Being Brave In Romania #4
The Floppy Slippers of Peles and Pelesor
Sinaia is a resort town, and up until WWII, was a summer residence of Romania’s kings. I stopped in at their monastery first, to see the intricate pictures of the Virgin Mary, Jesus, and numerous saints that line every wall, doorframe and window. You can even light a candle outside in traditional metal boxes, but I’m not sure whether you’re supposed to pray for the living or the dead. I’d hate to do it wrong, so I tried to get a picture of one of the priests instead. He turned and ran off like it was against his religion. In his long black robes, against the backdrop of the elaborate church architecture, it was a great shot but a bad idea. One typical for a tourist like myself.
They could see me coming from a mile away – a big camera with a zoom lens attached to a strap around my neck. A large black satchel too big to be easily carried more than four feet, black capris, and a couple of plastic sacks filled with rocks to bring home to the kids. That was a bad idea too. They were heavy, and airport officials almost took them away in Paris. They didn’t want them in the cabin of the plane. (What was I going to do with them? Hit someone over the head and demand edible food?)
However, the monastery is a great place to buy tablecloths and other linens at the most reasonable prices. Then you head up the hill towards the castles, and pass by people selling every kind of merchandise you can imagine. I bought a Vlad the Impaler on a swing, a knife, and a large clay vase. These I surrendered to the lady at the package desk in Pelesor Castle.
They have postcards with portraits of Ferdinand and Marie, along with other members of the royal family. The women wore romantic flowing gypsy style dresses and swooned into the camera. The men were in military dress and seem to command respect. I’m convinced they got it too. Especially after I’d been through the castle.
Everyone was required to put on oversized floppy slippers. They were to protect the floors and handmade carpets that have withstood centuries of traffic. Mine were giant, and the elastic strap in the back did nothing. We slithered around dark wood carved furniture, and listened to the guide talking about King Carol, the paintings from scenes of Wagner operas, and the dignitaries who had slept in the castle.
They had a weapons room with decorated swords and all types of armor. You could choose half a suit of metal, or a whole suit of metal and enough curved swords, lances, pikes, and knives to make your head swim. It was obvious that these former rulers were ready for trouble. Screaming faces were a prevailing theme in many areas. Dressers, doorways, chairs. They had teeth, too. It was amazing and scary. The intimidation alone could send enemies running. At one time, Romania was the star of Eastern Europe, and the castle was one of its prized gems.
But my slippers kept coming off on the stairs. It caused a backlog of people trying to get into the next room. The guide said I could discard them if I wished. Me? Ruin this beautiful carpet with my disgusting shoes? Not on your life. I struggled through and tried to pretend that the objects hanging at the bottom of my pants were meant to be there. Afterwards, we gathered our things and shuffled out the door. I pulled my feet along the sidewalk until I remembered it was okay to lift them. The slippers were gone, but their memory remained.
Then it was on to Pelesor – the happy cousin of Peles, and a castle more livable, practical and functionally beautiful. Slippers again, but this time I found tiny ones that only covered half a foot each. Our English-speaking guide was a lovely man with much inside knowledge on the place, and he made us feel privy to ancient family secrets.
Queen Marie, an artist and humanitarian, loved lilies, and had a whole room lined with gold. (Rumor has it that she died there also.) I discovered that a guy named Mucha did most of the artwork that decorated the rooms. These were familiar to me. I had some of the prints on my walls at home. Marie’s tastes were similar to mine, if I had been born in another time—and married to Romanian king. She worked hard to form alliances between her country and America. If she only knew all the people that were walking on her carpets these days.