Monday 27th May
After breakfast George, our local guide, took us on a walk around the town, explaining that in the 14th century the Hungarian king had invited Saxons from Luxembourg & Germany to come to the town to help defend a pass in the Carpathian Mountains between Transylvania.
After WW2 most of the German speakers left the town to go to Germany receiving assistance from the West German government & now only 4% speak German as a first language. The place still looks very German in its architecture.
We then visited the RC church built in the mid 1700s when the Hungarians had an army base there.
The much older 13th century, cathedral had been taken over in the Reformation as a Lutheran one. Unfortunately for us, this was closed for restoration but we could go up the bell tower, so off we went up the old circular staircase until we encountered a staircase inside the main tower. d*** decided to go on & after some 200 odd steps on some ancient treads came to the bells & above them, 4 turrets at the corners below the spire. He took photos from each of them & had a clear view of probably 30-50k in all directions.
After the stair climb, we retreated to our hotel & caught up with the photos & the journal.
At 3pm we all went off in the bus to visit the ASTRA National Museum Complex 5k out of town. This is Europe's largest open-air ethnographic museum with 400 houses, churches mills & workshops together with example of early agriculture. It was fascinating to see the houses of huge timbers laid horizontally with dovetail joints at each corner & a range of roofs from thatch to shingles & tiles of various patterns. There were various water & wind mills from different periods, used for many purposes including fulling & carding of wool.
The highlight was a floating watermill which comprised a barge with a mill above, attached by beams to a parallel outrigger, smaller barge. Between the two were the water mill vanes which rotate on a horizontal axle between the two barges. This amazing mill apparently was pulled by horses along the rivers to different locations & was the anchored, facing the current, which then drove the mill vanes to provide the power.
It was a fascinating example of the ingenuity of the people.
We returned & had a reasonably early night after dinner in one of the squares listening to a local brass band.
Tuesday 28th May
Today we returned to Bucharest via the Transfargaran Highway which climbed a mountain to a cable car at about 1000m. Here we ascended to the summit for lunch at Ceaucescu's hunting lodge, Cabana Bâlea Lac at 2000m, still surrounded by snow from the winter. There is a road constructed to the top which passes through a tunnel to descend the mountain on the other side but it is only open from July to September as it is covered in snow for the rest of the year. Apparently the road was built to carry tanks etc but it was then found to be impossible for the transporters to negotiate it due to the bends. He then decided to put in the cable car & use it as a hunting lodge & now it is visited by tourists.
After a frustrating wait we returned to the bus for the long ride back to Bucharest. Crossing the hills we drove along by a big river for many kms in heavy traffic. The road is obviously a main artery but is windy & was very busy both ways, so progress was pretty slow.
We had 2 stops on the way back to Bucharest & arrived back at about 8.45 pm, fairly tired.
The group had a farewell dinner with Claudia at a local restaurant with a quartet, Cymbeline, accordion, clarinet & double bass. The Cymbeline is an extraordinary stringed instrument strung like a horizontal piano, the strings of which are struck with hammers as in a xylophone. It dominated the quartet's sound.