When you travel for 6 months, time is not the major consideration. Rather, cost is often the deciding factor! So, to travel from Bosnia & Herzegovina to Romania we took a long winded journey by bus; Jajce to Zagreb (5 hours) and Zagreb to Budapest (5 hours) where we took a short 2 day break, and finally Budapest to Cluj-Napoca (6 hours). Long, but a fraction of the price of a flight! Added bonus – we got to see Budapest and some Aussie friends who happened to be there!
We arrived in Cluj-Napoca, referred to as Cluj by the locals, ready to explore the Transylvanian side of Romania. Cluj is a university town in the Transylvania region of Romania. The population of Cluj is 300,000 – a third of which are university students. Accordingly, the town’s vibe is young, hip and vibrant, scattered with a host of delicious restaurants, hipster cafes and second hand clothing stores!
We spent our time in Cluj wandering the city, trying numerous restaurants, cafes and bars. Special mention to Litchi (waffles!), Caffe Meron (great coffee!), Bujole (French cuisine), and Zama (Modern Transylvanian). We also walked to the lookout situated at Cetatuia Park. From here you can see a great panoramic view of the city!
To walk off our “food babies” we also strolled around the Cluj Botanical Gardens. The highlight here was the green house which includes a lily pond and an extensive palm tree collection.
We took a 6 hour train from Cluj to the heart of Transylvania – Brasov! Brasov is a great city to explore the Transylvanian region from, due to its central location. In particular, we used Brasov as a base to explore the numerous castles and to understand the region’s connection with Dracula!
The town of Brasov itself is beautiful with many colourful houses, a bustling main square, the largest gothic church in Eastern Europe and a Hollywood-style sign looming over the town! Very picturesque! We walked around the town, exploring the Black and White Towers on the hill nearby, Catherine’s Gate and Strada Sforii – one of the narrowest streets in Europe! Legend has it that if you and your partner can walk through the street holding hands (without bumping the walls) you will be lovers for life! Luckily we made it through – no bumps and no breaks in handholding.
We also took a day to explore the surrounding castles near Brasov. First on the list was Peles Castle. This castle is situated in Sinaia approximately 1 hour from Brasov. Unfortunately when we visited this castle the interior was closed. Tourist tip: if you are visiting Peles Castle in the shoulder season, make sure to avoid visiting on a Sunday or Monday! Luckily we were still able to see the the exterior of the castle which was absolutely spectacular!
Next on the list was Bran Castle – this castle which is most famous for its connection with Dracula. Bram Stoker’s character of Dracula is allegedly based on the historical figure “Vlad the Impaler”. Vlad’s father was part of the Dracul Order (Dragon Order) and hence Vlad was given the name Dracula – “son of Dracul” in Romanian. However, the link between Bran Castle and Vlad is tenuous at best. The castle was never occupied by Vlad although some rumours suggest he did visit. Fans of the novel Dracula have inferred that Bran Castle was the inspiration for Dracula due to the striking resemblance between the Castle and Bram Stoker’s description of Dracula’s Castle within the novel. True or not, the castle is beautiful, well fortified, and contains a hidden staircase. Well worth the visit!
Finally, we visited Rasnov Fortress, a 13th century fortification above the town of Rasnov. This fortress contains a small village and a autonomous water supply! This allowed the fortress to withstand many siege attempts over its vast history.
On our final day in Brasov, we decided to visit Libearty Bear Sanctuary – the largest brown bear sanctuary in the world! From Brasov, tourists can elect to see bears in this environment or alternatively through a tour in the wild where the guides provide food to lure the bears out. In our opinion, the latter encourages the bears to forego their instincts and hunting skills – relying on humans to provide their food. In winter, some bears have had to be killed as they have come into the towns looking for food, causing a danger to the population. For this reason, we chose to visit Libearty Bear Sanctuary. There are approximately 100 bears in this sanctuary – all of which cannot be reintroduced to the wild due to their past human abuse. Some bears were used in the circus, others were pets and some were kept in cages as tourist attractions in various restaurants around Romania. The sanctuary is situated across 69 hectares of oak forest – allowing the bears to roam around with ample room! We saw approximately 20 bears including some cubs! So adorable!
Finally, if you are visiting Brasov, you must visit a restaurant called 7 Green Days! This is a modern restaurant with a nod to Romanian cuisine. The food is locally sourced and sustainable. We tried the Duck and the Mangalica (or Mangalitsa) Pork – a low fat pork with origins from Hungary. For dessert we shared the tirimisu – simply divine! Whilst not your traditional Romanian cuisine, 7 Green Days is a definitely must try whilst in Brasov! We will certainly be back next time!
Until next time,
AP & DT