Romania – We caught the night train from Budapest to the small town of Sighisora in Romania. Sighisora is a town that surrounds an old citadel most famous for being the birthplace of Vlad Dracula. We shared our sleeper with two Romanians, a young girl that had married an Hungarian and was going home for the weekend and a young guy who was studying in Budapest. While both very poor they were delightful company and you couldn’t help but feel they had ‘escaped’ to a better life. Our conductress was a large friendly Romanian woman who handed out little show-bags of goodies to get us through the night.
We were woken at 1am for passport checks at the border, first on the Hungarian side and then again just as we had gone back to sleep, on the Romanian side. Our train was due to arrive at Sighisora at 5am so we awoke to our alarm just as the train was slowing and coming into a station. Lugging our packs into the corridor we were greeting by the conductress flying down the passage waving her arms yelling “non qua non qua, prossima statzione, prossima statzione” I stood in a bit of a daze as surely she was speaking to us in Italian, and I had a fleeting thought that perhaps we had got on the wrong train and ended up in Italy. I continued to stand there puzzled until the young guys stuck his head out of our sleeper and told us that the train was running about 2 hours late and we wouldn’t get to Sighisora until about 7am. We had always known Romanian is one of the romance languages but we did not know just how like Italian is was – good we thought we would be able to use our rusty Italian.
Finally we arrived in Sighsiaora and jumped down straight onto the train tracks – the platform was only long enough to take about 3 carriages. As we stood there surveying our surroundings a young guy from the carriage in front of us jumped off the train and said to us sleepily “Is this Brasov?” No we said..with that he turned and sprinted after the now moving train with Alex sprinting behind him. I will forever have a memory of the guy leaping to the door of the train as it pulled away with Alex giving him a final push to help him up the steep steps.
We wandered up to station house to discover a new station complete with luggage storage and reasonable toilets. We left our packs in storage and headed off to the old town following the travellers rule of head toward the church steeple and you will find the centre of town. It was a couple of km walk until we arrived at the citadel which we climbed up to … the streets were all torn up and unmade and there were people sleeping in their cars everywhere, we walked around a bit and it all looked a little desolate..Alex turned to me and said “where the F*** have you bought me?” and I will admit I was ready to get back on the train and keep going however with being woken twice in the middle of the night for passport checks and a false start to getting off the train we were pretty tired so we decided to find a hotel have a sleep and re-assess.
The first guest house we tried was Residence Fronius a five star place in the old citadel built in an amazing old building that once housed nobility. While a little out of our budget we were too tired to look further so we booked a room. It was here we first experienced Romanian hospitality, we couldn’t check into our room until 11 however we were invited into the lounge given a lovely breakfast and general made to feel very welcome. We wandered off to the station to retrieve our bags and then flopped into bed exhausted.
We woke in the early afternoon to an entirely different Sighisora, it turned out that the roads were all rubble as they were in the middle of restoring the cobblestones and all the people that were asleep in their cars were people form all over Europe who had come for an annual festival. There was music and dancing in the streets, food stalls everywhere and a general party atmosphere, we quickly changed our minds about Sighisora and after changing hotels to Hotel Franica we ended up staying about ten days.
One of the absolute highlights of our stay in this area was a tour we did with a Dutch anthropologist ex-pat to the Saxon Churches and Roma Villages. It was fascinating to learn that the Saxons were sent to Romania in the 12th century to defend the then borders from the Turks and did not assimilate at all into Romania, they lived in all Saxon villages, retained their language and culture and then when an amnesty was declared in Germany in after WWII the majority of them packed up and moved back to Germany.
We ate loads of goulash and bean soup and the occasional reasonable pizza at a great cafe around the corner from our hotel.
Brasov | Transylvania Romania
We caught the very slow local train from Sighisora to the regions capital Brasov, the seats were hard wooden slatted affairs and at one point a troop of gypsy kids over took us galloping on their ponies.
Brasov is a nice but fairly unexceptional town, we stayed in a guest house with communist green walls (a colour we found all over the ex commie countries) but for us the highlight was the food. We ate some of the best steaks I have ever eaten which after weeks of goulash was divine and we discovered a Scottish pub which did a pretty good meat pie, a decent curry and a tasty haggis..
Overall Romania blew me away, after having experienced the Gypsies in Italy and France I had very low expectations however I discovered a beautiful country with people who literally have been to hell and back yet have managed to retain their dignity. While incredibly poor I found the Romanians a delightful, hospitable people and I hope to explore much more of the country another time.