It was early in February, 2020. My one and a half hour flight from Vienna crossed over Hungary, and then over Transylvania in the Carpathian mountainous area of central Romania, before landing in Romania’s capital city of Bucharest in an area known as Wallachia. Bucharest is situated in the southeastern part of Romania on the banks of the Dambovita River, which eventually flows into a tributary of the Danube.
Transylvania is known for its medieval towns and fortresses, and mountainous borders. The neighboring county of Wallachia was where Vlad Tepes (known as Vlad the Impaler) was born. He was the inspiration for Bram Stoker’s Dracula. He is often considered one of the most important rulers in Wallachian history, fighting ruthlessly against Ottoman Turkish aggression.
I alighted from the airport bus in downtown Bucharest on the outskirts of Old Town where my accommodations were located.
Communist-era block buildings lined the busy streets. These buildings belied the fact that Old Town, Bucharest’s oldest neighborhood, which was full of picturesque streets, unrestored old houses, and lively restaurants, cafes, and bars, was nearby. Old Town was formed in the 15th and 16th centuries when Bucharest was emerging as a capital of Wallachia.
The air was brisk. I maneuvered around small piles of snow on my way to my hostel. The streets were humming with activity. The pandemic, which was starting to halt activity around Europe at that time, didn’t appear to affect activity in Romania until about a month later as I was leaving the country.
St. Anton Square, Old Town
One Tuesday as I walked down one of the narrow walking streets in the southern edge of the Old Town. I soon found myself in historic St. Anton Square. The lovely Romanian Orthodox Princely Court Church, dating from 1559, loomed up in front of me. A long line of women of all ages were waiting to get in. Along side it, many were lighting candles and praying. The ornate, dark, interior of the church was packed with even more women.
I returned to this square a few days later on one of Bucharest’s free walking tours. The church and grounds were nearly deserted. I asked our guide why was there such a dramatic difference in number of people from Tuesday. She explained that women who are looking for a husband flock to this church to pay homage to St. Anthony on Tuesdays. One person in our group asked, with a chuckle, if the men of Bucharest who were looking for a wife figured they might find one here on a Tuesday, and hang around accordingly. Our guide smiled knowingly.
I found the historic structures around the church in St. Anton Square intriguing. One was the archaeological site of the medieval Old Princely Court. It served as the early seat of the Wallachian princes, including Vlad Tepes in 1459, one of Romania’s most notorious leaders. The other intriguing structure was a former Turkish *caravansarai. This massive complex was built in the 1800’s, and now hosts a restaurant, several bars, a cafe, and an inn (currently under restoration).
Unfortunately the ruins of the medieval court were off limits. But the presence of this archaeological site whetted my appetite to learn more about the history of Bucharest and the nearby province of Transylvania, where the life and adventures of Vlad Tepes took place.
The extensive outer walls of the oriental caravansarai, Manuc’s Inn, spanned one side of St. Anton Square. One of Europe’s last remaining caravansarais, the two story structure surrounded a central yard where horses, carts, and cattle used to be hosted.
My imagination soared when I stepped into the massive courtyard and surveyed the wooden balconies that overlooked it. I felt like I was on the old Silk Road in Turkey where I had occasionally stumbled onto an old caravansarai during my travels many years ago.
Tables and chairs of cafes and bars were set up in the large courtyard, ready for customers. The restaurant on the upper level was reputed to have a great four-course lunch special of traditional Romanian food for under US$10. I never dined there, but enjoyed a similar afternoon special at several inviting, nearby restaurants in Old Town.
*Historic roadside inns dating back to the time of the old Silk Road between the 2nd century BC to the 18th century
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