news should reach her and that she biased her opinion about the country. I was not in the best of my dispositions for a couple of minutes. I could not deny the news , neither could I comment. “Bad people are everywhere and such sins are committed in every part of the world”, Well, that was my shrewd remark! Deeply in  my heart though, I was hurt that such news are bringing shame to the country and to the humanity in general.

Yet another (weird) experience was awaiting me in the bus. It was a mini-bus. When I boarded, none of the double-seats were entirely available. One woman was sitting on a double-seat, having one chair empty. When I tried to occupy, she made offensive gestures, suggesting me to go away. By then, I knew that I was mistaken as a gypsy. Thus, I chose to sit by someone who would not mind it.

So much for the Cluj!

At Turda, I wanted to visit the infamous Salt mines’ which is now converted into a history museum. From the bus-stop, the salt mine was a mile away. On my way to the mine entrance I had to ask for the directions to confirm my way. One kind guy asked his little daughter who spoke surprisingly fluent English and helped me. Another incident happened right at the entrance of the mine: Two teenager Romanian boys came to me and asked for a picture with me! It was very strange however I did not mind it.

My friend, Andreea was to receive me at the entrance of the mine. She came from Alba Iulia and it so happened that we were waiting for each other at the different ends of the mine. It became clear later that the mine had two entrances when she called me up to know my location and let Google know about my location.

Andreea and I at Turda, Romania

The mine was beautiful as expected. It was huge, deep, salty and cold ! The mine dates back to Seventeenth century and was maintained by Hungarian emperors before Romania came into existence. The mine has its peculiar atmosphere because of high concentration of salt. It is said to be a good cure for respiratory diseases and lung disorders. People visit the mine to spend an entire day there and breath good air. There are several recreational activities one can do inside the mine-museum including rowing, Ping-pong, basket-ball and several other kids-special machines to play with.

Salt mine from inside, Turda, Romania

Salt mine from inside, Turda, Romania

The mine is 13 floors deep and we took stairs to enjoy the air more, not to mention the long queues for the elevator!

Recreational area in the heart of the mine, Turda, Romania

Recreational area in the heart of the mine, Turda, Romania

We went for rowing in a small lake inside the mine. Andreea taught me how to row. I had never done that before (except in the Gym, where they have rowing machines). It was a lot of fun not rowing it right and hitting other boats! Finally I gave up and Andreea rowed the boat safely to the bank of the lake.

Andreea rowing in the lake, Salina Turda, Romania

Andreea rowing in the lake, Salina Turda, Romania

Our mine journey came to an end after rowing and the stairs comprising of 13 floors were awaiting us. We took a long time to climb up observing the carving on every floor. The year is clearly carved on each floor to indicate when the particular floor was excavated (explored). A long alley took us to the entrance and it was only then we realized how salty we had become.

Long alley in the mine of Turda, Romania

Long alley in the mine of Turda, Romania

There was salt inside our boots and jackets. Somehow we had breathed quite a good amount of salt into our clothes and also indeed some good air into our lungs.

Andreea chose a warm welcoming restaurant which could offer authentic Romanian food. I had a soup in the bread followed by smashed sweet-corns with Romanian cheese.

Soup in the bread! ,Restaurant Rustiq, Turda, Romania

Soup in the bread! ,Restaurant Rustiq, Turda, Romania

The food was too good and with our bellies full of corns we left for Alba Iulia, Andreea’s home-town, the oldest settlement of Romania, and the capital of Transylvania.