The decision to travel to Romania came about from an interest in Eastern Europe, the discovery of cheap tickets through Lot Polish airlines (ultimately not worth it-as the flight was delayed and canceled twice), and the desire to go somewhere that wasn’t considered a top destination spot among my peers.
A week in Romania promised-and delivered-adventures, many of them unexpected. No day turned out as planned. A train ride to Sinaia, a town in the countryside, which was supposed to take two hours took four and half hours. Trains stop intermittently along the tracks, and when they stop at stations, no announcements are made nor are there any indications that you’ve arrived at a station; only tracks and grass are in view. Yet, many people know some English-as well as French and Italian-and do their best to help.
In this picture, I’m on top of the Bucegi Mountains, which I took a cable car up to from Sinaia, with hopes of climbing down. The hike was supposed to take 3 hours, but with no clear trail markings, I spent most of the time searching for the trail and trying to find traction while making my way down steep grassy hills filled with bees and dirt ditches and devoid of people.
The countryside is gorgeous-miles and miles of untouched grassy plains everywhere. I highly recommend visiting Sinaia, as well as Brasov, another countryside town, which has a huge Hollywood-esque BRASOV sign in the mountains that you can hike up to. Naturally, the hike, like much else in Romania, ends with a visit to a Christian site – this time, a grave in a cave with a big cross on top. There are churches and monasteries all over Romania. I even found one especially well-preserved one right off a highway. There are also tons of Jewish sites throughout the country from the time when Romania had 800,000 Jews before the Holocaust. A misstep down a side street in Brasov landed me in front of a big synagogue and kosher restaurant with delicious Romanian kosher food and excellent service-albeit the fact that Brasov now has 170 Jews.
As for Romania’s capital city, Bucharest, I’d recommend that tourists visit but not spend too long. Bucharest lacks the sense of romance that other Eastern European countries seem to have, despite the Iron Curtain’s effects. Ill-kept and dirty, Bucharest is filled with dogs let loose in Ceausescu’s Communist reign, some which roam the streets foaming at the mouth. On Saturday nights, funky restaurants sporadically line vacant cobblestone streets.
I’d recommend Romania to travelers who are looking for adventure and challenges. Though now part of the EU, Romania is pretty cheap – one of the top hotels in Sinaia, Hotel Caramaian, cost about $50 a night for a double, which includes breakfast. Rolling Stone Hostel in Brasov, which is similarly priced, is run by a mother and two daughters who are incredibly helpful and attentive and is filled with young backpackers who really travel Romania right.