It was the summer of 2017 and the weather was perfect for a Romania road trip. We decided to take advantage of our last vacation days and the available accommodation vouchers, so we jumped in the car and went roaming across Romania for a week. Our tour started at the “Danube Boilers”, stopping along the way at Orsova, Dubova, Timisoara, Deva, Hunedoara, Alba Iulia, Sovata, Praid, Sighisoara, Brasov and via Transfagarasan back to Constanta. As usual, the trip was planned on short notice and the accommodation was chosen from what was available through a travel agency.
Day 1: We hit the roads of our motherland, where, as I have mentioned in the previous article Road trip to Budapest, the experience can be excruciating and you will spend a lot of hours stuck in traffic on narrow 2 lanes national roads. From Constanta to Orsova we chose the route via Bucharest – Pitesti – Rm. Valcea with a stopover at Targul Jiu to see the sculptures of Constantin Brancusi. As soon as you exit A1 motorway in Pitesti, the ordeal starts and doesn’t stop until Timisoara when we return on the A1. Lately on the good roads of Romania we found loose gravel that is not compressed by the special machines, but rather by cars in open traffic, the kind of gravel that shreds your hood and your windshield in a million pieces – WHAT THE FUCK?! The incident appeared on national news , hundreds of drivers got their cars damaged in the process and nobody was held accountable.
We chose to stop at Targul Jiu specially to see the sculptures of the well known sculptor Constantin Brancusi. The first unpleasant surprise we had was when we were driving to Brancusi Park but along the way we elegantly drove past the Infinity Column. The column is in separate park on the opposite side of the city from the other representative sculptures , the Kiss Gate and the Table of Silence of the famous sculptor. Once in the park, after seeing the Kiss Gate and the Table of Silence, I left within half an hour because there is simply nothing else to do there. I can say that it is not worth the go out of your way just for this and the sculptures themselves are rather… unattractive. Brancusi’s works are not highlighted, and the only information that they actually belong to Constantin Brancusi are found on a small portable billboard in the park, you know the type of billboard you normally see in front on the terraces showing the daily menu. The Romanian authorities should take a visit to Brancusi’s workshop museum in Paris to get an idea on how to display such a national value.
We go further on to Orsova and to the Danube Boilers. Orsova is one of the most beautiful cities we have seen on our side of the Danube, the river promenade that stretches all along the city is an absolute pleasure to walk, but the real star in the area, besides the superb scenery, is the recently renovated road that cuts the gorge of the Danube . The quality of the road is excellent and the scenery at the base of the Danube gorge mountains is superb! Driving along the highway that crosses the mountains , passing along by the statue of Decebal, the Iron Gates dam and the Mraconia Monastery, all the way looking across the river at the nearby Serbian coast, makes this one of the best driving experiences in the world , second only to driving across the Transfagarasan. We went this way to Dubova where we spent the first night of our trip at Melba Pension house. This pension with prices ranging between 45-60 EUR per night, offers excellent conditions, I literally could did not find any negative points for this new built accommodation: the rooms are spacious, service and food is very good at their own restaurant, they have their own pontoon by the Danube river and the pool and the rooms have a panoramic view to the Danube boilers. During the evenings the staff sprays the table area on the bank of the Danube with substantial amounts of mosquito repellent solution.
The next day we headed to the Mraconia viaduct from where most of the bout tours depart. I recommend a boat trip that lasts longer and has access to the caves as well. We went by recommendation with the company on this site http://incazaneledunarii.ro/ and did not regret a second of it. The package costs 30 lei (7 EUR) per person and includes a ride on the water at the base of Decebal’s Face statue-> Mraconia Monastery -> Small Boilers -> Dubova Bay -> The Big Boilers -> Veterani Cave -> Ponicova Cave -> Tabula Traiana. I just hope you catch better weather than we did 🙂
We continue from Orsova on DN57B through Nerei Gorge to Bigar Waterfall. The road is full of dangerous curves and can be very tiring for the driver. The waterfall itself is beautiful, but it is quite isolated and no one can say it is spectacular. If it’s on the way to other targets, you can go see it, but to take the route just for it, well I guess it’s up to you to decide if it’s worth it. There is a cascade and a small 200-meter forest trail to a cave. The trail access costs 6 lei per person (1.4 EUR) …. which is basically a ripoff but we move on.
PS: There is not even a toilet there, at the recommendation of the park guards , you have to go in the forest to a clearing to do your needs, you can not miss the place: it’s full of toilet paper and other disposable products! After a long journey through Anina and Resita, we arrived in the evening in Timisoara city where we spent the night.
In Timisoara we stayed at the Eurohotel, a 3 star hotel close to the city center that charges 40 to 45 EUR per night, on paper and from their website pictures seemed ok. But on the field you actually discover a very familiar communist apartment building, whose studio flats were converted into hotel rooms. The conditions leave much to be desired. The communist single rooms were designed without individual toilets and during the conversion the toilets were squeezed in the forward part of the rooms , with the toilet bowl on one side and on the opposite side a shower box separated by the central corridor by sliding doors. The hotel was opened in 1992 and the furniture is the same since it opened. We go over these small shortcomings that are not so serious and go down to breakfast. The “restaurant” is actually 3 studios connected, with no staff, where you serve yourself with one of the trays already prepared with all sorts of goodies such as: 7 Days Corn, pressed sliced ham wrapped in plastic that still has the supermarket promotional sale price at 1.99 Lei, one time-serving yogurt. I’m sorry, but this is unacceptable for a 3 star hotel , I saw better menu and service at the highschool canteen. I ate the corn and went out to the city center.
Timisoara is a big city, it has the student atmosphere of Bucharest but with wide avenues traversed by trams and decorated with numerous trees. I could not avoid noticing the numerous parks near the Bega river and the recently renovated squares in the historic center. Union Square and Freedom Square look very similar to what you see in Cluj Napoca or Sibiu and it’s a pleasure to walk through them but the renovated area is relatively small, on the rest of the streets of the old fortress, the building’s facades are crumbling and there is much work to be done. The heavy communist inheritance has also spoiled the landscape, the gray apartment towers are visible in the background in the old squares, and the colored skirts of gypsies hanging around the city center destroy pretty fast any good impression you made before of the city, so we moved on.
On the new segment of the A1 motorway we head to the city of Deva in excellent conditions, that is just until the highway suddenly gets interrupted at Dumbrava. We stopped at Deva fortress, where you can go up to visit it via the new cable car (which is actually a funicular) and where there was a big que to go up. Access to the citadel is free if you are walking on foot and a cable car ride costs 10 Lei (2.5 EUR) for a round trip. The fortress itself is actually an empty shell with renovated exterior walls so don’t expect to see much up there . Once you’ve made a quick tour around the walls, you’ve pretty much seen it all and be on your way. A plus for the nice view from the top towards the mountains in the background , the gray communist city of Deva in the foreground is not really beautiful sight. We continue our trip towards Hunedoara. Before heading to the main attraction, the Hunedoara Corvin Castle, we stopped at a restaurant to eat in the center of town. We were very lucky to land by mistake at Rustic Restaurant in Hunedoara, the place where we ate the best pork ribs ever in the country! I recommend this place with the great pleasure anytime to anyone. I returned to the Corvin’s Castle after 3 years. Since the last visit in 2014, improvements have been made, new sections of the castle have been opened the public and the general organization in front of the castle is much better. A big minus however due to the fact that the only parking space next to the castle is paid parking now and the access to the castle in the summer months costs 25 Lei per person (6 EUR) – a very large amount for what it has to offer. Once the tour is over we jumped in the car and continued to our next destination, Alba Iulia. PS: Beware of the toilet in the castle! The smell there is just like in the time the castle was built!
Alba Iulia Fortress, this renovated ancient settlement is probably the only fortress where I have nothing bad to point out. All the renovations were made by the book and with good taste, starting from the materials, finishes, urban furniture, abundant trash bins, the facades of the old buildings in the fortress and up to the events and characters you see inside, everything is perfect. Here we got back together with our dear friends , native to the city, and with their guidance we saw a very nice bar located in the the fortress’s “ditches.” We got the chance to see the change of guard festivity in front of the fortress’s gate, a nice little spectacle accompanied by cavalry and lively dressed up characters. We will always come back with pleasure to this place. Also our accommodation here was quite nice: we stayed at Vila Elisabeta complex which is not bad at all. The conditions and rooms here are excellent, the only minus would be the fact that it is in relatively remote location compared to the center of the city, but this is a small price to pay for this charming oasis. We carry on from here to Sovata.
The good roads of the country are left behind us, from now on we drive East on 2 lanes roads, slowly and carefully, avoiding the numerous pot holes, construction sites, passing through the frequent and busy villages filled with kamikaze drivers who engage into overtaking other cars even when they have zero visibility ahead on the road. We intended to stay in the resort of Sovata, but in the peak season was impossible to find at short notice accommodation, so we had to be satisfied with accommodation in the neighboring village of Praid. Here spent the next two nights at the “glorious” Hotel Praid, a two-star Communist hotel where time seemed to stopped. Here you truly experience how our parents spent their vacations in the communist 80’s of Romania: you are given at the reception a remote control for the TV along with the key, in the rooms the furniture and the toilet are the same as in the old days, the waiter brings you the cheque written by pen on a small piece of paper and in the evening the power is cut due to the failing grid not keeping up with all the new constructions in the village. In Praid you only come for Salina (Salt Mine) and for the natural thermal pool. The entire resort resembles a flea market, the main street is full of stands selling inflatable life rings, water mattresses, towels , souvenirs , shaorma and fast food stands. Start with the salt mine: the ticket costs 30 lei per person (6.5EUR) , the same amount as the ticket to visit the much much better Salina Turda salt mine). You get in the bus, walk about 30 minutes through the two salt caverns, you realize that there is nothing to do inside, you get bored, you go to the toilet where you get sick from the terrible smell and leave the mine urgently. I can say that this was kind of a ripoff and does not deserve 30 lei in any way, for those who wants to see a beautiful, clean and impressive salt mine you must definitely go to Turda. We exit the salt mine and find a nice terrace, protected from the infernal traffic noise of the main road, a cozy place that had its own power generator and settled down for a couple of cold beers after a long day. I’m going to have to warn you that around these places the folks don’t speak much English …. or Romanian for that matter (they are ethnic Hungarians) , so you will have to be very patient and speak slowly and rarely so they can understand you when they take your order , but they are willing to help you in any way.
The next day we headed to Sovata and stopped at the old train station where the Mocanita Sovata Steam Train starts it’s route. Unfortunately, we arrived just as the train was about to depart and there were no free seats, so we went for a walk around the resort until the train comes back later in the afternoon. Sovata, although it has more beautiful historic buildings than Praid, it offers pretty much the same atmosphere resembling an open flea market, a crowded landscape of cars, many people and lined-up bazaar stand with beach articles and fast food joints, all at considerably more inflated prices up to ridiculous levels compared to Praid village. Walking around the Ursu Lake is nice, but I am yet to understand how it can be legal to fence up all the lake and demand an access toll of 30 Lei per person (6.5 EUR) for bathing in the rich mineral waters of the lake. We keep walking,and in the afternoon we went back to the old train station and this time we made it on time to catch the train. I recommend you come well ahead of the departure times to make sure you catch seats on the steam train. Riding on the old steam train is very pleasant , you can hear the puffing of the old locomotive , smell the burned charcoal and the train has open carriages so it makes a very pleasant ride through the hills and forests. The trip lasts for two hours and a round trip ticket costs 30 lei (6.5 EUR) per person. The bad part is that you ride the train Fortress’s Field for 2 hours , there is a fixed 10 minutes layover, just enough to turn the locomotive around and head back for another 2 hours ride, and all this considering there is no toilet in the train and no food or water vendors on board. Also due to the fact that the train is half-open, it can be a rather unpleasant experience if it starts raining …. and lucky us – it did. But overall , still a very nice experience.
Next day we were on the road again heading South to the wonderful medieval German town of Brasov or Kronstadt. On the way we made a short stop in the medieval UNESCO fortress of Sighisoara. Left quickly because it was extremely crowded due to the on going medieval festival. We wanted to spend our last night of vacation in Sibiu (Hermannstadt), but thanks to a local crafts festival there, all the hotels and guesthouses were full, so we chose to stay in Brasov. We managed to catch rooms in Hotel Regal. This is a new hotel close to the center, with large rooms and nice staff willing to help , prices around 45 EUR / night. About Brasov I have talked about it during trips in 2014 and 2012, it is and will be one of the most beautiful cities in Romania and now during the peak of the summer season it is overwhelmed by tourists, especially by foreigners. On the terraces of the historic center, you could hardly find a table, and a concert was being prepared in the Council Square. For those who are hard-core they can have dinner at 100 meters in the air on the “Dinner in the Sky” suspended platform. I recommend, however, to avoid the main pedestrian street due to inflated tourist prices and to go instead on the many side streets and alleys of the historic center, where you will find much more beautiful and accessible places. After this last wonderful night we headed back to our hometown of Constanta crossing the Carpathians on the magnificent Transfagarasan highway. This curbed road cutting through the mountains offers some of the best driving experiences in Europe and comes with absolute gorgeous landscapes.
The Transfagarasan highway is by far the most beautiful sight in Romania, especially for drivers. Unfortunately, the route fell victim to its own success and is now so accessible and populated with uneducated peasant that light up their grills on every free spot of the mountain. The huge amount and volumes of cars on the road, inevitably form endless queues , especially around Balea Lake area on the top and can destroy your experience. Due to the parked cars on the narrow mountain pass , we lost some good hours just sitting stuck in traffic. I strongly recommend to visit this spot in the Autumn months or early summer in order to enjoy it.
In conclusion, it was a 2030-kilometer trip that was not so expensive. We have a beautiful country as you know, but it is a shame we do not have the necessary infrastructure to enjoy it. It is a shame that in some places where you go as a tourist they just want to rip you off and take you for stupid. But fortunately , they are quite isolated, and in most places you will find warm and friendly hosts and people. All of these aspects might change your general opinion and taste at the end of your vacation and discourage you from going back to those wonderful places or recommending them to your friends but I hope this is not the case. How do you feel after a vacation in Romania?
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