After our cross-dressing exploits, a couple of less wild weeks went by on camp. We went on a few trips with the children (I’ll write about those later), our new room-mate Rhia from Denmark arrived and Zahra, Rick and I were given a few days off. By this time we’d heard about tonnes of interesting places to visit around Romania from speaking with the kids and staff and so there was only one thing for it …
cue excited-teenage-girl-from-California-voice …
We hired a car for around €25 a day and hit the road straight after the afternoon English class, heading for the city of Brasov over 200km away.
Only Rick and I had a license and we took it in turns driving. We were pretty nervous at first, driving on a different side of the road than we are used to back in the UK and the Romanians like to drive ‘aggressively’. But a couple of hours in, we were more than comfortable and loving it!
There aren’t any highways in Transylvania and damn, that is a great thing! The main road to Brasov took us straight through the countryside and into the mountains. There were plenty of twists and turns as you passed through huge forest covered mountains and small Romanian villages with all of their strangeness. And you do see some strange things driving through Romania. More horses and carts than you can imagine, horses pulling carts full of people and sometimes even people pulling carts full of people.
It’s hard to describe just how much fun that drive was, but I’d put it on a par with a night spent at home with your parents out of town, after your dad left his credit card behind and you just discovered the Adult TV channels.
We arrived in Brasov after dark and spent just one night there in a hostel, heading out the next morning for a bit of sightseeing before moving on. We didn’t expect much and knew almost nothing before arriving, but now I can tell you this:
You have to visit!
And you have to go soon, before it becomes more popular. The buildings are old medieval style, slightly run down and properly charming. There are cobbled streets and secret alleyways. There’s a beautiful town square to rival any in Europe. It’s dirt cheap. It’s quiet. But best of all it’s surrounded by mountains, so every now and again you can turn a corner and see a mountain sitting at the end of the cobbled street. Think of it as a cheaper, cooler, less touristy and much cooler Prague, set in the Hollywood Hills.
Bran Castle – The Home of Dracula
We left Brasov and drove to the town of Bran, only an hour away to check out the infamous Dracula’s castle. I’ll be honest I knew almost nothing about Dracula other than him being both a vampire and a muppet. With Dracula’s legendary castle being so close though, we thought it was worth a look and inside we got the chance to learn more about the legend.
The ‘real’ Dracula was Vlad the Impaler of the House of Drăculești, a 15th Century Romanian prince and warlord who gained a reputation for being excessively cruel in treatment of his enemies. His love of ‘impaling’ his enemies on spikes and leaving them to a slow and painful death spread his reputation as a bloodthirsty monster and eventually inspired Bram Stoker’s 1897 novel, Dracula.
It was fun walking around the castle and learning about the real story of Dracula through the historical exhibits and replicas of torture equipment, some of which would turn your stomach worse than hearing your parents trying to spice up their sex life. It’s also interesting to see how the modern myths grew from the historical facts. The castle itself however was disappointing. It’s not particularly big or beautiful and I don’t think it would attract many visitors were it not for the story attached. There are many more impressive castles in Europe, so unless you have a particular interest in Dracula, then I’d give it a miss.
Transfagarasan – As seen on Top Gear!
This road was the main reason we decided to rent the car and drive ourselves. It’s a road that goes through the Fagaras Mountains in Transylvania and it became famous on Top Gear for being one of the best driving roads in Europe. They weren’t wrong. It was fucking awesome!
It was by far the most fun I’ve ever had whilst driving and Rick and I were constantly fighting to take our turn. There would be impressive mountains on one side and sheer drops on the other with countless waterfalls emerging from the forest along the way. Up until this point I’d preferred the laziness of driving an automatic, but for the first time in my life while driving this road I was grateful we had a manual. Fuel is cheap in Romania and so are medical bills, so after finding a CD in the glovebox and cranking up the volume on what turned out to be a dance mixtape of old school classics, we did our best Colin McRae impression and put our foot down.
When we got to the peak, we stopped to look down at the road ahead and couldn’t believe it was real. The road literally looked painted onto the hillside in the design of a child who just opened his new Scalextric set. We were the only car on the road as a thunderstorm hit, but that only added to the atmosphere as we threw ourselves into the corners with the flashes of lightning and ‘Killing Me Softly’ by The Fugees booming from the stereo. It was an insane race track and we had it all to ourselves.
A hitch in the road
We headed back towards Sibiu, the next town from Alba Iulia, so Zahra could catch a bus to meet some of her friends for a few days. On the way we spotted two young hitchhikers going in our direction, so ‘balls to all those serial killer documentaries!’ we stopped and picked up our first ever hitchhikers!
We’d hitchhiked before and always had an awesome time and met some cool people along the way, so I guess it was time for us to return the favour. As it happens the young couple were really friendly and luckily for us (but unfortunately for him) the guy had studied in Birmingham for a few years, so we could speak in English. As they left, they gave us a 50 pence piece they had on them as a thank you 🙂 … I lost it.
After dropping Zahra at the bus station in Sibiu, we drove back to camp in the pouring rain to get some sleep. The next morning we left for Cluj-Napoca, a university town only a couple hours north of Alba, because we’d seen a room escape game online which looked fun. If you haven’t heard of them before, the general theme is; you get locked in a room and have to solve puzzles to get out within a set amount of time. However, that idea was soon shit on when we arrived in Cluj, got some wifi and realised we needed advance booking to play – fuck!
I guess our total refusal to plan more than a few minutes ahead was bound to catch up with us sooner or later, so we looked on trip advisor to see what we could do instead and found…
It’s a national park not far from Cluj-Napoca with a river which cuts through a deep valley. There is a walking trail alongside the river, which is nice and peaceful, but paths are too mainstream for us, so we instead went scrambling up a fairly steep wooded hill. The view from the top was incredible and you could see for miles over the Transylvanian countryside. The more we saw of Transylvania, the more we loved it.
Thanks for reading! Don’t forget to leave a comment and like us on facebook @ facebook.com/wanderingblindly
<< Part 4: Camp Life Becomes a Drag