Transylvania September 2013
For this trip I really wanted to go somewhere completely different. I’d done a lot of Mediterranean Europe when I was younger and after discovering the wonders of Eastern Europe in Hungary was keen to explore more. It was a toss-up between Romania and Bulgaria and with Nick keen to see the part of Romania that once used to be part of Hungary, we settled on Transylvania. We only had a week but we wanted to fit in as much as possible and so we decided on a route visiting Targu Murez, where we flew into, Brasov, Sibiu and Sighisoara.
We took an EasyJet flight from London to Targu Murez which was a cheap and convenient option. Unfortunately we didn’t count on the airport being pretty much in the middle of nowhere and with nobody speaking a word of English. After hanging around at the tiny airport for some time wondering what the hell we were going to do, we finally came across a taxi and were able to make ourselves understood just enough to get taken into town. In the town centre we didn’t have much better luck either. We hadn’t taken a proper guide book with us with hotel listings and so we wandered around town aimlessly in search of a place to stay that night. We found nothing and nobody we approached understood a word of English. Luckily we popped into a café for lunch and one of the waitresses spoke some Hungarian so Nick was able to ask about a place to stay. She didn’t seem to know any of hotels in the town and so, after a walk around the pleasant little town to take in the sights, we decided to cut our loses and head straight to Brasov where we hoped to have more luck.
After a long minibus journey, with some stunning views including the old town of Sighisoara (birth place of Count Vlad the Impaler), we finally arrived in Brasov and managed to find ourselves a, rather luxurious, place to stay. Brasov is an incredibly pretty city filled with gorgeous old buildings, quaint cobbled streets and a relaxed, friendly atmosphere. We spent our time there sightseeing on foot and generally chilling out in cafes enjoying the balmy end-of-summer weather. Brasov has an interesting Hollywood style sign in the forested mountains above the city and you can get a cable car all the way up there for a view of the area. Unfortunately the cable car was closed whilst we were there but we were able to walk up past the old city wall and enjoy the picturesque views from there.
Our next destination was Sibiu which we this time got to by train. I love train journeys through the countryside, especially on the old trains that you often find abroad and so was keen to do a train journey whilst we were there. The train journey did take a lot longer than it would have done by minibus and wasn’t that much cheaper. For Nick this was a bit of an annoyance but the views were amazing and I felt it was worth it in the end. At Sibiu we found another stunning old town full of beautiful architecture and picture perfect views and again spent much of our time lazily strolling down the pretty streets and people-watching in cafes.
After we had had our fill of café culture we decided it was time to try and see a bit more of the stunning countryside that we’d seen through the train windows and so we went out to find a suitable tour. We managed to find a tour of the surrounding area for just £30 each for the day with a private guide and car and so we snapped up the offer and headed off on it the very next morning. After a bit of cold start our guide ended up being very friendly and extremely knowledgeable. He took us on a tour of the countryside, stopping off first at Busteni where we took in the gorgeous mountain scenery and had a short stroll in the forest. From here it is possible to take a cable car right up to the top of the mountains. Our guide instead drove us up taking a much more scenic route and travelling up the famous Transfagarasan Road. Featured on Top Gear as one of the best driving roads in the UK, the Transfagarasan in a long, empty, winding ribbon of tarmac that goes right up into the peaks of the mountain, offering breath-taking views from the top. This is one thing that I would definitely advise that anyone travelling to Romania do as I can’t even explain just how astounding those views are. At the top is also a pretty mountain lake and café. It gets pretty chilly way up there in the clouds and so I advise on taking a jumper as we were pretty underprepared with just jackets. Back down in the warmth again we set off for Bran Castle, also known as Dracula Castle, stopping off at several old castles and towers on the way and passing through traditional countryside villages. (We stopped off at so many places that I’m afraid I can’t remember what all of them were to pass on the information). We arrived back in Sibiu in time for dinner after a truly amazing day that I am so glad we chose to do.
We didn’t book anywhere to stay in advance, simply turning up and hoping for the best. I wouldn’t recommend this as we struggled in a few places, sometimes having to fork out for more expensive hotels and often having to change hotels, only managing to get a room for one night. Consequently I don’t have a record of the details or even names of the places we stayed to pass onto you. What I can say is that every place we stayed was absolutely outstanding. We are used to cheap hostels with the bare minimum but in Transylvania ensuit rooms with king-sized beds and satellite television came as standard.
The food in Romania is pretty much as you’d expect from an Eastern European country. It’s largely based around meat and bread, with a lot of stews. I was still eating fish at the time and always managed to find at least something that I could eat but had I been a full vegetarian, as I am now, I think I might have struggled. For the meat eaters among you, Nick tells me that the food is delicious.
Transylvania is an area steeped in history and is an absolutely fascinating place to visit. Whether you want to explore nature, hike, learn about the culture and history or simply sit back and relax Transylvania has is all. Yes it isn’t as easy to travel in as somewhere like France; the language is difficult, few people speak English and transportation can be a little tricky, but that is all part of what makes Romania such an interesting place to visit as it really forces you to get involved in the culture. I definitely want to continue exploring Eastern Europe and look forward to visiting more countries out that way in the future. Transylvania is definitely a place that I would recommend anyone visit.