Romania is situated in South Eastern part of Central Europe; bordered by Hungary, Serbia, Bulgaria, the Black Sea, Ukraine and the Republic of Moldova with terrains consist of mountains, hills and plains. The country has a climate with four distinct seasons.
I stayed in this wonderful country for 13 days, changing and discovering fantastic places and lived life to its fullest.
The following is the itinerary that I followed and not of what as I planned. But nevertheless, it turned out to be a one beautiful story. If you are holding now a map of Romania and tick off the route I took, you might think it is not so organize that I have to travel from here and there and go back again. But that is how this story is made of.
Arrival in Avram Iancu International Airport Cluj
The adventure begins. The plane from Dubai arrived just in time at 1am where most establishments are already closed. No store to buy Romanian sim card or even a money changer to exchange US Dollar to Romanian Lei. I wasn’t prepared for that but I was able to manage to reach the hostel at 0230H.
The temperature was freezing but it was perfect to roam and look around without any idea what those spots and places are. And by chance, I was lucky that a lady from the hostel introduced me to another lady who’s planning to go to Salina Turda but we ended up exploring and being lost on the streets of Cluj until we found our way to The Alexandru Borza Botanical Garden and visited a Cemetery nearby.
At the Botanical Garden you can see several greenhouses, a Japanese Garden, a Roman Garden and over 10,000 plant species. You can’t imagine how does it feel walking in this garden? Think of a paradise.
Hope you will meet also along the way the group of teenagers holding the sign “Imbratisari Gratuite,” don’t worry, it means “free hugs.”
I know you want to know more about Daco-Roman Origins, Austro- Hungarian Empires, Gothic Architecture, Baroque, Renaissance, Neoclassical, Byzantine, Romanian, Neo-Gothic Styles and many others.
The best way to discover about these architectures and history is to join the Cluj Free Guided Tours led by the locals. You’ll walk along these places; Banffy Palace, The Matthias Corvinus House, The Metropolitan Orthodox Cathedral, St. Michael’s Roman-Catholic Church, The Matthias Corvinus Statuary Ensemble,The Museum Square, The Lucian Blaga National Theatre and The Romanian National Opera House. They’ll tell you their importance in Cluj-Napoca history or to Romania as a whole. They will even point out to you the weird and unusual things about how these structures were built.
You’re free to ask questions to your guide. One young man on our group asked, “Why Romanian ladies are beautiful?” And he was serious. I smiled with the question. And this was the humble reply from our guide (it was not the exact words, but he meant this way) “We, as Romanians believe that we are blessed and gifted by God.”
If only all of us has this deep faith in God and respect to ourselves.
Day 2- Exploring Turda Salt Mine
Our 9 am became 10 am and we are heading to Salina Turda or Turda Salt Mine. Have you ever dreamt to go to an underground theme park? Romania can offer it to you at 137 feet below the ground. It is a salt mine and yet you can enjoy riding a Ferris wheel, bowling, miniature golf and boating in a lake with crocodiles.
Aside from that, you’ll be awed with the structures that seem so impossible. Don’t miss the echo room. I was so fascinated that I don’t know the exact words to describe it. I’ll leave it for you to define.
And at 1 pm, I have to catch the bus from Turda to go back to Cluj to continue the journey to Vadu Izei, Maramures. If I wasn’t sleeping or eating something during the travel, then I am simply looking out of the window, anxious but excited. Finally, after 5-hour travel, the driver stopped the bus near where I booked to stay.
Day 3- Memories in Maramures
It was a freezing and rainy morning in Maramures located in Northern Romania. And yet, it didn’t hind us to travel starting with a stop at Berbesti to a 300 year old cross to give reverence to God and for safe travels.
The panoramas along the road were really stunning that I was awed when the car slowed down near a hill. But the reason of stopping there is found on the other side of the road. It is always rewarding to see a waterfall pouring its water while being surrounded with myriad autumn colors of the surrounding nature.
Heading to Sarbi Village, it is always nice to walk along the village to see more of traditional houses and to greet the locals we meet along the way. But what not to miss here is the wooden water mill. You’ll be surprised how it works. And yes, the locals wash here the big carpets. It’s amazing how it works. It is a wooden washing machine.
I’m sure you’d been so amazed of what you have explored but not until you step in to Barsana Monastery. Photos on the internet won’t justify how alluring Barsana Monastery is. You might want to go by yourself to take a walk and to contemplate in this solemn place.
The weather, the setting, the surrounding, everything is perfect to call it a piece of Heaven.
Barsana Monastery is a mixture of Wooden Churches with Eastern and Western Europe and a touch of Byzantine and Gothic Architecture. It is carpeted with grass lined with flowering plants and trees.
Maramures is known to have preserved wooden architecture across Europe as you can still see here the wooden gates and Wooden Churches. You might not want to miss stopping by to a place to see wood carvers skillfully doing their job. Their handiwork are really impressive.
Exploring Northern Romania wouldn’t be complete without having a stop to Sapanta Cemetery or known also as Merry Cemetery. What you can see here are hundreds of blue-colored wooden carved gravestones. Engraved on the tombstones are how the deceased lived their life or how did they die, in Romanian words written in a humorous way. One famous epitaph says “on that graveyard is his mother-in-law, if she still lived for another year, maybe he’s the one who’ll be laying down there.” Any comments for this statement? We’ll just keep it then for ourselves.
Borders are always beautiful but sometimes we cannot just cross them. In Maramures lies a river and on the other side is already Ukraine. I requested our guide to stop for a while and gaze in admiration to the other side of river which already belongs to Ukraine.
Day 4- Traveling to Viseu de Sus
On day 4, I felt anxious to travel alone again. I was suppose to wake up at 0400H to catch the bus at 0440H to go back to Cluj then head to Sibiu. But it turned out that I slept well.
So let me take you together with a friend to Viseu de Sus for the Mocanita. The 1.5 hours travel from Sighetu Marmatiei to Viseu de Sus was very relaxing passing by villages in a colorful landscape of mountains and valleys.
Day 5- A magical journey with Mocanita
A magical story is coming and it is possible with Mocanita- the last forestry narrow gauge steam train in Europe that will transport us into the deep forest and valleys of Carpathian Mountain. And why it is magical?
In everybody’s face reflects excitement. All were on smiles, and it is contagious. It was a trip of a lifetime full of positivity.
The steam engine has been on and the smoke is continuously emitted from the chimney. All are set in their own cabins.
Like the other carriage, each has own stove heater with firewood burning inside. Worried that it will be freezing in the forest? No worries. The heat from the burning firewood is enough to give us warmth.
The journey started. The crews came to each cabin, closed the doors and welcomed us aboard. Instructions were given in both Romanian and English. Tickets were checked.
The train started to move. The smoke coming out, the sound of the train and the passengers made us feel we are heading to dreamland.
After taking turns to put firewood on the stove, our cabin started to warm that we have to take off our thick jackets. We started to slide up the windows to feel the autumn weather and at the same time, enjoy the breathtaking views outside.
On the other cabin are group of teenage girls and boys humming, chanting and singing which are soothing to the ears.
We had few stops to use the toilet or to just enjoy Vasser River and be amazed with the surrounding trees while their leaves are seasoned to change colors.
In one of the stops we were served with choices of softdrinks, coffee, hot chocolate drink, doughnut or cheese pie.
At the heart of Carpathian, lunch with mixed grill was served. It was raining in that fairyland. Nobody was bothered by it though, instead it added to the magic of Mocanita. Traditional Maramures songs were being played while everybody is enjoying lunch. (Click here to listen to few Traditional songs of Maramures)
The flavors of homemade afinata, an alcoholic drink made from blueberries, will seal this magical experience. Don’t leave the place without drinking it. I guess that potion has the magical powers that will make you fall in love with Romania.
At Vasser Valley, follow your heart. Express your joy as it won’t take much time. The Mocanita train will take us back soon from where we departed.