I loved Romania. Romania has to be one of my favourite countries that I visited in Europe. I loved the gritty rawness of Bucherest. I love the fact that when you are in Bucharest you know you are in eastern Europe. It’s cheap, it’s grimy, it’s wild and the people appreciate enjoying life. Work hard, play hard. I loved the pristine beauty of Braşov. The dainty, clean old town surrounded by old soviet buildings and dodgy looking shops. I loved being back in mountains after the extreme flatness of the rest of Eastern Europe. When you grow up in the mountains you always appreciate the beauty of them and the mountain air that comes with small towns nestled in them. It’s refreshing. I loved the youth and awareness of Timişoara. A small university town near the Serbian border with a lazy Sunday feel (it was Sunday after all) but electricity in the air when a large group gathered to protest something political (not sure what, I don’t speak Romanian).

Braşov

My first stop after Bucharest was the small town of Braşov, popular with tourists nestled in a valley in the Carpathians. It’s a picturesque town that appears to have lost some of its originality and character at first glance thanks to having so many tourists. The old town is pristine and what can only be described as ‘cute’. It’s in sharp contrast with the rest of the city (which I decided to get lost walking around in, completely by accident). As soon as you left the main tourist areas but before you reached the outskirts where the wealthier families built nice houses you had dirty apartment buildings and small, dingy shops filled with mostly cheap crap. There’s a “Braşov” sign at the top of one of the surrounding mountains that is obviously copying the “Hollywood” sign. It’s all a bit gauche. Overlooking this though, Braşov is full of great little surprises you wouldn’t expect which make for some wonderful people watching.

Welcome to Brasov!

 

One of the first things you notice about walking through Braşov is that the locals are just not overweight at all. It is actually one of the most (if not the most) active town in Romania. Every park is filled with those exercise machines, there are a ton of sports fields and none of them are ever empty. I sat for a while at one of the track fields I passed and watched people training for sprints, field events and football while reminiscing about my high school days. They also have a massive church (in which I missed visiting hours) and a synagogue (also missed visiting hours) alongside a slew of Romanian Orthodox Christian churches which I read make for an interesting visit. I also walked past “Europe’s narrowest street”, which in my opinion is a pretty big call. I’ve been on some narrow streets, and while there is no doubt that it was the narrowest (barely wide enough for me to walk down without turning sideways) it was never technically a street. It was simply a narrow opening for the fire brigade to pass through in case of fire in that specific area. Should it be called a street? Your call.

Another thing that I loved, loved, loved about Braşov was the food. There’s a restaurant called “Restaurant Transylvania” that serves traditional rural Romanian food (which may or may not have contributed to my excessive weight gain) like, Ciorbă (a traditional Romanian sour soup that you can get in various flavours), Mămăligă (translated into ‘corn mush’ in Moldova and similar to Italian polenta) and tochitură ardelenească (the Transylvanian version of tochitură which is basically pan fried beef and pork). This restaurant (also a wine cellar or something) is so cheap I got a massive meal for all of about $6, including a local beer. You can get local wines and homemade wines for about $2 a litre as well if you really want to. Highly recommended. For afters, there is a crepe restaurant on the main pedestrian drag that does extremely delicious crepes that I at first thought were overpriced until I ordered on and received a crepe the size of my head.

Braşov is also a very popular area with hikers. I would have loved to go hiking while there but I had a limited amount of time and I had to be in Serbia by a certain date so I wasn’t able to. Just watch out for the bears. If you would like more information on hiking in the area, google it because I unfortunately don’t have that information.

The main reason for me going to Braşov? DRACULA’S CASTLE!!! While it is totally awesome saying that you have been to Dracula’s Castle I should probably make a few disclaimers. First of all, the castle isn’t terribly impressive in comparison to some that I have seen. It’s quite small, but it’s still quite nice looking and it’s surrounded by fairly impressive scenery. I also have no idea why it is called “Dracula’s Castle” as Dracula may possibly have visited it once for a night at some point during his life, but he also may not have. Regardless, I’ve been to Dracula’s Castle! It’s actually used as a museum for the families and royalty that did live there and I did enjoy the visit and spent a couple of hours there. There are a ton of little stalls selling extremely kitschy souvenirs, but there’s a bit more variety there than in the town of Braşov and the items are marginally cheaper. If you’re there, might as well pick some up. I’m wishing I had.

It’s amazing I haven’t been arrested yet.

Timişoara

Timisoara was pretty much just a stopover on the way to Serbia as it’s a border town and the trains between Braşov, Timişoara and Belgrade, Serbia don’t really match up very well. Even if they did, the train would probably be late anyway so you wouldn’t get into Timişoara in time to catch the train to Belgrade. I could have got in that night and then caught the 6am train to Belgrade, but in general, bus and train stations are about the dodgiest places you will see while travelling, especially in smaller towns and I didn’t fancy having my shoes stolen while I slept on a concrete floor and then miss my train anyway. So I did what any sensible girl would do when faced with such a dilemma. I booked a hostel for that night, asked to store my luggage and being as reception isn’t open 24 hours at the hostel in Timişoara, hung around in the common room until I had to leave at 4am to walk to the train station (super creepy at that hour). Wearing a backpack at that hour (for a 40 minute walk I might add) when the crazies tend to be out sort of screams “Come over and freak the crap out of my by talking to me, hitting on me or following me.” Lucky for me, the worst I got was a vendor at the station asking if I wanted to buy a sandwich.

Anyway, Timişoara was sending me mixed signals while I was there and it was deeply confusing. At first it appeared to be a sleepy Sunday town where most everything was closed and even most of the café’s didn’t stay open long enough to serve lunch, which made sense considering it was Sunday. I didn’t do a whole lot except visit a church, buy my train ticket for the next day and eat at a restaurant called Restaurant Flora that came highly recommended by lonely planet (also one of the only ones open) but ended up being overpriced and underwhelming. I was not impressed with the food at all or the price I had to pay for it. By Romanian standards it was pretty expensive. I spent a good few hours there regardless getting some work done and when I left I had to walk through the main square. Much to my surprise, Timişoara was no longer the sleepy little town. There were hundreds of people gathered in the square having some sort of political protest or rally. They were against something that was apparently happening in some sort of Romanian politics but I couldn’t tell what as the only word I could understand on the signs was ‘No’ and true to the pragmatist in me, I decided to avoid the rally just in case anything happened and my insurance didn’t cover it. I suppose I shouldn’t be all that surprised considering Timişoara is a university town, but it was quite a 180 flip from what I had seen the entire rest of the day.

What I’m reading now: Nothing My Darling Nothing by H. Manice

What I’m listening to now: Death Cab for Cutie – Narrow Stairs

Photos from Romania can be seen here.