Hi, friends! I’ve officially been on the road for six months now, and I have another two ahead of me before I come home for a visit. I’m dying to get back to my kitchen, but for now I’m happy to be knee-deep in inspiration for new recipes.
I’m writing this from beautiful Valencia, Spain after having just participated in this year’s La Tomatina festival. I’m a bit exhausted (as they say, I’m getting too old for this shit), and it’s hotter than hell outside, so I figured it was a good day to catch you all up on some travel stories.
Having been through precisely 30 countries in the past half-year, I can confidently say that Romania may be the biggest surprise of the trip. Most of the places I’ve visited have lived up to my pre-conceived notions of them, but I went into Romania pretty much blind.
I had no idea what to expect, which, as it turns out, is a pretty damn fun way to travel.
I found Romania to be terribly romantic.
When I say romantic I don’t mean hearts and flowers, lovers strolling hand-in-hand, or shared bowls of spaghetti.
No, I’m talking about a romanticized view of the past. Think heroes, villains, myths, and legends — all that good stuff. Romania is truly as idyllic and picturesque as a fairy tale.
Before I visited, my knowledge of Romania amounted to two ideas. The first was that the capital is Bucharest (this turned out to be true). The second was that Transylvania is full of vampires (yet to be proven).
Being short on time, my travel buddy, Taliha, and I decided to skip the big city and head straight to Transylvania. Plus, we found €18 flights from Cyprus into Cluj Napoca, so that pretty much decided it for us.
We spent a few days in Cluj visiting the botanical gardens, eating cabbage rolls and bean soup, and enjoying the first cool weather we’d seen in months.
After Cluj we hitched a ride with some locals to the historic town of Sighisoara.
Upon our arrival, the host of our guesthouse* immediately poured us some shots of rakija and sat us down for a chat.
Thirty minutes later, appropriate lubed up against the chilly weather, we set out to explore the village.
An impeccable example of a medieval fortified city, Sighisoara is filled with charming cobblestone streets and ancient architecture.
It’s also reputed to be the birthplace of Vlad the Impaler, often associated with the character of Count Dracula.
Having thoroughly exhausted everything there is to do in Sighisoara, we left after two days and hitched another ride to Brasov.
Brasov was entirely remarkable. We stayed right in Old Town at the Kismet House hostel (update: it has now moved to a nicer location with the name Kismet Dao*).
[ Fun Fact: This is where the story of why I moved to France all began! ]
The middle of old town is dominated by the imposing Black Church, a stunning example of Gothic architecture.
Next to the church is the Council Square, a great place to have a few glasses of wine and indulge in some people-watching.
Old town is just at the base of Tampa mountain, a beautiful hillside covered in the most vibrant green trees I’ve ever seen. Take the time to either ride the cable car to the top, or hike up on foot if you’re feeling particularly adventurous.
I made the hike one evening with a group of fellow travelers with the intention to have a BBQ at the top.
Once we made it to the top, we went about making a fire as thunder and lightning started in the distance.
When it began pouring rain, it occurred to us that it might be a bit difficult to climb down the side of a muddy mountain in the dark. We slid down the mountain and high-tailed it to a pub to warm ourselves up.
Moral of the story: check the forecast before you start the hike.
Brasov is a great place to base yourself for a few days if you want to explore Transylvania.
Nearby is the town of Rasnov where tourists flock to see Bran Castle, possibly the most famous in Romania and often (incorrectly) identified as the home of the legend of Dracula.
For those that would like to venture off the beaten path, take a scenic drive to Poenari Castle, a ruin located 1,480 concrete steps up Mount Cetatea.
This fortress is famous for its connection to Vlad the Impaler (also known as Vlad Dracula).
We made the mistake of leaving late in the day to see the ruins, which meant that when we arrived a little past 6pm, the gate was shut and we couldn’t make the climb.
This mistake ended up being rather fortuitous as we were forced to spend the night in an adorable cottage at the base of the mountain, dubbed Camping Dracula.
We managed to communicate to a woman running a nearby giftshop that we needed a place to sleep, and she unlocked a cabin door for us for a fee of 50 lei (about $12 USD at the time of this writing).
There was a little restaurant nearby so we didn’t even starve to death.
A friendly stray dog took the time to lead us to the top of the mountain the next morning, where we found remarkable views of the famous Transfagarasan road below.
After saying goodbye to our furry friend we hit the road and passed through Sibiu on our way to Timisoara, where we caught a train into Serbia.
I left a piece of my heart behind in Romania. I’m headed to Bulgaria in a few days, and I’m hoping that it will feel as magical to me as Transylvania did!