Fâgâras Fortress is the castle we explored an hour or so after leaving Bran’s castle. It was very peaceful compared to Bran’s and we spent a couple of hours wandering around the building and the museum inside. In its heyday, Fâgâras was the largest economic and government unit in Transylvania. The structure was begun as a wooden one in the late 1200’s, rebuilt and reinforced with walls and a moat over time. It served in administration and defense, housed royals, hosted dignitaries, and was used as a prison in mideival times and again during soviet rule. The moat has a swan family currently as it did hundreds of years ago, with swans having a place on the coat of arms and in centuries-old documentation (a ration of rye bread for swans) on display at the fortress. The museum had re-creations of prison areas and living quarters as well as displays of objects from Romanian history and craft.
Leaving Fâgâras, we continued driving through rural villages. We saw many wooden carts pulled by horses, older women with babushkas riding bikes with pitchfork attached, terraced roofs, and many styles of haystacks. A curiosity that caught our eyes was a large nest on a roadside telephone pole.
We began to see this many times, first thinking it was artificial but we saw the birds move! It is a black and white stork that comes from Africa and breeds in Romania, returning annually to these large nests, and encouraged by locals who consider the birds to be good luck. Here is some information and a stork cam link. They are large birds with nests I could fit into comfortably, a very interesting sight on the road.
We continued driving that day and stayed overnight in Alba Iulia. We didn’t explore much, but there was a produce market on the street where we stayed and some military ruins across the street. The next day we were headed to Oradea but had a stop planned on the way. We went to the cute town of Turda to see the unique Salina Turda salt mines.
It took a very idealistic Romanian entrepreneur to make this place happen. We were over 110 meters underground in a hollowed out salt deposit and the twins were near the Ferris wheel playing miniature golf. There is also a spa and respiratory health clinic on the grounds. The salt in Turda is referred to as far back as the late 11th century and likely goes back much further still.
The mine was dug in the mid-1800’s and was an active one until 1932. The elevators, souvenir shops and rowboats came about 60 years later. Some of the big equipment remains, and the caverns provide an echo chamber as well as beautifully marbled walls to enjoy. It was a strangely fun and interesting place!
Leaving Turda, we drove to Oradea and dropped off the rental car. We stayed in a very basic, low budget pensión within walking distance of the train station. We did not get to know this town at all but simply walked to train station the next morning to catch our train to… our next stop at…Budapest!