The Potato Chick
Travelling, eating and my other favourite things...
Transylvanian road trip, Romania
In a sentence...underrated.
Food we loved...Placinta cu Dovleac – Romanian pumpkin pie.
As our trip goes on we are learning more and more about the way we love to travel. It seems we have grown very fond of the little road trip. And so we thoroughly enjoyed our time driving around Transylvania.
It was the best possible road trip – beautiful scenery, the flexibility to stop wherever and whenever we wanted, only driving relatively small distances and encountering much better roads than in Albania (thank goodness).
We drove through countless cute little Romanian towns, where each house was painted a different colour. I’m not sure if there has been some sort of government directive about this or if the locals have realised it brightens their mood in the depths of Winter. Whatever the reason, it looks awesome.
We regularly passed people travelling by horse and cart and fields of farmers working. Some waved. Others glared at us like they thought we were going to steal their sheep. Romanian women look like they have stepped straight out of the 80s – they love big hair, usually jet black even in the face of old age and wearing parachute style coats in outrageous colours. This is a part of the world untouched by the likes of Zara and H&M.
Brasov was lovely, full of winding little streets with - you guessed it - lots of colourful buildings. It’s almost completely surrounded by mountains which adds a lovely element of green to the feel of the town. We spent our time here exploring on foot and travelled up to the summit of Tampa mountain in a cable car. The views from up the top were just gorgeous; the photos could not do it justice as it was quite misty.
Brasov to Sibiu
As soon as we drove out of Brasov we knew we’d made an excellent decision in coming to Transylvania. We drove along a mountain road surrounded by forest; it was just a sea of yellow, red and orange leaves. We stopped at a good vantage point for (horrendous) coffee and toasted our good fortune.
Our first stop was Bran Castle, otherwise known as Dracula’s Castle because Bram Stoker “probably” or “possibly” used this castle as inspiration for Dracula’s castle when he wrote Dracula. The link is pretty tenuous and the castle was fairly underwhelming although it is set in beautiful countryside. Of course the fact that we accidentally visited on Halloween when the place was full of obnoxious children armed with plastic sickles may have something to do with why I didn’t love it.
We took the scenic route to Sibiu and detoured down Transfagarasan Road to visit Lake Balea. This was the highlight of our day. The 35km road was just spectacular and as we got higher and higher it grew more and more foggy. Eventually we popped out above the fog and there was the lake! It was 0 degrees at this point and the lake had started to freeze over. We had a great time skimming rocks along the ice as the light of the day faded. As we drove back down the fog had completed disappeared.
If I thought Brasov was cute Sibiu took it to another level. This was my favourite of the three towns we stayed in. Before hitting the road again we spent the morning here exploring on foot. We checked out the crumbling remains of the town’s citadel while drinking takeaway coffee that had required three wannabe hipsters to make it. We also visited the pharmaceutical museum which was a lot more interesting than it sounds – three rooms filled with fully stocked old school chemist cabinets and medical instruments.
Sibiu to Sighisoara
Another day, another trip through many many cute towns.
We stopped off at the particularly picturesque village of Bierton hoping to visit its UNESCO listed fortified church. Unfortunately it had shut for the Winter only the day before. We did a lap of the church and familiarised ourselves with the town lunatic and the town stray dog.
Sighisoara itself was very similar to Brasov and Sibiu although probably my least favourite of the three. Again, we strolled the colourful old town and ventured up to the “church on the hill”. Behind the church is quite a pretty German cemetery. As we stood contemplating the picturesque scene before us some birds circled ahead. Nick broke the serenity to comment “wish I had my twelve-gauge with me”. Nice.
Sighisoara to Brasov
Our final day was action packed as we tried to fit as much in as possible before returning the car and catching the train back to Bucharest. We started the day with a tour of the Libearty Bear Sanctuary (get it?). The sanctuary is home to over 80 bears that have been rescued from zoos, circuses and street performers around Romania. It was a very thought provoking visit. It is impossible to rehabilitate the bears to the point where they can return to the wild and so they must live in the sanctuary until they die. Some of them have unusual and sad habits such as constantly pacing a patch of ground several metres long; permanent psychological issues brought on by being captive for so long.
We finished off with a stroll around Rasnov Fortress. We knew we only had enough time to fit in the fortress or Peles Castle and unfortunately, in this instance, hindsight tells us that we made the wrong decision. The fortress had great views of Rasnov but there was nothing of interest inside. Oh well, you live and learn.
Of course, no road trip would be complete without an encounter with the local police department. Speeding fine in hand, we said goodbye to beautiful Transylvania and returned to Bucharest.
Next stop...Veliko Tarnovo, Bulgaria.Posted 8 November 2014
In a sentence...a classic Eastern European capital with a lively personality.
Food we loved...mici – Romania’s version of the Cevapi sausage.
As our plane landed at Bucharest airport I was dismayed when I noticed snow on the runway. We were definitely entering a new phase of our trip, in more ways than one.
Bucharest was filled with interesting contrasts. You would see a beautiful building on one side of the road which looked like it had been plucked from any number of Western European cities. On the other side would be an ugly Soviet-style office building in some hideous shade of grey. Regular readers of this blog may have noticed that I am a sucker for places that have colourful buildings. You certainly couldn’t describe Bucharest as colourful. But I liked it nonetheless.
We stayed on the edge of what is left of the old town. These days, it feels anything but old and is filled with over 200 pubs and a few too many “hot touch” massage parlours. Still, it was a nice place to wander around and we easily found good meals in there.
We did a free walking tour where we heard lots of interesting stories about Romania’s Communist dictator Nicolae Ceausescu. Typical of most Communist leaders, he had an obsession with being “better” than everyone else and was always eager to show the world how wonderfully Romania was doing under Communist rule. In a classic case of one-upmanship, Bucharest has a beautiful boulevard which is 30cm longer than Paris’ Champs-Ellysees.
We also visited Ceausescu’s last major project before the revolution; the Palace of Parliament. To build the Palace, Ceausescu demolished most of Bucharest's historic districts, including churches, synagogues and Jewish temples and 30,000 homes in two neighbourhoods. Ceausescu planned to use the Palace as his office and the design included a large balcony from which he would address the adoring masses.
Poor old Ceausescu never got to use his balcony, however, as he was executed before construction was finished. Instead, the balcony was first used by pop star Michael Jackson. Later that night, on stage, MJ declared to the admiring crowd, "I LOVE BUDAPEST!"
Following the fall of Communism, it was decided that the building would be completed and used for Romania’s Parliament and administration. Now the world’s second largest administrative building after the Pentagon, it really has to be seen to be believed. We did a one hour tour and saw 3% of the building. It apparently has more than 1000 rooms. Everything is made of marble and decorated with gold, elaborate wooden carvings and plenty of crystal chandeliers.
As is getting to be our little tradition, I hunted out good coffee at Cafe Origo. We certainly needed it after several hours in frigid conditions. After our coffee we hotfooted it to the mall and bought ourselves ski jackets. And gloves. And beanies.
We left Bucharest decidedly more prepared for the cold weather than we had been when we arrived and excited to see what else Eastern Europe has in store for us.
Next stop...Transylvania, Romania.