A Trip to the Castle of Bran
The Queen had received, as a present from her grateful country after the war, the gift of a small feudal castle, called Bran. This is in Transylvania, about twenty miles away from Sinaia. To reach it, one follows the most picturesque road imaginable, with precipices and hairpin curves and rushing torrents, and round each corner more and more superb views of snow-capped mountains and distant plains. One drives through the town of Brashov, renamed from the German "Cronstadt." It is a clean little town, occupied by people of South Saxon origin, who had lived there many years, and had evidently been imported by the Saxons when they took the country from Roumania. The church—a high, pointed edifice—has one unusual feature in the fact that it is entirely hung, both walls and pews, with superb Persian rugs dating back to the fifteenth century. The finest of these rugs were hung on the walls round the altar, and were in lovely golden colours, the majority of them being of dull crimson and gold. It was surprising to think that they have remained untouched for so many centuries. Brashov is quite a large place, with one or two curiosity shops. The fine old Roumanian carpets which were at one time to be picked up have all been collected by various war "helpers" that pervaded the country after the armistice. The streets stretching out into the country are lined with houses with hardly any windows and one immense door. Should a door be left open, one gets glimpses into fine gardens, or stables and cow-sheds, for doubtless, by way of protection against robbers, the beasts and cattle of the various farms are housed in the town at night, and driven out each morning to their pastures. One of the most curious sights throughout Roumania is to see, in the early morning, the Roumanian labourer starting out to work. He and the whole of his family, from his grandfather to the smallest baby, are packed into a high cart, barred round, to which horses of various sizes are attached, and the family and their implements start in this way for their plot of land, which is generally at some distance away. On arrival, their horses are unhitched and harnessed to a plough, or whatever farm implement is to be used that day, and the family camps out until late in the evening, when they return home. This means that those who are motoring find the roads well nigh impassable owing to the procession of farm carts and animals, with generally a foal or two attached to the shaft. I have even seen a very smart pair of black horses being driven in a phaeton, with scarlet rosettes at their heads, and a little black foal trotting alongside, tied up with a scarlet cord beside its mother.
One passes several old castles perched on their respective hills, but Bran is not yet in sight. To reach it one has to drive up the steepest road that motor-car has ever tackled. It had been very interesting to watch the progress made by the Queen in developing this little castle from ruin to dwelling-house. Her clever architect, Mr. Liman, had taken advantage of every niche or corner, and had welded all the new together with the old so cleverly, that it was impossible to conjecture that it had ever been touched. High vaulted ceilings and a massive winding stone staircase, big empty rooms with few pieces of furniture—those, fine antiques—the very space and simplicity of it all gave it a charm which is indescribable. Great brass dishes of the Queen's favourite pale blue autumn crocus, which grows in Transylvania alone, were on the floor, and a few fine Roumanian embroideries decked the divans. Copper jugs held branches of the coral-clustered spindle-tree (Euonymus latifolius, a much finer thing than E. Europceus). Bran looks far down to a rushing stream and valley below, and on one side of the little castle, beneath the steep rocks, the Queen has made an enchanting garden for dahlias. I have sent her out seed of the pale blue viper's bugloss (Echium vulgare), which, if sown at the right time, will grow in any cleft of rock, however forbidding. The Queen delights to spend a day or two of holiday in this delicious retreat with a few chosen friends of the same literary and artistic tastes, and no one ever comes there except by special invitation. On the way back we passed some ditches full of marsh marigolds, which, although not flowering at the moment, were known to the Queen to be there. She stopped her car and said she must get some roots for her garden. Her devoted gentlemen thereupon stepped, all unknowingly, into the mountain swamp in which this flower grows, and, although they succeeded in bringing home a large quantity of roots, I think it must have taken some time for them to remove the black mud which they had also collected, up to the knees!