Romancing Romania

Posted by on Sep 12, 2013 in Featured, Romania | 2 comments

If you would have told me years ago that I would be celebrating my 30th birthday in Romania, I would have never believed it. A pre-booked flight from Bucharest to Milan (we needed to be in Portofino for our friends’ wedding) led us into Romania after our time in Ukraine. After getting delayed by a day or two crossing the border, we were only left with four days so our time in the country was limited. We ultimately chose to spend our time in Brasov to get the most out of a speedy Romanian experience. The old medieval city made for a great place to get a taste of Romanian culture and an unforgettable 30th.  

Getting to Romania wasn’t simple (multiple buses and a long border crossing), but as soon as we were there, life became easier. We went from an unrecognizable Ukrainian language to a beautiful and comforting Romance language. With little communication in Ukraine, it was as if we had entered another world. My mix of proficient Spanish and basic Italian vocab (we aptly dubbed this new language “Spatalian”), made us feel right back at home. We could get around with words and phrases, instead of relying on hand signals or gestures. This alone put us at ease and gave us a great first impression of Romania. 

Piata Sfatului

Piata Sfatului

Brasov is located in Transvylania at the southern end of the Carpathian Mountains. It felt rich in medieval history and full of real, modern Romanian culture. We rented a great apartment just around the corner from the main square, Piata Sfatului, so we were steps away from the heart of the action. Tons of outdoor restaurants and cafes line the perimeter of the square and surrounding streets. A festival was taking place in the square over the weekend, complete with stands selling traditional food and Romanian wares, music, and old medieval activities. The festival added an ideal ambience to our first day in Romania.

In addition to enjoying the main square, we found the rest of the city to be perfect for getting lost in a maze of winding roads and alleys to discover an old pub or trendy restaurant. Kat and I also loved that hiking and outdoor activities are accessible right in the city. Towering behind old buildings of the city center is Tampa Mountain, proudly displaying a Hollywood-esque “Brasov” sign (apparently this is a thing in Romania as we would see similar signs in neighboring towns). We spent one day hiking to the top for incredible views of downtown and the surrounding area, accentuated by the high-rolling green Carpathians. Tampa Mountain provides many paths on all sides for locals and visitors to enjoy – a great city activity other than the typical running or biking path.

Top of Tampa Mountain

Top of Tampa Mountain

Brasov also proved to be a great place to usher in my fourth decade. We indulged in local beers and sausages while listening to two great music performances on the square (a traditional Romanian folk band and another modern rock/cover band). Sandwiched around the bands were fireworks and a fire throwing act that added to what seemed like a planned celebration (nice job Kat!). And we topped the evening off with a mini bar crawl to sample some of the city’s many characteristic bars and pubs.

Traditional Romanian band

Traditional Romanian band

30th birthday Sausage & beers

30th birthday sausage & beers

And, while I have almost all positive things to say about Brasov, I also feel the need to speak to one disappointing experience.  A highlight to many visitors of the Transylvania region is the castles that dot some of the surrounding countryside. Having enjoyed the laid-back vibe of Brasov and our mantra of staying away from tourist traps on this trip, we debated if we should spend our last day at one of these castles. After much tripadvisor-ing, we made an uneasy decision to go to Bran Castle. . . and we couldn’t have regretted it more. This castle is believed to be the home of Dracula in Bram Stoker’s classic novel so it draws hordes of typical tourists for reasons I still can’t understand. From those who know me personally or others who may have gathered from my writing, I’m very optimistic and can find the positive in everything. I struggled to find anything good about this experience. The castle is not that impressive and there are way too many people cramped into tight spaces to even attempt to enjoy its many rooms and history. The best sight of the day was the rat tail on a guy in front of us while we waited in the ticket line for 30 minutes. Sorry Bran, but unfortunately you’ll be remembered as the biggest letdown of the year.

Rat tail man at Bran Castle

Rat tail man at Bran Castle

If (and when) we return to Eastern Europe, other parts of Romania will be high on our list. The culture and experience of Brasov exceeded expectations. The vibe is part medieval, part Western Europe – an interesting combination I’ve yet to experience elsewhere. And the language is comforting and exotically beautiful at the same time. As soon as we entered Romania we immediately wanted to spend more than our allotted four days. That feeling never wavered (even in the wake of Bran) and we’ll hopefully find time to explore more someday.

2 Comments

  1. Not too bad Mikey….fireworks to help celebrate your 30th!!!

  2. No love for the castle Mikey!!!

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