When you mention Transylvania, Dracula immediately comes to mind. That was one of the main reasons C and I wanted to visit the region, Bran’s castle. But it was so much more than that. The mountains, the quaint little towns and the Christmas markets were what made it special for me. We met up at the train station in Belgrade to catch a train into Romania, and it was quite a fuss-free ride. Inspectors came on board to check our passports at the border, looking very stern at first sight but when they saw our red Singapore passports they smiled very warmly for some reason. After a comfortable 4 hour ride through vast open grassland, we were in, and as I forgot to factor in the one hour time difference, we missed the last train from Timisoara to Sibiu. Thankfully, with some very friendly locals who helped us, we realised that there was a bus in. After a long 8 hours ride, we were finally in Sibiu. Cobblestone streets greeted us as we made our way to a super homely B&B. It felt like a room from Beauty and the Beast, and while I was tempted to tuck myself into the super plush bed, we made our way to the main square.
After wandering around the Christmas market which was out in full force, we had a quick dinner of stick-to-your-ribs polenta with a stew of some sorts.
The next day was spent going to the many cathedrals and an orthodox church, before venturing further out into the countryside.to see the Astra national park which was so highly rated on Tripadvisor. The place turned out to be quite a joke, with not very much to see. Still, the gorgeous setting it was at more than made up for it.
Later in the evening, we went back up to our one and only entrance-fee-required cathedral, which supposedly had great views over the city. It definitely didn’t disappoint, and it was quite magical to see the city at dusk. One thing about traveling in winter is the sun sets pretty early, so you’ve really got to maxmise your day. But then again, the crowds are much thinner, so its an overall win.
The next morning, which was Christmas eve, we caught a bus to Brasov, where most of the castles were located at. After a quick lunch of very hearty soup, we had a walk around town. Saw the famous black church, which was sadly close coz of the holidays. Of all the times it had to close! Also had a walk down the narrowest street in the city, which was also the narrowest in Europe. Barely wide enough for 2 people to pass, many tourists were taking photos there. After yesterday’s awesome view at sunset, we wanted to relive that experience here, and the white tower was a good place to do it. One good thing about the towns in Transylvania was that they’re small and compact, so for people with only a few days there like us, it was easy to cover most of the main attractions in one day.
That night, it was rather hard to find some place to eat at as most places were closed for family dinners. It was then that I kind of wished I were couchsurfing.
The next day, we planned to visit Rasnov and Bran castle, but to our surprise, after running hard to the bus stop to catch a bus which we thought we were going to miss, we realised that there wasn’t going to be a bus at all. Me being the do-or-die stubborn ass I was, I told C that we should hitchhike. He looked at me like I was crazy but went along with it. Less than 5 minutes of waving cars down by the side of the highway, a police car stopped for us. I seriously thought that they were going to arrest us, but the very friendly guys took us to another bus stop where they thought there might be a bus. Having no common language between the 4 of us, we actually thought they were going to take us to Rasnov. Nonetheless, we tried our luck once we were out of the police car. It felt a little weird sitting with grilled windows in the car. Luckily, a really nice guy picked us up and drove up all the way to the start of the trail to to fortress. We celebrated at the top with a picnic brunch. The fortress, with its crumbling walls, overlooked the city, and we left our “mark” there as nature called.
Hoping to get lucky again, we certainly did, after strategically positioning ourselves next to a petrol station by the highway A very high elderly couple took us straight to Bran, and I think even if we had public transport, we would have taken much longer if you factored in the waiting times for the bus/train.
I thought that no one would be at Bran’s castle since it was Christmas but boy was I wrong. It was a looong queue to the top, and many guys were trying to sell souvenirs to the people waiting in line. Honestly, I was a little underwhelmed by the castle, but it was interesting to visit the rooms and hear about count Dracula stories. On our final hitchhike attempt back to Brasov, we waited quite a while despite so many cars leaving Bran for Brasov.I guess it really is easier to go by thumb along the highway, but we were lazy to walk the distance. After about 30 minutes, a family took us in and brought us to their friend’s place, where a very slobbery dog got rather excited at the sight of us. They invited us to join them for a hike in Brasov, but C wanted to nap so we parted ways once we reached town. We came and we conquered, Rasnov and Bran.
That night, we saw a very strange procession going on, and decided to follow them for a bit despite having no idea how it might be linked to Christmas. People were also lighting balloons with wishes written on them and setting them off at the square. Our last Christmas market for the year.
On our final day in Transylvnia, we made our way to Sinaia, easily by train this time, to see the other two castles, Peles and Pelisor. They were, at least for me, much more impressive than Bran’s castle. We easily passed off as students and got in at half the price, and the interior of the Peles castle was just as beautiful, if not more so, than the exterior. I loved the unique Saxon architecture throughout the town, as it gave the buildings a very old school feel.
Transylvania was really beautiful, and the castles were just a small part of its charm for me. I wish I had more time to go climb some mountains in that region, or take a ride down some windy mountain roads on a motorbike. I think I’ll definitely be back. We left for Bucharest that night, and I didn’t like the city much. Very impersonal and grey, especially when compared to the quaint little towns we had been to. At least we ended our time in Romania on a high note, drinking cheap cocktails at Bicicleta, a bicycle-themed cocktail bar, sitting at the bar top in front of a very cute bartender, and roaming the nightlife district which we almost missed.