Day 1-2 – Bucharest: Let’s go to…Bucharest, Romania?!
Sometimes long-term traveling is like spinning a globe and choosing the country your finger stops at. That’s kinda how we ended up in Romania. Originally, our plan had been to go from Greece to Croatia and up to Slovenia. We quickly realized it wasn’t as simple (or as cheap) as that. As things started to look more expensive and complicated, we headed to our metaphorical spinning globe; skyscanner.ca and momondo.com. We generally use these sites when we’re searching for flights, but they also have a “take me anywhere” option which will display some of the cheapest fares to anywhere in the world. So, that’s how we chose Romania! Not as romantic as you’d hoped, right?
We hopped on a Ryanair flight and about two hours and $200 CAD later we’d arrived. We hopped on the bus from the airport (you can’t miss it, it’s right outside the ‘arrivals’ doors) and headed to the city centre. We decided to stay at the Antique Hostel. It’s a popular place for backpackers and it’s a pretty good bang for your buck ($43 CAD/night). They have a nice kitchen if you want to prepare some meals and free coffee/tea in the morning.
Our hostel recommended Hanu Berarilor for dinner. It was really good and they even included a free glass of wine with Clair’s meal. They also had a ridiculously loud band playing traditional Romanian music, so maybe don’t take your newborn baby here, but the atmosphere and probably the wine made it all very enjoyable.
“Hello Budapest!” – Micheal Jackson in Bucharest (1996)
The next day we checked out the Btrip Free Walking Tour. As usual, we highly recommend doing a walking tour, and this one was super informative and really gives you an idea about the communist era in Romania and the reign of Nicolae Ceaușescu. The guides are great and willing to chat about the current state of affairs in the country.
The rest of our time in the capital was spent drinking strong coffee, drinking red wine, and exploring the city. A lot of people will tell you that there’s nothing to see in Bucharest, but we disagree. On the surface, it’s a little gritty but that’s all part of the charm. Sit back, wave the cigarette smoke out of your face, and enjoy unlimited amounts of sauerkraut.
Day 3-4 – Brasov: The home of “Dracula”, Vlad the Impaler! Sort of…
From Bucharest, we decided to head to Brasov, most famous for the legend of Dracula. You can take a train or bus to get here. We chose the train and hopped on at the main station in Bucharest (Gara de Nord) and within a couple of hours we were rolling into Brasov. One important thing to note is that we took the Regio train and it’s really hard to find the ticket counter. When you go into the station you need to bypass the first row of counter and actually go into the station. There’s a large sign that marks the ticket booth. The bus has decent Wi-Fi, which was really surprising. Also, for all of our train traveling we always check out the Man in Seat 61. He has a great blog that really helps break down how to buy train tickets, but also some handy tricks and tips.
Once we got to the station we grabbed a cab, got instantly ripped off, and then dropped off at our Air B&B that was right on the main street. It was in such a great location you can’t beat it, or the price ($45 CAD/night).
Brasov really wasn’t what we expected. There’s actually a ski resort, Poiana, only 12 km from town. We wished we’d been there during ski season as it’s like a smaller, smokier version of Banff. There’s even a Sephora! The town is really easy to walk around and we quickly found a grocery store away from the main tourist area to get ourselves set up for the next few days.
Dracula’s Castle, or more accurately Bran Castle, isn’t actually in the town of Brasov. You have to take an hour bus ride to get to the town of Bran. We just showed up at the Autogara 2 bus station and bought tickets the day of ($2 CAD/person). If it’s a weekend, then we’d suggest getting there a bit early to ensure you get a seat. The buses are hilarious! It might be because of all the second-hand smoke clinging to everyone’s clothing but they hang air fresheners all over the roof of the bus. They also aren’t particularly clean, but nothing we can’t handle.
We have to admit we didn’t know much about Romania before arriving and like many people we associated it with Dracula, specifically the Transylvania region. Our knowledge amounted to what Clair could remember from her first-year university class, Evils in World Religions, where they read Bram Stokers book, Dracula. But let’s be clear, this is a fable. It is very loosely based on Romanian royal nicknamed Vlad the Impaler. He never even lived in this castle! In fact, we learned that he wasn’t even considered to be much more cruel than other rulers at the time, although the nickname seems to say otherwise. In fact, Stoker, never even visited the castle. He simply saw pictures of the castle and saw it fitting for his story.
Have we ruined your day yet?
That being said, it is still worth visiting! The grounds are beautiful and the castle itself is really interesting. There’s only a couple of rooms dedicated to explaining the vague connection between the castle and the legend. Oddly enough, there’s still an eerie feeling to this castle.
On our way out, we grabbed some street food and bought a Kürtőskalác (aka Chimney Cake), which is really just like a big, hollow tube of sugared dough that they bake over hot coals. We ate our “cake” while people watching on a bench and later grabbed a bus back home.
The next morning, we decided to run up Tampa Hill. You can’t miss it. Just head for the big Hollywood style Brasov sign. It was a beautiful day to hike up the hill and the path was well-marked. We weren’t the only ones trying to get some exercise, as we followed a guy in really high socks to the top. The views alone are well worth the climb but it’s rather steep, so make sure to wear good shoes. There is a cable car in case you want to avoid being a sweaty mess.
We were off to Sighisoara that afternoon by bus. We made the mistake of heading to the wrong station, so unfortunately we had to hop in a cab. The driver was a great guy who chatted the entire way about his daughters living abroad, including one in Canada. He dropped us off at Autogara 1, this is right next to the train station for any future Romania travelers. Purchasing tickets for this mini bus was a little weird. There’s a large new building that was completely closed, but there’s this dirty little building beside it where you can buy your tickets from a grumpy old man.
With our tickets purchased, we lined up to get into the minibus. We realized quickly that if we wanted to get on this bus we were going to have to get our elbows up! Clair hustled her way onto the bus while Kik waited to puzzle piece our bags in the back. While waiting, Kik has this lovely interaction with a local woman who approaches him.
Woman: “You break my luggage, I will break you”
Kik: “Pardon me?”
Woman: “You BREAK my luggage, I will BREAK you”
Kik: “First of all, we’re all in the same boat. Second, don’t you dare threaten me!”
We finally got into the bus without the crazy lady, who for some reason piled her fragile package at the bottom of the pile, and began our journey.
Day 5-6 – Sighisoara: Careful With The Plum Tuica
We arrived in Sighisoara around an hour and half later. We walked from the bus station to the old town. It’s about a fifteen walk but if you’re lazy just hail a cab. Kik had found a gem of a hotel/guest house, Pension am Schneiderturm ($60 CAD/night). It’s owned by a Greek family and had been built in 1797. It’s actually built as part of the wall that surrounds the citadel. We were welcomed by the owner’s son, and hotel manager, with shots of a distilled plum brandy. This stuff is strong and will put some hair on your chest. Woooof! We were the only ones in the guest house that night, so the owner basically handed us the keys to the building and sent us on our way!
The breakfast alone, which is included, is worth the stay. The host provides you with all locally produced treats – cheese, meat, honey, jam, bread, yogurt, egg, etc.
We also found out that most of the museums and places to see within the city walls are closed on Mondays, which was the day we had planned to see everything! Luckily, our host helped us arrange for a tour of the country side instead. We have heard of people doing this by bicycle and wanted to try it out but our host discouraged travel by bike on these roads because they’re so busy. He arranged for a cab driver to drive us around the area for $60 CAD. We visited three different sites; Biertran, Malacrav, and Cris. This was actually quite expensive for Romania standards and you could probably barter or find someone who would do it for less but we felt it was worth it for a four-hour tour. He ended up dropping us off at a restaurant on top of a hill that overlooks the town, Villa Franca. To be honest, this place didn’t have the best food, but the view is spectacular. Even if you just want to go for a beer or ice cream. A guy behind us was eating what looked like a really good ice cream sundae. Our guide had left us at the top of this hill, so we had quite a long but enjoyable walk back to our hotel.
When we returned to our hotel a few more people had checked in. They were sitting on the deck enjoying some local wine (Kik: “What type of wine is this? Owner: “White.”). We enjoyed some good conversation and couple of bottles of wine with the new guests and the owner.
The next day was our last day in town. We got up early (ish) and began the walk around the wall. We definitely recommend paying the 10 Lei to get up to the top of the clock-tower. It’s kinda weird but really cool!
It was difficult saying goodbye to this place, our host was incredibly gracious. He even gave us a few souvenirs as parting gifts. We then headed back to the same bus station and got on our last bus ride in Romania. We hoped Kik could avoid further confrontation with Romanian women.
Day 7-8 – Sibiu: Am I Hallucinating?
While we were trying to figure out which bus to get on we met a guy from the Netherlands named Bram. As we got to know Bram and chatted about our similar journeys through Romania we got the feeling that he looked familiar. We realized that he was the guy with the tall socks at the top of the Tampa Hill in Brasov and the guy eating the delicious sundae at Villa Franca in Sighisoara! We chatted all the way to our next destination and swapped travel stories. He gave us a ton of advice about visiting the Netherlands.
We decided to walk to the city centre together from the bus station. It’s quite a walk, so if you’re not up to it then hail a cab. We checked into Teatro hotel ($57 CAD/night) while Bram went to go find accommodations after arranging to meet up for dinner. Teatro was really nice, clean, large, and it included a great breakfast in the morning. It’s about a five-minute walk from the main square. That night we checked out the restaurant Cramal Sibiul Vechi. It’s set up in what looks like an old wine cellar. After that we headed to Piata Mica (small square) to enjoy some sparkling wine and beers. To our surprise, Sibiu was a very quiet town and most of the bars shut down at midnight.
We have to admit, we didn’t plan Sibiu as well as we would’ve liked to (Check out Balea Lake and the Astra Ethnographic Museum). By this time, we were also a little tired of seeing churches and museums. We understand why travelers choose between going to either Sibiu, Brasov, or Sighisoara. However, Sibiu is quite beautiful and known as the ‘city with eyes’. The gothic style buildings reflect the Hungarian-German influence and many carry a common feature in their tiled roof top. Small attic windows are shaped in what resemble eye lids. Strangely, these features give the impression that the houses are looking at you.
Romania is a pretty easy country to get around. Most people have a basic understanding of English and we have become really fluent in miming our intentions to people. We also never found a lack of people willing to help us or point us in the right direction. You will definitely be able to experience the typical eastern European atmosphere and although there is some level of tourist infrastructure it’s not nearly as sophisticated as other cities in Europe, which has its drawbacks and benefits. We felt very safe in Romania, other than the affects of the second-hand smoke, and it remains really affordable. We were drinking wine like water, partially because it was cheaper but also because we like to. They have not yet converted to the Euro and we would highly recommend using the local currency; the Lei. We got our lifetime supply of old castles and churches, which there are a seemingly infinite amount of but very much enjoyed our time touring this country.
Next stop Budapest! Did you know the city is actually split into Buda and Pest? Weird…