Tales of foodie, sports loving Aussie expat in the Netherlands.

The unorthodox travel destination of… Romania

November 14, 2017/Romania

Over the years, I have really come to appreciate the commercials on the Eurosport channel. In between watching low-rating sports such as track cycling and non-Grand Slam tennis, I am often entertained by the tourism slogans of little-visited destinations.

There have been zingers like ‘Colombia is Magical Realism’, ‘It’s Beautiful, it’s Pakistan’ and the often trotted out, ‘Malaysia, Truly Asia’. (For more of these beauties, check out these hilarious maps. They’ll make you spit out your tea.) But the one Paul and I would often quote to each other was the extremely specific yet hard to pinpoint ‘Explore the Carpathian Garden’.

I mean, huh? I’m pretty sure that I’m among the 0.023% of people who actually know where the Carpathians are, but it doesn’t exactly inspire me to trot off to their gardens. Plus, controversially perhaps, I’ve always associated the Carpathians with Hungary. It took me a bit to realise the advertisement was for its neighbour. (Sorry Romania, I didn’t realise you guys have more than half of them. I never think of you when it comes to the Danube, either. And then there’s that whole issue with Transylvania too. Let’s move on, shall we?)

Anyway, suffice to say Paul and I never had any real plans to visit Romania. As one of my colleagues so aptly put it, “Everyone thinks of us like Mexicans. We’re so hardworking but you just think we’re all a bunch of criminals.” So years went by and we were constantly drawn towards our old favourites like Spain and Germany, or dazzled by glamorous new entries like Malta and Iceland. And my colleagues just didn’t understand why.

“You need to visit Romania!” they would plead when they discovered my oversight. With many hailing from the country itself, they slowly chipped away my uninterested resolve until I gave in. “It’s cheap!” they cried. “The food is delicious! We all speak English! The roads aren’t nearly as bad as you think!”

And so, to the bemusement of family and friends, Paul and I booked an eight-day getaway to Romania.

Is this the Carpathian Garden? We're not sure. It's somewhere outside of Sibiu, anyway.

Romania is super simple to get to. With plenty of Romanian expats particularly in the UK, Germany and the Netherlands, we were spoilt for choice in terms of low-cost airlines and airports. After much deliberation and consultation with colleagues, we flew in to Bucharest and out of Cluj-Napoca. The return flight was less than €100. A week of car hire cost less than a day’s rental in Iceland. The whole ‘cheap’ promise – although I hate to say it – seemed to be correct before we’d even left home.

I’m going to write more about Romania in the future, but let me just tell you it is worth a visit. Particularly if you appreciate removing yourself from the tourist hordes (although there’s plenty at Bran Castle) and literally getting off the beaten track, then you’re not going to be disappointed. The food is varied and tasty (particularly the wine!), they speak better English than Western Europeans and the roads ranged from autobahn standard to virtually nonexistent. Let’s just say that if you want to take a look at Biertan, it’s best to have a 4WD. Same goes if you want to follow the way into Brasov according to Google Maps. (Paul, is it too soon? It’s probably too soon.)

We didn’t cover the whole country on our travels – that’s impossible in only eight days – but we did manage to spend some time in the capital and road-trip through Transylvania. Our favourite place by a factor too high to compute was undoubtedly Brasov, a city that deserves all the accolades and more.

The view of Brasov from the chairlift - it could easily pass for Dubrovnik.

It’s got a cute-as-a-button Old Town that could easily pass as German, plenty of alfresco dining and drinking options and my personal favourite; a rickety chairlift to a Hollywood-esque ‘Brasov’ sign high up in the nearby hills. Seriously, this town has ‘weekend getaway’ written all over it and could easily become the new Tallinn, Riga or even Krakow. Thankfully for us, it’s not anywhere near as popular as the mentioned trio and therefore crowd-free. The bulk of tourists in town are Romanians and a sprinkling of Hungarians.

There’s also a solid amount of kookiness about and a decent representation of that good old rough-around-the-edges feel. The behemoth Palace of the Parliament in Bucharest deserves its own post. Prince Charles owns a property in Viscri, a town we visited where we were the only tourists and men were using horses and carts in the main street. And then there’s the whole Hollywood sign thing going on.

If you can tear yourself away from the quirky displays of randomness, there’s then the big Transylvanian highlight; the castles. I’ve seen some pretty hot castles in my time but Romania has that cheeky way of having them just pop up in the distance which are not listed ANYWHERE in guidebooks or blogs. Now, how often do you get to do that in Europe? Be completely surprised by a medieval castle looming in front of you, which you were totally not expecting? Yeah, not often. Instagram is obsessed with Burg Eltz at the moment (particularly with girls in flowy dresses running up to the entrance) as well as what I believe to be the most overrated place in Europe, Neuschwanstein. There are plenty more castles! And a good lot of them are hidden in quiet, unassuming Romania.

So go to Romania. There’s only one problem though. I’m going to have to go back, because I don’t think I actually saw that Carpathian Garden.

Comments (2)

  • Sammi / November 24, 2017 / Reply

    Yes, yes, yes! I love Romania! Brasov is also a favourite, such a cute city! I feel like I should just take a flight to random places in Romania when I can’t think of where else to go. Such a gorgeous country.

    Love having you blogging again

    • (Author) Caitlyn / November 27, 2017 / Reply

      Brasov is incredible – I’m not sure why more people don’t know about it, but I was glad to have it pretty much to ourselves!

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