On leaving Bucharest, our plan was to stop for a couple of nights in Sinaia before heading on to Brasov, and take the opportunity to do some walking in the mountains. Romanian trains may not be the fastest, but they are certainly cheap (less than €5 for an hour and half in first class), comfortable (loads of leg room) and very scenic.
Arriving into Sinaia, it seemed that those plans were not going to work out as the roads were like rivers of rain, and you couldn’t see some of the tree tops for the clouds, let alone the mountains we were supposedly walking the next day. Unlike Giles who is carrying a full wardrobe in his backpack (and then some), I decided to ditch my raincoat in Ireland so I didn’t have to carry it (and also it made me look like an overgrown Smurf). As a supposed centre of outdoor activities in Romania, I was hoping I could pick up something – but no, nothing. So our first (and subsequent) hours in Sinaia were spent drinking beer, in the hope thing might clear shortly.
The next morning seemed better (no rain at least) so we got ourselves up to the cable car station, where we waited… and waited. Finally, two ladies came up to us. One looked me up and down in my shorts and t-shirt and said something and giggled to the the other : “You do know it’s cold up there, yes?”.
Now if I hadn’t got a raincoat, I certainly hadn’t got a thick coat.
“I’ll be fine” I replied, trying to up the butch.
“You can’t go up yet, as there will be thunderstorms and you might not get back down”. This just gets better…
Despite the slight, yet constant, anxiety that we were going to get struck by lightening or stranded and eaten by wolves, we did eventually make it up and the views were sort of worth waiting for.
As much as I am sure Sinaia is a nice place in the snowy winter or a clear, sunny day – basically any other time than when we were there – we were both relieved to be on the train the Brasov the next morning.
For those travelling around Romania, Brasov is often their point of entry into the Transylvania region. As well as the Old Town (which survived the Communist era in a much better state than the Old Town of Bucharest), it is very close to attractions like Bran Castle (aka Dracula’s Castle as it supposedly inspired Bram Stoker) and a large nature reserve with population of protected brown bears. After two rain soaked days in Sinaia, it certainly had the buzz and sunny weather that we needed.
In a bid to save money, we took the bus to Bran Castle (€1.50 versus the €30+ for the tour buses). In terms of music, we had already noticed that there seems to be a particular affinity for 80s classics where we had been in Romania (Alphaville though to Samantha Fox, via a bit of Sabrina), and this bus ride was no exception with a serenade of Tina Turner’s 80s discography courtesy of our fellow passenger for the 45 minute ride. Bran Castle, despite the immense – almost dangerous – crowds, is worth a visit as it is a stunning building.
In a bid to work off some of the amount of pork we’d eaten and the beers we decided (I decided) to take a hike (Giles says walk) up the mountain (Giles says hill) in the middle of Brasov. Whilst the signs warning about wild bears and lynx were a bit disconcerting and there were plenty of opportunities to slip on the rocks and fall to the bottom, we proudly made it to the Hollywood-esque Brasov sign and the views of the city were amazing.
The highlight of our time in Brasov was to watch bears in the wild. Romania has Europe’s largest population of wild brown bears and whilst these are not officially protected, a handful of nature reserves are set up to monitor and protect the bears. We were driven out to one reserve and were given a safety talk (how to deal with an aggressive, charging bear) and the safety precautions the ranger had (a can of pepper spray). As well as over 30 bears, this reserve was also home to wolves.
Thankfully, we were not attacked and were able to see three large bears. I’m just glad they didn’t follow us back to the bus. Hopefully, we might get to see more bears during our time in Romania.
To see more of this part of our trip, have a look at our short video.