Tag Archives: Romania

Bucharest, Romania – land of the stray dogs

On the train to Bucharest, we were overheard speaking English by an older Romanian woman travelling with her granddaughter who decided to take that chance to practice her very limited English by telling us all about her family (with pictures!) including her brother who lives in Toronto (everyone has a relative in Toronto apparently). This seems very typical of Romania – although we were warned repeatedly before coming here that we had to be careful and that people here weren’t trustworthy, we’ve found exactly the opposite. People go out of their way to be friendly and helpful, and will come up to you on the street if you’re holding a map to help you figure out where you are. Even those with a limited grasp of English will try to help – warnings about caution with our personal possessions abounded and offers to show us how to get places were always forthcoming. The only challenge we experienced was the tendency to get ignored in less touristy restaurants – we once sat an hour with our waitress completely ignoring us. In Bucharest we stayed at a nice hostel (but nothing to compare with Gabriel’s in Brasov) in a slightly seedier area of town (of which there are many in Bucharest).

Our first Christmas Tree

Russian Church

Beautiful old Orthodox Church

Bucharest is an interesting city – modern in its young population and vibrant nightlife, but it lacks the charm of many other European cities which can only be attributed to years of communism and earthquakes. Much of the pretty old town was partially destroyed by an earthquake and then dismantled to build the enormous Palace of Parliament – the second largest building in the world, after the Pentagon. Bucharest does have some very pretty buildings, but those are interspersed with the solid concrete blocks typical of communist architecture. We still managed to find some gems – a night market, some beautiful churches and a lovely old hospital. We ate dinner at a cute jazz restaurant owned by an Irish guy – who heard English and gravitated towards and then picked up some homemade caramels at the night market before heading back to our hostel.

In front of the Palace of Parliment

The Grand Staircase

Ceiling of the Ballroom

We headed out on the train the next day for Bulgaria – first stop, Veliko Tarnovo!

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Train into Romania and Brasov

The train from Budapest to Brasov is long – about sixteen hours. We took it overnight, leaving from Pecs earlier that day. When we got to the station we found we could only reserve tickets for the section of the trip to Budapest there and we’d have to wait to reserve the other portion once we got to Budapest. I spent the next couple of hours uncomfortably fretting over whether the ticket office in Budapest would be open at 10:00pm – luckily it was and the girl understood enough English that we were easily able to communicate. Of course the train was late – it is Eastern Europe after all – but we finally boarded and found an empty compartment to settle into. Overnight went smoothly, except for being woken up to have our tickets checked, then our passports checked by Hungarian officials, then rechecked by Romanian officials, and then our tickets checked again!

Frost on the Trees

Once we arrived in Brasov we followed the straightforward directions sent by our hostel to their front door, the only incident occurring along the way was a very friendly, very old Romanian man who spoke little English but wanted me to go to his church with him. A nice offer, but since our train journey didn’t leave me overly thankful I declined. At our hostel we met Gabriel and a little later, his wife Elena. They turned out to be the sweetest people and staying with them didn’t feel like being in a hostel at all! We were their only guests and Gabriel fed us large amounts of his home made prune brandy (very good) and told us in detail about the process of distilling it and gave us all sorts of useful advice for getting around. He treated us like his daughters, possibly because he has a daughter our age who’s away most of the year.

Brasov

All the kitties hanging out

Main Square

We wandered around the town that afternoon and got our bearings, and the next morning we headed back to the train station and took the train an hour away to Sighisoara – a pretty little town up in the Romanian mountains. There we explored the lovely Old Town Fortifications – went up the old town hall and explored the old guild towers. It was a grey day, so it made everything suitably creepy looking for all the Vlad Tepes mythology that exists everywhere in that area of Romania! We climbed up a four hundred year old set of covered stairs to the aptly named Church on the Hill where I made a new friend! As we were looking at the sign at the top of the stairs, a little black cat appeared and decided it wanted to take me home with him. After attempting to climb my pant leg, it climbed into my lap when i bend down to dislodge his claws and continued to follow us around for the next twenty minutes. I considered buying a basket and sneaking him home, but decided he really wouldn’t like the train that much. For lunch we tried a Romanian specialty – sour tripe soup – which is one of those dishes that’s so foreign at first you can’t decide if you like it or not. But as I kept eating, it definitely grew on me – pretty good food, creamy with a bit of a sour note to cut the cream and soft pieces of tripe (not the usual unappetizing texture). We took the train back into town (after being slightly harassed by the local gypsy population, who we also watched trying to run over a dog with a car) and headed out to an old school Romanian restaurant where food is served cafeteria style – just like during the communist era!

On the train

Into the old town

Tripe soup

The next day we had arranged for Gabriel to drive us to Rasnov Fortress and Bran Castle, an adventure that would take most of the morning. It ended up taking much longer as after we finished with Rasnov Fortress (an interesting set of very ruined buildings, improved by the fact we were the only people there aside from the staff), Gabriel decided to show up his friend’s brick-making operation, followed by a trip to his godmother’s house for lunch and then a trip to his friend’s farm to meet the animals! The Romanian countryside in the area is beautiful and the drive was lovely (less so the rather smelly cows who attempted to splatter us with feces. After our farm experience we headed to Bran Castle (of Bram Stoker fame). Really the castle was the seat of the former Romanian royal family and is not only a beautiful castle, but very informative about the royals and their lifestyles and fates (one went from being a princess, to an actress in America, to being a homemaker and then finally a nun – quite the career!). After our adventures avoiding tour groups in the castle, Gabriel took us o the local market where we bought smoked sheep cheese and delicious lamb sausage before trying another local specialty – think of an elephant ear but instead of sugar, it’s topped with garlic sauce and cheese. Terribly unhealthy but delicious!

Rasnov Fortress

Rasnov again

Bran Castle

Living space for the royal family

Our last day in town we spent wandering around, exploring the lovely architecture and getting lost as we tried repeatedly to climb the hill to Brasov Fortress – it’s in the middle of town but is derelict of signs directing you to its entrance, so we ended up trying three separate routes! It was a nice place to get a good view of the city and the park we wandered through later. We had an easy night, hanging out with Gabriel and watching a movie before packing up in preparation for our trip to Bucharest the next day.

Brasov Fortress

Hanging out in Brasov

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