After 24 hours in Bucharest, we were ready to head to the hills and get into the clean country air in Translyvania. Henry commanded the wheel of our 9-seater and we shot up the highway, headed for Brasov – a city of 200,000+ people with great access to the surrounding towns and cities of Transylvania. The trip north was an interesting part of the experience, passing through some very rural towns that were pretty foreign looking to a bunch of kiwi’s. Odd shaped houses, front yards that were chicken coups, trees with their trunks painted white and tall stacks of hay sitting in every second front yard (for a bit of perspective, check out the video I’ve added to my article about Driving in Romania)
While the approach into Brasov city isn’t the prettiest (and had us wondering if Brasov was actually the place we were meant to be heading), once you get into the old part of town you understand what all the fuss is about. Like many old towns in Europe, Brasov has small cobbled streets, houses with character, a huge church and town square. The town square is definitely the meeting place for tourists and locals alike, when we were there a food market was in operation selling cured meats, cheeses, bread and local liquor. The majority of our time in Brasov was spent wandering around the town, we didn’t get to the top of Mount Tampa (there is meant to be a fernicular running but we didn’t see it move the whole tim we were there). We spent plenty of time drinking the local brew, eating our way through hearty Eastern European food and as is expected in Brasov, visiting a popular Mexican restaurant?! Highlights for eating and drinking would be Bistro de L’Arte – a trendy wine and beer bar, Bella Musica – a Romanian come Mexican restaurant, Deanes Irish Bar – more than you’d expect, we got to watch a 17 piece Jazz band in a local dominated environment, and La Republique – a cafe with great pancakes and coffee. Brasov served as well as a base to explore Transylvania in the van, a central spot with good accommodation, a great night life and if you enjoy bars full with smoke – this is the place for you.
Trip to Bran Castle and Rasnov
The town of Bran and Bran Castle is about a 50 minute drive from Brasov. It was Liam and Dionne’s tour stop-off (well really just Dionne’s) and checked out to be quite a good one. Bran Castle is said to have housed Vlad the Impaler (some stories claim him as the vampire – not the case as the signs told us). While it is clearly a town that crawls with tourists, visiting the Castle is definitely worthwhile. A pretty impressive sight from up close with all sorts of corridors and staircases that come out of nowhere. I wouldn’t stick around the town or stay there a night as the Castle is really what people go there to see.
On our way back from Bran, we stopped off at Rasnov, another rural country town where locals go about their daily life without any care for tourists. Liam has spotted and became obsessed with going to the fort on top of the hill in Rasnov – admittedly we all thought it was good idea too. There was a bit of commotion once we reached the carpark at the bottom of the hill, that the fort sits on. Liam wanted to take the tractor-trailer combo up the hill, but a couple of us weren’t having any of it. We set off up the hill, leaving Liam to wait for the tractor an tailer to come back down and collect him. It only took 10 minutes to reach the fort and 10 mins to walk around it. While there isn’t too much to see on the inside, it’s definitely worth heading up there for the views of the surrounding countryside and mountain ranges. Plenty of photo’s were taken, before we all decided that was enough sight-seeing for one day and headed back to the van for a beer on the road home (driver excluded). 4 hours well spent exploring Rasnov and Bran.
A 2 hour drive from Brasov sits the town of Siaghasora, again the drive through the countryside to get there is all part of the Romanian experience, pheasant-like villages, old run down factories, a car crash and rubbish infested mountain streams!
The weather hadn’t really turned it on for Liz and Kim to take us on an outdoors tour of the town, but we pushed ahead anyway wandering up into the old part of Siaghasora. First stop was lunch, we found a restaurant that was set in an old wine cellar with a curved roof and all. Nothing short of a goulash was on the cards for me, to try and cure a bit of a hangover and warm the soul up, the red wine helped too.
After lunch we attempted to do a bit of tourist adventuring, making out way up to the church on top of the hill (thankfully a covered set of stairs made that an easier hike). The views from the top were good, if only lived for a few minutes before getting back under the covered stairs out of the rain! We stopped in at another church where we could get right to the top of the tower – again some great views up there 360 degrees around. A few photos later we took the steep and narrow staircase back down to the paved lanes of the old town. It was decided that although we’d given it a good chance, the rain really didn’t want us to make the most of Siaghasora. Definitely a town worth making the trip for, even better if you get it on a sunny day and can fully make you way around all the streets.
Peles Castle – on the way back from Brasov
After 3 great nights up in Transylvania, we had to head back to Bucharest to catch our flight home. Setting off on our final journey in the beast of a van, we had to make our way pretty cautiously down the mountain roads after an overnight snowfall had left white stuff everywhere (see photo below). We had the day to make the trip so locked in a stop off at Peles Castle in Sinaia, a massive purpose built castle for a man with way too much money! According to a few sources (bit of post trip research) the castle was commissioned by the Romanian King Carol I in 1873 and was to be a residence for him and his family….all 160 rooms. He even decided to build a smaller castle behind his own for his wife – I guess he didn’t want her messing up the 160 rooms of his castle. It’s probably the most impressive castle that we saw in Romania, it’s huge, perched on a hill, has views of mountains all around and for a castle, looks pretty good too. We spent an hour outside (it was closed on the day we went) posing in front of the statues that he’d had made of himself and his wife – looking like class A tourists we were.
Our final meal up in Transylvania saw be debut on the delicacy that is bear. Although a few of the group were a bit reluctant to sample, once we’d given it the taste test, everyone sank their teeth into the flesh of what was once a furry friend. Worth a try, bit like gamey beef.
Romania had shown us the best of what it had to offer, great weather, food, beer, sites and an authentic look into rural country life – a step back in time if every I’ve seen one. Hopefully they continue on their solid path toward an up and coming society, just get there before it happens, to really experience Eastern Europe.