In 2016, Calin wanted to take me to Romania to meet his grandma and to spend more time with his dad so we planned to visit Calin’s hometown, Lugoj. From there, his dad and stepmom planned a road-trip that took us across the country to different fortresses, castles, and towns.
The best way to describe Romania is in contrasts where tradition and modernism try to co-exist. We started off in Lugoj, Calin’s hometown, which is a small town close to the city of Timisoara. The most distinguishing feature of this town is a River called Timis that divides the city into two halves, what people call the Romanian Lugoj on the right bank and the German Lugoj on the left bank. The name Lugoj itself comes from the time when the Hungarians had taken over – 1800s, I think – so when I learned this, Calin’s family name (starkly Hungarian) finally made sense.
Anyway, the first stop after leaving Lugoj was Corvin Castle (also known as Hunedoara Castle) which is considered one of the seven wonders of Romania. I read somewhere that the current state of the castle is a result of the imagination of a few architects who took to restoring it after a fire and years of neglect. I still think it’s worth the stop. After that we made a lunch stop in Sibiu. I don’t know much about it but I liked the architecture and it’s probably a city I would go back to explore.
From Sibiu, we made our way to Medias to visit Calin’s father’s side of the family. I am always blown away of how fast your family can grown just by marrying into another 🙂 From there, we headed to Sighisoara which is arguably one of the cutest little cities in Romania. It is also where the family of my best friend lives so it was definitely a must-do for us. Sighisoara was declared as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO. It is also considered historically German town. The most notable monuments is its big clock tower and its statue of Prince Vlad Tepes. In the 15th century the prince fought off the Turkish Ottomans when they tried to invade the area. I learned that later on he got two nicknames: Vlad the Impaler and Dracula (the latter meaning the devil’s son and also a figment of writer Bram Stoker’s imagination). Prince Vlad was real though; and his nickname The Impaler referred to the gruesome way he tortured and killed the Turks. When I learned this, my grandfather’s stories of how Alawis (my ethnic background) used to be impaled by the Turks if they refused to surrender made a lot of sense (the Ottomans learned this method from Vlad the Impaler, I would guess). Dark connections aside, Sighisoara is actually very beautiful with its cobblestone streets lined with traditional pottery, flowers, and colourful buildings.
On our way to Brasov, we stopped at the Rupea Citadel which is like a fortress and one of the oldest archaeological sites in Romania. Back in the day, I’m talking 12-13th century maybe, many small towns in Romania didn’t have the resources big cities had to protect themselves against invaders so the townspeople would build fortresses to protect their churches and use as a place of refuge if their villages/towns came under attack. Many fortresses in Romania are similar in construction to the Rupea Citadel so definitely check a couple out if you’re into that.
When we finally arrived in Brasov, it was a breath of fresh air! Brasov is in the heart of Transylvanian Alps (aka Carpathian Mountains). Did you know that Transylvania means “across the forest”? That’s kind of where Brasov is, in a valley. The old town is very charming and worth checking out; there is a peacefulness about it that I liked and lots of great places to eat. My favourite, though, was Poiana Brasov which is ski resort in the mountains. Since we were there in the summer we just did lots of hiking and sight seeing – I loved my time there. We stayed at the Telefric Grand Hotel which is probably what is swaying my sentiments towards it 😛 A little luxury never hurts, especially in Romania. If you can’t stay in Poiana Brasov though, I highly recommend you drive through it at least. Oh! And you have to eat at the Coliba Haiducilor at night – it’s quite an experience 🙂
On our way out of Brasov, we had to make the stop at Bran Castle as everyone does. So this touristy castle is commonly known as Dracula’s Castle for some reason but it has nothing to do with Vlad the Impaler. That doesn’t stop the ton of vendors there from selling their Dracula memorabilia though. Anyway, it was cool to see a nice example of what a medieval castle looked like – I’d recommend it but beware of an excess of tourists. What I’d recommend more is checking out all the vendors selling handmade wooden souvenirs by the river and the food stalls selling Kurtoskalacs and langos at the foot of the castle. After this we stopped at Peles Castle which I found to be the most impressive and prettiest of all of the castles we visited in Romania. If I remember correctly, this castle was supposed to be King Carol’s (first Romanian King) summer residence.
Our final stop was Bucharest, Romania’s capital, where nearly two million people call it home. The city is vibrant, lively, and its people have very modern attitudes. If you love architecture, you will love this city as it has everything from the romantic French architecture on Victory Avenue to grandiose communist parliament buildings. Bucharest also has an amazing coffee scene that is growing – lots of cafes to check out and enjoy. Also, its nightlife is laid-back and vibrant – it is so cool to be out at 3 am and see the city bustling with people walking around, sitting on patios sipping drinks, dancing or just enjoying the night air. In Bucharest we said goodbye to our travel companions and we set off to Germany.
A few things to remember about Romania:
- It might be considered a cheap travel destination but be careful, some areas in bigger cities like Bucharest are comparable to Western European countries if you fall into the tourist traps. Bigger cities are also generally more expensive. To give you a comparison, in a small city like Lugoj you can enjoy a 3-course meal for four people for about 30 dollars whereas in Bucharest or Brasov that would easily be double if not more.
- Be sensitive to the fact that things might be cheap for you there but the average Romanian earns about $300/month so things are expensive for them.
- At first impressions, people can seem generally more abrasive here than in other countries which I think goes back to the history of the country and the challenges it is facing now; however, like anywhere else if you make the effort to be open minded and make friends, you will find that they have the biggest hearts.
Must-try foods that I liked:
I will preface this by saying, you’ll probably crave broccoli or something green by the end of your trip after eating all this… at least that’s how I felt by the end. You’ll notice that sausage isn’t on my list but that’s because I generally don’t like sausages but if you do, Romania is the place to try them according to Calin 🙂
- Mici/Mititei – meaning “little ones”; they’re little minced/ground meat rolls that are grilled.
- Sarmale – cabbage rolls; I am not a huge fan of cabbage rolls in general but these were good.
- Zakusca – a roasted eggplant and roasted pepper dip. Amazing if done right (and even better with homemade bread).
- Papanasi – doughnut-like pastry filled with cheese and topped with jam and cherries/berries.
- Langos – deep fried dough (think Canadian beavertails) traditionally topped with grated cheese, parsley, and garlic but you can get it with almost anything (there are sweet versions of it it too).
My impression: I have a lot of Romanian friends who generally don’t talk about Romania in the most endearing terms so maybe going in my expectations were low but honestly, I loved it! I think people who dismiss this place are missing out. Romania has a really interesting history, impressive castles, beautiful nature, good food, and great people. I would definitely go back one day 🙂
Here is a little slideshow I put together of our time there.