Our last stop in Romania was the capital city of Bucharest. I wasn’t expecting much as we headed to Bucharest since I knew it was a major metropolis still recovering from the effects of a harsh and repressive communist regime and wouldn’t have the medieval charm of the other small cities that we visited throughout Romania. Nevertheless, we needed to stop in Bucharest because it’s a major hub in that region for ongoing travel to our next destination. So, there we were in Bucharest.
Our first night at a “new” AirBnB apartment was miserable. The place was clean which was the only thing that made it bearable for one night. Other than that it sucked. We had a sleepless night and hauled ass to another place the next morning. The apartment buildings are reminiscent of the Soviet-era buildings that we encountered throughout Russia so I’m glad we didn’t arrive at these places in the middle of the night.
We couldn’t do a train trip through Romania without stopping in Sighișoara, a small well-preserved, fortified city in the middle of Transylvania. It was founded by German merchants and craftsmen in the 13th century, so you’ll see a lot of German influence in the citadel. I almost felt like I was in a small town in Germany rather than Romania. We stayed there for three relaxing days, but you can easily explore the entire citadel in one full day.
The Holy Trinity Church on the way to the citadel seems out of place being all black and white, but it sure is pretty.
We met a woman on the train who told us to explore every corner of the citadel. So, we did that. We started with the outside and scaled the wall like medieval invaders. Actually, we just walked up the stairs across the street from our hotel.
Check out the pastel colored buildings. I’m pretty sure the Easter Bunny vacations in this town.
The Scholars’ Stairs that leads to the Church on the Hill and the school. It was built in 1642 and originally had 300 steps; it now has 175. The covered passage way provided protection for churchgoers and school children in the winter. That’s nice.
Our train rides through Romania were unexpected in the lack of sketchiness that our internet research had warned us about, and the openness and friendliness of the people of this country. We generally tried to buy tickets in advance at the train station instead of doing it online, which avoided any internet-related mistakes and allowed us to familiarize ourselves with the route to the train station before we had our heavy packs on our backs. The ticket window people didn’t speak any English but they were generally patient and they weren’t complete jerks like their Russian counterparts.
Romanian train cars are split into eight-seater cabins. Unlike the Russian trains, though, this particular train was filthy. The seats, windows and floors were in bad shape and could’ve used some cleaning with an industrial-grade power steamer or something.
An American couple we met back in Bosnia had told us about riding the trains in Romania and how pickpockets and thieves often preyed on clueless travelers in these confined spaces. Fortunately, we didn’t run into any issues on the four train rides we took through the country.
We boarded the train at Sighisoara early in the morning and settled into our seats, hoping we would be alone in the cabin for the ride to Brasov. No such luck. A smiling middle-aged man came bustling in and sat across from us, immediately asking us questions in Romanian. After realizing that we couldn’t speak a lick of Romanian, we got each other acquainted by having him grab my hand and putting it on a growth on his wrist (shudder). I know it could’ve been worse but at that hour in the morning, I really didn’t need to touch a weird growth on a stranger’s wrist as he repeatedly told us “dialysis” and “renal transplant” in Romanian. We accepted the chocolate croissants he offered us and I choked three of them down. I’m not being ungrateful about free croissants. I’m just not a huge fan of sweet things and these were damp, mushy imitations of croissants that came in a plastic bag and reminded me of pastries served on airplanes. Kindly Bob invited us to come stay with him and his wife in Kluj, but we weren’t heading in that direction.
I have to say, the Romanians are a friendly bunch, especially compared to the rest of the Balkans. At the next stop, a young teenager and her grandmother joined us in our cabin. The grandmother was super cute with a scarf tied around her head and everything. She started trying to speak to us and Bob let her know that we were Japanese tourists. Then two other people came into our cabin at the next stop, and all of a sudden we had an almost full cabin and we were sandwiched between each other’s bags like sardines.
What was strange about this arrangement was that the cabins on either side of us were completely empty but everyone remained squeezed into their assigned seats, smiling politely at one another and trying to give each other as much personal space as possible, which just wasn’t possible. We asked the teenager if we could move into any of the empty cabins and she said yes and maybe. Maybe the locals don’t like to break rules, but we weren’t about to ride three hours in a stuffy cabin, cute little grandmother or not, so we stumbled over legs and feet and moved to the cabin next door.
Watching the scenery outside in Romania was far more interesting than many of the countries we’ve traveled through on trains and buses. Well, besides Russia, where I could spend all day scouring the desolate landscape of Siberia, and France, whose countryside is unmatched in beauty to any other place I’ve been to. But we saw some pretty cool shit in Romania. There was a dead cow in a ditch by an overgrown field, its white fur sinking into the bones underneath. There were men talking around a horse-drawn plow, a big red tassle hanging from the horse’s bridle to ward off the evil eye. An old shepherd huddled in a large wool coat among his herd was straight out of National Geographic (of course, I didn’t get a photo of this). N even saw a guy squatting by the tracks and taking a dump (we didn’t get a photo of this either).
And then there were all of these cement chimneys everywhere, but it looked like they scrapped the building project and left the chimneys standing.
On another ride, we were on a slightly less disheveled train where we met Mary, a small woman with twinkling eyes, who started talking to us once she realized we spoke English. She related her interesting life history to us, told us about the sights and sounds of her home city, and then walked us in the direction of our hotel. She wanted to walk us all the way there but we assured her that we would be able to find our way.
Train rides are calming. Sometimes incredibly so, and I always find myself a little sad when the journey comes to an end. This was was no exception, made more pronounced by the fact that this was our last train ride for this leg of our world exploration trip. We vowed to come back to explore more of this country, to hike the Tatras, explore the painted monasteries in the north and of course, to ride more trains.
Our first stop in the surprisingly large country of Romania was Timișoara, a charming little city that was a perfect introduction to the country. It’s the third most populous city in the country, but it didn’t have a big city feel at all. Then again, the population is only a little over 300k which is like a small town to us since we’ve both been living in cities of millions for most of our lives. Timișoara is considered the cultural, economic, and social capital of Romania and the people who we talked to raved about the city. Anca, our new Romanian friend living in Belgrade, gave us a great recommendation for dinner our first night in Timișoara. I love meeting locals with great tips for tasty and cheap food.