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Orastie, Sarmizegetusa, Sebes

From Middle Ages to the Dacians and Back
The 1st of December - Romania's National Day. Razvan, Dan and me decide a rather spontaneous trip to Sureanu Mountains, the ancient cradle of the Dacians.

Day One
We take the night train to Orastie, where we arrive before the dawn. We stop at a local pub to pull ourselves together after the long train journey. Then we visit the old center of Orastie, which keeps too little from the settlement founded by the Saxons under the name Broos. Still, some picturesque Saxon houses and an old church in the center of the sleepy town are the reminders of the former glory.
It's still too early and there are no buses to Costesti - the base for exploring the Dacian settlements. But we manage to hitchhike a truck that stops in front of the Costesti chalet.
The sun is rising and it seems it will be a beautiful day - there is no snow and it looks rather like autumn than winter. The chalet seems to be close. We knock at the door, shout and finally, a man appears in the door - obviously woken up by our noise. It turns out that he and his family take care of the chalet and there are no other tourists. So we take a room, have a breakfast and boil some tuica (plum brandy), which spreads its spicy smell all over the chalet.
Blidaru, Dacian citadel After this treatment we feel much better, so we proceed to the Dacian settlement at Blidaru. We follow what it seems to be an old Daco-Roman road for carriages and we deepen into the mountain.
Suddenly, our old photo camera looses the support on which the film rolls, so we are unable to take photos. But our engineering skills help us: we pick a stick which we polish a bit with a knife and we fit it inside the camera. It's like new again, so now we can take pictures.
In less than an hour we are at Blidaru - a collection of ancient ruins spread around the top of a hillock that offers beautiful panoramas all the way around it. Some plates explain the history and the layout of the settlement. It's a good spot to stop and enjoy the silence of the nature and the lovely sun. Even though we are pretty high in the mountains, it's very pleasant - almost 20 degrees and a spotless blue sky.
Then we head to Cetatuia, another Dacian settlement. This one looks more impressive, though it's also hard to figure out the original configuration of the buildings. Back to Costesti chalet, after such a full day, we sleep like babies.
Day Two
It's again a beautiful day and thus, early in the morning we head towards the highlight of our trip: the former capital of the Dacians, Sarmizegetusa Regia.
The path, following for some time the river leads us after about two hours to the pleasant hamlet of Gradistea de Munte, where we stop for a picnic. We admire the green hillocks with the wooden houses of the village spread along the sides of the rapid and then we continue our hike.
As we get deeper into the mountains, the forest becomes thicker and thicker and we feel we are in a mysterious region, home of heroic Dacian fighters who dared to challenge the mighty Roman Empire.
In about two hours from Gradistea de Munte, on a hill, the massive walls of Sarmizegetusa emerge gradually from the forest. We can only guess the sheer size of the citadel, the Dacian capital from the first century BC to 106 AD, when it was conquered by the Romans. We are inside the citadel and suddenly a clearing reveals the great sanctuary, a stone circle containing other concentric circles made by wooden columns where ritual sacrifices were performed. Everywhere we look we see remains of walls, columns, artifacts. It's a place loaded with history, legend and mystery.
Sarmizegetusa Regia, Dacian citadel
We wake up from the spell when we realize it's almost evening and we don't have a place to sleep. The idea or returning immediately to Gradistea de Munte is not appealing to us, so we begin looking for a place to spend the night. Not after long, descending a slope just a few meters from the great sanctuary, we gladly see a new chalet, only to notice it's closed. Disappointed, we head towards the other building, which seems to be a summer kitchen, but we are again disappointed. We try hard to force the door open, but after unsuccessful efforts, funny enough we notice the small wooden stick that was preventing the door from opening and with the effort of one finger we are inside the room.
Sarmizegetusa Regia, Dacian citadel It's a simple, wooden room, provided with long eating tables and, very important for us - a stone fireplace. Moreover, up in the garret we find mattresses that we lay on the wooden tables and so, we have very comfortable beds.
We explore the region in order to gather firewood. Just in front of our summer kitchen, we literally walk on ancient artifacts - remains of red jugs. The whole region is full with these ancient remains and we regret somehow that they are exposed like this. On the other hand, we are thankful that we can explore this place as if we've just discovered it, wild and mysterious.
As the red sun is going to sleep, we have another picnic among the ruins. The night is falling early and it turns pretty cold - which reminds us it's December and we are at 1200 meters altitude.
We make the fire, but it turns out we forgot the torches so it seems we'll go to bed pretty early. But our engineering skills help us once more: from some paper serviettes and a tin of sardines containing oil, we make a candle that gives us light for at least two hours ! Around the fireplace we play cards, tell stories and jokes and then go to bed.
Day Three
We wake up early in the morning and we decide to cross the Sureanu range. On the map the distance seems to be manageable in 6-7 hours, but there is a problem: the shortest path that we chose is unmarked. Bidding farewell to the cozy and warm kitchen, we leave the ancient citadel, heading towards the peaks. As we proceed, the slopes become steeper and we see the first patches of snow. Not after long, we are up on the range, with beautiful panoramas in all directions.
A strange rock formation - called “the man” - seems to be the highest point in this region. The path is fading out and the layer of snow grows thicker and thicker. The sky gets darker and a strong wind blows here on the range. As we enter a fir wood, we practically walk on the tracks of bears, unmistakably visible in the snow. The tracks become denser and we stop frightened, realizing we have been thinking at the same question: what if we meet a bear ? After a short brainstorming session, we decide it's better not to meet any. The other issue was the path: is this the right one or are we just lost in the woods ? We continue for a little while, but the forest gets thicker, the sky gets darker and the bear tracks get denser. After another short brainstorming session, we decide it's too dangerous to continue, so we return.
Gradistea de Munte, Hunedoara
As the evening falls, it's more and more difficult to find the way back. After a long tiresome hike back, almost in the darkness, thinking we might be lost, we manage to see the salutary familiar walls of Sarmizegetusa. We are safe. Tired and disappointed, but glad to be alive, we make again a fire and sleep without dreams.

Day Four
It's again a nice day, the bad weather just a day ago is now a distant memory. After the experience we've had, we decide it's better to return to Gradistea de Munte and then to Orastie.
Leaving behind the walls of the citadel, we get a ride in a truck carrying logs. We are in Orastie sooner than planned, so we take the train to Sebes, 38 kilometers northeast of Orastie.
Sebes, known as Mulhbach to its Saxon dwellers, was the capital of the Unterwald, the westernmost region colonized by the Saxons. The old center is lovely, with some of the fortifications still standing, among which the handsome Student Tower. In 1438 a Turkish army took siege of the citadel (dating from the 14th century), the locals taking shelter in one of the towers. The Turks stormed the tower and killed everyone inside, except a student, aged 16, who was sold as a slave. He escaped twenty years later and wrote what would become soon a best seller of the customs, habits and manners of the 15th century Turks.
However, the main attraction of Sebes is the Evangelical Church, originally built between 1240 - 1270 in Romanesque style and with several Gothic additions, most notable the choir, decorated by the famous Parler workshop. The statues are exquisite, both inside and outside the church.
After this beautiful cultural tour through Sebes, we take the train to Bucharest. From the train we admire the magnificent citadel of Deva , defying the horizon from its green hill.
We arrive in Bucharest late in the night, and to our surprise here it seems to be real winter: a thick layer of snow, cold and windy. We are thankful for the trip we've had, a journey through our past and through a beautiful natural environment.


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