Day 1: BuchaREST

Day 1: BuchaREST


Up at 4:45. After sleeping for 10 hours straight, I felt like a new person! My body just needed rest! My flight was leaving Rome at 8:30 for Bucharest, Romania. Brian’s was leaving at 11:30 for Los Angeles. The plan was to take an Uber to Termini station, then take the train from there to the airport. I didn’t want to walk to Termini in the dark, because that area is pretty sketch. I checked the cab fares. 10 euros to Termini, then it would be 28 euros for us to take the train. I checked the cab fare from our door to the airport. 37-42 euros. SOLD! It ended up being 38 euros- the same cost as taking a cab to the train and the train to the airport.

We got to the airport super fast (by like 5:45am- because the cab driver was driving like a bat out of hell), and started looking for food. Oh gee, guess what? Just like yesterday, zero protein, all pastries. UGH!!!! Brian went up to get a coffee, and brought me back a fresh squeezed orange juice because he loves me. We then figured out that his Norwegian flight was in the same terminal as mine, so we decided to go into the main area past security and look for more food. We did find pizza there. Minimal protein, but better than nothing. I was getting sadder and sadder. I didn’t want Brian to go. And I didn’t even want to go to Romania without him. Like seriously, if it weren’t for my housesit in Switzerland that was coming up, I might have flown back to Los Angeles with him. But I would never leave a homeowner in a bind by cancelling. Plus, I knew I’d regret it if I went back early. That said, my fast travel experiment for this summer has already taught me that I’m not a fast travel girl. It’s ok in short spurts, but for me, not sustainable for weeks on end. It’s exhausting both mentally and physically. But I’m glad I tried it, because now I know and can plan accordingly for the future. This Romania leg is the last leg of ridiculous go-go-go, so I can do it!

All too soon it was time for me to leave my baby and go to my gate (it was through passport control, so Brian couldn’t come with me). Exactly one more month from today, and I’ll see him again… Today would be another European budget airline with crazy baggage restrictions- Blue Air. They have the same tiny dimensions as Ryan Air for your carry on, PLUS you can only take one bag. So if you have a purse or something, it has to fit in your carry on bag. I was stressing a bit about this, because I was a tad over size and about 3 kg overweight. If they were being strict, I’d have to put on about 6 layers of clothes… Got to the gate at 7:45 (about 30 minutes before boarding was supposed to begin), and the line was RIDICULOUSLY long. Everyone on this flight was already in line. That made me even more stressed, because I worried about being able to fit my bag on the plane. The good news was that pretty much everyone had a carry on bag and a personal item like a small backpack or a purse. Once the line started moving for check in, it went fast. I was 6th in line from the back… Not even a blink at my bags. We had to board a bus to go to the plane, and I situated myself at the door to get ahead of everyone and on the plane as fast as possible.

I boarded from the back of the plane because less people were queued there, and looked for seat 17D. From the back all the way to my seat, every single overhead was full. Got to my seat, pulled out my laptop, crammed my daypack under the seat, and a flight attendant came to me and led me forward to an overhead with space. Bless her!! No one said a word about my second bag, and unlike on Ryan Air where I had to literally stand on the seat and cram it into the overhead, it fit easily. Other people’s bags, not so much. It ended up being a complete cluster fuck right before take off because so many people put their bag in end to end ways and the doors wouldn’t close. So the attendants were scrambling to get those bags turned sideways, which meant moving bags all over the place, which meant heated conversations in languages I didn’t even recognize…all while babies were screaming in surround sound. Ryan Air is a flying bus. Blue Air is a flying chicken bus. However, they are a chicken bus that actually gives you a drink and a snack without charging you 8 euros for the privilege, so kudos to them!!

Arrived and breezed through passport control. One thing I’m learning on this trip… I have the ability to navigate public transportation with the best of them. I can climb on buses and figure out stops and blah, blah, blah. This is easily within my skill set. I also have a healthy bank account (due to the fact that I am a cheap ass), and frankly, I’m learning that the headache, hassle, and aggravation of navigating public transportation with luggage isn’t always worth the savings. I am learning that I will splurge on easier transport, and that my savings from staying in cheap airbnbs, housesitting, and rarely eating out MORE than offsets it. That said, and the fact that Romania doesn’t use Euros even though they’re in the EU and I had no interest in trying to change some out for bus money, meant Uber to the rescue!! 40 lei (about $10 usd, basically divide by 4) for a 35 minute door to door ride. Sold.

The drive through Bucharest wasn’t very exciting. No buildings that made me gasp in awe. Got to my little neighborhood-for-a-night and met the host’s mother outside. She doesn’t speak any English, but we had no problem communicating which of the 4 keys to use for which of the 4 doors, where everything was in the house, and she was quite proud that she knew the word for kitchen. 😊 And with that one word, she knows more English than I know Romanian… This place is great for $22 a night! Huge room, really clean, great location within walking distance to everything I want to see! First order of business, food. I googled for grocery stores and saw there was a Carrefour right around the corner! I know Carrefour- that and Monoprix are my French go-to grocery stores! Odd to find one here. Went, and it was an express- meaning more of a convenience store. I walked out. Looked on the map, there was another grocery store just down the block! Went in and EVERYTHING was in Russian! There was a bulk Pelmini freezer that looked very interesting, but I wasn’t interested in cooking.
Looked at the map again, and found another Carrefour a bit further down. Motherlode! This was a two story mega grocery store!! As always, I had fun wandering up and down the aisles trying to figure stuff out! If you love canned fish, there are about 899 brands here. I couldn’t figure out if any of them were exactly what I wanted (canned tuna salad that I could just pop open and spread on bread), so I gave up. I ended up with my staples- peanut butter (there are only 2 brands!), chips, granola bars, crackers (my Tucs that I love so much!!), cookies, salami, bread, water, bananas and….what is the main staple of my diet??? DR PEPPER!!!!! And only about $.83 per can for Diet!! Dear Romania, You rock. I have never in my life seen a store in another country with THREE varieties of Dr. Pepper!! Thank you, thank you, THANK YOU, from the bottom of my heart. With love and admiration, Mary.

Now for the hard part. Check out. I started putting my stuff on the belt, and the cashier said something to me in Romanian. I smiled my most charming and helpless smile and asked, “English?”. She just looked at me in disgust. Okey dokey then…. She got to the bananas and started saying something else in Romanian. It didn’t take me long to figure out that I was supposed to have weighed and tagged them in the produce section. She wasn’t pleased. Abandon bananas! Abandon bananas! I set the bananas aside gently and with an apologetic smile. I put my card in the machine, it went through without a hitch, and I swear to god she THREW the receipt at me. What the fuck?! You know how when you are completely disgusted with something, like a dirty rag, and you flick your wrist in that “I’m completely disgusted” kind of way? That’s what she did with me. It kind of fluttered down on top of my groceries at the end of the checkout stand. Um, ok. I bagged everything up in my canvas bag and backpack and left. She couldn’t shake me though….I had 8 Dr. Peppers!! Every single one of the zeros and diets on the shelf. 😊 And had spent less than $20. Not super cheap, but livable.

Walked back, snapped a couple of pictures, got all the right keys in the right doors, took a shower, ate, texted with Brian who was now in the Oslo, Norway airport waiting for his flight to LA, and rested. I originally had 3 adventures planned for this afternoon…two sites that I want to see, and a walking tour at 6pm. I decided that rest was more important. The next 10 days are going to be INSANE travel days, and I don’t want to get run down. I’ll hit the 2 sites in the morning before I check out at noon, and will live without a walking tour of Bucharest. For tonight, I’ll just listen to the yells out the window- knowing that is my cue to refresh my google screen to see the score of the France-Croatia World cup final. I know I’m in Eastern Europe, but #gofrance! While I’m writing this, France scored first, there was a yell. Then, Croatia scored- a MUCH louder yell!! Who needs to refresh for the score? I just have to judge the decibel of the yells. 😉 Spoiler alert: France won.

Jewish Synagogue by the bnb



Day 2: A Sorcerer’s Arm, Vlad’s Princely Court, and the Snagov Monastery

Day 2: A Sorcerer’s Arm, Vlad’s Princely Court, and the Snagov Monastery


So I had a hard time getting to sleep last night. The neighborhood is quiet and dark, so that’s not the problem. No, I miss my Brian!! And apparently this ring he put on my finger has turned me into…horror of horrors…one of THOSE girls- and I have wedding stuff on the brain! ARGH!! That is NOT who I am!! 🙄 So I went to sleep about midnight and was up at 6- working, blogging, and waiting for Brian to land in LA. Poor guy- 2.5 hours late getting in. And he has to go to work in the morning. How he does it and just keeps going, I’ll never know…

This Romania trip is mainly about classes. A class on Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them in Europe! So I’m planning on scouring Romania in search of all things mythical and creepy!! Scouring means transportation, and in my case, that will be one rental car. But before I go get that, I have to do the two quick things I wanted to see here in Bucharest. Luckily, they were in easy walking distance. I put the Zlătari Church into google maps. Only 6/10 of a mile! Off I headed. I saw a bank along the way, and figured it would be wise to pull some cash out so I had some Romanian currency. Went through the process, and the message came back that they would not accept my card! Ugh!! I hoped this wasn’t a Romanian thing… I strolled through Old Town, while the westernized looking restaurants and bars were stocking up for the day. The buildings were quite lovely! I managed to find another bank, and they took my card. Whew!!

Rounded the corner to the church. Honestly, I was expecting one of those massive Western European concoctions. I was quite shocked by how small it was! I went in, and the word “wow” involuntary came out of my mouth. This wasn’t a touristy cathedral with tourists running around with cameras. People were in here worshiping. Not a full on service, but individuals. No tourists. #awkward  So why am I in Zlătari Church? Magic, of course!! 🙂 So there was this guy named Cyprian back in the 200s, and he was a powerful sorcerer. People came to him whenever they needed some magical “help” in life. Obviously Christians shouldn’t be practicing sorcery or using the services of a sorcerer. But that worked out, because Cyprian and the people seeking him out were pagans. Well, a pagan fell in love with a Christian woman named Justina. No god fearing Christian would want a pagan for a husband, so he did what any sane man would do- convert. Just kidding!! He went to Cyprian to have a spell put on her! Imagine Cyprian’s surprise when Justina’s Jesus magic beat out his pagan magic!! He was so impressed, that he converted (not kidding this time, he really did!). And not just converted, but became a bishop! The Romans were kinda over the Christians, who ended up getting the short end of the stick. Cyprian and Justina were both tortured and killed. Jump ahead a bit, and they wound up as saints. Cyprian is the patron saint of necromancers- which seems a little weird, but whatever floats Catholic boats… But because there isn’t much historical evidence for their existence, they were removed from the list o’ saints in 2001.  Well, a lot of Catholics, especially of the Eastern Orthodox flavor, still believe in the power of Cyprian. And his arm is in the Zlătari Church. Which is why I’m here. 🙂

The original plan was to tell the story while videoing in the church. However, I wasn’t going to be disrespectful to the worshippers (I felt bad enough snapping pics). I did watch one woman come in and lay her arm over the glass in the same position as Cyprian’s. Why? Well, worshipers believe that he can counteract any magic being done against them. 🤔

Next up, Vlad III’s palace. You may know Vlad from such things as being the basis for Dracula. You may also know him by his more interesting name, Vlad the Impaler. On the way, I stumbled across another small, beautiful church. I was standing outside, taking pictures through the fence, when a young lady in her early 20’s walked up and in perfect English informed me that I could go inside and it was beautiful! She showed me the entrance. So kind! And the first English I’ve heard in 24 hours other than “kitchen”! 😉 And she was right. It was beautiful inside. And I had it all to myself, other than the attendant at the door. The churches here are arty and intricate- not that over the top gaudy style you see in Western Europe a lot. They’re darker, more dimly lit. I like them. There was information inside in English (same in the Zlătari Church). Turns out this church is the Stavropoleos Monastery of 1724.

A few more corners, and I was facing the ruins of Curtea Veche- Vlad’s home, or “princely court” that he built in 1459. Apparently they were excavated in the 1950s, but not much has been done with them. Restoration is in progress, and apparently has been for a long time with no end in sight. 🙁 There is a bust of Vlad though, holding court over his ruins.

Right next to the ruins is another church, St. Anthony’s, the oldest in Bucharest dating back to 1559. Again, quite beautiful and no tourists, just worshipers. There’s some piece of a saint in here as well (I assume St. Anthony). 

Back out on the streets to head back to the room. Turned a corner and hey! I recognized this street! It’s where Carrefour is! Bananas….take two! Went in, got my bananas, had them weighed by a lady, checked the Dr. Pepper aisle and took all 4 of the restocked Dr. Pepper Zeros (I now have enough for 1 a day for the entire trip!!), and checked out. The cashier spoke French to me! So strange! I said I speak English, and he spoke English to me.  Came back, got my stuff together, and decided to take an Uber to the car rental place instead of navigating a bus with luggage. Door to door for like $4.50. No brainer. Got my car through Autonom, and even though I was like an hour and a half early, they got all of my stuff together and out the door really fast. Buckle up, Romania! I’m behind the wheel!!

I put the Snagov Monastery into google maps and headed off down the road. The driving here is really easy, and there are like a zillion radio stations and ALWAYS something fun to sing on at least one of them! It was just a little over 30 minutes to the monastery, most of it on a main highway, and then turning off into rural countryside. I found the parking lot sign, and headed off walking in the direction of the arrow. Imagine my amazement when I reached a long, wide bridge!! And from that, kids were jumping off into the lake below! I walked across. One of the boys just kept smiling at me, and then jumps right as I reached him. As I crossed the bridge on to the island, there was a small, brown speckled pony happily munching grass along the path. And ahead, a building with a large arch. I walked through that, and there was the monastery. Again, small by western standards, but imposing none-the-less. First, I walked around the grounds a bit. There was a wildness to it- grass that hadn’t been mowed. Weeds blooming. Birds chirping. It really was peaceful and relaxing.

When I finished walking the grounds, I headed into the monastery. It cost 24 lei ($6) to come in and be able to take pictures. Small price to pay! Because I was here for a reason…yes, I’m still hot on the trail of Vlad! The church was built in 1521- almost 500 years ago- and is just amazing inside! Vlad contributed a lot of money to build the monastery, and this is the place where legend says his remains are. Remains or not, there is a tomb dedicated to him with a plaque and a burning candle. Someone dig that thing up, order an DNA kit, and let’s solve the mystery!!

As I walked back across the bridge, I ended up behind a group of people. Bringing up the rear of the group was a little old hunched over lady. She started talking to me in Romanian, and I finally told her I only speak English. That didn’t dissuade her.😀  She communicated to me that the 4 people up ahead where her grown children. We “talked” about how hot the weather was. And as we looked out over the lake, she said, “Very nice”. So this lady has two English words…I have one Romanian word (I learned that pui is chicken at the grocery store!). She wins, but I’m getting there!!

Put in Hotel Valahia in the gps, and headed toward Targoviste- my stop for the night. It gave me a few different routes, and I chose one that didn’t go through main towns. Driving the back roads of Romania, with fields of huge yellow sunflowers and corn on either side of me, and impossibly baby blue sky, with white clouds lit up by the sun….damn. Passing little old ladies with kerchiefs on their heads just like you’d imagine, men driving horse carts, it was all just so picturesque and perfect. I did pass 3 churches that I am KICKING myself for not stopping and getting pics of. I don’t know….I just felt weird about pulling over and snapping pics. This didn’t feel anything like “tourist territory”.

Rural Romanian traffic jam

Got to the hotel, checked in. For $25 a night, it is not bad at all! A little dated, but hell, so am I! 😉 Oh, and it includes breakfast in the morning. I’m glad. I’ll need a big one because I have a ton of adventures planned!!



Day 3: Targoviste, Peles Castle, and Busteni

Day 3: Targoviste, Peles Castle, and Busteni


I slept a solid 8 hours! Got up and went down for my free breakfast, not expecting much. Wrong!! I was served a 2 or 3 egg omelette that was FULL of huge ham chunks and cheese. And it was really good! Plus hot tea and a basket of more bread than I could eat in a week (that was really good as well). Awesome, solid breakfast! I had 3 adventures scheduled for today, so after I ate I headed off on foot for the first one- the Princely Court of Targoviste.

It was about half a mile away. It opened at 9, and I got there 5 minutes before and waited. At 9, the other people waiting (a lot of school kids) started walking in and I followed. I didn’t see a place to buy a ticket. Was it free to go in? I saw a sign for a souvenir shop and went there. The lady spoke a little English. She said the ticket lady wasn’t there, and that I could walk around and pay when I left. Cool. So I headed out. There wasn’t much information about this place, other than the fact that Vlad the Impaler had lived here so I knew I wanted to film for class. I was pleasantly surprised at how extensive the grounds are! And, there was a decent amount of information in English! So here’s the “quick history”. This area became a princely court and capital of Romania back in the late 1300s, when a Romanian prince built a house, the walls, and a church here. Around 1440, Vlad Dracul (Vlad the Impaler’s dad) built the first proper palace here. Vlad the Impaler came along a few years later and built the tower. After Vlad, in the 1500s, the capital was moved to Bucharest, but Targoviste remained a royal residence. Various princes throughout the centuries restored and remodeled the buildings, with the last major royal renovations occurring in the early 1700s. Romania began a program of restoring the ruins of the princely court in the 1900s.

The tower was just amazing. I did a lot of filming for class. There was one central wooden spiral staircase that went up and up and UP to the top of the tower- 88 feet to the top. Not my favorite thing to do, but I did it for the children!!!!! The view from the top was spectacular! The tower was originally built by Vlad the Impaler as a guard tower. But it was also a clock tower of sorts, with the guards watching for sunset, which would signal for the gates to be closed for the night. In fact, it’s name is Chindia Tower, which means sunset tower.

View from the top!

Next, I explored the ruins of the old palace. Then, the Princely Church. It was built in 1585, the inside repainted a hundred years later, and that’s basically it. Amazing. The paintings are very reminiscent of the style I saw in the Snagov Monastery yesterday.

Then, things got interesting… I went into a building that was a museum of sorts. The lady wanted my ticket. I tried to explain that the ticket person wasn’t there when I came in, and I was supposed to pay on my way out. This woman was having NO part of it. She was pretty harsh with me, even though the guy that was in the museum with her understood what I was saying and was translating it. She didn’t care. She sent me out. And honestly, she made me feel like I was some damn criminal trying to sneak in without paying or something. Frankly, I wasn’t pleased. I walked out, with no plans to go back in, and started walking toward the next building. But she followed me, yelling someone’s name across the whole damn complex. She finally got this woman’s attention, and then pointed and harshly told me something that I understood as “go there”. So I did. Jesus. The ticket lady was there now, so I paid my 15 lei CASH ONLY (about $4) for the entrance fee and camera fee. I reluctantly walked back to the museum. On the way, I passed an old man on a bench who spoke to me in French. This was like the 3rd person who had spoken to me in French since I’ve been here! I don’t speak French, but understand enough to kind of get by (sort of, maybe, barely….). He was asking me where I was from. I said the United States. He asked me if I spoke French. I told him no, only English. He smiled and I continued on my way to the museum where Attila the lady was. I showed her my ticket. Apparently it was a magical ticket, because it transformed her into a smiling, nodding human. What the hell, Romania? I’m finding that the normal people on the street are really, really nice, but customer service types are super harsh, especially if they sense any weakness. Christ.

Well, I’m glad I went back. It ended up being a museum about the printing press. Nothing was in English, but it was sort of easy to follow along. They had books from the 1500s on display!! I geeked out over that. Plus exhibits showing how the printing press was used. It was mainly in Romanian, but easy to figure out.

Next, St. Friday Church, which is the oldest unaltered building in the region! From the 1400s! Some people were doing an archaeological dig outside the church in the…um…graveyard. Not the place I’d want to do a dig!! But it was interesting to watch them. I really wished I could have talked to them about the work they were doing. ☹

As I walked out, the little old man was still sitting on the bench. I said “Au revoir!”, smiled, and gave him a wave. He smiled and laughed. Now THOSE are the Romanian interactions I want! And that was it for my Targoviste tour! Time to jump in the car and head out toward the next stop- Peles Castle. The fields of sunflowers and corn quickly turned into rolling hills, with huge mountains in the background. THE CARPATHIANS!! It was gorgeous! For a while, it was town after town after town. Then, nothing but lush green forests, gorgeous jade green/blue streams running through pebble beds, and hair pin turns as I climbed the mountains and watched the temperature gauge drop from 27C to 18C (80F to 64F). There were SO many places I wanted to stop and get a picture, but no turnouts! Dear Romania, I need more scenic viewpoints- stat! Thanks, Mary.

Soon I arrived in Sinaia, the town where Peles Castle is. And oh my god. This town was so cute! I could seriously have spent an entire day exploring here! I drove to the castle and parked (15 lei CASH ONLY). Walked down the road toward the castle, and when it appeared, I stopped in my tracks and said, “WOW!” out loud. I’ve been in a lot of defensive castles. This one was a fairy tale castle!! A fairy tale castle that cost 65 lei CASH ONLY to get in to (30 for entry, 35 for a camera!)- basically $17.

It was built from 1873-1914 by German architects, which is why I immediately recognized a “Bavarian” style to it. The castle was the summer residence of King Carol I and Queen Elisabeth. Inside, this castle is just wow, wow, WOW!!! The detail, the wood work…holy crap. The lighting is really dim and not conducive for pictures. Which is a damn shame, because the pics just don’t do this place justice. Here are some of the better ones.

Then, out of the corner of my eye, I saw a bust. I thought, “Man, that kinda looks like my Sun King (Louis XIV of France).” But there was no reason for him to be here. I kept going around the circle, then made my way back to the room where the bust was. IT WAS LOUIS!!! I LOVE LOVE LOVE it when my kings pop up in unexpected locations! And then, at the end of the tour, there was a little theater room that just looked so…French. Well, lo and behold, it was decorated in the Louis XIV style. My Sun King…he’s an original, that’s for sure!! 😊

I left and wandered the grounds a bit. And there was a woman in a wedding dress. I swear to god, now that I’m engaged, wedding dresses are EVERYWHERE!!! Arghhhh!!! (Honestly, both of them look pretty over the whole damn thing! I chuckled when I saw the shot I got!). I then walked over to the other castle, Pelișor Castle. I didn’t go in, but it’s really pretty from the outside. Back in the car for the short drive to Busteni for my final adventure for the day- the cable car up the mountain to see the “Sphinx”. I parked- 15 lei CASH ONLY. All of this cash only stuff is frustrating as hell!! I hate carrying cash, and thank goodness I got 400 lei out in Bucharest or I’d be fucked. Dear Romania, The rest of the world is accepting credit cards. Please check into a merchant account. You’re welcome, Mary.

I rounded a corner and um……saw the cable car. Do you see it??

Here’s the close up. Look at the top of the mountain  in the previous picture for that tiny little tower on the flat part of the mountain almost over the middle of the hotel. Um, yeah… This thing went STRAIGHT. UP. And that’s how I’d need my 3 glasses of vodka if I was going to get on that thing… I went up to the building. The line wrapped around it. I stood there for like 15 minutes before I saw the car come down. Oh HELL no. People were packed in there like sardines. And based on the line, I’d be here for about 2 hours before I got to the front. Hmmmm….straight up on a shaky wire, in a car packed with people, and wait 2 hours for the privilege? Um, that’ll be a pass.

I extracted myself from the line and walked back down the road to go explore some hiking trails I saw on the way up. Much better idea! It was so beautiful. And then….creepy bridge!!! Seriously, world?? Why are there sketch ass bridges EVERYWHERE I GO???? Indiana Jones has his snakes…I have my bridges. Sigh. This one had busted out boards in it. I was pretty sure it wasn’t up to code. I practically did the splits I took such a huge step to get over the damn fucked up boards- plummeting 10 feet to my watery death in the 1 foot deep raging river below wasn’t on my spreadsheet….

Hiked around a bit, then used my mad wilderness survival skills to triangulate my position with the north star and the top of the mountain to figure my way back to the car. Or…there was a trail to the left, I knew the car was to the left, and I got lucky that it was the right trail that led to the car. You choose. 😊 Was so damn proud of myself when I rounded a corner and saw my car (it’s the silver one on the right side of the pic). Almost puked when I saw the bridge. Romania….where they will put up a serious barrier so you don’t fall over the side, but you’re on your own when it comes to falling THROUGH!

My airbnb for the night was just a couple of miles away. The guy who rents it out wasn’t there, his mother was (I’m 2 for 2 on that!), and she doesn’t speak English (2 for 2 on that as well!). So get a load of this…we communicated in…FRENCH!! I seriously have to research and see what this French connection is here in Romania. I’m shocked by how many people speak it. Settled in for the night to prepare for a long day of driving and adventuring tomorrow!



Day 4: Bran Castle (“Dracula’s”!), Valea Cetăţii Cave, and Rupestra Monastery

Day 4: Bran Castle (“Dracula’s”!), Valea Cetăţii Cave, and Rupestra Monastery


Slept great! Alexandra (the host) brought me tea at 7. I got my things together and left at 8. We communicated the best we could in French, hugged, and off I went. I headed off into the mountains again, on amazing, winding, roads through almost mythically magical dense green forests. You could see why folklore and fairy tales are such a part of the Romanian culture. It’s all around them. Instead of sunshine today, I had drizzle and sprinkles. After a while, I came out into a huge valley. It was just gorgeous.

Speaking of myths, the first stop today was Bran Castle. This castle is famous for being the one that inspired Bram Stoker’s creation of Dracula’s Castle. That said, Vlad the Impaler never lived here. After witnessing the lines yesterday in Busteni, I had a good idea of what this major tourist attraction was going to be like. One of my 3 stops for the day was actually before Bran Castle, but it didn’t open until 10. Bran opened at 9. So I decided to go there first to be there when it opened and beat the lines, then backtrack to the other place. Pulled in to Bran right before 9, easily found a place to park, and was pleased that it was only 4 lei ($1) instead of the 15 lei I’d been paying everywhere yesterday! Walked through a modern day torture device- the souvenir stall gauntlet (insert bloodcurdling scream!). Entry was 40 lei (about $10) with NO camera fee, and….drum roll please…they accepted credit cards!! I walked up the hill to the castle and there was no line to get in. Woo-hoo!

Ok. This is the castle that spawned Dracula. I was expecting spooky, dark, eerie, ancient. But….nothing was further from the truth. All of the interior walls were plastered in white. In places, they left the pieces that showed the original walls- now THOSE walls had character. These walls really made it feel like just a house kind of. The history here is more about the people who lived here (and I totally understand that). There were a couple of rooms with signage discussing vampires, and Vlad, and Stoker, but that was about it. There was way more vampire stuff in the souvenir gauntlet! I’ve been in a ton of castles. Some are super fancy (think Peles from yesterday) and have a museum DO NOT TOUCH quality to them. Some are just in ruins and you have to use your imagination to even recreate it. This one felt like a place where you could live and just have fun running around playing castle!! Not like a royal castle or a defensive castle- just a fun castle! There were a ton of little rooms- nothing massive and majestic and imposing. Lots of staircases- regular and spiral. One was a secret staircase with the original stone walls that was my favorite part of the entire castle! The furnishings were antiques, many original, but not over-the-top luxurious by any means. Just fairly simple, though beautiful, and functional. The views from the top were pretty great, though!

This was the king’s bedroom! So unassuming…

Is this a place I’d bring Brian back to? No. There are a zillion castles in Europe to explore. And lots with more exciting history, or more extravagant with a WOW factor. The draw for this one is Dracula, and frankly, as far as that went it was kind of a let down. I was pleased that I timed it right by getting there early. Here was the line a little after 10am on a Wednesday as I was leaving…

On the road again! To backtrack to the 2nd stop- Valea Cetăţii Cave. This stop was so I could do some cave filming for my Earth Science class. It’s right next to a beautiful little town called Rasnov, which is a pretty strong tourist draw.

I arrived at the cave at about 10:30, and there were only 3 other cars in the parking lot…um, was this open? Signs indicated that I had to walk to the cave entrance, so I took off up a road through an awesome forest. Which was uphill. Then turned into stairs! This was a solid hike! By the time I reached the top, my heart was pumping so hard a vampire would have choked if he had locked into one of my veins! 👹

It cost 15 lei (about $4) cash only to get in. Had to wait about 10 minutes for a guide, along with about 7 other people who had made it there before me. The guide came out, and we had 3 different languages going on in our group- Romanian, English, and something else that sounded eastern European but I didn’t know what it was. Well, the guide did, and he did his talk in all 3 languages. #jealous Unfortunately, the cave itself wasn’t very impressive. It was only one big room with a staircase/walkway that went around it in a loop. We entered to the left, walked around to a platform, there the guide told us about the cave, we took pictures, and exited to the right. Seriously, 15 minutes. I was pretty disappointed. 🙁 Had I known, I wouldn’t have backtracked to here.

Hit the rural back roads, for such a wonderful, peaceful, enjoyable drive. The back roads are very Swiss- like the cheese! Full of holes! You really have to keep an eye on the road. Main roads are in very good condition with a lot of construction going on. But even with the potholes, I prefer the back roads winding through quiet little villages, horse drawn carts for traffic. There are SO MANY things that just make you gasp out loud- they’re that beautiful. But again, practically impossible to ever find a place to pull over and take a picture. You just have to come here and see for yourself! Here are a few of the sites I saw along the way…

Last stop for the day was a mysterious one- the Rupestra Monastery in Sinca-Veche. It’s a series of temples carved into rock that dates back 7000 years!! WOW! And no one knows who built it or why… When I took one of the pictures, I was really shocked to see a star of David carved into one of the niches. This isn’t your typical Christian monastery….these temples far predate that…

The grounds were beautiful, with nicely manicured paths and stairs climbing into the hills through the forest. I started walking around, just exploring the peacefulness of it all. On my way down one trail, some new stairs were being built. I walked down them, and at the bottom was a lone worker, a man about 60, sitting on a bench having lunch. I smiled at him and said hello. He grinned so big and beckoned me over, gesturing to share his lunch. There was one chicken back and a couple of slices of bread. He was so insistent (in the friendliest way imaginable). So I tore off a piece of chicken and a piece of bread, ate it, and declared it to be delicious! He was so pleased! He hugged and kissed me on the cheek, and I continued down the trail. Now, he didn’t have much of a lunch, and there were a few dozen people milling around back here. Why he chose me to share lunch with, I have no idea. But what a lovely, unexpected gesture!

And that was the last adventure for the day. Drove into Sighișoara, and found my Airbnb for the next 2 nights (and it’s AWESOME!! Private apartment, large, modern, clean, great wifi, free parking, walking distance to the city…$34 a night!).



Day 5: Sighișoara and Regrets

Day 5: Sighișoara and Regrets


Well….in real time I’m sitting in Switzerland listening to the noon church bells ringing- about 2 weeks on the other side of this day. It’s the only Romanian journal that hasn’t been written already and sitting in queue. But now that Day 4 has been posted, I have no choice. I have to write Day 5. And it’s a bittersweet endeavor. Because it was such a wonderful day…but also a day filled with regret for me personally. Because I did something so out of my character, and something I’m ashamed of. Something that I have literally thought about every day since and wished I could have done it differently. I guess this journal is in some way my amends. I already know it’s not enough.

As I’ve stated, my airbnb in Sighișoara was an awesome one!! Private, large, modern, comfortable, great wifi. So it was really easy spending my morning working. This was one of only two places where I was staying for more than one night, trying to give myself a little down time. But I did want to see the city. So the night before I did what I always do- google and see if there’s a free walking tour. There wasn’t, but there was one paid tour company that came up- Your Guide in Transylvania. On such ridiculously short notice, I didn’t hold out much hope. But I emailed Emanuel and told him I was free the entire next day, and if there was any availability to just give me the time and I’d be there. I was thrilled when he quickly replied that we could do a 10am tour!

That morning was rainy, so I got decked out in my rain pants and stuffed my rainjacket in my day pack. Emanuel was picking me up, and he was right on time. It was just going to be he and I for the day. PERFECT. I hate other people on tours with me. #elitist I got in, realized his English was spot on perfect, and bombarded him with everything I wanted out of this tour- lots of history, any info on Vlad (this is the city where he was born). I think he was a bit overwhelmed, as I probably said about 10 paragraphs before I took a breath and he pulled out of the driveway! That’s what not speaking English to anyone for 5 days will do to ya! We pulled into a parking lot outside of the historic old city walls, and Emanuel began giving me the history. And his delivery was PRECISELY the type of historical information I like to get on these tours. I was captivated and swept into the story of Sighișoara from the first moment, because Emanuel was passionate about the subject!

The entire old city is listed as a UNESCO heritage site. Let’s do one of my history lessons, shall we?? 🤓 So a lot of different empires have had their fingers in the Romanian pie. Just based on the name, you might have guessed Rome, and you’d be right (more on that in a couple of days). But back in the 1100s, the Hungarian Empire was in control. The King of Hungary wanted to make the area we know as Transylvania (literally “on the other side of the forest”) a “buffer zone” of sorts, to help prevent the pesky (polite term) Mongols from invading, settling, and eventually making their way into Hungary proper. But he had people problem. No one really lived there! Certainly not enough people to create any kind of real city for defense. So what do you do when you’re a king who needs people? Ship ’em in! And that’s exactly what he did. He chatted up some of the German Saxons- who were some of the most skilled merchants and craftsmen in Europe at the time. He made them a deal…move to Transylvania. I’ll give you land, and you won’t have to pay any taxes. Such opportunities didn’t pop up every day in the late 1100s, so many of these Saxons jumped at the chance! The King made good on his promises (that’s a refreshing twist!), and the Saxons settled this remote land in about 1191. Within 100 years, they had built Sighișoara- a fortified medieval city. It became not only a strategic location, but a booming location for trade as well. With trade, comes money and growth, and Sighișoara became one of the most important cities in the region. Now, it is a UNESCO site because of how amazingly well preserved the medieval architecture is. In addition, it’s one of the few “living” medieval cities in Eastern Europe- where businesses still thrive within the old city walls, and residents go about their day to day lives, as they have been for the past 800 years. Wow.

Ok, so now that we have some background, let’s walk through the city! We walked up the ancient road toward the fortified citadel. Here you can see the gate to the city, with the clock tower looming in the background. Emanuel went into this whole description about how invading armies would try to lay siege to Sighișoara- complete with having me pretend to be an invading solider (and not even in a cheesy way, but a really fun and engaging way!). He showed me the city gate, discussed how it would have been set up to keep people out, and even showed me the holes and pieces that were left from where the original gate was! Something I never would have noticed on my own (and THAT is why I do these tours!!).  He showed me the areas around the gate and walls where the citizens would be defending their city from the invaders- murder holes and all. It was FASCINATING, and really brought the entire structure- and city- to life!

Let’s focus on the clock tower for a moment. This current tower was built in 1677, after a fire destroyed the original one from the late 1200s. Below you can see a closeup of the clock and an interesting rotating structure with figures in it. This is the side that people entering the city would see. This little wooden mechanism turns, with the Roman/Greek god for each day of the week on top. There’s a drummer on the left and an executioner on the right- warning people coming into the city to not cause trouble! I’m kicking myself for somehow not getting a picture of the side that faces into the city, but there’s a similar mechanism there as well. Except on this one, the top figure rotates between day and night figures. And below that is another drummer, but also a figure holding an olive branch to represent peace. There’s also a figure of lady justice. This was to symbolize that if you had been allowed to come into the city, you were expected to behave peacefully, or you would find yourself in court! And if you were found guilty of disrupting the peace of this town, well, let’s just say you had been warned of the consequences when you entered (executioner). Again- SO FASCINATING and something I would never have known had I not had a guide!

Once inside the city walls, I could see why this place is listed on UNESCO. It is just gorgeous!! The old buildings, so carefully restored and maintained. Interesting details everywhere you looked. And what I thought was the main purpose of my trip- to see Vlad’s birthplace- kind of faded into the background as I became so engrossed in the history of this wonderful city, as told by Emanuel.

The home where Vlad the Impaler was born around 1430

Me, with Vlad. He’s not thought of as a monster in Romania. In fact, quite the opposite. Many look at him as a national hero for the things he did for Romania that Bram Stoker was NOT inspired by. 🙂

We began walking through the streets of Sighișoara, and I was completely captivated by Emanuel’s presentation of the history. He took me through a little gate into a yard where no tourists were, and told me this was his favorite place. It was the tower of the Tinmaker’s Guild. Remember, this city was founded by merchants and craftsmen- not soldiers. And each of the major crafts, such as tinmakers, butchers, tailors, ropemakers, etc… were in charge of building a defensive tower for the city wall. There are about 8 of these towers in total around the city in strategic defensive locations. If an attack was imminent, women and children would be locked in the church, and the men of each guild would go to their tower to defend the city. Most of the time they were extremely successful (which is why this city is so well preserved). The tower of the tinmakers has some very interesting architecture, that again, you would NEVER notice if someone didn’t point it out! The first floor, which ends right above the covered walkway area, is a perfect square. This was the earliest part of the tower that was built. As the city grew, so did the towers. The subsequent generation of tinmakers wanted to show that they were more successful than those who came before. When it was time for them to add on to the tower, they didn’t want to do the obvious- another square. No, they added a PENTAGON on top. This was tricky architecture for the 1300s- no easy feat! And the next generation? Well, that top story is an OCTAGON!! WOW!! You can’t go inside. It hasn’t been restored and is dangerous. But man oh man, how I wanted to!

Additional towers of other guilds

We came to a covered staircase. Emanuel explained how it had been built in the mid 1600s by the church. The church and the school are at the top of the staircase, so it was built to make it easier for worshipers and students to get to where they were going. Emanuel pointed out that each section had 6 stairs and then a platform, and asked me if I knew what that represented. I immediately guessed that it was a step for each day of the week, and then a flat platform for Sunday, the day of rest. He said that I was right, except it was the day to go to church, not rest!! 🙂 And not to toot my own horn here, but most of the things he asked (many quite obscure), I got, and he was quite surprised! #historyteacher and #logicalthinker

At the top, we saw the school (which is still in use- told you this was a living medieval city!) and the church. Behind the church is the cemetery. And not just any cemetery…a MASSIVE cemetery!! I’ve always thought that cemeteries hold not just bodies, but history. Except you have to be able to read it. Emanuel knew how to read the history of Sighișoara here, and translated it for me! So let me tell you the story of this place and what it has to say…
What you have to understand that these pictures do not show is just how HUGE this place is. What’s the first thing you do when you go into a cemetery? Start reading the headstones. And here, you would see German name after German name after German name, and occasionally a Romanian name. That’s because this is the German cemetery (remember, it was Germans who first settled here). The church keeps immaculate records about who is buried where, and there’s even a map on the entrance gate with numbers to show where the different plots are. But there is a finite amount of room… Here’s how the plot system works. Families buy a plot, and as of now, have to pay 25 euro a year to keep that plot. Of course, over the course of centuries upon centuries, family lines completely die out, and there’s no one left to maintain the payments on the plots. At that point (after 7 years of non-payment), the church deems it as expired, and now other people can be buried there. But Mary, aren’t there ALREADY people buried there? Yep. When it’s time to dig a grave for the new “owner”, any coffin remains are removed and the bones are  put into a bag. That bag is then put into the bottom of the grave, and the new owner is buried over them. Sometimes, the graves are really deep with multiple new owners buried in one plot. Ok, next question. Not just the bones are left from the old gravesite- what else?? The headstones! Obviously those have to go. And the cemetery kind of lines them up like little walls along the paths. These stones are so old that the dates are mostly completely worn away. I did see one that was about 1700. Wow.

So that isn’t the only story told here! Look at this tombstone. We have 3 people buried in this plot. A father, Friedrich, a son, August, and the mother, Elise. Obviously German names. Now look at the word in italics underneath the father and son’s names. These were the professions of these men. Your profession (and you had ONE per lifetime!) was practically as important as your last name. Friedrich was a soap maker. August, a merchant. Honestly, I could have spent hours wandering around, trying to extract the history from this place. It was beautiful, peaceful, and so full of life- which seems ironic but really not.

The 2 hours (plus a little more!) FLEW by. I seriously can not say enough about Emanuel and his tour of this fascinating city. He’s passionate about the history. We discussed meeting up later and talking more after he finished another tour, but I ended up having to work that evening. I asked him for a restaurant recommendation and we bid each other farewell. I headed into the lower part of town, outside of the walls, to the restaurant he recommended. This was my first sit down restaurant meal in Romania, and I was so pleased with the prices! Basically, divide by 4 for US dollar price. I ordered the 1st thing on the menu- the pork and smoked sausages with baked potatoes for $5. Yes, $5. It was DELICIOUS!!!

After lunch, I headed back into the city walls. I had to video EVERYTHING Emanuel had taught me for my students. The city gate, the staircase, Vlad’s birthplace, the Tinmaker’s tower, the cemetery- all of it! As I was wandering, what crossed this recently engaged girl’s path?? Another wedding dress!!!! That’s 2 days in a row, universe. Seriously??

The views from the top of the wall were great. I walked back down, along the river, and to my airbnb, where I spent the evening working. And being ashamed of myself…Sigh. Here we go….

I seriously can not say enough good things about Emanuel’s tour. I recommend it HIGHLY. And what I am about to say is not a reflection on him, but a reflection on me. There was one point during the tour that Emanuel stopped and said, “I hate gay people.” and pointed them out. There was a gay couple at one of the souvenir stands behind us. I was seriously caught completely off guard. I mean COMPLETELY. It was like la-la-la-history-history-history-la-la-la-i-hate-gay-people-history-history-history. This is where I would normally go into momma bear mode, because I am EXTREMELY protective of and vocal about people’s personal choices as long as they are not impeding on my rights (not my “beliefs” but my RIGHTS). And LGBTQ people fall squarely in that category. If you’ve been reading my blog, you can see that I am no shrinking violet when it comes to expressing my opinions- even when I know those opinions are going to be offensive to other people. Being offended never killed anyone. Refreeze your snowflake self and move on with life. However, instead of doing what I would normally do (and have done), I did the worst thing possible. Nothing. NOTHING. I didn’t blink, I didn’t say a word. Why? This is a question I have literally asked myself every day since that moment. I don’t have a good answer. Well, probably because there is no good answer. Look, Romanian culture, especially in these smaller towns, is VERY conservative. I get that. I mean, they are only thirty- THREE ZERO- years out from overthrowing their communist government.  And I know that in that moment there was nothing I was going to be able to say or do to change this person’s mind. However, what I should have done, what I wish I had done, was speak up and voice my opinion. Let him know that this speech is NOT ok. It’s so far from ok, it would take light years to get to ok from here. I will say this, how in the world did he know that I wasn’t gay (well, except for the fact I told him my boyfriend had asked me to marry him!). How did he know my son wasn’t gay? Someone else in my family? My friends (they are)? I mean, from a human point of view, feeling like that toward a group of people is just disgusting. From a tour guide point of view, it’s disgusting AND stupid. But enough about Emanuel and more about my role in this situation. The only reason for my complacent silence that I can figure out (and believe me, I’ve done a TON of thinking about this) is that I didn’t want to ruin the vibe of the tour, because I was enjoying the hell out of it and learning so much. THAT IS SUCH A PISS-POOR CHICKEN SHIT OF AN EXCUSE THAT I MAKE MYSELF SICK JUST TYPING IT. But it’s honest.

Emanuel may read this. He may be angry because I mentioned it. He shouldn’t be. HE decided to make this a part of my tour, and if those are his beliefs, he should own them. Maybe it will cause him to question his views and really think hard about why he “hates” people who have zero impact on his life. I really hope so. If nothing else, maybe it will cause him at least to not spew such hatred in front of clients who are paying for his services. I mean, he did a lot of talking about his belief in God, and I didn’t feel the need to pop out with, “I hate Christians (I don’t, but there’s a point here) because I’m an atheist.” There’s a time and place for things. There’s NO time or place for hate, but I assume you understand what I mean.

There really was no way to write this that someone somewhere couldn’t read their own biases into it and wind up offended. Sorry, not sorry. This is my honest account of what happened and that’s the bottom line of it. Believe me, the person offended the most here (other than the gay couple who are clueless to the situation) is myself. Offended that I was such a chicken shit and didn’t speak up for that couple who had no idea what was being said about them. Offended that I wasn’t true to myself. Like I said, this has eaten at me for about 2 weeks now. Daily. And here is what I have promised myself. I will never EVER stay silent again. I don’t care what the situation is. And if that is the lesson I learned and paid for with my silence on this day, then I can live with that. I have to.



Day 6: Transfăgărășan Adventure!

Day 6: Transfăgărășan Adventure!


I lazed around this morning, savoring wifi while I had it and trying to get some work to do. Tonight, no wifi for sure and most likely not even any phone signal. Because today was not about culture or history- it was 100% about scenery! Left at 11am and headed for my one and only destination for the day- the Transfăgărășan!

I was thrilled to death that it was on rural roads out of Sighiosara, and hoped it would stay that way! The problem with taking the back roads out of the main town was that I didn’t pass a gas station. Well, I had half a tank…should be ok. The rural villages were just LOVELY!! Again, so many beautiful things to see, and nowhere to pull over for a pic. Grrrrrr! But, there was a lot of traffic on this trip….

Soon the road turned toward the Făgăraş Mountains. And I saw a sign for the Transfăgărășan! So why did I come here? Well, it looked cool, it was between two of my main stops (Sighosoara and Sibiu), and there was a super cheap airbnb ($16!!). The road wound through lush green forest, climbing and climbing.

Soon the forest kind of disappeared, and I was climbing a mountain. The road was like a jar of hairpins that had tipped over! I literally could not believe what I was seeing. Waterfalls were pouring out of EVERYWHERE. Some of them big and rushing, some of them small streams that made it look like the mountain was crying from dozens of eyes. It was surreal. I was pulling over to every single turnout there was to take pictures! And when I say there is no way the camera is doing any of this justice…believe me.

You can see the road, criss crossing the mountain, with bridges over the waterfalls.

Soon I got near the top of the mountain, and the turnouts were giving me a SPECTACULAR overview of what I had just come up! This highway was completed in 1974. And not just as a spectacular tourist attraction! It was built for fast military access over the Făgăraş Mountains, in anticipation of a potential Soviet invasion. Hundreds of men lost their lives building it. BBC’s Top Gear has named it the best road in the world. I am a believer.

I arrived at the airbnb for the night. It’s at the top of the Transfăgărășan, just on the other side of a long tunnel. Access is through a gap in the pilings of said tunnel, and I missed it at first. It’s easy to miss! Got turned around and  pulled into the parking lot. This place is remote. Super remote. I could only see one building from where I was and it was empty (I know, because there’s where I thought the bnb was, parked, explored, and realized it wasn’t!). A woman came out to greet me. She didn’t speak much English, and well, unless we’re talking about entering a chicken (I know the Romanian words for enter and chicken and that is the extent of my knowledge!), my Romanian is useless. Her name is Elena. She showed me inside and gave me a bunk bed. There were about 8 in the room. There was a cozy fire going, it was starting to rain, and the view was just INSANE!! Oh, and there’s a dog that is seriously as big as a freaking sheep!! I think we communicated that he’s 10 months old, but I’m not sure… The toilet was Asian style #squat and I don’t think there’s a shower. I knew there would be no wifi, and I was shocked- SHOCKED- that there was just barely enough phone signal to get a text out to Brian. No worries, one night only and I NEEDED this. I needed to be out of my comfort zone, to be remote, to unplug (she says as she writes this, but if I can’t watch CNN on youtube, that is unplugged!!).

Elena offered me some kind of drink. I couldn’t figure out what it was because it was in a water bottle, and she couldn’t tell me, other than it sounded like “Plinka”. What the hell….when in Romania. She poured it into a tiny mug that looked like it was made for a leprechaun, and I tasted it. Yep, alcohol. SUPER STRONG alcohol. Me and alcohol are a big nope. I drank about 1/3 of it, then discreetly ditched it in the sink… I later learned that it is Pălincă- a traditional fruit brandy made generally with plums.

Soon a big group of Germans (about 8) came in. They spoke German and English all mixed up (literally sentences would be part German and part English!), so I could make out some things. I turned around a couple of times when they said something of interest in English and smiled at them, but they didn’t acknowledge me, so I retreated back into my phone to text with Brian. My fault. I just kinda suck at that sort of thing. They left after about an hour.

It was shortly after that I got hit by a feeling of loneliness like I’ve never had while traveling. I felt so completely alone and isolated. Here I was the only foreign girl in the WORLD in this crazy unique airbnb at the top of the Transfăgărășan, in a really remote part of Romania, with an INSANE view out my window, watching a storm roll in over the mountains, and I was about to have a mental breakdown. It was just this feeling of disconnect, and if I could have transported myself home right that moment, I would have. Shortly after that, Brian texted, “Do you know anything about a special delivery for me?”. I lied, “No”. It was his birthday, and I had a German Chocolate cake (his favorite) delivered to his work. It was about half an hour after that that I realized the source of my loneliness. Guilt. This is 3 out of 3 times that I’ve missed his birthday because I’m traveling. ☹ I’m going to start the paperwork to move his birthday to mid September when I get back. I’m always home in mid-September. Maybe we can roll a few years off of him while we’re at it. Old chap has one more year to go until he’s 50. I’M TOO YOUNG TO HAVE A 50 YEAR OLD BOYFRIEND!!! 😜

It was after 8pm and I was freaking starving to DEATH!! Elena had literally been in the kitchen for over 3 hours straight cooking. A group of 3 young English guys came in. It was apparent that they were staying for the night. They immediately went for the Plinka!! I walked into the bunk room after a bit, and ugh. One was in the bunk above me and the other 2 in the bunk right next to me. Not long after, Elena FINALLY brought out food! A super delicious soup that was heavy on the soup and light on the pui (that means chicken for those of you not fluent in Romanian poultry like myself!) and some bread. I ate all of mine. She cleared the plates, I sat there for maybe 10 minutes. It was almost 9, so I decided to just go to bed. Went into the bunk room and started organizing. Not long after, Elena came in and said “Food?”. Apparently there was MORE food! Yay!! Because I was still hungry. This time it was fried pui (drumstick), mashed potatoes, and some kind of sauce on the side with a tomato and cucumber salad. Very, very tasty!

After that, I was definitely ready for bed. The English guys were at one table, about 5 Romanians who had come in earlier were at another, drinking Plinka. I worried that it was going to be a long, noisy night. Put on my sleep mask and settled in. Much to my surprise, everyone was really quiet and I slept great!



Day 7: Sibiu, My Adopted Grandma, and French Kings in Corvin Castle!

Day 7: Sibiu, My Adopted Grandma, and French Kings in Corvin Castle!


Woke up the next morning to the 3 young English guys walking around in their black boxer/briefs. Maybe mixed hostel rooms aren’t such a bad thing after all… 😉 (See, Cheri?? Told ya!!) While waiting on breakfast, I had a nice conversation with the guys (now fully clothed 😑) about what we were all doing in Romania. Breakfast was AMAZING!!!!!!! Holy crap!! 2 eggs fried hard (thank god, because runny yolks make me want to hurl), tomatoes, cucumbers, and 2 types of sausage. The little sausage links were OH MY GOD TO DIE FOR! Literally, best sausage I’ve ever had in my life! Right after breakfast, I packed up and headed back down the Transfasagaran. The views were just as breath taking as yesterday.

A gorgeous drive brought me to my first stop of the day- Sibiu. I didn’t have this city on my “to do” spreadsheet, but Emanuel had mentioned it was really nice, so I decided to stop and wander around. There was a bunch of pay to park places, but I saw free parking right in front of a big produce market for 2 hours. That should be plenty! Parked, and headed up the cobblestone streets, not really knowing what to look for or expect. I made my way to a HUGE plaza! Like MASSIVE! From there, I just kind of wandered around taking pictures.

There was a little shop on the side of the street with a line. I could see that they were opening (it was 10) and there were a bunch of bread things in the window. Ok, I’ll give it a go! Got in line, looked at them, had zero idea what they were. Well, they were all called covrigi, so I knew that much! The lady in front of me picked the variety called “visine”. Fine, that must be good. Bought one (it was like 75 cents). Bit into it- cherry! So now I have a new word. Visine is cherry. 😊 Chicken, enter, and cherry. I’m on a roll (no pun intended!). Kind of a perverted one from the sounds of it, but I’m learning the language!

I strolled through a beautiful shaded park, where men were around tables playing cards. Wandered through the city and found the Liar’s Bridge- apparently if you tell a lie on it, it will shake and make weird noises. My exclamation of “I am fluent in Romanian.” didn’t produce those results, so I’m #skeptical.

Now one thing odd that I didn’t notice until I downloaded my pictures, were the roofs of these houses. Notice anything kind of weird (and eerie!) about them?

THE HOUSES HAVE EYES!!!!!!! <insert horror scream 😱> I found it to be so weird, that I actually googled it to see if it was a “thing” or if I just had a vivid imagination (2 sips of Palinka will do that to you….). Sure enough, it’s a “thing”! The Eyes of Sibiu! They’re attic windows, to cool the houses. But the effect is quite striking! I wish I would have noticed it while I was there…I would have been on the look out!

Found my way back to the car, and decided to take a stroll through the market. It was MASSIVE!! Along one side were storefronts selling all kinds of meat and cheese and such. Under the tents, more produce and flowers that you could even imagine! I wasn’t planning on buying anything, but a little old lady with a bunch of blackberries caught my eye.  I felt guilty, but I had to take a picture of her. I continued wandering around the market, and finally decided I just had to buy some berries from that woman! Went to her stand, and some guy was there, tasting the berries. He looked at me and said something in Romanian that I easily figured out just from his look and tone was, “These berries are crap.” I tasted one and overly gestured about how good it was. Screw you, dude. He walked off. I pointed to one container and handed the lady 5 lei ($1.25). When I had walked through the market, there were about 3 other berry vendors. Every one of them had bigger berries (almost twice the size), shinier berries, and fresher looking berries. But none of those vendors were as beautiful as this woman. That’s what sold me on her. Oh, the stories I know she could tell….Unfortunately, they probably included words other than chicken, enter, and cherry, so there’s that. OH! And I learned the word for apple!! Mere. 4 words down umpteen thousand to go!! 🙂

My berry lady. How do you say, “Will you be my grandma?” in Romanian?

Out of the city, back on the road. I was heading toward the Dacian (ancient people of Romania) ruins- Sargizegetusa Regia. I put into google that I wanted my route to be “no highways”. I was happy to see the sunflower fields made another appearance so I could actually get a picture of them!
I drove on roads where I didn’t have another car in front or behind me for miles, and would rarely meet an oncoming car. It was FABULOUS! Well, there were the typical Romanian traffic jams… 😉
And after being in the car for a few days, I finally knew all of the words to Strongest. What in the hell am I talking about? WHAT?! You don’t know Strongest?! It’s only THE most popular pop song in Romania!! Good lord, people, get some culture!! 😜 I know this because it plays a least a dozen times a day on the radio (it doesn’t matter what station). And it’s super catchy. And I may or may not have been singing and car dancing on more than one occasion to it…

Honestly, it was a pretty long drive for me. I was over 3.5 hours in of just driving since I left this morning. So I was really happy to see that I was approaching the ruin site! 1 mile, .5 mile, 150 feet- I was there! But…there was nothing. Except a paper sign in Romanian on the side of the road in the weeds that said something about archaeology and no access. WHAT THE HELL???? I pulled over and did some googling. Well, apparently this was the WRONG site. The main site I was looking for was 1.5 hours in the opposite direction!!!!!! GRRRRRRRRRRRR!!!!!!!!!! I swear I could hear evil laughter coming from the Google Maps app… Ok, fine, whatever. I had two things planned in this area over the next two days, with an Airbnb in Hateg, and no idea where I was going to stay the next night. I had booked the Hateg bnb at the last minute a day or so ago. That one, and tomorrow night, were the only ones I didn’t book in advance for some reason… Anyway, I was right in the city of Hateg, it was about 2pm, and I didn’t feel like driving another 3 hours roundtrip to the ruins. So I decided to go to my other stop in this areas- Corvin Castle.

Drove toward Hunedoara. As I got into town, there was this MASSIVE house (mansion??) in the weirdest style I’ve ever seen in Romania- kind of Asian inspired or something. I thought it was super strange, and that it must be an Asian business owner showing off or something. I also thought that the people of Hunedoara must think he’s pretty damn obnoxious. But then I saw another house in the same style. And another. And then a whole little neighborhood of them!! Research says that they were built by some Romani people (an ethnic minority). People know them by the highly derogatory term “gypsy”- and people should understand that this is NOT a term they should use. With that social lesson out of the way (you’re welcome), from the research I found, the houses were built illegally (without permits and such), and their extravagant appearances are thought to have been funded by money from crimes committed in the UK and there is talk about tearing them down. Whatever the deal is, they really do look out of place!

Made it to Corvin castle. Parked on the street for free (with all the other locals!) instead of in the lot, and walked to the castle. From the outside, this looked way more like a Dracula castle than Bran did!! I was afraid it would be packed since it was so late in the afternoon, but nope. Paid lei ($ ) to get in. No sooner did I step into the courtyard, that I had an acute attack of #castlefatigue. I have been in so. many. freaking. castles. in the past several weeks. Enough already. (Don’t you feel sorry for me? 🙄 Castle Fatigue- a disorder of privileged people.) Well, I had paid my fee and was in, so might as well have a look around. I’ll admit, I didn’t pay close attention to the signage (even though most of it was in English), because again, I was kinda over castles at this point. It was built in the 1400s. It’s one of the largest castles in Europe (seriously, it’s pretty big- there are a lot of rooms and staircases and walkways and such).

There was a room where there were lots of pieces from the original castle (pieces of columns and crests and such), and some copies of things that were there but are now in museums. As I was sifting through…what to my wondering eyes should appear?? A fleur de lis??? With a CROWN on it?! Oh hell yes! I sensed the presence of my kings- all the way in ROMANIA of all places!! I really perked up and started paying attention! True fact: The cure for castle fatigue in Romania is the sight of anything related to my French kings!! Upon further inspection, I found another piece with 3 fluer de lis on it- and this one had a sign…in Romanian. 😑 But all I needed was one word…VALOIS!!!! That was one of the major dynasties of French monarchs!! EEEEEEEK!!! The French Religious Wars!! Salic Law!! Ok, I’ll stop. I promise no French History lessons in Romania. Sigh.

Probably the funniest thing that happened to me the whole time I was in Romania was as I was leaving the castle. There was a torture exhibit, but the name was in Romanian. I was taking some pics of the castle, and an Australian guy told his wife, “That says Extort the Tourists”. I chuckled at him. Good one, sir. Good one!

Drove back on a different road (because I HATE to take the same way twice!) to Hateg to my Airbnb. It was a really nice little place- private room in a house, but very clean with a large private bathroom and only $20 a night! Oh, Romania…I am enjoying the hell out of you!!



Day 8: Sarmizegetusa Regina and Sebes

Day 8: Sarmizegetusa Regina and Sebes


Up bright and early to hit Sarmizegetusa Regia (the ruins of the ancient Dacian people and another UNESCO site) when it opened at 9. The plan was to have a fairly easy going day adventure-wise (just one), then get to the bnb that I booked last night by noon and relax, work, blog, and do laundry. The drive from Hateg to the site was just stunning. I swear, Romania is so gorgeous!! I was on rural back roads the entire hour and half and couldn’t have been happier. And there were even a few places to pull over and snap a pic! I was the first one in the parking lot at 8:48am!! Woo-hoo!! But no sooner than I started walking up the long path to the site, cars started pulling in. That put a giddity up in my hitch, because I wanted to be the first to the top!! And I was.  Went to the ticket counter. 10 lei. I headed toward the site and saw an audio guide icon. Went back. 20 lei ($5). A bit pricey, I thought. But ok, I’ll bite since I know zilch about this place. I should have saved my money. The audio guide was pretty bad….

Path from the parking lot to the site. It’s about 1 mile uphill, but not steep. Easy even for out of shape me. 🙂

So who are these Dacians (that I, admittedly, had never even heard of)? Well, honestly, we don’t really know much about them. They left no written records. And what records there are were written by the Romans, who conquered the Dacians about 1900 years ago. There were a bunch of different groups of people running around in the general area of present day Romania and parts of Eastern Europe. By about 500 BCE (2500 years ago!), the Dacians were a distinct group of people. It took them about 400 years to really get organized and build a serious civilization (I see why- this place was so remote there was no way they were going to get a phone signal, much less a data connection!). One of their kings moved the capital of the civilization to Sarmizegetusa Regia around 50 BCE. The next king really grew the civilization in the early 90’s CE. So much so, that he caught the attention of the Romans. Something you probably didn’t want to do back then… Especially if you were sitting on large gold and silver reserves as the Dacians were… The Romans first marched in and attacked in 102 CE. After that, the Dacians actually rebuilt Sarmizegetusa Regia and their other cities in the kingdom. So the Romans came back and issued the final crushing blow in 106 CE, ending the Dacian kingdom and heavily colonizing the area.

The Dacian site had 3 main parts to it. The fortress, the sacred area, and the settlements where the people lived. The fortress (or what was left of it) and the sacred area are the only parts open to the public. The first part you see is the fortress, or what is kind of left of it- basically some block walls, and some rock rubble.

I continued past the fortress area and followed the path to the sacred area. Now THIS is where things got interesting!! The first thing was an original portion of a road that led to the sacred place- about 2000 years old! And on the opposite side of the path from that was a break in the trees, and my first view of the VERY impressive sacred site!

There were remains of the column bases of temples. Now, we aren’t really sure what gods the Dacians worshipped, but we do know they were polythestic. The first picture is the “new” temple that was being constructed with that 2nd wave of Romans came along. The second picture is of an older temple. And there was a picture of what the temples would have looked like assembled, which was helpful.

Honestly the thing I was most impressed with was connected to this big round thing carved with notches like a slice of pie. There was signage that stated it was an altar. But the impressive part was that those notches were where “liquid” (the audio guide didn’t elaborate, dammit!) from sacrifices would run off of the altar. Ok, that’s cool, but the BEST part was where it would drain into. There was an entire sewer type system installed, that ran through the area and off into the woods. I don’t know why, but I was all about that sewer system! In fact, I did a whole video for class about it!

Most normal people (those who are not infatuated with ancient sewers) are most impressed by the huge circular temple in the middle of the lower field. It was originally built out of stones and wooden timbers, the latter of which has been recreated to show the shape of it. Like the other temples, this one would have had a roof on it. Again, not much is known about their religion, but there are concentric circles that make up the temple, and it’s thought that the innermost circle would be the most holy of the areas, with only the high priest being able to enter. Hmmmm….sounds a lot like the “holy of holies”…. The arrangement of the stones has been compared to Stonehenge.

I was at the site for a little over an hour, then headed out toward Sebes. Reached my airbnb right at noon. Maria, the host, didn’t speak English. We already know how fluent I am in Romanian. Unless we were going to be talking about entering a chicken with an apple and a cherry, I was screwed. But- she did speak SPANISH!! Woo-hoo!! A language that I can actually speak in semi-coherent complete sentences (all in the present tense, but still)!! And we communicated absolutely perfectly in Spanish! There was something about being able to use Spanish in Romania that was quite satisfying. I mean, I’ve used it all over Central America and Cuba and been fine. But to use it in Romania and have someone understand what the hell I was saying- well, I kinda felt like a rock star. No lie. I easily impress myself.

Maria left and I had the entire apartment to myself. I think the apartment buildings here might be a throwback to the communist times. They have that “blocky industrial” look and feel to them. But the apartment was large and lovely. And the best part (aside from only being $42 for the night)- A WASHING MACHINE!! My gummy ass, stinky shoes were long overdue for a solid washing… Put everything in and headed out to find food.

There was a grocery store and a pizzeria close by that Maria had shown me on google maps. First, the grocery store. It was really small and didn’t have anything I really wanted (like a damn roasted chicken- my kingdom for a roasted pui!!!). But lo and behold, they DID have Dr. Pepper! I couldn’t believe it! I have enough of them though from my spree in Bucharest, so I left empty handed and decided to go get a pizza.

Sebes is not a tourist town in the least. It was ALL locals here, which was nice. I walked through some more apartment blocks to the pizzeria which….was closed until 5. I’d die on the streets of starvation by then. Quick check of the map showed another restaurant called Restaurant Parc which was in…well, the park! I checked the reviews online. People said decent, cheap food, but menu in Romanian and no one speaks English. Hmmm. Intimidating (not withstanding the fact that I hate to eat in restaurants alone), but I’ve got this!! Walked in, sat down (nice view over a pond), waitress brought me a menu. I said thank you and she said you’re welcome. Well, probably everyone knows that. She brings me over a menu. Sure enough, 100% Romanian and all text- no pictures. I could pick out porc for pork and chicken is the first word I learned (pui), so I could tell the differences between those, but otherwise, flabbergasted. I pulled up google translate and started the laborious process of typing stuff in. The waitress came over and asked “Do you need help?” OH HELL YES!! Engliiiiiiiish!!!!!! She explained the menu to me, and I chose a pork cutlet with vegetables (traveler’s scurvy, the struggle is real) and a Pepsi. Food came, was really good, and less than $7 for the whole thing. I was rather pleased. 😊

That brown building on the right over the water is the restaurant.

Back to the apartment, hung out laundry, showered, worked, blogged. It was good to just chilllllllll for an entire afternoon. Tomorrow would be my last day with the car…

UPDATE: THIS happened to the road to Sarmizegetusa Regina about 4 days after I was there!! It’s closed now for an indefinite amount of time. I’m so lucky that I was one of the last people to get to see it! Hopefully it will be reopened soon.



Day 9: Turda Salt Mines and Arriving in Cluj-Napoca

Day 9: Turda Salt Mines and Arriving in Cluj-Napoca


The last day with the car. Kinda bittersweet, I suppose. I love the freedom of it, the adventure. But as much as I love Romania, I feel my time here coming to an end. Giving up the car is just the first part of making that real. My plan was to leave at 7:30 for the hour and a half car ride to Turga for my one adventure of the day- Salina Turda…the Turda Salt Mines. They opened at 9. Fate stepped in, in the form of the airbnb host showing up about 20 minutes late (my fault) and a couple of wrong turns that required some backtracking (google’s fault), so I ended up arriving about 45 minutes later than I planned. The drive from Sebes to Turda was nowhere near as glorious as all of the other days. Not a single place where I wished there was a turnout for a photo op. It was all main roads, very industrial for quite a ways, then just big open farmland. Eh. The least exciting of all the drives I have done over the past week, but considering all of the awesomeness I have seen, I can’t complain!

I pulled in at 9:45. Um, apparently this is a SUPER popular place on Monday mornings, because I literally got the last parking spot in the lot!Everyone else was having to park up the road a ways. There were even huge tour groups here- both school kids and adult tourists. Dang!

Went in and paid my 35 lei for entrance and parking (like $9). There were signs about a free audio guide app you could download on your phone from google play at Super cool, and there are places all over the world on the app!! I’m keeping it! Ok, with audio guide downloaded, it was time to head into the mine. And honestly, I had ZERO idea of what to expect. First, you descended a ton of stairs (FYI: Romania is not the place to be if you have mobility issues, just saying…). It got colder and colder as you went down. I am deathly afraid of even the thought of being cold, so when I researched and heard about people saying it was “chilly”, I decided to wear my ski pants from my Iceland/Scotland trip to stay warm. Those, a tshirt, and my rainjacket in my day pack. Well, apparently I have acclimated to cooler climates, because even though the mine is a steady 10-12 C (low 50’s F) year round, I never had to put my jacket on. Regular pants would have been fine.

Got to the bottom of the stairs, turned left, and said out loud, “What in the WORLD?!”. It was that shocking! This huge tunnel called the Franz Joseph transportation galley. It’s 917 m long ( over 1/2 a mile!!)- most of which was carved in the mid 1800s. After the mine was closed in 1932, it was used as a bomb shelter for the people of Turda, and then for cheese storage!! HA! Now it’s the main hallway for tourists to access the various parts of the mine. The tops of the walls are unbelievably smooth- with a marbled look to them. The bottoms of the walls are crusted with salt crystals. One little Australian boy was running his hand along it and stuck his fingers in his mouth, proclaiming it to be “really salty!”- much to his mother’s dismay.

Different tunnels and room branch off of the main galley. One is a medical treatment room, which is kinda interesting. You could see the patients inside through the glass (no tourists allowed), but I didn’t take pictures because, well, seems like that stuff should be private. Another path led off to a little room with some old mining tools and a staircase. I headed down. And OH. MY. GOD. There was this MASSIVE elevator shaft going down into the Rudolph mine!! You could either go down the stairs, or down the elevator. The line wasn’t terrible, but longer than the 4 minutes it said it would take to use the stairs, so I opted for stairs. To get to the stairs, you had to traverse an INSANE balcony thing that was about 17.395 miles long, barely attached to a wall, and about a zillion miles above the mine floor below. Fear of heights kicked in, and I basically scooted down the side with the wall, which was nowhere near far enough from the edge of the balcony for my liking. Made it to the stairs- 13 floors down. My knees said, “Screw you lady, we prefer the elevator.” about halfway down, but at that point I had no choice. Turned a corner and could really see the mine for the first time (since I refused to get near the balcony wall earlier). HOLY CRAP!! There was a FERRIS WHEEL down here!!! Made it to the bottom, and there wasn’t just a ferris wheel, but ping pong tables, pool tables, a playground, bowling- and an amphitheater for concerts….SO COOL!! You could see the salt stalactites on the ceiling- they grow about an inch a year and fall off when they reach about 3 meters (9 FEET!!).

I walked around a bit, and found another balcony. What the….???!!! There was another huge drop with a LAKE AT THE BOTTOM OF IT!!! Come to find out, this was the Terezia Mine- the oldest chamber where salt extraction started way back in 1690! You had two options to get to it. Elevator or stairs. Knees said, “You know what you better choose, bitch, or we are going to take you out.” Sigh. Luckily the line wasn’t long, and I only had to wait about 10 minutes (only 4 people per trip). Once down, there was a bridge to a little island made of salt waste, and you could rent boats. Mining stopped here in 1880. The walls and ceiling (120 m high!!) were just spectacular. Went to head back up, and the line for the elevator was about 25 people deep. At 4 people per trip, that was going to take forever. Knees were hating down, but might be ok with up. I decided to risk it. Holy heckle majeckle these stairs and the platforms between them were SO NARROW and steep!! People were coming up and going down, and you’d have to wait on the tiny platform in between flights because two lanes of traffic wouldn’t fit on the stairs. Then, people would have to squeeze by you. As we kept going up and up and up back to the Rudolph mine, people were huffing and puffing and making silly “I’m going to die” noises. It was kinda fun and we were all in it together. Breathlessness and exhausted muscles translate into every language. 😊

The ceiling of the mine. Waaaaaaaay up there!!

Made it to the top (barely), and from there, I was back in the Ruldoph mine (with the ferris wheel). Which meant I still had a hell of a long ascent to get back to the top! I opted for elevator. This one took 7 at a time, and I only had to wait for 2 cars. (video).

The wooden stairs are on the left- with a light on each floor. Elevator shaft on the right.

I headed back down the long Franz Joseph galley, and visited some of the other rooms. One was the extraction/trolley and the winch room. So the salt from the Rudolph mine was placed into huge buffalo leather bags (interesting, huh?!), and pulleys brought them up to this room, where they were put into trolleys to be sent to the surface. The trolleys were horse powered- literally! And it’s super sad. ☹ One or two horses were hitched to each arm of the winch. There was no electricity in the mine until 1910, so in the late 1800s when the winch was built, the room was only lit by torches. The horses would go BLIND after about 2 weeks of being in the mines, because when they were taken outside, their eyes couldn’t adjust to the sunlight properly! HORRIBLE!! After about 6 months, the horses were no longer able to work at maximum capacity and were “retired”. I hate to think what that meant….

There was another mine that you couldn’t see down into, but the marbling on the walls was just spectacular. From there, I headed back to the main galley and walked all the way to the end, where it dead ended. From that point, you could see the old original exit of the mine waaaaaaay down a tunnel. And that was the end of my mine tour. This was a really interesting stop, and I’m so glad I did it! Quite unexpected and unusual, for sure!!

A short hour long drive brought me to Cluj-Napoca- my final Romanian destination. I found Autonom and dropped off the car. Super easy!! From there, it was just a .8 mile walk to my airbnb. With the pack and the freaking ski pants, I won’t say it was the most enjoyable walk of my life, but I lived! I turned into the courtyard where my airbnb was, and LOOK WHAT IS LITERALLY RIGHT NEXT DOOR TO ME!!! Dear Coincidental Universe, There’s a point where you run the punchline into the ground. I’ve got it. Enough. Love, Mary.

Courtyard looking out from my door

That open door is my apartment. Do you see what kind of shop is RIGHT next to me?! 😛

Gorgeous church right across the street. This place is in the middle of old town.

Now, I will say, I wasn’t expecting much out of this airbnb. It was $15 a night for an entire private apartment. Yes, you read that right. $15 for an ENTIRE PRIVATE APARTMENT. I was spending 2 nights here. Imagine my surprise when I opened the door to what is now my most favorite airbnb in all of Romania!!! It is SO CUTE!!! There’s a nice little desk with a chair, a kitchen with a microwave (I was beginning to think those hadn’t made it to Romania yet, as it’s the first one I’ve seen!), a little fridge, and a sink. A cute bathroom where the toilet and shower are all just one room, except it’s big enough that they feel separate. A set of bunk beds downstairs, and a little loft with another twin bed. And not stark and plain like most of the places I’ve been in- this one is really decorated so cute with art and knick-knacks! The building is old- really old. From the literature that is in the room about it (in Romanian), it appears to have been built in 1597!! LOVE IT!!! There are even some exposed original interior stone walls which give it such a historic feel. Plus, it is literally right in the middle of the old town! The cathedral is right across the street! Seriously, the location, size, amenities, fact that it is all mine, and is only $15 a night- holy fuck, I’m moving in permanently!!

First order of business was food. I had only eaten a pepperoni stick and a granola bar all day- and the last meal was lunch at about 1pm yesterday- 24 hours ago! Walked to Carrefour and got a loaf of bread, a couple of bananas, a bag of chips, a candy bar, and 2 Dr. Peppers. $3.75. As I walked through the city, I was really digging the vibe. It’s very different than the other cities I’ve been to. A much younger vibe to it- a little more Westernish with more of a progressive feel. Tons of cafes and such. Super cool place. If I had to live in Romania, this is the city I would choose. Came back to the bnb to start work and…..NO WIFI (insert scream 😱). Something was wrong with it, the host is in Serbia and won’t be back until tomorrow morning. Oh well. Good excuse for a nap. I will have a LONG day of work ahead of me tomorrow, plus my very last Romanian adventure. I can’t believe my time here is almost over. 😢



Day 10: The Botanical Gardens and the “Haunted” Hoia Baciu Forest

Day 10: The Botanical Gardens and the “Haunted” Hoia Baciu Forest


So the wifi still isn’t fixed. Sigh. And I had some work that I really needed to get done this morning. Oh well, what can I do? I know! Go to the botanical garden! 🌹🌺🌻🌼🌷😀

It was a little less than a mile, so I walked. I’m telling you, the vibe of Cluj-Napoca is AWESOME!! It’s a university town, so that brings such a different feel to it. It’s just so busy and modern and cafes and younger people and…just cool! All of that, in a setting of beautiful buildings! Seriously, I could move here. Every modern amenity right at your doorstep, and the whole of Romania to explore just outside!

This is what I call a “cake” building. Decorations look like delicate icing!

Arrived at the gates of the botanical garden, and paid something really cheap- maybe like 10 lei ($2.50) to get in. WOW!! What a beautiful garden! It’s been around for almost 150 years, and is now a part of the university. And for being in the middle of the city, it’s pretty darn big- 14 hectares (34 acres!). When you first walk in, you enter the “Ornamental Garden”. It’s so nicely landscaped, and the flowers just just lovely!

This is the statue of the founder of the gardens- Alexandru Borza

Continuing down the path, you come to a large building, that is the botanical museum. A botanical museum? Hmmm. I stepped inside and was the only one in the building. And OH. MY. GOD. Talk about super cool old school botany!! I’ve seen labs like this for animals (especially for fish and invertebrates when I was studying marine biology at Texas A&M at Galveston), but NEVER for plants!! There was row upon row upon row of preserved specimens. Some in jars, some dried, some pressed. There were fossils. There was EVERYTHING!!! And it was mine, all mine!! Oh, but my little science geek heart was in heaven! 🤓😇 What a fun and unexpected find!

The rose garden is in front of the museum building

The garden is separated out into a bunch of different manicured gardens, each with a particular focus. But there is plenty of “wild” here, too. With huge trees and overgrown brush, a little stream, and lots of trails wandering in and out. You really felt like you were miles away from any kind of civilization.

Japanese Garden

I got to this and turned my happy ass right around. Bridges…there’s always a bridge… Dear Romania, Bridges should have ALL of the slats! Love, Mary

Manicured gardens, a botanical museum, wild areas….what more could you ask for? How about GREENHOUSES!! They were HUGE and just beautiful!! Some of them were closed, but there was a complex with 3 really big ones joined together with a main building that were open.

Like seriously, these were so big that I could have laid in them and not touched the edges!

I spent about an hour and a half in the gardens and loved every second of it (well, except for that bridge!). And now it was lunch time and I was starving!! I headed back into town to try to find some Romanian food. Came across a little cafe (I suck for not remembering the name of it!!), where the menus were in English and the waitress spoke English as well. I ordered a plate that had 4 cabbage rolls with some kind of minced meat inside, a piece of ham, and something that looked like sauerkraut but was not. It was WAY better than sauerkraut! All of that for I think 15 lei ($4.25).

Came back to the airbnb and YES!! The wifi was back up and running!! Did some work and blogging and packed up for tomorrow. 😭😭 But no time for crying! I still had one more Romanian adventure up my sleeve for the evening….a night tour of Hoia Baciu- one of the most haunted forests in the world…👻👽💀😲 Of course, Brian was thrilled to death that I was going into some dark ass haunted forest in the middle of the night alone with some Romanian guy I found on the internet. 🙄 You picked a traveler for a fiancee, babe. #dealwithit

I met Alex of the Hoia Baciu Project at 7pm for our 4 hour tour. The main reason I was going was to get some creepy stories and do some filming for my “Fantastic Beasts” class. When I got in the car, Alex asked me what I knew about the forest. I told him that I hadn’t done a lot of research, because I don’t like to go into adventures with a ton of expectations, but I knew that it was very haunted. He immediately said, “It’s not haunted unless you bring your own ghosts.” Um, ok, that’s not what’s plastered all over your website. Way to IMMEDIATELY kill the vibe of a haunted forest tour before we even get to the damn forest. Minus 5 points….

We parked along the road outside of town at the bottom of a really big hill. At the top was the forest. We started hiking up, and soon reached a place where there was a hole through the trees- the portal to Hoia Baciu.

Forest at the top of the hill

View of the Cluj suburbs from the top

In we go!

Once you step in, it’s almost like the forest closes in behind you. We didn’t walk too far until we arrived at a clearing. Not just any clearing- THE clearing. This is supposedly the most paranormal place in the forest. And this is where I’ll give a bit of an explanation. I am a logical person. I am a scientific person- with a science degree and I teach science. I live off of rational thought, not emotions. And on the flip side of that, I have had this weird ability to see and feel and know things other people can’t since I was extremely young. In fact, my first memories are from around 3 or 4 years of age and having “experiences”. And they have continued throughout my adult life. It’s not something I experience every day. It’s not something I pursue. It’s not something I enjoy. It’s not something I want. I was taught that they were bad and I would go to hell, so I quit talking about them and kept them to myself for many years. As an adult, I found out I was adopted. And lo and behold, it “runs” in the family. That said, I didn’t come into this forest looking to find something or expecting to feel anything.  I’ve been in places that are supposedly super duper haunted and felt nothing, I’ve been in normal places and felt all kinds of things. No control over it (which is why it’s not my favorite personality trait…).

So back to this clearing. It’s this huge area where there’s nothing but some grass. No trees at all. It’s literally like there’s some kind of force keeping the trees from taking root inside. I will say, it does look really odd and out of place. There are stories of UFOs and ghosts and all kind of things here. Alex showed me some pictures and give me a little information about the legends. I told Alex someone should come in there and do soil samples and try to figure it out- maybe there is a chemical reason behind why the trees don’t grow here. Because I will ALWAYS default to a scientific and logical explanation over a paranormal one.

People come into the clearing and camp and do rituals and things…here’s a fire ring left behind

That little gap between the trees is supposed to be the most haunted area of the clearing

We went inside the gap. There was this weird zig zag tree that some researcher on Hoia Baciu claims was perfectly straight 20 years ago. Alex and I don’t believe that for a second.

Inside the forest looking toward the clearing. You can see how the plants just stop at the perimeter. Weird.

After we went through that clearing, Alex asked me if I was sensitive to paranormal things (I hadn’t offered the information). I told him yes, and that I felt nothing there. We continued on. As we walked and talked, I learned that Alex loves this forest. Like seriously LOVES it, and feels very protective of it. I could tell he really didn’t like the whole “haunted” moniker that it has, even though that’s what he’s built his business around. He seemed truly fascinated by the forest, and in a weird way, bonded with it. And I felt like it was bonded with him as well. But more on that later…. We passed by a lot of weird trees, growing in patterns that really didn’t make much sense. I mean, one or two weird trees is one thing. There were weird trees EVERYWHERE! Seemingly growing away from the sun, in arcs, in zig zags. Then we found a mushroom. Alex said to eat it, but just a small piece, because it’s really spicy. What does a solo female traveler do when she’s in a dark forest alone with some guy from Romania she just met an hour ago? Break off a piece and try it! At first, it just tasted like mushroom. But the more I chewed, the more hot peppery tasting it got. So unexpected. Not quite like termites in Belize that tasted exactly like carrots, but interesting none the less! 😋

The “harp” tree

A knot that looks like a face


Probably the strangest plant phenomenon though was the twisted trees- trees that were literally growing in a spiral. And they were scattered throughout the forest, not just in one place. Of course the paranormal explanation is that its the energy from the spirits or whatever. But there must be a more reasonable explanation. I asked Alex if this was confined to a particular species of tree (that would make sense- genetics!). No. Multiple species exhibit it. Hmmmm. Weird. And it’s most likely not a genetic reason either, because the last picture shows two trees growing out of the same trunk- one completely spiraled, with the most spiraling I had seen on any of the trees, and the other perfectly straight. Explain that shit!! I told him that he had this wonderful botanical department at the university! They needed to come out here and figure it out! He said he had contacted them. They refused to get involved. This place creeps people out and they don’t want to be associated with it. C’mon, Romanian botanists! You’re better than that!!!

Another weird phenomenon we saw more than once was branches that grew down to the ground. That’s right- branches from up above where you couldn’t even reach them would grow straight down to the ground. That makes NO sense!! Plants have hormones that cause them to grow toward the light, not away from it! And the forest wasn’t super crowded with trees, so they weren’t really having to compete for space. This one hit the ground and then instead of growing back up, started growing ALONG the ground. Mind. Boggled.

So the scientist in me was having way more fun in this forest than the paranormal in me. I was fixated on these trees and trying to come up with rational explanations for what I was seeing. It was getting darker and darker, but my eyes adjusted to the light pretty well and I declined use of a flashlight. I had honestly completely forgotten about anything paranormal in my curiosity for these trees. Alex and I were standing there talking about how he, a former physics major, created this business- a topic that I LOVE because I am so passionate about entrepreneurship and really enjoy hearing how people turn their passions into businesses. I could not have had paranormal thoughts further away from my mind. And then, I felt something. It was straight ahead of us on the path, maybe 50 meters up. I couldn’t even see that far, it was too dark, but I could feel exactly where it was. I continued listening to Alex, and then we started walking- toward whatever I was still feeling. I really didn’t want to say anything. Again, this isn’t something I enjoy, and I was having more fun talking about botany and business than boogey-men. Whatever it was wasn’t moving as we approached. But it wasn’t a “person” spirit (don’t ask me how I know, I just know). It was more of an energy, not a spirit. We got closer and closer, and then we walked right through it. I could feel it. I was kind of….I don’t know….crackly- like electricity. But not like electric. Maybe more like that feeling in the air when it’s about to lightening or something. The weather was cloudy, but no storms. We passed through it, and it still didn’t move. It was right in the middle of the path, and maybe covered a diameter (although it wasn’t a perfect circle, I don’t know the shape) of about 4-5 feet. It didn’t feel like a good energy. It didn’t feel like a bad energy. It was completely neutral. Just….energy. As we kept walking, I could now feel it behind me, in the same place as we moved further away.

While we were talking, I snapped a picture toward what I was feeling without saying why. I don’t see anything on the photo, but I wasn’t really expecting to.

Alex was still talking about his business, and I finally had to interrupt him. I told him what I felt. He seemed kind of uncomfortable and said it scared him (which seems weird for a guy who gives tours in a haunted forest!!). I could tell he really didn’t want to talk about it. Ok. 😕 We continued on for a ways, and then turned off of the path and just started walking across the forest floor. We weren’t 3 steps off the path when I felt the energy right on us (we had probably gone 100 meters or so from where it had been). And now it had a feeling. A protective feeling. I got the feeling that it was very protective of Alex and it really didn’t want us to go off of the path. Still, not a “person” feeling to it, like a ghost. Just an energy that was exuding this feeling. I really didn’t want to tell Alex, so I waited until we were almost out of the forest and then told him. I could tell that he still really didn’t want to hear about it, so I dropped it.

The moon was full and shining off of the clouds over the suburbs of Cluj as we emerged from the forest, about 3 hours after we had entered. I don’t know what that was in there. It didn’t scare me at all. It just was.

A few months ago, I never even had Romania on my travel radar. There was a cheap flight from Rome to Bucharest and I needed somewhere kind of inexpensive to spend 10 days before my Switzerland housesit. So, Romania it was! Just like with Hoia Baciu, I came into this country with no expectations. I just went with it. And it never ceased to amaze me at practically every turn! 10 days and I only covered a tiny portion of the country between Bucharest and Cluj-Napoca. But boy, was there a LOT to see!! However, there’s still much, much more to see. Romania is one of those up and coming tourist spots- kind of off the radar now, but it’s starting to get into the sights of many travelers. There’s good and bad to that… Whereas Iceland and Scotland and Ireland have multiple HUGE facebook groups dedicated to traveling there, Romania only has a few, and they aren’t very large. My favorite is Romania Travel, run by Oana. I foresee that group growing and growing in the near future, as travelers learn of the treasure that is Romania, and begin flocking there  for more information. I’m glad I beat the flock. I’m glad there was a cheap flight from Rome. I’m glad I chose Romania.


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