My first stop of four in Romania was Sibiu, otherwise known as the European Capital of Culture in 2007! I arrived at 6.30am after my worst train experience yet. It was the night train from beautiful Budapest to Sibiu and I have to say, it dashed my hopes for what I’d find when I arrived.
The cabin was at first nicer than my previous night train to Vienna, but a party in the next cabin made it almost impossible to sleep and they refused to quieten down after being asked multiple times by other passengers, I must add, never the train staff. During the night, we were woken up twice by passport control with sharp knocks on the door and I also lost an hour to make me two hours ahead of England. Whilst sleep deprived, I actually sort of enjoy these random journeys where I’ve no idea where I am or what is going to happen. Even when it’s something ‘bad’ it’s quite funny!
Walking up into the historical centre of Sibiu was a steep climb from the train station, so fellow luggage carriers beware. As I reached the top, I decided to sit and have breakfast in the square (Piata Mare) before dropping my bag at the hostel.
Once dropped off, I visited the cathedral and went inside, explored the council tower and the Orthodox church, famous for being very golden and ornate inside. I recommend all three, especially if travelling on a budget as they’re stunning and varied in architecture without costing a penny. By now, I actually don’t know half the time what I’m paying for anything as the currencies are changing that quickly, so this is a good thing in that regard. If you want to visit the museums in the area with admission fees, such as the Palace Museum, be aware that they are ALL shut on Mondays.
An important feature of Sibiu is the layout of the Upper Town and the Lower Town and how these connect. Just a ten or fifteen minute walk from anywhere in the town and you are likely to cross from one to the other. It can be quite a steep transition, especially if you go via the Tower of Stairs, which I’d recommend entering from the back of the Cathedral. The Lower Town is more modernised and here I visited the market and bought grapes (with seeds).
Around the Upper Town are several towers remaining from the old city wall, otherwise known as ‘turnuls’. These are pretty hard to miss; due to the small size of Sibiu and the fact there are sixteen towers remaining means you find one in just a few street turns. The most impressive of which is the Turnul Dulgherilor, where during the summer months locals create artwork using traditional techniques and display them on the connecting wall’s wooden landing. This is also a fantastic place to get a photo of Sibiu, although I think the best view comes from standing in the Upper Town and taken a few snaps looking onto the Lower Town with the surrounding mountains in the background.
I think my favourite attraction was ‘the bridge of lies’, simply for the name and the mysterious image it conjured up. In actual fact, it is the oldest wrought iron bridge in Romania. It is known as the bridge of lies because it is thought sellers and traders met here to barter from the second largest of the three main squares in Sibiu. Nowadays, I think it looks quite romantic and you guessed it, you can even see one of the towers or ‘turnuls’ from the bridge.
In total, I walked for nearly eight hours before I could access my hostel room as check-in was at two in the afternoon. By this point I’d taken a nap on a bench by the Turnul Dulgherilor, which reminded me of my 12-hour stopover in Calgary, Canada in 2009, where I slept under a Christmas tree on top on my luggage trolley…
I realised as I drifted into sleep, that even though I was feeling very relaxed and content, it might be time to take an afternoon off after non-stop exploring for nearly two weeks. To accept this, I took my final walk of the day around the old city walls, starting at Heller Bastion and circling round through a local park. I checked in on Google Maps at this point and noticed a nice sounding park called the ‘Monastery Gardens’. I’m not sure if I went the wrong way but after visiting the Monastery itself, I found no gardens apart from the creepiest looking building and overgrown lawn.
Reluctantly and eventually, I listened to my body and set up shop in the hostel room before getting an early night. Then I really did have the worst rail journey to date, where there was a smoking cabin (the smell was horrific) and very cramped conditions. The stations also weren’t announced very clearly and the train departure times were pretty random; again, all part of the fun.
Luckily, my next destination Brasov, has a huge Hollywood-esque sign based near the peak of the Tampas Mountains which flank the city. This was put up as part of a student project seven years ago and shows no sign of being removed, being quite liked by locals and as I can vouch, liked by travellers who need to know when they’ve reached the correct stop! If you know anything of the history of Brasov, you’ll agree it is much nicer than the ‘Stalin’ message they had showcased on the mountain during communist times.
To summarise what to see in Sibiu, it’s a beautiful, medieval place that offers interesting architecture and nooks and crannies to explore. Some of my best memories are strolling through uneven streets that looked positively trapped in time. Everyone here was lovely and you can tell that it is still getting used to the increase in tourism since it became a cultural hub. 24 hours here is all you need and as I’ve done it, it makes for a very good starting point in Romania if you’ve never visited before. Due to the settlers here over time, it has a very German feel, so is familiar in that respect.