I have wanted to visit Transylvania since I was very young. Like many others, I read Bram Stoker’s Dracula and I became fascinated with the mystical lands bound by the Carpathian mountain range and fantastical creatures. In reality, the famous author actually never set foot in the Romanian region. When Angelo and I decided to visit Romania after Turkey, I began my research to figure out our itinerary and route through the country.
From Istanbul we caught a quick 1 hour flight to Bucharest, the capital city. We stayed there a week, we don’t have much pictures as we were using the week to catch up on work on the blog and chores. Anyhow, I also found a very nice ballet studio in the city called Spirit of Art Studio. The teacher there, Carmen, is a great ballet instructor and the students are of all ages and levels. They also invited me to teach there, which was a blast. Bucharest is mostly an industrial city, and although it has an old quarter, it is very small. Unless you have work in the city I would suggest to just head over to the smaller towns and countryside.
Transylvania is like a county or province and inside it contains many small towns. Our first town that we stayed in is called Sibiu, an old Transylvanian Saxon city. When we arrived at the bus terminal at dusk, we carried or shall I say, rolled our luggage up an never ending hill of cobblestones streets. The architecture looks medieval with its gothic corridors and narrow hallways. It is quite a beautiful city, and because of its attractiveness there are always concerts and exhibitions going on in Sibiu. We accidentally passed by a beautiful church called Holy Trinity Cathedral on our walk into town. The interior is so ornamented with gold and color that you feel like your walking on precious stones. We also visited just outside the city parameters a fantastic and otherworldly place called Astra Folk Museum. It is just over .90 kilometers and is one of the biggest outdoor museums in Europe. The museum consists of old houses, churches, windmills, schools, workshops that have been saved from the Romanian countryside. So you can see how people worked, lived and worshipped before the 1900’s. Many of the exhibitions you can walk through and it is furnished as how it would’ve been during that time period. Because the museum is outdoors right at the base of the forest, many people come to picnic – the scenery is beautiful. When we visited in September, the leaves were already changing from green to rust and the air was no longer hot, but cool.
Now if you decide to go to Sibiu then you must visit Sighisoara. It is only a hour and a half mini bus ride from the bigger city, which makes it perfect for a day trip. Sighisoara is the birthplace of Vlad Tepes or Vlad the Impaler – the Romanian hero who chased off the Ottomans back in 1462. But he did so in a very gruesome manner, one of the ways was by impaling the enemy. You can enter the room where Vlad was born, it is a bit cheesy the way it is decorated, but definitely fun to say that you went there. Sighisoara is more than a Dracula tourism site, it is a well preserved medieval city – a UNESCO world heritage site. We visited many historic buildings within the city walls – the Monastery Church, the Clock Tower, the Bootmakers Tower, the Covered Staircase (173 steps), the Cemetery on the hill, and the Old Square. My favorite site was the Church on the hill (Biserica din Deal), built in gothic style in the 13th century. The church has ongoing performances though the year, and while we were there an organist was playing. The acoustics are great so I am guessing a concert would be as equally pleasant.
After spending a couple of days in Sibiu, we headed off to Brasov. Brasov is relatively bigger than Sibiu, known for it’s lively town square, shopping, old Transylvanian buildings, The Black Church (gothic) and wonderful winter sports like skiing. The taxis are fairly cheap as long as you get one that is charging the standard rate per kilometer. Brasov also has a gaudy city sign up in the hills, just like Hollywood, that lets all the city inhabitants know what town they are in – just in case they forgot. Supposedly Romania has great pizza, but we tried a few places and were a bit disappointed. What Romania does have is very good bread and pastries. Near Brasov, just a quick half hour bus ride away, is the famous Bran Castle. This Transylvanian fortress is oftentimes regarded as the Dracula Castle, but this is far from the truth. Although many tourists continue to visit the estate lured in by the vampire myth, the truth is that Bram Stoker imagined another location for his blood sucking desperado. There is a small room dedicated to the Dracula story, the author and how the castle became related to the vampire tale. What we enjoyed (more than the sparsely decorated interior), was the views of the countryside from the castle. Oh, by the way, there are lots of cute large fluffy sweet mountain dogs near the castle, they do not bite – so feel free to pet!
We also used Brasov as a jumping point to see Peles Castle in neighboring Sinaia. We took a hour train ride thru a snow topped covered mountain range. The entire train ride people were taking in the breathtaking scenery from our locomotive cabins. When we arrived, we were greeted by very chilly temperatures and an old train station caught in the year 1940. After passing the overpriced and pushy taxi drivers in front of the station, we climbed a short stair path leading to the center of the town. From there we caught a taxi and drove up winding roads and were dropped off in front of the castle entrance. Well, I’m going to make this long story a bit shorter, the castle was closed. It had just switched to winter hours. I was really bummed, as we could not go back as we were flying out of the country the next day. But we did visit the Sinaia Monastery, which is gorgeous, but to be reeaaally honest – we are pretty tired of looking at churches, temples, mosques and cathedrals.
So that’s it for Transylvania!! I LOVE IT ! One of my favorite places we have been to yet! If you ever visit, you probably would need 10 days to really explore the countryside, there were many other towns that we did not visit on this trip. Such a beautiful country with lots of history and not expensive. I’d say we have a winner!!