Three more Romanian cities

After visiting Sibiu we were well and truly on our way back and out of Romania and a sad feeling of going home and our holiday ending overcame us. Nonetheless we still had a few days left to stop and see places. Our first side trip was to the town of Alba Iulia. The main attraction there was the huge fortress protecting the town and its surroundings. It took us one and a half hours longer than planned due to a massive traffic jam all the way from the motorway. Once there we made our way up the ramparts and through the southern gate. Some fellow campers had recommended to be outside the palace by noon to watch the changing of the guards. Thanks to the traffic we didn’t make it and even if we had been there on time we might have missed it. The palace is just not outstanding enough to easily identify it and when we walked past there were no guards to be seen. The buildings inside the fortifications were all restored and pretty looking but there was a very distinct lack of information. The boards told us of Roman ruins but hardly anything about the buildings we were looking at. We went into two churches and were lucky to get into the hall of unification with the adjacent museum for free (saving 35 RON each). Overall we were slightly disappointed by our experience. We felt that there was no life in the fortress unlike Sibiu with its café culture and shops. It turned out that the guards we were supposed to watch were merely volunteers in historic uniforms and there’s nothing to guard.

The draw bridge into the fortress

Well reconstructed walkway

The beautiful orthodox church and monastery

Our second stop of the day was the small village of Geoagiu-Bâi. It has a strong history of thermal baths. Even the Romans had a big bathing complex here. The ruins looked a lot more impressive on photos during our trip planning and and was not worth driving there to see it especially the only other attraction was a big and crowded swimming pool.

The roman ruins of Geoagiu baths

After these rather disappointing experiences we moved on to Hunedoara. This town is home to Corvin’s castle and the remains of a huge iron and steel works. We spent the night in a lay-by of a small road along lake Ciniş 10km south of the town that came with great views both for dinner and breakfast.

View from our camp for the night

In the morning we went to the castle and were impressed by it the second we saw it. The castle sits high on top of a big rock surrounded by a river on two sides. Entrance is 30 RON for an adult plus 5Ron for photos/videos and 8Ron for the audio guide. Built up and almost constantly expanded over the centuries, it had a lot of stories of which we heard quite a few. These made the whole visit a lot more worth it and gave us more info than the multi-lingual boards. Parts of the castles are still being used for art exhibitions or theater plays.

Ted excited to visit Corvin castle

The courtyard of corvin castle

After the castle adventure we drove west again to Timişoara. We read enough nice things about it to put it on the list as a short stop. Sadly the campsite there was overpriced and under maintained so we abandoned that idea. Parking Trevor was an unexpected challenge and was hard on our nerves. The whole city runs on a pay by sms scheme which is strangely priced in euros. The real problem was that we were unable to pay as our UK SIM cards could not message a Romanian text only number. For the first time we had to park somewhat illegally and there was nothing we could do about it which worried us a little.

Timişoara basillica

Right next to where we parked was a big orthodox church which was very beautifully decorated inside. The sun was fiercely burning down and it was very humid so we went into the first nice café and ice cream place we found in the pedestrian zone to cool down after the parking stress. Afterwards we wandered around the pedestrian zone and some adjacent streets which turned out to be much smaller than expected. After less than an hour of walking we went back to the van to head towards the border.

After stocking up on food and spending all our remaining Lei we drove around some small country roads to find a place to spend our last night in the country. As we entered to fourth or fifth village we found an entire field and 200m of roadside full of cars and were very surprised to find a small thermal bath. Unfortunately they didn’t take cards and without cash we couldn’t go. We had gathered that we had half an hour before last entry (even though they didn’t close until 1am) so the race was on. By chance Zoë spotted a cash machine not marked on our map only three villages away. Matthias put in his best romanian-style driving and so we made it just before 7pm only to find out that the last entry time didn’t apply that day. Even at 25-28 degrees to colder of the two pools was lovely and wonderfully refreshing. The water was dark brown with a strong earthy smell to it but we still loved it. After a quiet night in the car park field we were more than happy and ready to drive to the border and wave Romania goodbye.

We had an awesome time in this friendly and still underrated country and we will definitely go back there.

Sibiu and it’s historic museum

Sad to leave our bear friends behind but still with Ted as a guide we left the mountains to resume our travels through Transylvania. Now we journeyed west towards Sibiu. After a bit of research we opted to visit the ethnographic of ASTRA just south of the city. We arrived into Sibiu on a Sunday and unfortunately the museum exhibits are closed on both Monday and Tuesday. ASTRA has a huge collection of buildings from all over Romania arranged by trade. These include pastoral, fishing, mills, textiles, coopers, hunting and a pub to name a few. Entrance is just 17 Ron, and for an extra 3 Ron you can also visit the zoo. We paid our entrance fees and were given a bonus 300 page book about the museum in German. After Skanzen in Hungary we were expecting a lot of houses that looked similar but ASTRA was so much more impressive. Although they had about 20 mills and even more presses all the buildings were furnished to suit the profession of the occupants. There was also a market of traditional food and crafts. The museum is huge and centred around a large lake complete with a small theatre. We really enjoyed our day out at the museum and it gave us a great insight into traditional and historic Romania. ASTRA is well worth a visit. After walking up an appetite we found a busy restaurant and had a lovely meal including the highlight, papanasi. Papanasi are doughnuts made with cheese and served with sour cream and jam or chocolate. Despite the slow service, we enjoyed the food and avoided the huge downpour that took place. We even managed to camp for free in the car park before going to see Sibiu the next day.

A collection of houses at ASTRA

A floating water mill

Ted checking out an oil press

A windmill with sails

Sibiu is a beautiful Romanian town even with the knowledge that most of it has been restored. We parked up outside the remainder of the city walls and walked through them to the pedestrian zone. Sibiu has a lovely relaxed atmosphere with pretty buildings and a strong café culture. One thing we did notice quickly was a number of Roma dressed traditionally and just generally loitering about. Romania has a fairly large Roma population and they are very different to the people we know as travellers in the UK. As described on one of our campsites ‘they are colourful people who make three to five times the salary of a hardworking Romanian just by begging and don’t pay taxes’. It seems they aren’t entirely different but we haven’t seen any convoys of caravans as here. They seem to be settled in villages or towns. We have no doubt that rightly or wrongly there is a stigma against the Roma but they seem to be tolerated. We saw one lady donate a huge bag of children’s clothing to a Roma family who were just wandering the street. The children were thrilled and immediately tried on their new outfits. The exchange definitely made for some interesting people watching while we had a coffee to wash down our Gogosi (fried dough filled with cheese/jam etc) breakfast.

Pretty Sibiu

Inside the huge church

Wandering the streets of Sibiu is a nice way to pass an hour or so. We also visited the bridge of lies and the church. The bridge of lies is wrapped in 3 different legends, the most believable of which is one about merchants being taken to the bridge and thrown off if they lied. There are a couple of museums to visit but nothing really grabbed our attention. Instead we opted to do some shopping at the local market where we bought lots of local produce for next to nothing. Food is still really cheap in Romania and lots of small producers bring their handfuls of onions, soft fruit and herbs to sell at the market. One thing we really enjoyed in Sibiu was the Gelato we found, so yummy.

The bridge of lies complete with bride and groom

Oops we did it again…

Upon leaving Libearty, we noticed a rather squidgy rear tyre so we decided to head back to a petrol station in Raşnov for some help. Luckily there was enough free space to park and replacing the punctured tyre with the spare wheel. A helpful attendent sent us down the road to a tyre repair place which turned out to be less then 500m away. Even though the machanic didn’t really speak English, he was super friendly and helpful. Within maybe 20 minutes he had not only repaired the tyre but also swapped the wheels again and mounted the spare tyre back in its place under Trevor. All for 35 RON!

With everything back in working condition we drove to Zarneşti once again but this time to stay. The woman in the tourist office was super helpful and gave us not only advice on where to camp and the area, but also a free high quality hiking map (which normally costs 20 Lei as we discovered the next day).

The rock face leading to the ridge

Piatra Crailui is a 25km long limestone ridge with countless outcrops, side peaks and rockfaces. Its bottom half is covered in forest while the upperhalf consists mainly of rock, scree and some grass. All of it ranges from pretty to very steep and is described as ‘every Romanian mountain hikers dream’. It is home to a lot of birds and even has two endemic plant species.

Piatra carnations

After lunch in a nice café next door and some shopping we drove on into a valley around the northern and western side of the national park as there was meant to be some camping.

The owner of the pensiune the woman in the info office had recommended didn’t speak any English and despite the camping sign on the drive way it seemed that we could not camp there. Our last hope in this valley was the cabana Plaiul Foii at the very end with a camping field but no facilities. The field was fine and once the day and dinner guests left also quiet. While we were cooking dinner thr police arrived and spoke to the Romanian campers who had made a small fire in an existing fire pit. After lots of arguing the policemen left and the campers started packing up. This was the first and only time we saw national psrk rules to be policed and enforced.

The best thing about our camping spot was its location right at the beginning of a hike we had contemplated of doing.

Our neighbours

Since the hike was roughly 18km long, we left just after 7 the next morning to beat the expected sun and heat. The first kilometer and a half were nice and easy along the bottom of a valley. There were even some farmers out milking cows in a field by hand. After that the gradient increased and we walked along a rocky river into the forest. Some of the ramps were fairly steep and we got hot despite the shady and chilly forest. After one and a half hours we reached a refuge shelter which marked the half way point of our way up the mountain. 15 minutes later we reached our first scree of the day and the fun began.

The chamois were also wondering what on earth we were doing clambering up rock faces

Our path from there was called ‘La Lanturi’ which means ‘The chain’ and it certainly derserves that name. After conquering the steep scree we faced almost vertical rockfaces with only a steel cable or chain to hold on (sometimes not even that). Our bouldeting experience from Glasgow certainly paid off over the next hour as we went from ‘Wow’ to ‘oh sh**’ within seconds (mostly after sticking out head over the end of a big rock. Finding our way was nonetheless easy due to the high number of painted way markers. We saw a few picturesque rock formations where the tooth of time has carved holes and caves into the mountainside. Luckily for us it was kind of worth it due to awesome views (as long as you didn’t look straight down). Photos can’t do this path any justice; it has to be experienced. For a better impression please google it or watch a Youtube video here: Zoës vertigo was streched to its limits and even Matthias (who isn’t normally scared of heights) was afraid. We made it almost to the top before the clouds caught up with us. Thankfully the mountains remained dry. Otherwise the whole rock climbing affair would have been almost suicidal in places.

Spot the footpath

After an hour of slow yet steady scrambling we reached the top ridge. From there it was only a short walk over to the summit where we met some other hikers. From them we learned that ‘La Lanturi’ is regarded as the most difficult path in Rumania. Had we known about it or seen any photos of it; we would not have attempted it. Sitting in the sun on the summit we felt happy again and a great sense of relief and achievement but also weariness about what was yet to come.

Happily at the summit (post chocolate)

Ted at the summit in his carriage

Freshly watered and fed (even had some Gipfelschokolade) we marched on. After all we had only done one third of our distance and it was already noon. Our hope of making up time walking along the ridge soon disappeared. The creators of this path could not have made it go more along the ridge if they tried. Again scrambled over rocks more than we expected to. At least this time round it was up and down rather than just up. In the end the march along the top took us 3.5 hours for 6 kilometers. After about half the distance we could not wait to get off the ridge and back into the valley.

Lovely path over peaks on the ridge

It was roughly half 3 when we started our final descent and left the ridge. The first section lead us through bushes and gave us a strong deja-vu from our descent from Omul less than a week ago. Shortly after this we had a choice of two paths (left or right around some rocky peaks). One of the guys we met earlier had recommended the right one and it had been our preference too so we attempted this side. Very soon the path became very steep with loose gravel. To make things worse the mountain side was very steep and appeared like a sheer drop. Scared of sliding off a mountain we decided to follow the left path and turned around.

The view along the ridge once we got below the clouds

The best part of our path

Our decision turned out to be the right one. Even though the second path was difficult and even scary in a few places there was much less of a risk sliding of the mountain. The trail led us across and down a few very unpredictable scree slopes of varying consistency but thankfully there were enough stable rocks to hold on to. Strangely there was only one bit secured by a steel rope when we had to climb up one side of a big rock and back down the other side. Going around it would have been the safer option…  

Yay trees!

We were both very happy when we reached the first big trees and with them the end of scree and rocks. Despite the path still not being easy, it was now a lot safer and easier to walk and for the first time in hours we felt our adrenalin level go back towards normal. It felt great and refreshing walking amongst greenery again and we felt revigorated so it was not long until we reached refuge Diana. Considering the time (5pm) and the state of our stomachs and legs we opted for the short and direct way back to the capana and Trevor. The path through the bear valley (its actual name!) took us another hour and a half. Our newly found energy helped us chatting and talking rather loudly on our final descent both to keep our spirits up and the bears away. Finally and after 12 hours on our feet we arrived at our campsite hungry, tired and worn out. From the map there we worked out that we chose the only two paths marked as difficult in the entire range and combined them with a ‘challenging’ descent. We also should have learned from our last walk in terms of length of our hike. It was a good thing that there hadn’t been much sun so a bucket shower was sufficient before we headed to the restaurant and treated ourselves to a delicious two course meal.

Rain was forcasted for the next day and so (and to give our legs a chance to recover) we drove to the other side of Piatra to visit the gorge. It is not only one straight gorge but has a few branches on either side and is at least two kilometers long. After this the path leads through forest and pastures to a cabana and then either up the ridge or back down. We would have done this walk had we not ended up at the far end of the valley on the other side. The walls range from steep forest slopes to imposing vertical rock faces with lots of climbing routes of all difficulties. Our legs really enjoyed the rather flat walking. We hoped to see some interesting birds which the gorge is renowned for but all we saw were a couple of wagtails. All the way from Zarneşti to the end of the gorge there were unmistakable signs of recent flooding including the road having to be repaved and cleared. After this stroll we decided we had seen enough of Piatra Crailui for the time being and to drive on to see other places.

Zarnesti gorge

We’re going on a bear hunt 

One of our must sees of Eastern Europe was bears. There was no way we were driving all the way to Romania and not seeing any of the 6000 European Brown Bears that live here. Unfortunately they aren’t the easiest of creatures to find, but there are a couple of options. The least likely of success would be driving around at night and hoping to see a bear crossing the road or even sitting near one of the bins in the valley near Buşteni. Aside from these there’s the option of going with a tour company or giving up and visiting a zoo. On recommendation from the tour guide we met in Viseu de Sus we got in touch with Simona from Absolute Carpathian who told us about the bear watching opportunites near Brasov. The company offer bear tracking trips in the mountains starting from 3 days in length or bear watching from a hide. We opted for the latter partly due to cost and time constraints. With our bear watching booked for that evening, we had a whole day to contain our excitement.

Raşnov castle from the main gate

Upon waking up in the middle of a thunderstorm on our campsite we got up slowly and made the most of the internet. We found out that Maia who we met in Morocco was also in Brasov and arranged a catch up at Rasnov castle. En route, we went for a little drive along the Raşnov gorge where we watched some rock climbers battling the elements.

Raşnov castle looks very impressive from the town below even with it’s corny hollywood style sign. Entrance fees are 12 Ron and give you full access to the semi reconstructed castle complete with tourist shops inside. The views from the highest point are fantastic especially once the rain stoped and we got the chance to admire Mount Omul from a distance. It wasn’t the most impressive castle but it was a good meeting point to catch up with a friend before going back into Braşov.

Pizza in a cone

After an afternoon of eating and drinking in cafes we were ready to see some bears. We met Dragos, our guide at a petrol station in Braşov and drove to a top secret location just 5km from the city. Here we switched into a rangers car and drove through the forest to a layby. We got out and waited until the ranger came back. Then we quitely walked up to the bear watching hide as a group. The group was quite large, 17 tourists and 2 guides but luckily we got front row seats. The hide was very similar to a bird watching hide except there was a large clearing in front of it and heaps of vegetables and scattered corn biscuits and peanuts. We settled down to wait for the bears to arrive.

Ted was exhpcited to see his first wild cousin

We didn’t have to wait very long before the first glimpse of movement in the trees was spotted about 8m in front of the hide. A young male bear calmly ambled out of the forest and started munching on the biscuits. He seemed totally unphased by the rustling, whispering and clicking shutter noises coming from the hide (maybethe windows were good enough so he didn’t hear anything) and stayed to polish off a big pile of food. It was fantastic to see a wild bear, even in controlled conditions. The bears are fed daily at the hides (there’s 5) but the food offered only makes up a small amount of their diet. 

A yummy peanut snack

After around 30 minutes of munching, the bears demeanour changed and he became very alert of his surroundings. Within minutes he had left the clearing to the left and we guessed he had smelt or heard some company.

And now for a massage

Within 15 minutes Zoë spotted Ted’s next relative, and even larger male bear, probably around 8-10 years old. Unlike the first bear he seemed wary and on edge, really sniffing the place out to see if it was safe. He slowly relaxed but kept to the edges of the forest quite a bit. Suddenly he sprinted back into the forest and we wondered what to expect. But to our surprise he walked back and we spotted a wild boar at the top of the clearing. He didn’t stay much longer after this fright and when he did disappear abruptly into the trees it was almost time for us to leave. We were sad to leave the hide but thrilled that we had seen two beautiful brown bears.

A bear foot print on the way out

Since two bears wasn’t nearly enough and just in case we didn’t see any bears from the hide, we had plans to visit a bear sanctuary the next day. Libearty bear sanctuary near Zarnesti is the only sanctuary in Romania for bears who have been abused and kept as pets or performing animals. They currently have 90 brown bears in large wooded enclosures and a few other animals. It was set up as recently as 2002 and does a lot of campaigning for laws against keeping or shooting bears. Most of the inhabitants have extremely sad stories or torture, abuse and neglect but now have as much freedom as can be provided. 

The home of a bear for 12 years

We were impressed by the quality enclosures but worried that the sanctuary is already at capacity. It definitely begs the question of what to do next, if these bears can’t be released, what will happen long term. 

Mother bear and one of her cubs

Sadly the Romanian government doesn’t value it’s bears as much as we would, but we hope that there are enough people that appreciate Romania’s wildlife to preserve it for future generations. We would love it if other people could feel the same thrill we felt at seeing bears in the wild. 


After a good night sleep and less than an hours drive we arrived in Braşov. It is the first big city north of Bucharest and the hub of a large area. Tourists come to see the citadel and historic center but mainly use it as a base camp for activities in the surrounding mountain ranges.

Braşov from castle hill

The black church of Braşov

We arrived on a Sunday which meant free parking for Trevor next to the central park where he could watch old men playing chess while we explored the rest of the city. The historic center has got two large streets, (one of them pedestrianised) running from either end of the already mentioned park with lots of smaller streets connecting them (all pedestrian zone). At the far end is the main square, with the black church at one corner. As we reached the square we found we had just made it to the last day of a folklore and culture festival. On this day the main attraction was a traditional dancing competition which groups from different countries and regions showcasing their local dances. Their costumes and dresses were beautiful and colourful and some dances very fast and difficult. We were truely impressed with the coordination and precision of some of the groups despite the fact some dancers were children of about 8 years old.

Mini folk people dancing

Those boys can dance

After a while we moved on to visit the black church around the corner but found it closed. There were signs about entrance fees but others declared it was under major restoration until 2019. Slightly disappointed we wandered on to see the rest of the pedestrian zone. Overall the city was buzzing and had a strong café culture with a strong preference for Italian cuisine. An hour later we had reached Trevor again but moved on to the other side and made our way up the castle hill to the citadel. It was great to find most of the walk in the shade because the sun was fiercely beating down upon us. This fact only added to the frustration we felt at the top. The fortress was rather small and unimpressive. It was made of red bricks and could definitely do with some restoration. On top of of that it was closed without any info as to when it would open again. The views from the hill must have been really good in the past until growing trees blocked more and more of it off. So without any further delay we went back to waiting Trevor and headed for Bucegi National Park.

This park consists of a horseshoe shaped mountain range surrounding a big high flat valley opening south. The best places to start exploring from are Buşteni  and Sinai, both located on the east side.On the way there we encountered our first major traffic jam. We couldn’t find the source of it but we got a over an hour more of watching the valley and villages. The map of the area which we had bought in Braşov showed two campsites in near Busteni (one of the two gateways to the national park. Like quite a few times before on our trip we found it turned out that neither of them existed (no idea where those map people get their information from). One of them was marked near a cabana (mountain hut) at the end of a valley. As soon as we left Buşteni and entered the valley we saw people spreading out everywhere either barbecuing, picnicking or camping. What started which small families at the bottom turned into two big caravan cities near the top. Caravans and motorhomes had been set up seemingly permanently with awning tents, separate shower tents and fenced in gardens; some even had electric fences. We were absolutely shocked to see this beautiful bit of countryside ruined and abused by Romanians escaping the cities for the summer. This reminded us of the conversation we had with an English tour guide about how little Romanians care about their nature.

Romanian wild camping central

Partially due to the lack of other alternatives we decided to spend the night near the cabana. This gave us not only easy access to their facilities but was also a good starting point for the walk we intended to go on the next day. In true MuZ style we decided not to faff about and went straight for the highest peak in the Bucegi mountain range: Omul with 2505 meters. We had considered sleeping in cabanas in the mountains but since Zoë didn’t have her sleeping bag and we couldn’t find much useful information about them our only choice were day trips up and down.

Walking up and down roughly 1600m promised to be a long day out,  so we were super keen to get up and leave as early as feasibly possible. We managed to start before 7am and slowly fought our way up a surprisingly steep path through mixed forest to the beginning of a higher valley which would lead us to the summit. Parts of the path went a long a temporary river but it was all dry without any signs of recent water flow. It was lovely walking in the shade of the forest and once we left the trees behind we found ourselves in the most beautiful alpine field we had seen in a long time.

Zoë giving Ted a lift up a beautiful valley

All flowers were in full flower and the air was filled with the humming and buzzing of bees and other insects. By this point we had kind of forgotten about the fact that the map showed a very steep and rocky final ascent to mount Omul but we were positively surprised to find nothing of the sort. It was relatively steep but a nice zig-zagging path to the top. In the end we reached the peak after four and a half hours; two hours less than the sign in the valley predicted. We would have been faster if we hadn’t followed some old markers and ended up scrambling up a peak two meters lower 150m away from the actual Omul. This was easy enough to rectify and soon we enjoyed lunch and a coffee outside the cabana on the actual peak.

A well deserved lunch break

Watching the clouds move in from both sides made us move on rather quickly and we chose the shortest path back to our cabana. The first part lead us along the top of a mountain ridge which was fairly wide at first but soon became narrower and rockier. Unlike our way up this time the rockface marked on the map actually existed and soon we found ourselves walking up to signposts with only clouds beyond it and only see the path upon reaching the post continuing more than 50m below us. 

Spot the path

After 6 or 7 such ‘steps’ we left the rocks and the botanics took over. Our relief and joy didn’t last long though. What originaly had been a path had been taken over by water and washed out to Zoë’s hip height with dense bushes and shrubs all around us. The only other hikers we met during this descent didn’t boost our sense of security by proclaiming ‘only bears go down here’.

Path to the edge of the mountain

Slowly but surely we made it down the muddy mountainside and sighed a big breath of relief when we reached the other path running along the mountain almost horizontally. Finally we could walk normally again and stretch our legs out properly. We still had quite some height to get down to our hut and the last hour of our walk got our legs and knees aching again by steep slopes. Tired and with very aching legs we reached Trevor 9 hours after we left him. We were even too tired to care about finding accommodation down in the town, so we went for convenience and bucket showers before collapsing into bed.

The next day our stiff legs forbid any thought of longer walking and an empty larder had us heading down to Buşteni for breakfast and shopping. Matthias also had his first travel haircut. After lunch we drove to Sinai to visit Peleş castle. The 500m uphill from the carpark to the castle turned out to exhaust the capabilities of Zoë’s legs. Thankfully the castle was worth it and beautifully perched on a hillside with fountain terrasses. 

Peleş castle

Tourists have the choice to visit only the ground floor or add on the private apartments on the first floor costing 30 RON each. On this day only the ground floor was open to visitors making our choice easy. It turned out to be more difficult to find the entrance so we ended up with an English speaking guided tour for free. The interior of Peleş is absolutely beautiful and features a lot of wooden carved design elements from staircases over pillars and statues to inlay pictures of castles of the family of Hohenzollern-Sigmaringen who built Peleş. All the furniture was original and easily made this the best castle we’ve visited in terms of apperance and homely feel. We highly recommend to visit this and the other two palaces (Peleşoir and Fogesoir) that are located only a stonesthrow away. We would have visited them as well but got there to late (last entrance is at 4.15pm).


Beautiful wooden staircase

With the weather set to take a turn for the worse the next day we decided to leave the rest of Bucegi for another time and drive back towards Raşnov and Braşov for some bear watching.


There are two more fortified churches near Mediaş that are recommended to visit: Richis and Biertan. We decided to visit both after leaving Bajel on our way onwards. Getting there provided us with a scenic drive through green rolling hills. We even found another rather nice church on the way. Richis was a bit of a disappointment and the church quite small without any fortifications. Maybe our info was incorrect or we expected a bit too much. Anyway we drove on without stopping to Biertan. The village greeted us with a loud pop music and a market on the main square. After paying the 12 RON entrance to the church we walk up a long staircase with a wooden roof. The hall-style church was very nice but as it was protestant, it was not overly decorated or painted. One noteworthy and stand out feature was the door to the sacristy and its impressive lock. Actioned by two keys, there are no less than 19! bolts and hooks denying access to any intruder. We wandered around the inner wall ring admiring the views up and down the valley. Over time, the church was protected by up to two and a half wall rings plus towers. The two full rings are still standing but only parts of the second one can be accessed. It was a bit sad that we could not climb up any of the towers for even better views.

Biertan fortified church and market

The mechanism of the super secure door with 19 bolts

Back on the square we spent some time talking to a wood carver and bought a lovely heart bowl made from willow. He told us that his son travels to christmas markets as far as Heidelberg to sell original Romanian craftsmanship. The market seems to be held every weekend during tourist season.

Willow carver

Two hours drive later we arrived in Sighişoara; a small town famous it’s medieval center and for being the birthplace of Vlad the Impaler. The center is surprisingly big and completely surrounded by walls. Entrance and exit still happens through two big gatehouses. The southern gate also has a big tower (approximately 20m tall) which houses a town history museum. Apart from the slight lack of English information except for some very basic descriptions it was worth it. It was also the first time we were able to watch a big clock work mechanism in operation. The gallery on the top offers grand views in all directions. Since the tower is only roughly one and a half storeys taller than the nearby houses view over the center is somewhat limited but still worthwhile. We gave the church next door a miss and climbed up the so called ‘school staircase’ up to the highest point of the historic town. The name stems from the fact that it that received a roof to protect pupils from the elements as they climbed up the 180 or so steps to school. Once at the top we immediately went for the first shade to escape the scorching hot sun. Apart from the school and some administrative buildings there was also a small church at the top. After sneaking a peek inside we decided to remain church free that day and walk back down. Another thing Sighişoara seems to be very popular for is weddings. While we were exploring we almost photobombed no less than two newlywed couples within 40 meters in the same street.

The clock tower of Sigişoara

The cuckoos in the clock

Both the owners of our last campsite and some of the guests had recommended to us a campsite adjacent to a spa in Sighişoara but we decided to spend the time on the road instead because it was a long drive to Braşov, our next destination. Matthias picked a place called Rupea as a potential camping spot due to the fact that it was roughly halfway and the only place with some small side roads. As we drove around the corner of the valley before the village we were very surprised to see a very nice looking castle on a hill dominating the valley. While driving up to it we thought it looked very much original, but soon found out that it had undergone major restoration works in the 20th century. Unlike some other castles we have seen, here they had used the same materials for their work as to what already existed which gave Rupea castle a very natural feel. Inside the castle were some signs but sadly they contained very little information. We also could not quite understand how somebody spent a lot of time and money repairing a lovely castle and then leave all the buildings completely empty. So far it was the first castle on our trip that was completely void of any exhibitions, furniture or other historic items other than the bare buildings. This made the whole experience very sterile. By far the best point were the views we got from the castle walls. Since the whole place was very quiet we decided to stay on the lower of the two car park levels from where we were lucky to watch the disappearing sun painting the whole castle red and pink. As it got darker we watched a little owl marking its territory on the outer wall before an impressive thunderstorm moved in and gave us a bit lightning show

Rupea castle

Our little owl

Gorgeous gorges and mediocre Mediaş

Weary of churches we headed south back through Baia Mare. Our first stop was a VW garage for a mechanic’s opinion on why Trevor’s temperature gauge was always at 0 degrees celsius. After a lot of discussion about waiting a week for testing and repairs we breathed a sigh of relief. Thankfully we got the ok to drive on and keep a close eye on the coolant.

The first glimpse of the gorge

Back on the road for a couple of hours we found ourselves in Transylvania famed for Dracula and his vampire relatives. Our first thoughts were that the villages here were a little more run down than those in Maramures, and we were wondering where the Carpathian mountains had got to. We made it to a lovely little corner of Transylvania around the town of Turda. Turda has a few things to offer visitors including a salt mine with underground amusements, salt lakes and a limestone gorge. Unfortunately the town itself is nothing to write home about and before you realise you are in it you have driven through. We stopped to work out a plan with some cafe wifi especially for a look at the salt mine and weather forecast. To us the salt mine complete with boat ride on an underground lake and ferris wheel looked like an expensive activity for a rainy day but nowhere near as interesting as Wieliczka in Poland. Entrance was 30 RON but none of the amusements were included. Based on this and the dodgy weather forecast we favoured the gorge and drove straight there.

Turda gorge (Cheile Turda) is a limestone gorge with some walking trails and a camping area at either end. On arrival it was very impressive and also full of Hungarians (this part of Romania was once in Hungary). There are a few huts selling chimney cakes, langos and all sorts of tourist tat. After our long drive we fancied a walk so decided to walk towards the entrance of the gorge. The ticket office and maps were non existent on the route but we discovered later that the map is now located at the restaurant at the top of the gorge. From our research a walk along the gorge was supposed to be around one and a half hours, which we assumed was one way. When we discovered the gorge was only 1.2km in length we opted to make hay while the sun shone and walk it that afternoon.

Our little friend agaim

Turda gorge may be short but it is beautiful. The gorge path crisscrosses the river along the length of the gorge allowing walkers wonderful views of the rocky sides and tree lined river. There are lots of places for adventurous rock climbers to clamber to the top of the gorge. We enjoyed the easy walk and saw plenty of wildlife too. Our only disappointment was that the walk was over too soon. Back at our free campsite we met a fellow German camper and spent most of the evening chatting. Early the next morning we set off on a pre breakfast walk. We expected some rain that day but having woken up to blue skies we decided to make the most of it. One thing we really wanted to do was get a view of the gorge from above. There is a 6km long path that goes over the tops of both sides of the gorge but we didn’t think we would have time for this before the rain came. Instead we climbed upon side to get the best view and then back down again. The views from the top were awesome. We saw merlins and a golden eagle flying around the gorge as we looked across the two valleys. We definitely recommend getting above the gorge and doing the walk along the top as well as through the gorge.

More of turda

From Turda gorge we had a decent drive through Transylvania to the city of Medias. Our journey was pretty grey and rainy so we opted to stop at a campsite before Medias and relax a little. Our campsite in Blajel was run by a Dutch couple and was consequently full of Dutch people too. On arrival we found out about two important events. Firstly the pot luck dinner that was happening that evening, amd secondly a meal at a local farm including a farm tour. We eagerly signed up to both and then had to work out what on earth we were going to cook and if we could find the ingredients in the village shop. Our choice was lentils with sausages and Spätzle followed by a risky tiramisu. We only needed to find sausages and the ingredients for tiramisu. With a little alteration on the traditional recipes we managed to throw something together. Our main included some kabanosi instead of bockwurst amd the tiramisu contained only coffee and wine from the usual list of ingredients. We struggled to find cream or marscapone and instead used creme patisserie (whatever the Romanian version is) and pudding (a German style custard). Despite the alterations the meal was a huge success and we got plenty of compliments about our dishes; hopefully they really do get us around the world.

Mediaş fortified church

The next day we went on a day trip to Mediaş. Mediaş is a small compact city with some medieval remnants. The main attraction is a fortified church containing a German school and a collection of Ottoman rugs. We wandered around for about an hour before doing some shopping and then returning to our campsite for an afteroon of sunshine and swimming in the pool. That evening we walked across the road to a small farm for dinner. Interestingly, from the outside it just looked like a house and driveway, but inside there was a yard full of chickens and goats and a gateway to the rest of the farm. As soon as we sat down the Tuica (plum brandy) was poured and all of the family greeted us. Our three course meal was very yummy. We started with bean soup, followed by roast chicken with maize porridge and for dessert we had pancakes with cheese and dill and jam (one pancake with each; not cheese and jam together 😉 ). As we discovered on our tour, almost everything was grown or made on the farm including the wine and plum brandy. The granddaughter of the farmer showed us through the gate and among the thin strip of land to see the fruit and vegetables growing. To our surprise there were cows hidden in a pokey barn and a long orchard too. We really enjoyed getting to know a little more about rural life in Romania and meeting some of the people. Our lovely meal cost just 35 Ron per person and we even bought some of the tuica to take home with us. 

Our campsites scottish flag

Tiramisu in a pan

Our farmyard restuarant

A journey through the churches of Maramures

Having spent alot of time in Budapest city we were ready for something a little bit different. On our way East across Hungary we stopped off and slept in a motorway rest station before continuing to Romania early the next day. Our destination was the northwestern area of Maramures famed for its wooden churches, sleepy villages and locals dressed in traditional dress. We made a stop over at the gateway to Maramures, Baia Mare. Baia Mare is a city with some very large churches and a lot of clothes shops. We didn’t make it to the old town on our way through but we will probably take a look at it on our way back. The thing we enjoyed most about Baia Mare was an artisan coffee cafe which sources coffee from small farms and then roasts them in house. The coffee was fantastic and the staff very friendly. 

One on the fabulously carved gates of Maramures

EditContinuing our journey we drove over mountain pass and discovered a trout fishery and restaurant at the bottom. On a Sunday it was packed with cars parked in every possible space along the road. Given this it must be pretty good so we marked it on the map for our return trip, since we already had some food for dinner. We drove through pretty village after pretty village with locals sitting on their roadside benches dressed in traditional clothes. The women wear colourful knee length a line skirts with white or black blouses and a head scarf, a little like a babushka. The men are often in trousers and a shirt completed with a brimmed hat. These clothes seemed to serve all purposes from working on the land to relaxing on a Sunday afternoon. We frequently overtook wooden carriages being towed by well muscled draught horses and also lots of bicycles. 

A traditional horse and cart complete with red cuicure for luck 

Our search for a place to stay for the night was a little frustrating as all the campsites we had marked no longer existed. In the end we drove all the way to a village called Sapanta close to the border with Ukraine. Luckily it was a lovely little campsite with a restaurant, hot showers and only space for 7 or 8 campervans. We parked up next to a friendly German couple from Chemnitz. Sapanta is famous for its somewhat unusual cemetery, known as the Merry Cemetery. The next morning it was our first stop and thankfully we beat the tour buses. So we guess you are wondering what is so merry about a load of graves. Well each of the graves is marked with a beautiful crucifix carved from oak and painted in a huge array of colours. These grave markers were created by Stan Pâtras, an artist and wood carver who decided to use them to display the life of the person and write a short truthful witty epithet about the persons life. The people of Sapanta can request what they would like to be on their grave including any achievements or messages for loved ones. In the end the artist decides what will be depicted and written and creates a unique monument to each persons life. Not all of them are funny but most are quite earnest and a little tongue in cheek. Even without knowing any Romanian we enjoyed walking about and guessing from the pictures what each was about. They include stories about mother in laws, young children who have been run over and even a vet with his secret drinking life depicted on the other side. The church in the centre of the Cemetery is currently being renovated and now has a dazzlingly colourful tiled roof. The Cemetery is well worth a visit and costs only 5 Ron per person. There’s a book on sale that contains translations of the texts but it costs around £30. 

The stunning church and intriguing cemetary at Sapanta

A vet’s grave

From Sapanta we drove south East towards a region of Maramures famed for wooden churches and beautiful villages. The villages are slowly being modernised from the traditional wooden houses to concrete palaces. Initially, we wondered how such a rural area had the wealth to build such huge houses, but we later found out that the men of many of these villages had joined the merchant navies of the world and sent money home. Sadly this means many of them are slowly loosing their charm but conversely the villagers have a better standard of living. One thing that the villagers seem to stick to is building wooden churches as we saw quite a few under construction, so it seems they still have good craftsmen. The best example of wooden architecture we visited was the monastery complex at Barsana. The wooden church, altar and houses here are really impressive and all made with dovetails and wooden bolts. The gardens within the complex are full of beautiful flower beds and even a pond with a few frogs in. It’s free to visit but a photo ticket is 5 Ron. We also recommend trying one of the Romanian pancakes called Plâcinta that they sell from a cabin in the car park. The church has the tallest wooden church tower in Europe with a height of 57m.

Barsana monastery complex

A view of the tallest wooden church

Having driven around 50km through the region, we found we were close to another attraction. The forestry steam railway in Viseu de Sus is the last one of its kind in Europe. Although, today the steam trains are used purely for tourists. We booked our tickets for the train the following day and then went in search of a campsite. There seems to be a few guesthouses that offer camping in their grounds but no real campsites. We picked one and followed the signs, ending up driving 500m along a gravel track to a house in the woods. As it turned out we had a private campground until around 8pm when some tent campers turned up. Having not realised that Romania was an hour ahead of Hungary we got a little confused with the time and set our alarm earlier than we needed to. Getting to the train station early meant that we got onto the second train of the day. As the train rolled out of the station we got a taste of things to come with the jolting over the edges of the rails and the upright wooden benches. Comfort definitely wasn’t a priority when they converted the forestry cars to hold tourists, but the scenery more than made up for it. We traveled slowly through a wooded valley with steep sides and occasional villages. The train takes around 2 hours to make it to Paltin around 21.5km from Viseu de Sus. The tracks go 21km further but are used purely for forestry or aren’t in good condition. We stopped in Paltin for around 2 hours where there was a cafe and grill along with a small museum. The journey back to Viseu de Sus was even more jerky and jolting but thankfully a little shorter than on the way up. The 6 hour round trip cost 55 Ron per person or 90 Ron including a meal, hot drink, soft drink and pastry. We enjoyed the scenery and relaxing speed but the meal deal probably isn’t worth it unless you want a lot of food and to save just 3 Ron.

Ted and Matthias with ‘Bavaria’

The foresty company seems very fond of collecting old cars and using them for transportation of goods and people in addition to their diesel trains.

The work car of Romanian’s 007

That night we drove back along the valley to the trout restaurant which we had been looking forward to. Planning to camp in their car park for the night, we went straight in to eat their speciality trout. With the menu in Romanian and the waitress not having great English we accidentally ordered two fish each with fried potatoes and a salad. The fish was rolled in polenta and fried so had a lovely crispy skin and tasted pretty good. We watched the trout jumping in the pond while we ate our dinner and we’re too full for pudding by the end. Our huge meal cost just 98 Ron, around £20. Well worth a stopover!