Romania, a land where so many European countries only see the source of gypsies, gangs or gorillas. And how different one can see the things when forgets about the unidirectional communication media and embraces new experiences in unknown worlds.
Do you remember where we were? Miky, Bea and me had just arrived to Bucharest after 5 exhausting days driving. Taking advance of the car, Miky took me to go around the Carpathians whereas Bea stayed at home
So we rested a bit that night and next day we woke up early to carry out the proposed trip:
Valaquia, Transfăgărășan, Brașov and Peleș
The first stop was Curtea de Argeș, ancient Wallachia’s capital (basically all South Romania) where we visited the monastery and its cathedral. Legend included!! The cathedral dates from XVI century, but I was surprised about its Cyrillic inscriptions (very common in South Romania). Romanian alphabet has Latin characters and during the cathedral construction Wallachia was under ottoman influence (although it looks like some Christian traditions were maintained). So I don’t understand at all what are those inscriptions doing there since they must belong to the Bulgarian Empire times.
In the same city we also saw the Royal Princely Saint Nicholas Church, the oldest of the region, from the XIV century. Although we didn’t go inside to see the firsts Romanian indoor paints, with byzantine influence.
In this town I could see the 3 most common things in Romania: churches, dogs and gypsies.
Paul, Miky’s friend, use to say ironically that they rather build a church than a school. I don’t care about religion as a concept (everybody needs to believe in something) if it doesn’t influence in the other’s life directly or indirectly. But I don’t like when a belief becomes something that blind us and doesn’t let us see anymore.
About the dogs, it seems like they’re trying to palliate it and one can see indeed a lot of dogs with an ear-indicator what mark them as castrated.
Regarding to the gypsies… well, I didn’t have any problem with them except when I tried to take them a photo and they were asking me for money after that (actually I understand it, who am I to use their private image? Although I doubt that was the reason…). As with religion, I don’t have any problem with any culture provided that they respect the rest of cultures. The gypsies topic could be quite long, but just for talking a bit about: in my opinion it’s perfectly fine they don’t want to be integrated in the Society (in fact that’s what I’m trying to do somehow) but it really piss me off when they steal or intimidate people. Of course they are not the only ones who do that (at all! We only have to think in that gang of crooks that “governs” and “represents” us) and indeed not all the gypsies are like that (there are good examples [in Spanish] of gypsies who wander around some regions grabbing trash what they sell like junk afterwards, contributing that way to the waste management), but based on my own experience most of them abuse of the protection and benefits they get from the Society just for being ethnic minority. Being an ethnic minority use to be cause of social exclusion and everybody should fight against that, but abusing of that status and aid the countries give to the minorities only causes more exclusion and rejection feelings. In the case of Romania I don’t know how are they treated but one can feel the rejection feeling of the people, such as it happens in Spain.
After Curtea we continued our way towards Cetatea Poenari where Vlad Tepes fortress is built. Vlad Tepes is also known as Vlad Drăculea or Vlad The Impaler given his adorable habit to impale people. The character impaled between 40000 and 100000 people… lovable. Bram Stoker imposed part of his personality in the protagonist of his novel Dracula. So you’ll see him named directly like Dracula in several places.
The fortress is totally in ruins so it’s not even worthy except to its great views. But if you want to reach the fortress you’ll have to climb up its 1480 steps. By the way, the student card is very useful in all Romania. The discounts are very good in most of tourist attractions. On the other hand in most of those attractions you have to pay an exorbitant amount for taking pictures or videos. Most of the people don’t pay it. It’s enough being discreet and pretending you don’t understand when they tell you whatever!
After having lunch under the sound of the electricity passing through the high voltage lines and surrounded by hungry dogs with pity face, we headed towards Transfăgărășan, a road over the Carpathians built in the 70’s by Nicolae Ceaușescu, president (and dictator later) of Romania, in order to have a fast way to cross the mountains as a response to the 1968 invasion of Czechoslovakia by the Soviet Union.
This road is one of the most beautiful in the world.
Everything was good driving the south face of the mountains, but when reached the north face…
Actually the foggy landscape was also amazing, and cold (well, only for the fucking fag Miky) so we entered in the restaurant there to warm up and have a hot ciorba (soup, pronounced chorba). I could recall in that moment the time when my parents used to take the future Navarro and Navarrín ( ) to the mountains
Unfortunately they didn’t have ciorba anymore so we ate a couple of delicious kassler with a Romanian beer.
Once we drove down the mountain the fog disappeared and we continued until Brașov to sleep in a quiet pension. Well, not so quiet for Miky. He just fell exhausted on the bed and I continued doing things in the computer for a while. Just before going to bed I went out of the room to have some water. I still piss myself recalling Miky’s face waking up suddenly wide-eyed when he heard the door opening
Next day we woke up at decent time to visit Brașov:
We bought some food and headed towards Sinaia. Normally we would have gone to Râșnov and Bran’s Castle before, but it was getting dark early and driving in the Romanian roads was time consuming. The priority was the Peleș’ Castle (in Sinaia), a masterpiece I recommend to visit with the full entrance (all the floors). As you can see in the prices, the difference with student card is quite important.
Afterwards we went back to Bran’s Castle. I didn’t have the intention to see it from inside (and we didn’t arrived in time anyway) because I think nowadays it’s just a commercial issue (it’s the castle in which Bram Stoker was inspired for his novel and where several versions of Dracula movie were filmed), but outsides it was beautiful and interesting.
We couldn’t see the Râșnov’s Citadel, only from far away. I’ll do it next time.
With all the tourist stuff done, we hit the road back to Bucharest to enjoy a relaxing but long night having some beers in the city with Bea, Miky and their friends
Solo adventure: Cluj-Napoca and surroundings
Following day my solo adventure begins (a bit late after the party night). It was Monday 4pm, it would be dark at 6pm and I needed to reach Cluj-Napoca, my hub for visiting Romania. Of course I didn’t have a place to sleep yet
I checked HitchWiki looking for a good spot to hitchhike, said goodbye to Miky and Bea and went to the spot. Fortunately Miky&Bea’s home was close to that point. I finally selected a different spot on the way but with my lovely smile in 20 min I got a ride to Sibiu, a city in between. We would spend some hours, so it would be dark when arrive to Sibiu what would mean to take a bus or train to Cluj or sleep in Sibiu and continue next day; but was the best option, so I got in after clarify I was traveling without money. In Romania is extremely common to hitchhike, specially between towns and villages. Locals normally move the hand up and down instead of using the international thumb up and also pay a small amount of money to the driver. If you’ve ever used Blablacar, it’s the same but with no reservation. The “tariff” is not fixed and not only depends on the distance but also on the type of road so it’s better to approximate by time (traffic jams not included, of course). After using it a lot in Romania I could say that the normal tariff is around 7 Lei / 30 min.
Lei is the Romanian currency by the way. In singular it’s 1 Leu and the international code is RON. 1€ is around 4,5 Lei. So the price for hitchhiking in Romania (unless you say you’re traveling with no money) is around 1,5€/30min approx.
Let’s continue with the guy who picked me up. I actually don’t remember his name. Well, I don’t remember the name of anybody. The time you spend with all of them is enough to remember their stories, anecdotes and advice, but the name… unless I write it down somewhere else, it gets lost somewhere in my mind. Provided that I’ve understood it properly or even asked for it. Our names are not important at all, I don’t need to call him/her, what’s important is the person behind that name. Sometimes one even doesn’t remember what they tell you. Sometimes what you talk about is not important, only the ideas you get from them and those ideas remains inside you.
The guy speaks only a bit of English, but we could understand each other. In fact, I could learn from him several words in Romanian what would be useful to get by in the country; and he could practice its rusty English, because he told me that he normally doesn’t have the opportunity to do it. Of course we talked about politics. Only 1 month was left for the president elections and there were posters everywhere. I also told him about how mad the people drive in Romania and he nodded pointing at some of them. I think he didn’t get my insinuation But indeed I would later find people who were really dangerous. And this guy was very nice, he even bought for me some typical sweets from the country! And almost arriving to Sibiu he called his wife to find out if there was any bus or train to Cluj, but the last one was at 8pm and we couldn’t reach Sibiu at that time. So I’d have to stay the night there.
Romanians always say Sibiu is one of the most beautiful cities in Romania. Maybe I didn’t see enough of it or maybe I’m just used to similar cities in Europe with those big buildings, but I don’t think it’s so worthy. Except its funny houses with eyes
I looked for any free Wi-Fi around the downtown, connected to Booking and found a couple of cheap hostels. I didn’t reserve, but I went directly to them to check if they could give me the same price. I’ve always thought if I do that way it would be better for them since they don’t have to pay any fee to Booking, but I was wrong. I guess one of the reasons they make a better offer through Booking is because if something is going wrong with the guest they can always claim to them. In the first place I tried welcomed me an old woman Romanian and German speaker only (I had to remind my German skills; the language ones, not the beer ones!). She told me I could call her boss to ask for the same price. Of course I didn’t. It was roaming call and actually I couldn’t call since I still had simlocked my phone after the last change of company. The price without Booking was 10 Lei more expensive so I decided to go to the other hostel. But they didn’t answer to the door ring. Shit. It wasn’t so late! Well, new search in Booking and I found other hostel a bit more expensive but still cheaper than the one with the old woman. Was not easy to find but what a hostel!! Probably the best hostel I’ve ever been. If you go to Sibiu you have to stay there: Smart Hostel.
The price was quite good (45 Lei) and it was in Sibiu downtown. They were bunk beds, as it is in most of the shared hostels’ rooms, but what a bunk beds! They were really big, the mattress was at least 30cm thick over a wood table where you still had 40-50 cm more to leave your stuff even in the upper bed (as it was my case), as well as a small “breakfast table” serving as night stand. The room was spacious and the lockers too and I could perfectly stand up on the bed without touching the ceiling. The common room had good couches to read, use the computer or talk to the people. The bathroom was wide and the shower had even hydromassage! But best than everything else was the breakfast. What a breakfast! It was included in the price and you could choose among the typical muesli with milk, coffee and juices or the not so common eggs, fruit, beef steak and hamburgers. Amazing.
I took advantage of the time in the hostel and looked for a CouchSurfer in Cluj for a couple of nights. I also talked a bit with people hosted there to know a bit more about the places to visit. Well, there was also a 50ish man quite odd who was all the time muttering, laying down and getting up of the bed, wandering around… I think he had some sleeping problem… or maybe he was just a bit crazy.
In the morning, after taking a great shower, a wonderful breakfast and a morning talk with my roommates, I headed to the outskirts to try to get a lift to Cluj. The HitchWiki point was full of locals, a lot of competence, so I just walked around 500-800 meters and found a good place to stop cars. After 1 hour a van stopped, full of locals. The driver told me later in his little English that he was doing that route (Sibiu-Cluj) all the time taking people for a transport company. In Romania there is no difference between taking a microbus from one place to other or taking a lift in a normal car. The price is the same and there are companies driving vans for that type of service. Microbuses have a fixed tariff and give you a ticket however. In vans it’s the standard normal price for hitchhiking I told before.
Actually was quite interesting being there seeing so many local people getting up and down. I like that. One feels like being integrated, even when I don’t speak a shit of the local language Well, ok, I felt a bit autistic, but it was interesting anyway!
Finally I decided to get off in Turda, a town near Cluj well-known for its salt mines, a place I really wanted to visit. The mines are quite hidden in a neighborhood you barely imagine they could be.
Unfortunately I arrived late (it close at 17:00 if I recall well) and the only thing I could do was to take a microbus to Cluj with 2 Canadian and 1 Australian backpackers who I met in the mines’ exit. Once in Cluj I said them goodbye and looked for a free Wi-Fi to contact my new host, Alex. Then I realized something… I was so distracted talking with the backpackers that I didn’t notice that in the shadows of the seats my handbag was forgotten. Shit. Shit. And fucking shit! (Watch your mouth, boy!) I began to recall what I had inside: the wallet with part of the money (I had other part in my pouch with the Passport), driver license, credit card (I was waiting a new debit one in Spain, so was my only card), home keys, ID card (great, my address and my keys together, it’s perfect so anybody could go to my parent’s home and go inside), photos, SIM card (it wasn’t in my phone yet because was simlocked and the card was causing some problems with the Wi-Fi connection). Summarizing, whoever finding my handbag could get in my parent’s home and I didn’t have any way to get money. Great. Even I couldn’t book anything online because the website has to send me a SMS with a coordinate to my phone I had to type and my SIM card was in the handbag. Well, at least nobody else could use it to send themselves money, but I was really fucked up.
What I only could do was to walk as fast as possible to Alex’s home. He received me like an old friend, with a beer to start the night. However my mind was in that moment in other place. But fortunately Alex helped me, found the driver and we went in his car to the microbus stop where the driver gave me the handbag totally untouched
Now yes, now I could drink at Alex’s several beers and shots before going out to party in the town.
Cluj is a university city, so even on Tuesday we could find easily places to enjoy the night. Poor Alex, he had to work in the morning so couldn’t sleep too much! Hehehe, although I used to wake up with him to do sightseeing and play with the local gastronomy.
The first stop, the salt mine of Turda, of course. Salt has been extracted in Salina Turda since romans times and is ranked as one of the most beautiful underground places in the world. If coming to Romania, you have to visit it, but bring something to wrap yourself up! Here the temperature is constant between 10 ºC and 12ºC. They are so amazing one could stay here admiring them for hours.
Nowadays the mine is reused like an entertainment park and for treatment of some illness (seems like the salty environment could help).
Go back to Cluj. That night was for sleeping.
Next early morning Alex drop me off in the bus station. I was going to Peștera Scărișoara, the most ancient glacier in the world, more than 3000 years old. The bus took me until Câmpeni where finally I tasted a delicous Ciorba de Burta, belly soup.
Once I finished the food I hitchhiked all the way until Gârda de Sus, the base of the mountain where the glacier was. In one of the cars I was traveling I met a Romanian guy who was working in the building sector in Spain and he could speak a bit of Spanish. Now he had a company there. He invited me to a coffee in Albac and gave me his business card. I continued my way and when arrived to the base of the mountain, and after realizing nobody was driving over there, decided to climb up the mountain along the road. It was a good decision because no cars overtook me in all the way, so waiting for any would have been useless. But the way was hard, 7km very steep. I spent always 2 hours until the village where the cave is. Totally sweaty. Macho smell as I like to name it
And finally, Peștera Scărișoara. The entrance was awesome, an enormous cave where one had to climb down totally surrounded by vegetation. It’s was great the view from up there. Although one had to be very careful going down the stairs. They weren’t safe at all
I must say I was a bit upset with the glacier itself. Well, quite upset. The only thing you could see was a dirty ice surface with a wood platform to walk around. I thought it was just a frozen lake but it was the glacier itself, 36 meters deep. It was possible to get over that ice in the central part (that’s what I was told) and I did. The external part was dangerous because you could fall down between the ice and the rock of the cave. There was an illuminated and fenced zone, The Church, with more than 100 stalactites and stalagmites. Also was interesting a fallen tree inside the glacier with its leaves around. It was there for more than 1000 years and was not totally rotted because the temperature inside of the cave was always constant and kept the wood untouched.
A speleologist who was there that day told me all of that. When I came inside the cave I found a young couple who were filming a documentary for the Romanian television to promote the tourism. They asked me for an interview and I accepted delighted indeed. I told them what I think about Romania: it’s a charming country, with an amazing nature and very nice people, and I would come back with no doubts. The interview was before getting upset with the glacier, but that doesn’t change my opinion about Romania
They told me that they would send me the video, but I didn’t receive any email yet. However I was recording with my GoPro in the meanwhile so I share it with you. Instead of looking at a handsome me you’ll have to live with the pretty Romanian reporter
I leave the cave a bit late, around 3pm (I woke up at 6am, but you know, slow roads, hitchhiking and a long walk up the mountain make the day quite long) and I started to hitchhike in the village itself. Almost immediately a small blue van stopped. I thought I was suddenly in a movie. They were a young couple of farmers so typical… So hick… They were very nice, I don’t want to be offensive, but I don’t find other word to define them! So they were there with their small van to sell their fruits and vegetables down to the town, with their typical clothes (although the woman had such high heels you would freak out) and their typical road-music in cassettes. I was delighted observing that scene They dropped me off in Albac and I came to a bar to eat anything. The dish they offered me turned out to be a typical Romanian dish: Mititei, mixed meat rolled up.
From there I took a minivan to Câmpeni where I arrived after 4pm. There were no more buses towards Turda or Cluj because everybody was coming back from the city to home, not the other way, of course. But silly me I thought I could get a lift. I had competence of the locals and none of the cars stopping were going in my direction. I had there my 3 only bad experiences hitchhiking in Romania.
Firstly a guy who was doing hitchhiking there told me he could bring me, that he had the car over there. Yeah, sure, he was doing hitchhiking to get a lift! Not only that. He even wanted me to give him the money in advance, 30 Lei. He insisted several times but obviously I fucked him off as politely as I could. He also tried it with a local woman and then even tried to take a car that stopped for me (although it wasn’t in my direction). What a character.
I was waiting for more than an hour there, but all the cars were in other direction. The intersection was just 1km away, so I decided to walk there in order to only get cars going towards Turda or Cluj. I was waiting for one hour more but no one was going until Turda or Cluj, and was almost night so going to any place in the middle was not an option. Furthermore, it was starting to rain. Great. I still could stay the night in Câmpeni sleeping in any guest house or whatever, but I didn’t want that at all because I had plans in Cluj. Finally a pickup truck took me to Turda. Bufff, lucky for me! Or that’s what I thought… The guy was nice, with just a little English, but he was for sure the worst driver I saw ever there. He didn’t drive so fast for the Romanian standards (well, maybe a bit), but his way of driving was scary. I can remember a van that was overtaking other car. He was less than 20 cm behind it (no exaggeration) at 80km/h at least blowing the horn to the van to move out. But telling him to stop and staying in the middle of nowhere at night was not a good idea either… I realized he calm down when I talk to him, so I tried to speak as much as possible even when he barely understand me. We arrived quite fast to Turda (well, to the outskirts) and he tried to contact other colleagues to take me to Cluj, but not luck. He also gave me back part of the money when I gave him the money of the lift (I still was trying to find out which one was the tariff). I walked to the city for one hour and started to hitchhike in the microbus stop. A car took me to Cluj and also gave me back part of the money when I paid him. Things were changing a bit!
Late, but finally I was in Cluj, and it was Thursday, so Alex and me partied hard that night too. I was totally destroyed
Next day I stayed at home chilling and organizing the following days and the return to Bucharest. I liked so much Cluj and surroundings that I stayed there one night more, but I had to go back. I promised to visit a friend in Skopje, and I was looking forward for that
So that night I took a night bus to the capital instead of hitchhiking as I had planned. Alex dropped me off in a place more or less close to the station. I walked to it and bought a kebap for eating on the way. When I gave the driver my ticket for the bus he started to laugh as hell and telling me something in Romanian. What the fuck is wrong with this guy?, I thought. He gave me back the ticket. I spent a while until I realized I was giving him the kebap ticket
In Bucharest there are at least 3 stops (I didn’t know it before) and then the bus continue to Constanța. I got off in the first one and even took out my backpack from the bus, but then I realized it was the airport stop, that would be quite far away from the city center. I asked the driver and indeed there was other stop in the train station, so I took my things in again and got on the bus. The bus continued ahead and… my handbag, where the fuck is my handbag? Fuck! Again! What a stupid! I looked for it everywhere but it wasn’t there, I left it in the street when I took out the things. There were other bags out of other people and I didn’t see it… Awesome… I recall again what I had in the handbag, but this time I had the DNI in my second wallet with me (nobody could enter in my parent’s home) as well as the credit card. That was something at least…
Daring spirit I got down in the train station, took out my backpack from the bus, wore it on the back and… something dropped. Cannot be! Here it was! Seems like when I put again my backpack in the bus in the airport stop I accidentally grabbed my handbag and put it inside too.
Ok, learned lesson: NO HANDBAGS ANYMORE!! It’s clear that when one backpacks cannot have too many things hanging around, otherwise any of them will get lose at some point. So I took out everything from my handbag and distributed them in my backpack or in my pockets. I wouldn’t be so lucky a third time.
It was 6 in the morning. I wanted to visit the center of Bucharest and then leave the city through the south and hitchhike until the border with Bulgaria in Giurgiu/Ruse.
So there was no time for a quick visit to Miky and Bea, living in the outskirts. But it was still dark so I entered into the station to have a coffee in the coffee shop. The waiter, a man in his late 50ish can speak English quite good since he was working in a hotel and had to learned it by himself to keep the job. We were talking for one hour at least, he recalling other times when life was better (life was always better in the past…). Now he wasn’t earning enough to pay his house so he wanted to move to Norway or similar. His nephew, who was some years in the building sector in Spain, came back to Romania after the beginning of the crisis and he couldn’t find a job. I remembered in that moment the business card of the constructor of Câmpeni. I took a photo of it to store the contact data and write him and gave the card to the waiter.
I don’t know if the nephew of that man finally got the job, I have to ask to the constructor, but in that moment I felt like a different person. Somebody that due to the luck, the destiny or just his way of living is slowly creating a network, putting together people somehow. Receiving in some places and giving in other. I like that idea. Learning somewhere and teaching that somewhere else. As the people in older times used to do when the information didn’t travel by submarine cables or electromagnetic waves. When a traveler was a source of knowledge. And still it’s like that. A traveler is not a specialist with 5 years of experience working in X (write here whatever studies or work). A traveler is a source of that kind of knowledge that cannot be learned in the school, in the university, in a lab or in a big enterprise, but that kind that is learned from parents to children, from grandparents to grandchildren, from generation to generation, in every town, in every village, in every culture. A traveler is a carrier of all that knowledge he/she learns in his/her trips. It’s the knowledge of the world, the people, the life. A traveler not only observes. A traveler connects nations, cultures, people; tears down clichés and prejudices; shows how similar we all are behind our differences and what a nonsense is to fight among us to snatch what we could share.
Bye-bye Romania, I’ll come back without a doubt