Welcome to Romania!
The city which is not actually a city. With roughly 1600 inhabitants and one single road (barely enough for it to be considered anything other than a small-ish village in many other nations), I wonder if Romania has a special affection for Băile Tușnad, as to consider it the smallest city in the whole country! Despite its size, Băile comes with a few surprises:
- The town is almost engulfed by nature! Located in a valley, everywhere you look there are endless hills covered in thick forest, giving you the purest and freshest air you can breathe;
- Its mineral waters are also proven to have healing properties, especially for those with heart diseases… Whether you seek treatment or not, make sure to spend at least an afternoon in the thermal spa!
- Bears! Yes, you read it right – BEARS! Being a natural sanctuary, don’t be surprised if you come across bears roaming around the town, especially late in the evening, looking for food in the trash cans… Estimates says that there are over 6000 bears wandering in Romanian forests. If you are really eager to go on a late hiking, don’t. Better safe than sorry.
- Every street sign is written in both Romanian and Hungarian… Reasons: only in 1947 this area became, once and for all, part of Romania. Before it was most of the time in the hands of (you guessed it!) Hungary! Nowadays around 90% of Tușnad’s population is Hungarian.
After an horrific train ride from Bucharest, without an assigned seat, hence having me travelling for over 4 hours standing up with other fellow passengers, I arrived pretty strained to the town that would have me for the upcoming week.
Things did get better though.
The cute and charming historical centre is enough to leave you hooked! Look for its heart, Piaţa Sfatului, bustling with locals and tourists alike. Unlike Băile Tușnad, this is an actual city in all its essence, where you can find beautiful medieval buildings alongside an Hollywoodesque sign atop the hill, to remind you that you are indeed in Brașov.
Besides wandering around the city, I also took an afternoon to go to Bran, a small town not far away, which is well-known for one single monument: Dracula’s Castle. Full disclosure: huge disappointment. Too many visitors for such tight quarters, as we basically queuing all the way through various rooms, corridors, stairs and balconies, hoping to feel the presence of Dracula along the way.
Dracula’s father, the Irish writer Bram Stoker (who never actually visited Romania), depicted the character’s castle as “… on the very edge of a terrific precipice… with occasionally a deep rift where there is a chasm [with] silver threads where the rivers wind in deep gorges through the forests.”. In all of Transylvania it is surprisingly the only castle that actually fits his description. A dubious story that ultimately created a perfect tourist trap.
Money was tight and I still had a few more days of adventure, so I decided to resort to hitchhiking as my main way of transportation.
I had read that Romania was a hitchhiker’s paradise. Friendly and curious people willing to give rides without much thinking, meaning less time thumbing up. And not many highways, so cars have to travel through the national roads, making it easier to catch a lift.
With all these things in mind, my hopes were high up there… But things usually never go as you want, right?
I placed myself on the main road heading out of the city, with plenty of space for cars to stop. A sign in one hand and my finger up in the other. Expected it to last a few minutes, half an hour in the worst-case scenario.
I ended up stranded for more than an hour, seemingly invisible to the drivers passing by.
Eventually it paid off. A middle aged university professor on its way home was kind enough to stop for me. We got along easily and conversation happened naturally: politics, economics, psychology… we had enough time to cover it all.
Once I nurtured myself with a bowl of soup at a roadside restaurant, I walked to the intersection with the road heading towards the mountains. Soon I was being driven up the mountains by a couple
Journey distance: 134 km
One of the world’s most famous roads has one of the strangest spellings. Built upon a dream of an egomaniac man, Ceaușescu, construction only lasted fours years (1970-1974), which is quite impressive given the region’s orography.
What as meant to be a fast and reliable way for the military to cross the Carpathian Mountains during the Communist time, ended up becoming an exciting destination on its own. Petrolheads probably have heard about Transfăgărășan from Jeremy Clarkson himself (former host of the British TV series Top Gear), who proclaimed it “the best road in the world”.
I had planned on wild camping at the top of Transfăgărășan, by one of its lakes, but the weather was freezing cold. As I didn’t pack that many warm clothes I thought it would be wiser to go back down and find lodging somewhere. Decided to go to Sibiu. Wrote it on a piece of cardboard and put my thumb up.
Going uphill there was a lot of traffic and people driving by were overly curious and
Journey distance: 154 km
Easily done. I hopped in after making sure that I wouldn’t have to shell out money for it. Three people already in the car,
Took me 5 minutes for a car to stop.
Journey distance: 98 km
At last, I made it to the Romanian capital after taking a short flight from Cluj, which saved me from taking an excruciating train journey.
I was feeling somewhat edgy and decided to document all the things I see with the HUJI camera app. In my humble opinion the photos below perfectly embed the city’s atmosphere. Crazy, hectic, grandiose and
Make sure to visit the Palace of the Parliament.
*no, it’s not a typo on how to spell my name.
In Romanian Viitor means: future, subsequent, time to come, etc.
Source | bab.la