Romania. Land of the old Romany gypsy woman, and home to count Dracula. Not a holiday or travel destination. At least this is what a close minded nitwit would say.
If you’ve read any of my other blogs you’ll know that I’m a sucker for cheap deals. If Ryanair fly there, you can almost guarantee that I’ve been. The best way to see the world is to go to the most obscure places, get out of your comfort zone and discover the unexpected and downright bizarre.
Romania, Transylvania to be precise. Land of mountainous ranges, caves and rivers. Also home to a number of ridiculously funky bars. Which is where we spent most of our time.
My friend Chloe and I flew into Bucharest, on the airline I hate to love. When we arrived, I did the usual wishful thinking glance as we walked through arrivals, hoping to see my name on a welcome placard. I do this every time I get off a plane. Whether I am in a country where I know no one, or arriving home to my car in the long term parking, I always look. Shock and awe, this time I actually saw
my name on a card. I thought I was hallucinating, but turns out it was the car hire I’d booked. Slightly anti-climactic I know but it’s still probably the single most exhilarating airport moment that’s happened in my life to date.
So we left Bucharest after a short visit to the hire company’s office, where we convinced ourselves that we may be getting kidnapped and sold into slavery. The office had no signs, and no one was in uniform.
We drove for about 3 hours to Brasov, Transylvania through winding mountain roads, with scenic rivers and cascades bordering the roads edge. It sure gave New Zealand a run for its money, and that’s a bold claim for me. We stopped at a supermarket called The Penny Market’ for lunch which I thought a bit weird as the currency is Lei (RON), and has no pennies to speak of.
As we were getting back into the car a rogue thunderstorm hit above us and started pelting us with rain. That proper wet rain as well, the kind that has no mercy. I was in a bit of a blind panic, as I had just put our food on
my seat and couldn’t get in without squishing it all. Apparently it was the funniest thing Chloe had ever seen; me standing there having a standoff with the food on the seat, getting absolutely drenched.
We drove onwards, my hair and face still dripping with rain water. Blasted storms. I love them when I’m inside with a roaring fire and hot chocolate. No other times.
We got to our hostel in Brasov, which wasn’t at all what we were expecting. But that’s the fun of it. We were expecting a sleepy town with gothic architecture, a few vampires and old haggard woman in head scarves. Instead Brasov was a large town nestled in mountains, with a lively high street filled with bars and restaurants. It even had an Irish pub and McDonalds which we instantly agreed to avoid and not be that uncultured, British traveller longing for the taste of home.
That night, we went to Deanes. The Irish pub. And got suitably drunk on Romanian wine and beer and stumbled across to McDonalds for our midnight munchies. Sigh. At least we tried the local alcohol. Cultural immersion I call it.
In our defence Deanes was
awesome, and was listed as one of Brasovs best bars. It had musical instruments strung up on the ceiling, and cosy little booths. Also the drinks were dirt cheap; I think a wine cost me less than a pound. Magical.
The next day we upped our game and drove across Transylvania in search of Balea Lac, which showed up on Tripadvisor as a must see – a beautiful lake nested amongst mountains. The drive was stunning and we steadily climbed mountain roads only to come to a blockade 20 minutes before the lake according to the GPS. A man later explained in broken English that they only open up the lake access in high season. The blockade was concrete and looked pretty permanent, so I took the explanation with a pinch of salt.
We cut our losses and drove back to Brasov. We logged on to Tinder (if you don’t know what it is Google it) to see who was local. We convinced to Brasovians (?) to show us the town.
They did not disappoint and took us to a bar that you’d only find if you were a local. It was called For Sale and was
in a back street away from the centre of Brasov. The floor was hidden under a carpet of peanut shells and the walls were wallpapered with business cards and little notes. The ceiling was covered with hundreds of stapled notes in varying currencies. Each table had a big basket of complimentary monkey nuts (peanuts in shells) and you just shelled them and discarded it to the floor. Of course we didn’t just toss them on the floor. We threw them at one another and swept gigantic piles of them, giving them a majestic arm fling across the room. One of the guys curled his arm and brought a whole pile to land on his lap, and then looked confused, as if he’d forgotten to get out of the way in time from the peanut shell avalanche. By the end of it we were covered in bits of shell, I had posted up my own business card, and we had gotten suitably smashed on a ludicrously cheap and delicious bottle of red Romanian wine.
Regretfully the next morning we drove back to Bucharest. We had one more night, staying at the Green Frog hostel for a measly 5 euro a
night. Recipe for a good night’s sleep guaranteed...
We ended up walking around and exploring the city, marvelling at the amazing buildings, all so different. Some gothic, some modern, some painstakingly decorated. Some bizarre. It was a beautiful mix-matched city.
We followed some guys from the hostel to a restaurant in the centre that they raved about. It was like a museum turned bar/restaurant. Spiral staircases, old paintings and tapestries and high ceilings made me feel far too lower class for a place like that. They did serve a delicious Irish coffee though.
Later on we passed bars which offered medieval dress up, one where the entrance was through girl’s legs (it wasn’t a strip bar!) and an airplane cafe where all the seats were old aircraft seats. Bucharest was heaving with every imaginable type of bar/club/restaurant possible. I could have easily spent weeks here, sampling all the different establishments. Alas just the weekend trip will have to suffice for now, but it is a place I would go back to which is another bold claim for me. Romania is easily in my top 5 places now.
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