Bear-y nice place, or bear-ly worth it?
Updated: Sep 22, 2021
- Curtea de Argeș Travel Review -
I want to start this off by saying that I in no way mean to persuade anybody with this ‘review’. I am just objectively retelling what I experienced during my time at Curtea de Argeș (and its surrounding areas), as well as drawing a few conclusions.
Where do I even begin? Well, let’s take the events in a somewhat chronological order.
With Covid slowly winding down a few weeks prior, I attempted a quick getaway to Curtea de Argeș, and boy did I not expect what I had coming to me (which is ironic as I had been there before, long ago).
It is true that upon arrival there were quite a few people out and about, most of which were blatantly tourists (with the tens of thousands of homemade-sweets stands laid out along my hotel’s nearest sidewalk). However, as the day came to an end, the local area became much akin to one lifted from a post-apocalyptic movie. There were little to no people outside of their homes - they’d all seemingly packed up and left a little before six in the afternoon. If I found myself lucky I’d see a senior-citizen walking their dog - as an aside, let’s be honest though, had this been taken from a post-apocalyptic movie, that grandparent would’ve posed a real threat, with their sturdy walker and what-not.
To get back to the main topic, what I just said, about the city being quite desolate, can be taken both positively and negatively. I know of quite a few people who’d enjoy the peace and quiet of this city (minus the gigantic number of bears, but more on that later). However, people like me, who get an ominous feeling when a place is fully deserted, as if everything’s a simulation and you’re forever stuck in it without any way to escape… should just maaaaybe pass on certain areas. Areas such as this next one, the second stop on our journey through Curtea de Argeș, drumroll please…
It's the Fountain of Manole! And let me tell you, other than an admittedly suitable quite lengthy legend… there’s not much to it. I will however give it that: its story, one about betrayal and cruel fates, such as that of a fully human craftsman leaving behind a stream of water upon his impact with the hard ground (water, not blood) having jumped from the top of a monastery, is miles better than that of everybody chasing the Fountain of Youth. I committed a small mistake before visiting the Fountain of Manole… it was around nine in the evening when I got there. Thus, you can imagine that I did not feel that impressed by a barely visible jet flowing from this fountain, in a dimly lit deserted park, with only a few strays barking in the distance…
However - and you may ask yourselves what the first place I visited was - the Curtea de Argeș Monastery was very impressive. Being the same monastery my compatriot Manole was forced to throw himself off of, its magnitude, both in terms of its massive surrounding garden and of the building’s bodies, left me speechless. While I’m not a particularly religious person, even I basked in the monastery’s greatness… wait, my bad, I’m just remembering the sun was very bright that day, so it was probably the sun rays - however, my point still stands. Whilst there I was able to get in touch with my passion for history, admiring the fact that the recently deceased King Mihai, as well as Queen Anne, both chose this place to be laid to rest. This place holds a special meaning to Romanians, having been the first capital of Wallachia, and it’s amazing how the two returned to the country they once led.
These two sights closed off my first day at Curtea de Argeș. Whilst I really wish to go into detail about how my second day went down, not much happened. The only noteworthy thing I did was finding out that the restaurants in Curtea de Argeș, while severely few, have very tasty food. I also managed to score a colourful Gingerbread man from one of the stands, which I was quite excited to eat, but wanted to save for later.
My third and last full day at Curtea de Argeș started off as particularly intense. As if out of a lock-and-load montage, I took my not-quite-trusty multipurpose whistle-compass, my highly-vital flashlight and a multitool. By the end of the day it turned out that I would be needing one of the three, but not for the reason you’d expect.
I was headed towards Cetatea Poenari, aiming to reach the top, an activity which I thought at first to be just the right amount of challenging and to have a pleasing payoff. However, upon arriving at the fortress, it was apparent from the get-go that at least the first hundred of treads would be a true pain, with their unevenness, and with how short they were, a real challenge for a certain someone wearing US size 12 shoes. Another fact which was apparent from the first few flights of stairs was that what I was doing was extremely risky. Because, to continue a previous point I mentioned, and get this: there have been many bears roaming around near the very sets of stairs I was on. Not only was the possibility of a bear attack quite nerve-wracking, there was also a two meter tall electric fence meant to ‘keep people safe’. Well, golly, gee, that, alongside the rickety, rusted and weirdly bent hand railing sure managed to calm me down.
Now, you surely do not want to listen to me talk about the whole journey up to the top of the fortress. So I will instead leave the story off with me on the first sets of stairs, and in the meanwhile give you a few facts about Cetatea Poenari:
DID YOU KNOW THAT…
Initially, the fortress was meant to hold only one tower - however, Vlad Țepeș later turned it into an actual worthy fortress, incorporating both defensive and offensive strategies into its composition?
With its staggering height, the top of the fortress allows people to have a beautiful scenic view of the whole of Valea Argeșului, with all of its rustic houses?
There are 1480 staircase steps to the top of the fortress - 1480 steps of pain, to be precise?
Jules Verne used the fortress as inspiration for his novel ‘The Carpathian Castle’?
I poured my blood, sweat and tears into reaching the top, only to then see that there was nothing awaiting me there?
Yes, whilst it took you around 30 seconds to read the few fun facts I jotted down, I most likely managed to only climb 30 more steps. It took me around an hour to reach the top, and I was met with a, and I’ve never found a better use for this word: bittersweet sight.
To finish this chapter of my story, here is what I saw, rapid-fire style, as most of it is not important: ruins, a few dozen bricks and stones strewn around the place, a bratty staff member, a pit tourists would throw coins in, a hole in which a few wrappers had been so delicately jammed - most likely by an idiotic tourist - and last but not least: a part of the fortress’ rooftop where the railing was completely missing, and any infant stepping too close would have fallen to their ultimate demise.
Do I consider the sight worth the climb? Yes - and no. Let me elaborate: the sight from the top of the fortress was quite probably in the top three of the most amazing sights I’ve ever seen. The cars were so far away that, as the cliche goes, they looked like ants, and I luckily was able to take a few pictures to capture the view. The top was also very peaceful, with me having caught a moment where there was nobody other than me and my family.
At the same time, though, the taxing climb, the cold weather me and all other climbers were having, the numerous safety hazards… I’m not sure I would recommend this unless you actually are fully prepared and consider yourself up to it. And, perhaps the most maddening realization of all… That gingerbread man I bought the day before, and kept for when I’d really need it? Well, the time had come. And the pathetic palm-sized man, advertised as a ‘sweet’ product, dared to taste like dirt… I near-to felt like chucking him off the fortress to his doom down below (which I didn’t do of course because that would be littering).
Thus, with this entirely worthy activity, more than two halves of my third day had been crossed off. I took the liberty of not mentioning the journey down from the fortress as it was incomparably easier. Our next amazing stop would be none other than the Vidraru Dam.
The drive to the Vidraru Dam, while not particularly long, was quite serpentine. Weirdly enough, leading up to the dam, there were quite a few tunnels, all of which were so short that they’d cause you to believe, each time you exit one, with your eyes having a hard time adjusting to the light, that you’re being flashbanged again and again.
As the car slowed down, and we got closer and closer to the edge of the dam, one thing was apparent: nearby barracks had not been renovated by anyone in quite some time. As I laid my eyes on them I noticed a few massive poster ads for Pringles’ more greasy and faceless cousin, Lay’s. This was quite peculiar on more than one level, as it raised many questions.
Why would there be a Lay’s ad on an abandoned barrack on the Vidraru Dam? Why’s the place abandoned? Was it ever populated?
I wish I could urge you to tune in next time for the answers, but alas, just like you, I do not have them. The view from the Vidraru Dam was surprisingly more staggering than that from Cetatea Poenari, with the sun hitting a faraway mountain at just the right angle for it to light up the whole horizon.
Now, I consider myself a fairly innovative guy, and I don’t like to reuse segments again and again, but… Facts Part 2: Vidraru Dam Edition! It’s back!
DID YOU KNOW THAT…
Work on the Vidraru Dam started in 1960 and lasted for five years and a half?
42km of underground tunnel were needed for the dam to be built?
As its construction came to a close, it was the eighth tallest dam in Europe and the twentieth tallest in the whole world?
The Vidraru Dam was and still is a place to bungee jump from?
And, last but not least, to continue the theme of a post-apocalyptic world: would the dam be destroyed - perhaps by ravagers, attempting a takeover of the no longer evolved world - the city of Pitești would, 72 minutes from the destruction of the dam, be 12 meters underwater.
So, I suppose, at least people will be able to raft? It’s a much safer sport than bungee-jumping anyway, so at least that’s something good the people of Pitești have to look forward to.
And hey, remember those three tools I mentioned before? Geez, me neither, that was quuuite some time ago… I ended up using the multitool - but only for a few pictures, one of which almost cost me the tool itself, as a strong gust of wind near-to threw it off the edge of the dam.
I will now end off this long-winded article with a simple rating. Keep in mind that, while not admitting to false advertising, this rating applies not to the city itself, but to the sights I saw and what I experienced.
I give the city of Curtea de Argeș three tumbleweeds out of five. Or three mortal bear attacks out of five.