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!ย ๐ŸŒน๐ŸŒบ๐ŸŒป๐ŸŒผ๐ŸŒท๐Ÿ˜€

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!ย ๐Ÿค“๐Ÿ˜‡ย 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.ย ๐Ÿ˜ญ๐Ÿ˜ญย 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…๐Ÿ‘ป๐Ÿ‘ฝ๐Ÿ’€๐Ÿ˜ฒ 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.ย ๐Ÿ™„ย 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.ย  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!ย ๐Ÿ˜‹

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.ย ๐Ÿ˜•ย 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 thereย  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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