So I was looking for flights to Bulgaria from the UK when my usual logic kicked in. Why fly direct to Bulgaria? That would just be silly and too easy no? Especially when Romania is right next door and I have never been to Romania. Bucharest is not too far from my destination and there is cheap flights. But then why fly to Bucharest when I could fly to the north of Romania and travel across the whole country taking in Transylvania on route. Looking for bears and Dracula stuff. As it turned out my Bulgarian friend from Ireland who I was to meet in his home town was actually flying to Bucharest 5 days after my arrival so it was all coming together nicely and I hatched a plan. 5 days to get to Bucharest and a £32 WizzAir flight to Cluj Napoca in the north of Romania.
Planning never works!
Only having 5 days I decided to skip Cluj Naoka and go straight to the more known destinations further south. I looked on the old reliable Deutsche Bahn website and it informed me that there was a train leaving at 4pm for Brasov but it would not allow me to book a ticket. So I tried the Romanian rails incredibly hard to navigate website and there was no sign of this train on there. I called the station in Cluj and luckily found an English speaker who informed me this train does not run. What? Deutsche Bahn have it on their site? This is Deutsche Bahn, German efficiency at it’s finest, this cannot be right. So I called Deutsche Bahn and they assured me this train is running. I took their word for it, packed up and headed to Romania.
I arrived in Cluj to do what lots of people do, skip this town and get that train. I got to the station and to my surprise the Germans were wrong, there is no direct train to Brasov at 4pm. Tired from trying to spend the previous night in the airport I decided to stay in Cluj rather than find a bus or non-direct train. I found a hostel that was actually really cool, threw my bag in my room then went for a wonder around. Straight away I was glad that I had decided to spend a night in this town. Its town square, market and small old town were a great introduction to a new country and the town had a really chilled atmosphere. I wondered around for a few hours, got some dinner then went back to the hostel where I spent the evening chatting to a few fellow travellers. Cluj Napoka turned out to be well worth the stop over so if your planning this route I would definitely recommend planning for at least one night here.
Cluj Napoka to Brasov.
I got up early the next morning, the night before I had booked my ticket on the Romanian rails website to guarantee a reserved seat on the train. I was sat outside the hostel drinking coffee and chatting to an Italian guy I had met the previous night. He was also going to Brasov but was going by bus which would take less time and cost less money he informed me. Ah well, I was in no rush, my train ticket was only about €14 first class and I had all day to watch the Romania country side go by.
As it turned out the journey was an interesting and scenic one. The train stops randomly in fields to pick people up, it is bizarre, there is all these people waiting for a train in a field yet there is no sign of houses anywhere. Farmers plough fields using horse power and at one stage I saw several men trying to get a horse and cart across a river. There was a lady in my cart who suddenly started speaking to her daughter in English. It turned out they lived in London but she was home visiting her family. She gave me a good insight in to her country and where to go etc whilst explaining the areas we were passing through and offering me sandwiches. After 7 hours actually took closer to 9 we rolled in to Brasov in the early evening. Tired and a bit lost I was perfect prey to get ripped off by the taxi drivers outside, which despite my best efforts not to get ripped off I still managed to find one who did!
Brasov (pronounced Brashov)
I got to my next hostel, checked in and went outside to the smoking area. My Italian friend from the hostel in Cluj was actually staying in the same place again and was sitting there laughing telling me that the bus had arrived hours ago. He was going for a look around a dinner so I tagged along.
Now if you have been wondering round Europe for as long as I have then old towns all start to feel the same. This place however had something fresh about it. It was different, backed by forested hills with a big Hollywood style Brasov sign overlooking the town and slightly run down old houses it seemed a bit less decorated. A bit like Dubrovnik but not as trendy. Plus the tourists and selfie sticks were pretty thin amongst a more local crowd.
Not usually one to get my phone out and use trip advisor to find a place to eat I left that to my new friend who actually excelled, not only did he find a very affordable place but it was one of the highest rated places in the city and the food was awesome. He did good! The food here was cooked in the traditional way out in the country and delivered daily. When I was in Poland I got this stew in a bread loaf, they scrape out the bread and use the crust as a bowl to serve. It was so good I lived off it in Poland. Turns out the Romanians do the same in what they call peasant bread and their version was even better.
It soon became apparent that in Brasov if you try and order a coke they tell you they don’t serve coke as it is not good for you. They only serve homemade smoothies or juices. So with my Smoothies and peasant bread feast at the table I took in my new surroundings. A perfect setting of buskers playing Romanian music, home cooked local food and a buzzing atmosphere. All for about the same price as a big mac meal back home!
The next day after a visit to Bran castle (which I will write about next) I returned to Brasov mid-afternoon to take the cable car up the hill. The views up there were insane, it put the size of the old town in to perspective and revealed Brasov to be a surprisingly bigger town than one would expect from only seeing the old town. I spent the evening then doing pretty much the same as the evening before which was a mix of good Romanian food and hospitality whilst wondering round the town.
Bears of Brasov.
Brasov is well known for its bears. They are apparently regular visitors to the town to feed out of the bins. But the locals will tell you different, they never see them. When asking about the bear watching trips the hostel worker was laughing saying that people pay €50 to go on them and never see bears. They come back excited with pictures of bear shit and footprints but never any pictures of bears he laughed. Then laughing even more he said “And what do you think would happen if they did find a bear, what would you do? They are not teddy bears haha”.
A few years previous the bears were more prevalent in Brasov. The local taxi drivers used to bait them in to the outskirts of the town so they could charge tourists to go see them. A few got brave and started hand feeding them for hero selfie shots. Then the inevitable happened and they eventually pissed the bears off to a point where people were getting killed. Not looking good for business the local authorities put an end to this behaviour with a ban then moved a lot of the bears deeper in to the forest. The best advice I was given was to save my money. If you want to go bear watching then there is a sanctuary not far from town. This unfortunately did not fit in to my limited window of time here.
Bran castle (Draculas castle)
Apparently this is the fake Draculas castle, the people working in the hostel tell you not to go there but hey its Romania and this is Bran castle so taking no notice of their advice myself and two others from the hostel jumped on an early morning bus to Bran. The drive out there was a scenic one. Passing by mountains and monasteries perched on hills, though towns and villages for about an hour before we reached our destination. Bran turned out to be a tourist trap, we had to queue for 2 hours to get in to the castle. Once inside there is absolutely nothing to do with Dracula or vampires in there. Although the castle itself is beautiful and well preserved I did question the reasoning for the 2 hour wait. In fact if it is Dracula and vampire stuff you want then the best on offer is the tacky market stalls that line the queue selling souvenirs. They might not suck your blood dry but maybe your wallet! Ah well it was an anti-climax but at least I ticked Draculas castle off the bucket list.
Brasov – Bucharest
I had planned on spending my last day in Romania exploring Bucharest but work was starting to pile up so I had to stop and take care of it. As I was due to meet my friend from his flight to Bucharest the next morning I opted to treat myself to a hotel room near the airport to get my work done.
I took a direct private shuttle from Brasov to the airport. I wrote a separate post on the options for this route here Brasov – Bucharest airport direct. The journey was a surprisingly pleasant one. It started out passing through forested hills then passed in to some awesome alpine scenery before eventually flattening out on to motorway and before I knew it I was in my hotel room and getting down to business.
The next day gave me a quick glimpse of Bucharest city before heading down to the Bulgarian border. Maybe I did not give Bucharest a chance but it didn’t look that appealing so I was not that bothered that I missed it.
Romania was awesome!
Romania was nothing like I expected it to be. To start off with, the reputation this country has is ridiculously undeserved and untrue as I have written about already here Romania is very safe to visit. The Romanians are generally warm and friendly people. The scenery is awesome and the food is superb. 5 days was not nearly long enough time to spend there and I am looking forward to returning for longer someday soon. If you are thinking about visiting Romania then do it and happy travels 🙂