After the unexpected highlights in Bulgaria, I was really looking forward to Romania and, in particular, Transylvania. Things started off well, if long, during a full day journey on three different trains from Varna, on the Black Sea coast, to Brasov in the Carpathian Mountains.
Unfortunately, things got a little harder when I learned (after several hours on the phone) that my ATM card wouldn’t work anywhere in the country (apparently due to a ban on HSBC by the Romanian government). My credit cards were only slightly less worthless due to their lack of embedded chips (how is the US so far behind the rest of the world on this?). That left me with just $220USD in cash for an entire week until my flight out of Bucharest. It was going to be tight, my activities and accommodation options limited.
Arriving in Brasov, I wandered around the quaint, fortified old town which was founded in the 1200s on the edge of the Southern Carpathians. Obviously, the most famous persona in these parts is Vlad Tepes, Prince of Wallachia during the 1400s (AKA Vlad the Impaler or Vlad Dracula, the inspiration for Bram Stoker’s Count Dracula). As with most visitors to the region, my first stop was the infamous Bran Castle, often referred to as “Dracula’s Castle.” While the small compound has some interesting Gothic design elements, it unfortunately didn’t really live up to all the hype and was actually a bit of a letdown. Thankfully, I ducked out just as the bus load of tourists was heading in.
Considering my disappointment and limited resources, I was reminded that the real reason to visit this area is the Carpathian Mountains themselves, not the tourist attractions scattered throughout them. It was time to go hiking, so I headed for the top of Mt. Tampa, with great views of old town Brasov and the surrounding peaks as the sun set. Inspired to go further the next day, I explored Seven Stairs Canyon and the tranquil mountains beyond, basking in the warm sun as it poured through the trees and their kaleidoscopic leaves. Ironically, I felt closer to the legendary and ancient tyrant in this secluded forest than at any other point.
Continuing on to Bucharest for the weekend, I wanted to explore the cobblestone alleys of the old town, packed with bars and restaurants. The scene turned out to be a little bit unusual, as a fire at a nightclub called Colectiv the week before had killed 60 and injured 150+, leading to mass protests and the resignation of the Prime Minister. Amid all of the tumult, I managed to fit in a tour of the Palace of the Parliament. The second largest building in the world (behind the Pentagon) was certainly impressive in terms of sheer scale and stands as a €3 billion monument to the delusions of grandeur of the Romanian Communist Party and (former) President Ceausescu (who was shot by firing squad in 1989).
Romania was certainly an interesting and beautiful country, especially the Carpathian Mountains (and apparently the Danube Delta). Unfortunately, my limited budget really hampered my ability to explore and enjoy, truly making this one of those spots where I have unfinished business. Until next time…