Ruse was a spontaneous choice as usual. Its not a spot that most tourists or travellers go, mainly because theres nothing to see and if they do, they stop for the mandatory hour on the train and then continue to Veliko, Plovdiv or Sofia. For me however I like to try new things and explore random places when I can so i decided to couchsurf with a girl in Ruse for two nights. Lucille, came to meet me from the train and took me in her car back to her flat. I was so excited just to chill with her and it seemed instantly like we knew each other. We laughed as she talked about her experience moving from France to Ruse and her plans to leave again. She was so funny. We spent the next two days completely chilling out and watching movies, discovering that we both loved the SAW series. When we watched them all, we headed to the cinema to watch the newest one to be relaeased. I felt as though Id finally found somewhere to feel at home and relax and I couldnt thank Lucille enough. I made a veggie puff pastry for dinner after we bought veggies from the local market and the next mornign I made us lovely pancakes for breakfast before I left. This was one of the best experiences of the trip and it was so good that even though we walked around town exploring, Lucille was so cool with just hanging out and chatting about travels. I was so glad I stopped in Ruse.
Veliko was a suprise that I didnt have any expectations about. Arriving to the train station, i decided to walk to the hostel - a half hour walk it said, but the structure of the town is so windy and steep that It defnitely took more than that. I was happy I walked in the end because the wlak took me through some of the cutest streets and the higher i went, the greater the views became. This place reminded me a lot of Valparaiso in Chile because of the colourful houses and the hillside structures. The town itself was home to one of the coolest fortresses Ive ever seen as well as plenty of cool statues, grafiti and architecture. I met the coolest people in Hostel Mostel which was a steal at 10 euros including free breakfast, dinner and beer every day. We formed a group comprised of Spanish, Thai, Finnish, Australian and Portuguese and played funny drinking games and chatted both nights. The beer was 1 euro for 2.5 Litres in the local shop so it became our routine to go there after dinner to stock up, then we would get drunk, be told to move to the kitchen where we would then proceed to eat the breakfast food when no one was looking. Who knew cheese on toast tasted so good after some beers. I was only sorry I didnt have longer in Veliko and in Bulgaria in general as I would loved to have explored Plovdiv, Sofia and the beautiful lakes around the area. I guess this will have be a future trip for me. It was the end of Eastern Europe for me and as I headed back to Bucarest, I took with me two side kicks from the hostel who were also headng that way. After a night in Bucarest I finally left Romania and flew to my next destination- Berlin, Germany.
Sighisoara was recommended to me by Jorge who told me it was a must see on my way to Brasov. I googled images of Sighisoara and instantly decided to go there. Early that morning i took the Bla Bla car share with a lovely Romanian couple who had been visiting their daughter in Cluj, and they dropped me right in town when we arrived. I decided to go to the train station to get my ticket to Brasov and perhaps store my bag while i explored the town. And that I did! I had a few hours to explore, which was more than enough time to enjoy my time there. The fortified, medieval town was located on a height so i entered via some steep steps and once at the top, I began to explore the colourful streets. The view from the city walls were amazing as well as the town itself. I could barely take two steps in one direction before taking another photo. The architechture was so picturesque and the colours were so photogenic. I think i probbaly took over 100 photos in just a few hours. I wandered around enjoying the peace and quiet of the streets before sitting al fresco to eat some traditional lunch at the Medieval Cafe. I orderded the local bean soup, with 'draculas' potatos as well as a glass of house white wine. It was chilly but I was wrapped up and the sun was shining. This was one of the highlights of Romania and i was so happy i had some time to explore here.
Brasov and surroundings
Brasov was the town that everyone suggested when I first decided to go to Romania. I was excited to go here to explore the famous palaces and catsles nearby including the famous 'Draculas' castle in Bran. While In Brasov, I explored the beautiful town, did a free walking tour to get the history of the place and then on my other days there i took local buses to Rasnov Fortress, Peles Palace in Sinaia and Bran Castle. The buses all departed from Autogara 2 which was a 20 minute walk from the centre but was super cheap to take the bus to any of these places.
Rasnov Fortress- a beautiful fortified fortress with stunning views over the valleys and the town itself was incredibly picturesque as seen below. This is still one of my favourite pictures of my trip.
Bran Castle aka Draculas Castle was the castle that Bram Stoker, author of Dracula, based his book on. Dracula or Vlad the Implaler never actually lived here but rather the castle was just used as a fictional castle that he lived in, in the book. Nevertheless, the trip was well worth it and although the town itself was rather touristy, the castle was super cool to see and it was something I wanted to see when in Transylvania of course.
Sinaia- Peles Royal Palace
This palace was incredible, unfortunatley at the time of year I went, they had closed the palace which meant that I could only see the grounds and not the inside, which was still incredible and saved me money. The town of Sinaia was rather pretty and I had lunch there in the local Irish pub, before taking the train to my final stop of Bucharest.
Bucarest was a nice surprise. Im not going to lie but a lot of people had told me not to go there or if i did, to only spend a day or two there. They always say a place is determined by the company you keep and maybe thats why I had such a good time. I met a few great people on my walking tours including Ling from China and Ashley from Canada. We were all there for different reasons but together we had such a great time. We did two walking tours that day which were very different and so much fun and informative. We then went for dinner together at Mamas restaurant which was a traditional Romanian restaurant recommended by our guide. We spent the evning at a local craft beer bar which was so much fun and we followed on to some bars and clubs before heading home. My first experience in Bucarest was amazing and I was staying at a lovely hostel called Old Town Hostel Bucarest right in the centre of the old town with an amazing view. The next day I planned to go to Ruse in Bulgaria and despite the banging hangover, i made it out of bed and on the train right on time.
I decided to go to Romania on a whim- nothing new then! Actually, I had originally bought a ten euro flight to Corfu and planned to get some sun after travelling through the cold Baltics. Something told me however, that the chances of me spending lots of money on expensive accomodation and an outward flight with no guarantee of good weather (the only reason i was going, as I had been to Corfu before) was high. Eventually I looked at the map and decided that I would try and see as much of Romania and Bulgaria as I could before taking a flight from either Bucarest or Sofia back towards Ireland. If I had enough money left I even planned to fly home via Germany and Scotland.
My first stop In Romania was Timisoara, somewhere I have to admit, I never heard of before. All I knew in Romania was Transylvania and Bucarest and this needed to change. My first couchsurfing of the trip experience started here In Timisoara, when a nice Turkish guy called Mustafa willingly hosted me for two nights. Mustafa kindly met me at the bus station having arrived from Budapest and during my stay made me feel so welcomed and even cooked me a lovely meal which I had when I got to his flat. I explored Timisoara easily with the help of a self guided map that I picked up from the tourist info in the centre of town- It took me a while to realise this. What I loved about Timisoara was 1) It was much less touristy than where I had been so far 2) The town was small enough to walk around 3) The buildings all had historical information on them which was super interesting to read as you wandered 3) it was beginning to be the cheapest place of my travels. I even headed to the Museum of the Revolution which was only 2euro and gave me such a great insight into Romanias history and how communism functioned there. Mustafa took me to his friends place in the evening where they had cooked delcious food. They chatted about work- a tradition every friday for them, while drinking vodka shots. I politely declined but eventually decided to try it which I was happy I did. We all went out that evening and had such a good time in town and we had such a good time that they asked me to stay another night. Unfortunately I had a Bla Bla Car* booked and another couchsurfing host organised for the next day, but I was so happy to have had the offer. Next stop was Cluj.
* Bla Bla Car is a popular app that they use around Europe (only certain countries) which helps you find a ride from place to place in return for a small fee, generally faster and cheaper than local transport. It also helps you to meet locals and enrich your travel experience.
Cluj- Napoca aka Cluj was somewhere I hadnt really thought about until Mustafa suggested it. It was on my way to Transylvania and It was known to many people as the student town of Romania. I planned to stay with Jorge from Portugal and his lovely girlfriend Ruxandra together with their beautiful dog in the centre of Cluj town. I took a Bla Bla Car to Cluj which was 4hrs and cost very little. On the ride I met some locals and we chatted for most of the journey- one of them even worked for Ryanair and studied Irish History. When I arrived, I was greeted with a warm welcome at Jorge and Ruxys place where the sweet smell of freshly cooking food waft throught the apartment while they sipped on wine and chatted to me as If I was an old friend- the beauty of couchsurfing. I was so inspired and mesermised by their way of life and their travels especially their funny story of their road trip to Moldovia- Very Funny! We chatted about our love of travel and bonded instantly as we cooked together and sipped on authentic Port wine from Portugal. They had set me up in a beautifully cosy room where I had privacy and lots of comfort for two nights. We continued to chat about life, travels and future plans into the early hours and I was so thankful to have met them.
The next day Jorge took me to a beautfiul viewpoint in the city which gave me a great insight into the citys layout and its beauty too. Later we strolled through the small old town and conituned to explore the many quirky bars (Cluj has some awesome bars) which you would never find on your own there including one of their favourites The Soviet which was exactly full of communist memorabilia. We had some lunch and then I headed to the theatre to meet a lady I met on the ride here. She had invited me to watch Lady MacBeth with her and her international group of friends. I enjoyed the movie but sadly they did not. It was quite humourous actually. The most daunting part of the night happened when I left the theatre aiming to walk down the street back to where I was staying, only to be greeted by an intimidating mob of people with plackards walking towards me. To me, It was intense not knowing what these plackards said nor if this was a peaceful demonstration or something more. Later that evening, Jorge explained to me the menaing of the peaceful protest- a law had recently been passed by the Romanian government allowing debts below a certain amount to be lifted, giving way to legalised corruption which many people rightly disagreed with. It was interedting to hear all of this from a local- something I would not have known otherwise. The next morning I planned to go to Sighisoara- fortified medieval town via Bla Bla Car and I was so excited. I was so pleased to have met Jorge and Ruxy and was thankful for the lovely homely experience I had.