With the conditions in the Fagaras Mountains hampering the progress of my hike, Daimo and I decided to head down to Sibiu and hire a car to drive the Transfagarasan, labelled by Top Gear as the best road in the world in 2009.
Obvious if you want to drive the best road in the world, you need a decent vehicle; the Top Gear boys drove an Aston Martin, Ferrari and a Lamborghini… So after searching the databases of the hire car companies in Sibiu for hours, we finally found the perfect vehicle to make our journey… Undoubtedly the finest, pure bred sports car on the planet…
Yep, an Opel Corsa 1.0L….
But hey, it got us up and around and realistically, the best car to take up the Transfagarsan is one you can cruise and slow speed, because the view when driving through is fatally distracting.
Driving in Romania was not the first time driving on the opposite side of the road (the right side), as I got a taste of doing so whilst in the States. It was however, the first time driving a manual on the right side of the road. Whilst it did feel a little weird shifting gears with my right hand, I actually got the hang of it pretty quickly! Anyway, enjoy the views of the Transfagarsan!
Count Dracula’s Castle
After driving the Transfagarasan twice (you just have to…), we decided to continue south all the way down to Curtea de Arges, stopping at Poenari Castle, known as “the real Dracula’s castle”. Basically, you can’t miss it… Just keep driving south along the same road for an hour or so, until you see a huge hydroelectric plant. You’ll probably also see a huge sign pointing to a carpark. Tip: Avoid paying a dodgy ‘security’ fee by parking across the road from the entrance to the carpark.
This castle is known as the real Dracula’s castle, as it was the residence of Vlad the Impaler, from the House of Drăculești, known by his patronymic, Dracula!
Getting up the castle was pretty intense: a total of 1480 steps to the top! But once you reach there, you’re awarded with a very cheap entry fee of 5 Lei…
The note that Poenari Castle as the “real Dracula’s castle” is in reference to Vlad himself, who inspired the character, Count Dracula. The actual castle which is often referred to is actually 200km away and is much larger.
More information on the Poenari Castle can be found here.
After reaching Curtea de Arges, we headed west then back up north to Sibiu. There, we managed to find accommodation at a nice hostel with plenty of character called Felinarul. The story behind this quaint hostel is a little tragic. Basically, the owners are a Romanian/Irish husband and wife and from what I remember, they used to run the establishment as a restaurant, after dispensing a lot of time, money, blood, sweat and tears restoring it. Details like stripping the paint on the window frames to bring up the timber details, etching the name of the hostel in the rendered walls, turning old Soviet-era newspapers into wallpaper etc.
However, when they decided to move to Ireland, it was turned into a hostel and the business was leased out. Upon returning to the hostel in 2014, they found it in disrepair… Painfully, they have begun putting the pieces back together…
Anyway, it was a very ‘homely’ atmosphere and probably one of the most relaxed hostels I’ve ever visited. Finding it, however, can be a bit difficult. Just look out for the tiny sign above the wooden doors and the owner who looks like Jeremy Renner…
Having booked our train tickets back to Bucharest the night before, we were able to do a quick walk around the Sibiu Old Town before heading to the train station.
The place certainly had a lot of style; to me it was almost an extension of the hostel we stayed at and I could see why the couple we met at the hostel were staying in the area for a week.
Alas, with time ticking away, we had to make a mad dash to the train station to head back to Bucharest, via Fagaras and Brasov. Unlike our journey into the region, our train ride out was far less dramatic and I had plenty of time to sit back, relax and contemplate everything that has happened over the past few weeks (let alone months!).
There were a few times however, peering out the window brought to me attention a “what the” moment.. I mean, there was this giraffe park, tanks, etc, and each small station along the way had a touch of character to it. Halfway in the journey, a loud bang erupted from the back of the train and we came to a halt… Peering out of the windows, I just saw the driver hop out carrying a massive spanner… A couple of audible bangs later, he hops back in and we continue on – priceless. It was probably not worth mentioning that the locals on board did not even budge. Either way, we managed to make it into Bucharest slightly delayed and found our way to our hostel (Friends Hostel) without bumping into Bruce Lee or his many friends…
After a really interesting night (which could have gone terribly wrong, after a small altercation with a raging Romanian drug dealer carrying a stack of pizzas for his drugged up buddies in an alleyway…), it was time to say goodbye to Romania as I flew out the next morning.
Romania probably doesn’t have the best reputation of all countries in Eastern Europe, especially if you were to believe the UK press. The gypsies, the flood of immigrant beggars ready to flood any Western European country and the UK, the con-artists on the street, the Mafia and other organised crime, Bruce Lee and co, hangovers from the Communist-dictatorship era all paint a very grim image and it’s easy to be caught up in this fabrication.
Sure, elements of this stuff do exist, but they also exist in places like in Sydney. I mean, if you want to dig up the dirt, there’s organised crime, Mafia from every single minority group, bikies, ignorant racist local groups, violent crime (just Google ‘one punch law NSW‘)…
From my short experience in Romania however, it’s pretty clear that the negative portrayal of Romania was nothing like what we experienced along our journey. I’m not going to back down from my opinion that you should get out of Bucharest to really experience Romania, but you shouldn’t really be afraid of visiting Bucharest either.
Anyway, with the “Why don’t you come over?” campaign to attract Britons to Romania (with lines like, “We speak better English than anywhere you’ve been in France”), let’s hope Romanians are given a fair chance to show their real colours.