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Strolling near Piața Unirii (February 2019).

Romania had been on my list of places to visit for quite some time, especially when flights to its major cities from my airport in France were affordable and direct. Even if I had extremely-limited knowledge about it (with the exception of Transylvania and all things vampire), I was rather curious to see what it was all about.

I had a week off from work in February and, at least compared to my lackluster staycation the previous year, I knew that I had to get out of town and travel. That said, I booked flights to and from Romania after the New Year, and soon enough, I was well on my way to the Eastern European country. The flight was very short, at just about two-and-a-half hours long, and my plane soon touched down in Cluj-Napoca.

Before exiting the airport, I had to find a money exchange office to change my euros into the Romanian lei. However, there were absolutely no offices in the airport (which, by the way, consisted of nothing but a single terminal– it was that tiny!), and only ATMs to withdraw money. I’d already withdrawn euros before leaving France, and there was no way I was going to use my French card to withdraw more money out, let alone risk having the machine eat my card. Luckily, I went into one of the many car rental offices inside the airport to ask for help, and surprisingly, the worker ended up offering me 5 RON (about 1€), which was just enough to pay for a bus ticket into town. I was astounded at his generosity; he even refused my euros when I tried to pay him back!

That said, I headed out of the airport and, after struggling a bit with the ticket machine at the bus station, I purchased a ticket and took the 20-25 minute ride into town. I would be Couchsurfing in Cluj-Napoca, so I got off at the Sora station, where I met up with him. We went to his flat where I dropped off my belongings, and we then headed into town for a few drinks and dinner. He also showed me around town at night, as we wandered from the Gothic-styled St. Michael’s Church (under-construction then, unfortunately) to the winding streets of the Old Town. We finished the night with a drink at a Couchsurfing event with others in town, and we soon headed back to my host’s flat by 23:00. I was super tired from traveling all day, so it was just a matter of showering and going to bed.

Although I would be staying two nights in Cluj-Napoca, I was only able to stay one night with my host, since he was leaving the following morning for his own holidays. However, I had another host lined up for my second night, so I wasn’t too worried. Before packing up to leave, I shared a nice breakfast with my host, as we prepared a hearty eggs-tomato stew. We headed out at 10:30, with him catching the bus to the airport, and I to sight-see on my own for the day– considering that my second host wouldn’t be back until that evening (as he was traveling), I had plenty of time to kill until then.

Cluj-Napoca is a university town, along with being the fourth most-populous city in Romania. It’s also located in the Transylvanian region of the country, and in fact is *unofficially* considered its capital. Transylvania is seen as the heart of the country, as it covers a large part of it, let alone having many of the main sights to visit (Cluj-Napoca, Brasov, Sibiu, Sighisoara, and the many castles throughout). To start off my week-long trip in one of the Transylvanian towns definitely was a good choice then!

I spent the day all over town, all the while lugging around my travel bags. Not the most comfortable, but I had done it before with my previous trips. I began my visit by heading over to the Parcul Cetățuia, aka Cetățuia Park, where one can get stunning, peaceful views of the skyline from above. Granted, it wasn’t too high up, but all the same offered atmospheric views, despite the hazy morning fog.

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Views from the Parcul Cetățuia.

Descending the hill, I made my way back into town, where I visited the Assumption Cathedral (the interior being  lovely, in spite of its small size) and passed by the Avram Iancu statue, which was dedicated to the eponymous Transylvania lawyer of the mid-19th century, during which the Austrian Empire resolutions took place. I also headed southeast to get a quick look inside the Cluj Tailor’s Tower, which also offered views of the neighborhood down below.

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Assumption Cathedral and Avram Iancu statue.
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Inside the Assumption Cathedral.
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Cluj Tailor’s Tower.

After strolling the long Strada Avram Iancu, I reached the heart of the city once more. I saw St. Michael’s Church again, along with the triumphant Matthias Corvinus statue in front of it, as memory to the titular King of Hungary and Croatia during the 15th century– interestingly, he was actually born in Cluj-Napoca, which used to be part of Hungary long ago. I have little knowledge about the Austro-Hungarian empire, but it’s fascinating to learn just how powerful its influence was back in the day, from the Balkans all the way to Romania itself!

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St. Michael’s Church with Matthias Corvinus statue.

I’d been in touch with another Couchsurfing member prior to my visit in Cluj. We’d agreed to meet up for coffee, so we met up at 14:00 in front of the Matthias Corvinus statue and got an afternoon cake/coffee nearby. Although she couldn’t host me, she was incredibly nice, as she also happened to be an English teacher (in Cluj) and we had some good conversations about teaching and the English language, in general. We also took a walk around town, checking out the city’s cemetery (morbid, I know, but it was gorgeous) before parting ways a couple of hours later. It was a short time hanging out, but a pleasant one, nevertheless.

I still had quite some time to kill until I was to meet with my second host, so I first got an early dinner at a cozy cafe where it served traditional Romanian dishes. I ordered sarmale, aka stuffed cabbage rolls, which came with a heaping scoop of polenta and a slab of pork shank. For myself, I absolutely love stuffed cabbage rolls (especially since trying it for the first time in Poland), so I was very happy to have them again. The dish itself was only 28 RON (about 6€), which was incredibly affordable– a little goes a long way in Romania!

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Sarmale with polenta and pork shank for dinner.

My host wouldn’t be returning until 22:00, so it was a matter of finding a bar to get a drink and wait. I did just that in the Old Town, as I got a beer and chilled out after a long day of walking all over town.

Soon enough, however, I received a message from my host saying that his flight was delayed, which would mean that he wouldn’t be able to return into town until past 23:30. Although I was miffed, it wasn’t too much longer, so I decided to wait some more. It wasn’t until a half-hour later that he messaged me again saying that it was delayed even more, which meant that he wouldn’t return until after 1:00 (he even showed me a photo of his delayed flight, which was by THREE HOURS).

At that point, I realized that I was in a pickle. It was starting to get late, and there was no way that I could wait until past midnight just for a place to sleep. I ended up emergency-messaging another host whom I’d canceled after I’d accepted my other host (who since wouldn’t work out), and he miraculously accepted me. Even more so, he technically wasn’t supposed to be at his house that weekend, but he still gave me the keys to his flat when we met up, and I ended up having the place all to myself that night! A crazy situation it was, but it turned out way better than I’d imagined. Definitely grateful for his generosity and trust!

I left Cluj the next morning, as I would be taking the train to my next destination in Romania. Overall, I found Cluj to be a small, but solid starting-off point for the rest of my trip in the country: it was charming with a youthful vibe (as it again is a university town), and I met some awesome people who made my time there well-spent. Despite the Couchsurfing emergency, I have nothing but good memories of Cluj, and it got me excited to see what the rest of Romania had to offer during my stay.

More of my adventures in Romania to come soon!

 

— Rebecca

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