14/08/15 – 18/08/15
Feeling excited by the thought of seeing more of the Transylvanian countryside, we hopped on another train and headed only an hour or so away to Sighisoara.
Sighisoara is famous basically because it was the birthplace of arguably Romania’s most infamous export, Vlad The Impailer. The building is still there, inside the well-preserved old town. You can’t miss it, just look for the place, which has streams of tour groups filing in and out, and heading straight back to their bus.
We’re staying at the Panorama Guesthouse, a B&B which on paper doesn’t look like too long of a walk from the train station, but in reality it’s 3km of initially flat surface to then suddenly lugging your 24 kilos of baggage up hills that still haunt me. We stagger through the door sweating through pores I didn’t even know I had (who knew knees could sweat so much?), to be welcomed by a family who look shocked that we didn’t just catch a cab, but nonetheless offer us lemon water while they prepare our room. It’s run by a family, so it’s very intimate, you feel as if you’re old friends visiting -except those friends don’t speak much English.
For two people who’ve been travelling for over five months now, on an accommodation budget of $30AU each a night, the standard of room/dorm has varied massively. It can’t buy you a bed in a 12 person dorm in an alright hostel in Amsterdam, but for half of that it can buy you a bed in amazing hostel in Lisbon and includes breakfast and dinner. What it usually doesn’t buy you is a double room in the Romanian countryside, overlooking the picturesque Sighisoara old town. Very good. This is one of the benefits of travelling in a duo, is that for the cost of an individual bed in a hostel bed, you can often get a nice B&B or even hotel double room for the same price. Especially in Eastern Europe where we’ve managed for the most part to have a break from dorms for a while because the cost of travelling is so much cheaper.
We only quickly passed through Sighisoara, but that’s all that is really needed to see the town and its sights. A walk up into the old town is all that’s really required, and it’s hard to find any decent, authentic Romanian food, as it’s mainly catered to big tour groups who prefer pizza to Sarmale.
So compared to Brasov, Sighisoara was somewhat of a let down only because Brasov so exceeded our expectations and there was a lot to do. Sighisoara, while the old town was perfectly nice, once you stepped outside the historic streets and into the regular hustle and bustle of the city, it was much like anywhere else –although if you chose to eat outside you would often have young children come up to you and beg for money.
On to Sibiu, our last stop before we head back to Bucharest briefly. After feeling a little underwhelmed with Sighisoara, we weren’t quite sure what would await us when we got off the train only an hour or so away. There was, of course, another uphill climb to reach our hostel, but thankfully this one is right in the centre of the town. We cross a large, lovely square to reach Smart Hostel, and even though we’re back to a dorm we seemed to have lucked out again with the view. The hostel is pretty good, very clean but with not a huge common area, and only two bathrooms/toilets within the whole place.
Similar to Sighisoara, there’s not a whole lot to do here, but we immediately prefer it to the town we have just arrived from. The disparity between the old and new towns isn’t as obvious and there’s a much more modern and authentic restaurant and bar scene happening.
Heading back to the old square we straight away find a cool café which has only recently opened, Refresh. It specialises in tea, hot and cold, and also had some homemade lemonade available, perfect to sip while people watching in the square. Most of Europe, but especially Romania, seems to be mad on homemade lemonades and ice teas –something I’m definitely on board with. While enjoying our drinks we also discovered that tonight is the final night in a three daylong classical music concert, adorably named ‘Classics for Pleasure’. We watched some of their rehearsals, which were impressive enough, but I think we’ll definitely be back to watch the real thing later.
After spending the rest of the afternoon roaming the very walkable city –split into Up town and Down town, we relax at the hostel for a few hours before heading to dinner. Seeing as we did not have much for lunch, we were ravenous at this stage and went to an American style steakhouse –something I’m not super proud of considering how much we always push to eat local cuisine, but the food was pretty delicious so it’s hard to get caught up with these things. We shared a few dishes including spare ribs, chicken wings and wedges, but in the end I was almost rushing through it as I was keen to get back to the main square so as to see the end of the classical music concert.
We made it just in time to see the last few songs and it was well worth it. I’m not a huge follower of classical music, but I feel that when the opportunity to see a free concert in a historic square in rural Romania, that’s not something you should turn down. So we enjoyed a drink sitting outside in the square, Daniel ordering the local beer while I continue an affection for Aperol Spritz, all the while thinking to myself I should really start listening to some more classical music, it’s so beautiful –although the setting plus the Aperol may have just gone straight to my head.
After closing our first day in Sibiu on a high, when we awoke the next day it seemed the weather wasn’t agreeing with us. After enjoying nothing but sun for what seems a lifetime now, the skies were an unfamiliar dark grey and also bucketing down with rain. Not great for sightseeing, but lucky for us Sibiu is very small and we managed to see a lot of it already yesterday. So, nothing like a rainy day to give you an excuse to take things easy and lay in bed a little longer than you ought to.
In between showers we made a dash back to Refresh café, this time however opting to sit inside. We enjoyed a hot drink followed by a cold one, along with their superior Wi-Fi which we used to make a few phone calls to family and friends back home. It was a great place to chill for a couple of hours, watching people run around outside and feeling nice and safe indoors.
The rest of the day really didn’t let up much on the weather front, so apart from walking down to the train station to buy our 8am train tickets to Bucharest, a lot of the day was spent laying in the dorm and looking out the window as the rain covered the cathedral.
Disappointingly, there was no classical music concert tonight for us to attend, but this meant we could take our time with dinner. Luckily the weather by now had completely cleared up, so after enjoying a beer each on the steps leading to downtown Sibiu, we wandered towards our dinner destination –Little Lisbon. Again, not traditional Romanian food, but also again, when food is this delicious, it’s hard to worry about it. Because really, OHMYGOD, it was so good. We hadn’t planned on eating three courses, but when we saw the menu we weren’t left with much of a choice. From flame grilled chorizo, and calamari to start, followed by my pork loin and Daniel’s pork Alantejana, to finish with home made orange cake, plus chocolate soufflé –it was all amazing. Not Romanian, no, but most of the dishes did have a little Romanian ‘spin’ on them, which definitely added something different. We were also so excited to share a bottle of green wine, a typical Portuguese style of wine which we have been craving non stop since leaving the Iberian Peninsula way back in March. It was a little pricey than the normal restaurants around town, but for the quality of food and also the super friendly and attentive service we received, it was well worth the splurge –but considering we each had three courses plus bread and a bottle of wine, it still only cost around $80AU. Unbelievably good.
Our two week tour of Romania is just about complete and as we head back to Bucharest for a night, the realisation that we’re flying out so soon is bittersweet. Romania has possibly been the biggest surprise to us so far. Originally a large part of why we came through this way as because we were in the area (Workaway in Bulgaria), and found out about the Summer Well music festival which looked like a must-do considering how close we were and also how cheap it was. But aside from the festival, we discovered that not only is Bucharest a lively, exciting and beautiful city, the countryside as well is also stunning, plus very friendly to those on a budget and very easily accessible by trains.
Nonetheless, we are really excited to be flying to Turkey and start a new chapter in our European odyssey.