Situated in Southern Central Europe, Romania isn’t everyone’s idea of a holiday which is what actually makes it great. With a very unspoilt landscape and things done using methods centuries old you get to experience a different side of Europe that hasn’t been overtaken by tourists. From hiking to bear watching and visting Dracula’s castle, Romania’s wide open spaces are an adventure playground for all travellers.
When we first decided to go on a voyage into the unknown Romania wasn’t our first choice or even in the front of our mind but boy were we glad it ended up being one of our most memorable trips. At first we were looking for cheap European flights and as always the main cities came up, in this case, then it was a case of deciding how to turn that into an adventure. After a few days of googling it seemed the best option would be to head up into the mountains and stay in a casa where we could really go off the beaten track and do some exploring. Romanias got a range of national parks and one main mountain range to explore, The Carpathians
After a bit more research and looking at towns reasonably close to national parks a slightly bigger change of plan occurred; we had decided we wanted to visit Apuseni National Park. This now meant either a 8 hour drive from Bucharest or a complete change of arrival point into the country or even flying into another nearby country. The decision was made to fly to Cluj Napoca or as everyone else calls it Cluj (more on that later) then hire a car and head into the mountains. The reason we decided Apuseni was our adventure destination of choice is because it is known as the cavers' paradise. Plus some traces of the prehistoric man, as well as fossils of animals that lived in the Ice Age were found in several of the caves there. This brought our hopes up that we might end up on a caving expedition.
To break up our adventure into Romania and the Carpathian mountains we booked one nights stay in Cluj to get ourselves settled after a long day of travelling and to learn a bit about the city, when we arrived the temperature difference instantly hit us and all jumpers, hoodies and warm layers of clothing were quickly packed away never to be seen again until our return to the UK. With our new Vauxhall Corsa hire car with Romanian music blasting loudly and 20% battery left on our phone we quickly loaded up google maps to get to our first apartment. When we arrived we were warmly greeted only to find this warm greeting wasn’t for us but another travelling couple who must have had the same good looks. We then awaited for our correct host to show us to the apartment we had reserved online at Cluj Apartments. He was a very nice gent but there seemed to be another mix up and he had booked another English man into our apartment so put us into the one next door, this wasn’t a problem and was just as nice.
After a quick un-pack we set off into Cluj to see what the capital of Transylvania had to offer, being a city of only 300,000 people (that’s only a bit more than Milton Keynes) it’s very easy to get around on foot. So with MapsMe in hand we set off exploring. What you soon notice is the distinct Hungarian and old Communist designs that have shaped the origins of this city but are very quickly disappearing as Cluj becomes a modern and very tourist friendly destination. You’ll more than likely during your exploration find yourself in Unirii Square infront of a stone & bronze monument honouring King Matthias Corvinus in front right by St Michaels Church. Form here it’s a very short walk to the old town which is a pedestrian area with cobbled streets, just follow the crowds to get here and if you spot one of the hole in the wall style bakeries stop and buy a stuffed bread! They are the most delicious snack in the world and extremely cheap with the local currency being so beneficial to travellers. While walking around we enjoyed lots of snack style food and each portion with a drink only costing around £1.
If you would like to know more about Cluj you can always go on the Cluj City Guided Tour. Just message them on facebook and they’ll get you booked in. Plus like most walking tours you pay what you think it’s worth. We personally looking back don’t think we got that much from the tour as Cluj is quite easy to self explore but the guides tried as hard as possible to make it interesting. Come the evening we were starving and decided to do the walk around and see what we find option, after about 30 minutes of this we found ourselves on the North side of the river near the Cetățuia Park and with stomachs starting to rumble took to Google Maps and found Samsara Food House. This was a super tasty vegetarian restaurant and with neither of us being vegetarians we didn’t know what to expect but the food was so delicately prepared with so much flavour we fell in love with it. We really would highly recommend a visit here, if you are looking on google maps though be careful as it seems that has the wrong location. The correct address is: Cardinal Iuliu Hossu 3 400029 Cluj-Napoca.
After a restful nights sleep we then headed in the car and out West on Highway 1 to Valea Drăganului, this is where the real adventure began. Read the rest of our blog posts and we tell you about getting lost up mountains, boating across a lake and meeting the locals, some of which had more than 2 legs.