Tuesday, 1 November 2016

Sibiu and Sighișoara

Nice backdrop for a coffee.
Colourful trains.
Sunset in Sibiu.
I arrived in Sibiu in the afternoon, getting to my hostel around sunset time. I'd pre-booked just the one night, even though I'd planned to be here for about 3 days - you're never sure if the hostel is worth staying or not and better to be safe than sorry. I checked in, finding the place no problem - it was right on the main square of the city. Although it was a weeknight, the square was buzzing - food and drink, music, people everywhere, both locals and tourists, enjoying this beautiful medieval city in Summer. Back in the 14th Century Sibiu was an important ethnic German trade hub, there were universities, ministers, intellectuals politicians and by the 19th Century was the most important city in the Translyvanian region, the first Romanian bank opening it's doors here and also became a very important seat for the Orthodox Church. Even after WWI, when the Austro-Hungarian Empire collapsed, most of the people living here were of German descent, but after the Second World War most fled back to Germany and Austria. Although most Germans left the city, 2,000 stayed and one of them even is now the current President of Romania. Sibiu is one of the most important cultural centres of Romania and was designated the European Capital of Culture for the year 2007, along with the city of Luxembourg. The old city of Sibiu was ranked as "Europe's 8th-most idyllic place to live" by Forbes in 2008 - and it is gorgeous!

Evening time in the main sqaure.
The Orthodox Church in Sibiu.
3 friends chilling in the square.
My night's sleep however, was not. I was tired from the walking that I'd done during the day, carrying all my bags to and from the train stations, then walking around the city, so I crashed at about 11pm after a few (supermarket) beers in the square. Sleep came easily but not long after I had dropped off one guy in the dorm started snoring, but snoring like I'd never heard before. If there were World Championships for this kind of thing, he'd be the Usain Bolt, Mohammed Ali or even the Michael Phelps of snoring. Other people in the dorm tried to make him stop, including me, by throwing things at him, going over and talking to him, rolling him over and even yelling at him - you would have had more luck trying to stop a Tokyo Shinkansen by putting your foot on the rail. Nothing else to do but put up with it and move out and find a new hostel before check-out time. That's what I did and I found a great little place, my bottom bunk was next to a window with a view of the 15th Century Lutheran Cathedral in the centre of the city. The room also had 5 girls in it so there was no snoring at all. Besides, when girls snore a little, it's cute right? Feeling tired from now sleep but excited about being here, I dropped my stuff off and headed out. Bakeries, restaurants and bars, small stores selling beautiful things - this city has it all - as well as looking like something out of a fairy tale.

Orthodox churches are far more beautiful than their Catholic counterparts.

View from the tower.
Contemplating life...
Apart from walking the streets and seeing the beauty of Sibiu from the ground, finding secret buildings and small churches as well as admiring the architecture up close, a great thing to do is climb the tallest tower of the Lutheran Cathedral. This tallest church stands out for a few reasons - firstly because it's the tallest thing in town, also smack back in the centre, but the thing that struck me was that it isn't orthodox and thus looks slightly out of place here. Tall pointy towers are what normal European churches have, but here in Romania most have the typical round shape of Orthodox churches, which also don't follow the 't' or 'cross' shape with the long nave, transepts sticking out the sides and a chancel and apse at the back. A few Lei to get in and walk around is worth it - tall arches inside, letting in all the light, polished wooden decorations and of course the the huge church organ, which is from the 17th Century and is also the largest in South East Europe. Climbing the stairs up the tower is a few extra Lei but, again, worth it. The climb is tough - very steep and narrow - and not recommended for the faint of heart or hearts prone to attacks either. Reaching the top and looking out onto the city is spectacular and a must to do in the city - you can see for miles and miles, the old city and the new, people and cars look like little ants from this distance and you could spend at least 10 minutes up there taking in the panoramic view. Another thing to do in the city, apart from eating and drink (which is also highly rec commended!) is to walk around the city walls which encircle the old city.

The view of Sibiu from the Lutheran Church tower.
Inside the Orthodox Church.
City wall and tower.

While in Sibiu, I was told about a cool little town not far away called Sighișoara, that everyone goes to. Curious, I checked it out - it's supposed to be the birthplace of Vlad Tepes, AKA Dracula. Although I don't fall prey to tourist traps, I saw some photos of the place and decided it would be worth it for some snaps at least. Getting there and back wasn't easy though - the trains in this country aren't the most reliable or frequent. I got on the train but wasn't able to go directly, so I had to jump off and wait for another train - this was a close call too as I only had 10 minutes before the next one and my train was late in leaving. It was also raining, so my mood wasn't great. In the end the other train was also late so there was no problem - nobody else seems bothered, maybe this happens all the time. 

A secret courtyard in Sibiu.
A little restaurant in Sighișoara.
Ah the churches!
The rain was on and off the whole day, but it wasn't really a problem - the local gypsies were by far more of a hassle. The myth that gypsies are Romanians isn't true - although sometimes called Romani, travelling people, and even Pikies in the UK, they originally come from Northern India a thousand years or so ago, and are now dispersed all around Europe and even North and South America - The States have 1 million people of Romani heritage, Brazil with around 800,000 and in Europe Spain and Romania have the most, the former having up to 1.5 million and the later up to 2.5 million. The local gypsies here stank, begged aggressively, their kids also begged and followed you, some having grubby tracksuits on and others pretty much naked - I hate to say it, but they are filthy people who don't integrate into society, instead acting like a flea on a dog's back, doing nobody any good, no really even themselves. Please don't mistake the friendly and kind-hearted Romanians with these sad people.

It's all about the souvenirs here in Sighișoara unfortunately.
The church in Sighișoara.
A tower on the city walls.
Sighișoara has a population of just under 30,000, which makes it a large town but nothing really compared to the likes of Sibiu or Brasov. Settled int he 12th Century by German craftsmen and merchants, Sighișoara was an important trading spot in Europe for centuries. The most notable resident here was Vlad II, sometimes called Vlad The Dragon - Vlad Tepes' father. Apparently he lived here for a few years while in exile and even did some coin minting, illegal at the time as only the King could do that. He also issued the first document listing the city's Romanian name, Sighișoara, which is first attested in 1435, and derives from the Hungarian Segesvár, where vár means"fort." Vlad's son was also born here, the Vlad that grew up to become The Impaler, or Dracula in Bram Stoker's eyes. I looked for his house but didn't find it - there was a restaurant posing as his birthplace, and a few other places making suspicious claims to the famous man, all of which I pretty much ignored. The town itself if stunning - true European Medieval buildings, walls, towers, churches and houses with their thick, stone bases inclined to help protect against attack. Keeping in mind that there ones only one train back in the afternoon, I didn't have too much time to explore, but it's a small place so that wasn't a real problem, although I would have liked to have taken it slower. I didn't go up the main tower like the other tourists, contenting myself to walking the city walks and avoiding the gypsies that seemed to be everywhere.

The 14th Century Clock Tower in town and a big tourist attraction.
Dracula's room... or is it?
The Clock Tower in Sighișoara.
The train back was interesting (and also late). A guy asked me for the time, but spoke no English, I showed him the time and he seemed happy. Then when I got on the train, he asked me for some food, which I didn't have (but normally would have shared no problem), then his mate go on and they asked me for money - the penny dropped and I realised I was dealing with gypsies again. The conductor came on and asked for tickets, of which my new friends didn't have, but the conductor ignored them, more trouble that it was worth. More came on and started arguing over money which had somehow magically appeared. I tried to ignore all of this commotion in the little 6-seater booth I was in, which was made worse by the fact that they stank and the window was jammed closed. After a while they realised they weren't getting anything and left. I had been a good day despite the weather and my travel buddies, but I had to get back to Sibiu and the following day back to Bucharest. My time here in Romania was up, only 2 days to catch up with friends in the city before heading back to Barcelona. I'd had a great time, and sometimes wondered what it would be like to live here, in a fairytale city like Sibiu, or up in the Transylvanian mountains... but this is Summer, Winter here is another story, a long, cold story. Thanks Romania for the great times - I hope to come back again one day!

The Clock Tower in Sighișoara.

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MyUncleTravellingMatt. August 2016.

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