Day 1 (Thursday evening): We basically flew from Amsterdam to Bucharest after finishing work, and landed late in the evening to Henri Coanda International Airport and by the time we landed and then took an airport shuttle bus into Bucharest city centre and got to our hostel, we both were exhausted and ready for bed!
Day 2 (Friday): Our expectations for the day; get lost in the city centre and find some charming alleys and old beautiful buildings and to have a couple of beers in the sunshine. We started the day in the Old Town which is strangely new for an ‘Old Town’), but nevertheless, still reeks of history and the unknown. My favourite sight was the below Church in the photo. It was so tiny but so incredibly beautiful with so much detail on the inside. There was a small older woman standing inside to ‘guard it’ and I felt such stillness to the air that I didn’t want to ruin the atmosphere by pulling out a camera to capture it. But it had so much to look at it in such a small space, I would highly recommend to go and stand in it for sure if you get the chance.
After discovering this gem of a church, we kept strolling around and came across a exhibition hall looking building which was filled with market stalls of old antiques and home made craft items. I was instantly in heaven as this is exactly the type of place I love to run around in and wonder at all of the old artifacts of where they are from and who they have belonged to. When I was finally able to be dragged out of there, we made our way to a few terraces for a few snacks and drinks before heading back to the airport on a shuttle bus from our hostel. From there, we picked up our rental car and ventured into madness. This is where the real adventure began once we got in our hire car, as the road rules seemed more relaxed and there is a different tension on the roads than what we are used to in Amsterdam or anywhere else that we have driven. The craziest thing we kept noticing as we drove out of the city and toward Sinaia for the night were that pedestrian crossings appeared randomly on a busy highway. And people were actually using them, which would cause you to need to be constantly slowing down and even stopping in areas where it seems you should be doing 80/100 km per hour with multiple lanes! As well as this, as a general observation, on this first day of driving, everyone we were driving with on the roads had somewhere to be and it was definitely more important than the somewhere that we had to be in their eyes. With Maurice’s fingers clutching the steering wheel (as he was driving), we made the hour and a half drive to Sinaia where we stayed the night at a budget hotel.
Day 3 (Saturday): We began our day by heading North toward Bran Castle (Dracula’s Castle) which was about an hour away… For both of us, as soon as we arrived at the castle, we were instantly underwhelmed and if I can be extra dramatic, super disappointed. What is one of the main things that people know of in Romania, it was a trashy tourist trap… The castle was filled to the brim with tourists and kids screaming everywhere which was expected, but the layout of the ‘tour’ through the castle, meant you would often be stuck in a room for 20 minutes not being able to move with nothing to look at. Each room had been ‘recently’ renovated, so there wasn’t even very much historic to look at… The castle garden was also quite nice, though they were doing construction there so half of it was demolished and had fences up everywhere…
Personally, the market outside in the car park was my favourite part of this entire stop.. So many cute knick knacks and handmade crafts; it was here that I bought my Nan a lovely hand painted vase that I would then a couple of months later take her back to Australia. After this disappointing stopover, we continued our drive an extra 2 hours north to Sighișoara. Maurice found us a quirky Airbnb where we would stay for the night which was a few kilometres out of the city centre… The directions we had were ‘after turning onto a dirt country road, look for a caravan and a red car in the distance in a paddock, this is it so find a good way to get there off road’. So, we already knew this would be some type of adventure if we would be lucky enough to find this place! We were both exhausted by the time we arrived to this road where we would be staying along somewhere as driving in Romania uses all your senses at once, including the passenger, to keep an eye out for stray dogs, random pedestrians who cross the road when it suits them regardless of the traffic, and fellow commuters who treat the road as if you are at a theme park driving the dodgem cars. We did end up finding the red car and the caravan easier than we would have otherwise thought, and it was this caravan that we would be spending the night in. Maurice had failed to mention to me when he booked this accommodation that the toilet was an outhouse… So this was a lovely surprise, and it was made even better when we discovered the door actually didn’t close of this outdoor toilet, so while you were squatting, you had to also keep one arm reaching out to hold the door closed, so that was a workout in itself. Maybe the best part of this entire stay was also that there was a sensor light in the toilet, which indeed is very helpful, but there is also a window in the toilet which is at just the right height that you can see the squat well from the outside… I think you get what I’m saying…. The owner of this Airbnb was incredibly friendly, as was every Romanian that we met during our entire trip. This is something Maurice and I both talked about a lot during our travels, this was because, purely on physical appearances, the Romanians we came across seemed harsh looking and had resting ‘unfriendly faces’, but this was definitely not the case. So for Romanians as a population, we say that looks can be deceiving is indeed true from our experience! The Airbnb host also lived on the same property that we did, he had actually built his own house to be completely green and sustainable and he was very proud to take us around his property to show us how everything worked. He also showed us the base of his ‘house’ is actually using the wheels and base of a caravan, but he had built the top of the house out of recycled plywood and old crates. The reason for the wheels as a base we learnt, was because in Romania it is very expensive to claim land and to build a property, but if you do it on wheels, it is deemed as being ‘transferable’ and not permanent so this was using the loophole in the system. Our host was also having a bit of a gathering on this night with a small fire as he had some friends over and his family, though English was limited with the rest of his guests, it was really nice to be welcomed so wholeheartedly by everyone. I’m sure they enjoyed the view of us and our butts being lit up when we had to use the toilet too…
Day 4 (Sunday): We woke and headed into Sighișoara in the hope to find some strong coffee for me and some breakfast.. After realising that yes it is a Sunday and the town was still asleep and likely would for the whole day with the rest of the country, we ended up at the restaurant of a hotel in the city centre, begging them to let us eat there as the non guests that we were. Our next few hours were spent walking around the beautiful old city, which is definitely my favourite place we went to in all of Romania. The city has multiple old museums and churches, as well as a small castle on a hill whose walls extend from one side of the city to the other which you can walk alongside. The view is so beautiful and the below photo, I think, really captures the colours and landscapes of the city and the region.
We continued our journey back on the road around lunchtime and headed toward Curtea de Argeş which was about another 3 and a half hours drive in total. We stopped over in Sibiu on our way through though which was a small city which was surprisingly alive and with all shops and cafes open. We enjoyed a quick coffee break and a stroll through the town where a marathon had just finished taking place so the small cobblestoned streets became quite full very quickly and as the rain clouds started to take over the sky, we took that as our cue to hit the road again. After we finally found where we parked the car (an hour later after walking in the rain back and forth), we made our journey finally to Curtea de Argeş where we would stay the night. My allergies were giving me troubles and we were both super tired, so we had an early night in at our hotel in town.
Day 5 (Monday): We both woke ready to try our luck at the roads and weather conditions to drive some of the journey on what is called the most beautiful road in Europe. We were both feeling nervous as we had seen some concerning road conditions already driving through suburbia and cities, but this road we were planning to go on, was more rural, in the middle of nowhere essentially and up a mountain. With snow being almost certain up there, we were worried our poor car rental wouldn’t be fully equipped to handle it. But after some comfort given from our hotelier in the morning over a coffee, we headed onwards and decided that we would give it a try, and if we felt unsafe or concerned at any time, we can always turn around and make our way back to Bucharest. Our flight would be later this afternoon, so we had all day to slowly make our way to the airport. So, it wasn’t actually the snow conditions which was an issue for us, as we got about 20 minutes into the rural parts of this road as we began climbing the mountain, we noticed that the road was actually balancing half on the mountain and half off and was quite cracked and rickety. I got really nervous, more-so than Maurice as we were climbing, as there were little to no cars that we had seen on the way, so we were completely alone out there, and the one way road up, seemed ready to all fall down at any minute and with the thin ice on the road as well, I was not feeling it. So we pulled into a little alcove before the real incline started, and had a little picnic there while we decided what our next steps should be… In this little alcove where we parked and walked around, there were a lot of cow and other animal skeletons which was super creepy and made us only think of what it was that had been eating these. The feelings here were that we were both ready to get out of here, head back to civilisation and maybe find a coffee spot somewhere in a town back in the direction of the airport near Bucharest which was still roughly another 2 and a half hours drive. Our last day in Romania was more chill and we perhaps didn’t do all that we had hoped to originally, but it suited us as we also wanted to have a relaxing time during our holiday away as it would be back to work the following day!
Some key things we learnt during our time in Romania:
- Looks can be deceiving (the people are much friendlier than they look).
- Practice driving dodgem cars first and have good patience and reflexes if you ever intend to drive there.
- Don’t pat all the 10001 dogs that you see; as cute as they are, most of them are feral