Sighisoara

The Biggest Surprise About Romania

“Why?” was the one and only response from people when I told them I was going to Romania. And to be honest, I didn’t really know why. My mum wanted to go after seeing a show on TV, and so it was. We were to spend a week driving around the region of Transylvania (yep, it’s a real place). And all I knew was the roads were going to be rough, and to watch out for wild dogs. Apart from the Vampire references and the name Ceausescu (which I’d heard on Seinfeld and up until now had no idea how to spell), I had little knowledge of the country I was about to visit.

Opera House in Cluj NapocaBut when we got there it was almost poetic really. We’d spent hours driving in the rain from Budapest, across the boarder intro Transylvania. Even the boarder patrol guy asked us “what are you doing here?” His face completely puzzled while eyeing up our Australian passports.

And as I’d read, some of the roads were bumpy, and yes we sadly saw many stray dogs, but once we reached the town of Cluj Napoca, the sun came out to reveal blue sky, colourful buildings and laneways lined with amazing restaurants and shops.

Street on Sighasoara

The restaurants in particular were a highlight. And busy! We found a buzzing French Bistro for dinner on a Tuesday night but we couldn’t even get a table. And such trendy places were a running theme throughout our trip.

My favourite part and the biggest surprise about Romania were the contrasts.

Between towns we’d find charming tiny villages where transport was in the form of horse and cart, the population seemed to be predominantly old nonnas wearing babushkas, and chickens roamed free. Once we reached the cities though (we visited Cluj Napoca, Brasov, Timisoara), we found historic castles and palaces accompanied by modern cafes and restaurants.

Horse and cart in TransylvaniaInside Bujole in Cluj Napoca

Romania is not yet on the Euro yet (that will happen in 2017), and so the exchange rate is incredible. Sumptuous meals served in cosy, comfortable and colourful restaurants cost more than half the price of what you’d experience in London. Of all the incredible places we ate at, my favourite find was Bujole in Cluj Napoca (pictured above and below). The food and cocktails were so freakin good (and cheap!), the decor was of my dreams and the staff were so friendly and cute that we embarrassingly ate there three times.

And shock horror the other surprise; the Dracula references were slim.

In fact, the legend of Dracula doesn’t really come from Transylvania. It was created by the Irish fiction writer Bram Stoker, who just happened to see a picture of Bran Castle in Brasov, which merely played as inspiration for the character of Dracula. IRL though Bran Castle in Brasov is actually cosy, warm and beautiful. I could have happily have lived there, back in the year 1212 (yep, that long ago), or even now. Just hook it up with some Wi-Fi and I’m good to go. And that shouldn’t be hard either because did you know Romania has some of the fastest internet in the world? So many great surprises!

Bran Castle, Brasov

Yes, Transylvania was full of surprises.

I’ll admit I was ignorantly nervous to visit. As an anxious introvert, my irrational fears spanned from eating only cabbage for a week (although this wasn’t completely misleading, people in Romania buy cabbage by the giant bag full. I witnessed an old nonna grinning from ear to ear after scoring a bag of red cabbages. They love that shit!) to being kidnapped and sold into the eastern European sex trade (didn’t happen, slightly offended).

Cafe in SighasoaraTimisoara

Instead, Romania was wonderfully historic and vibrant.

And it felt like a true adventure. Weaving through laneways and stumbling upon trendy cafes, bars and hat boutiques (they love a hat in Romania), exploring spooky old graveyards and stopping in towns that looked straight out of Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, sans Child Catcher. To add to the ease of our trip, almost all of the locals spoke English incredibly well and were nothing but welcoming and proud to showcase their country. And now I can see why.

It’s wonderful when a place surprises you. New Delhi is another place that did just that.

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