July 16th, 17th, 18th 2010
Another dramatic beginning to a new city. Upon arriving at Timisoara airport from Lviv, I couldn’t withdraw any money from the ATM but luckily, I had some leftover euros which I exchanged into Romanian Lei. Managed to hitch a bus ride all the way to the Gara Nord train station (thought I could buy a ticket on the bus, couldn’t, but bus driver let me ride anyway). Still couldn’t withdraw any money from several different ATMs so I knew I had to call my bank with Skype, hence needing an internet connection. The area around Gara Nord was barren of facilities, so I trekked all the way into the city center, in the hot weather, with all my gear on my back (thank you lack of luggage facilities at train station). Managed to find the tourist info office, which directed me to free wifi at McDonalds. Managed to get the bank situation sorted out eventually. Then I had to hitch another ride to the train station since the lady who sells bus tickets at the kiosk only had two-way tickets and I wasn’t about to pay extra for something I wouldn’t use.
I gotta say, the transportation infrastructure in Eastern Europe is crap. All the railway stations are ancient, all the tracks are ancient, all the trains are ancient (even their “rapid” trains are slow). Which adds to its Eastern European charm I suppose.
I took the train from Timisoara to Arad first. I sat in a cramped, stuffy, smelly car with other people who were all profusely sweating like myself. There was no A/C. At least the ride was only an hour long. A gypsy started asking me (in English no less) if I was from China. Apparently, he owns a cell phone selling business and he buys his phones from China (ordered via Internet). Of course, these phones aren’t original. They’re Chinese copies, hence, cheap. But he resells them at high prices by the bulk to his business associates, who in turn, sell them to the people, who I’m sure, just want cheap cell phones rather than the latest I-Phone (I have yet to see anyone holding one). Anyway, the gypsy was there with his family and it was interesting just to talk to them a little. The gypsies don’t have a good rep around Europe and I was surprised how nice they were.
Upon arriving in Arad, I was supposed to have 1 min to hop onto another train to Brasov. Luckily for me, despite the late arrival to Arad, the Brasov train was delayed itself. Instead of journeying another 7 hours to Brasov, it took 8.5. It was late, I was frustrated and tired, eager to get to my hostel and rest after a long day of travel. Once at Brasov, I found bus #51 which was supposed to take me all the way to where my hostel was. Luckily for me, yet again, it was the last one for the night and I caught it. It dropped me off in a dark, quiet residential street and the only people that were there were some cops. I couldn’t find my hostel (it’s one of these houses around here…) and the cops kept trying to ask if I wanted a lift to the nearest hotel. I declined and they left. I finally realized that the house with construction going on all over it, was actually the hostel. It’s deceiving from the outside. But inside, whole different matter. Very nice and clean and some of the friendliest staff (led by their owner Gabriel) I’ve met on my travels.
Brasov is a nice, small-ish sized, charming city. You could walk around town easily since things are pretty close by. I visited the morning fruit/veggie markets, ate a supersized chicken sandwich, visited several sites of interest, walked the main town squares, ate some traditional Romanian food at places like Sergiana and Casa Romaneasque, ate ice-cream, listed to some street performers, watched the Romanian folk and tourists going about their business around town, browsed stores.
My last day, I took a minibus to Sinaia to check out Peles Castle. I had planned on checking out spooky Bran Castle in Bran but Gabriel insisted I check out Peles instead. He said I would have come all the way for nothing if I didn’t see Peles, so I felt maybe it was better to do so. I was glad to make the trip. One of the most beautiful, fairy-tale-like, exquisite, charming, expensive castles I’ve seen in my travels so far. I couldn’t take photos of the inside because it would cost 32 Lei, on top of the 20 Lei tour ticket. But take my word for it, King Carol I really had the life (and imagination). BTW, shoe covers, mandatory.
One thing I’ve noticed while in Romania, men love wearing ugly, tight shorts around. It’s a fashion statement I believe, the wrong kind though.
Of course, what trip would be complete without a little heavy rain. I decided to stop by for lunch at a place called ‘Teresa Bucegi’ and demolished a 26″ pizza and a Bucegi cake. I really have to stop being a glutton just because things are so cheap and I’m starving.
After lunch, I navigated my way back to the mini-bus drop-off point, just in time to catch one. A mini-bus isn’t really a bus. It’s more like a van, with seats, and some standing room. I had to stand on the journey back, it’s just an amusing way of getting around. My driver thought he was an F1 racer and one time, slammed on his brakes so hard to avoid a fender-bender that everyone standing fell over forward.
Back at the hostel, I started chatting with some English lads, who turns out, were cycling through all of Europe. I thought that was pretty cool, although it must be exhausting. One of them started his journey all the way from France, the other joined his friend from Athens. I thought it would be fun to do something like that in America, but then dismissed the thought because I wasn’t that crazy (just yet). I need Lance Armstrong to train me first. Where’s his #…
Note : OK, let’s talk about my lack of encounters with vampires in Transylvannia. Vlad “Tepes” Dracula was really just a prince. He was famous for torturing his enemies by impaling sticks into their spines, missing their vital organs, thus giving them a painful, long death. Hence the nickname “Tepes” which means “Impaler” and “Dracula” just means “Son of the Dragon”, after his father Dracul. So I was quite quite disappointed not to run into vampires like the one below.