13.08.2007 12 °C
Traversing Romania is a deflating, seemingly impossible feat. Beyond basics trips to and from the capital transport lines tend to be both inefficient and infrequent. To fill this vacuum, industrious Romanians have created a mini-bus empire whose lower prices have supplanted the state-run links as the preferred method of travel for both budget traveler and locals alike. In fact, I presume that their popularity has discouraged government efforts to fill in their timetable knowing that despite any upgrades to their service they still will have trouble competing with the speedy, low cost service provided by this fleet of mini-buses. Romanians don’t have a ton of extra money lying around and are more likely to choose based on cost than on comfort.
That said, the owners of these mini-bus lines have yet to truly master the demand and supply curve for their services, at least for certain popular routes. These buses – simple vans with capacity for fifteen or so – roll into train station parking lots every two hours or so, at which point the waiting horde of men and women scurry to the door, throwing elbows, stomping on feet, everything short of biting to gain pole position on the few spots left vacant by exiting passengers. The most egregious offenders were elderly Roma women – the Gypsy-like underclass often discriminated against in Romania. These seasoned veterans have mastered the subtle art of using their short, stout frames to bump unsuspecting foreigners just enough to slow their progress to the sliding door. Each time a new bus arrived it seemed as if only a few passengers, never more than three or four, would get off. Rinse and repeat two hours later. Though I didn’t take the time to consult a Romanian dictionary it would be safe to say there is no word that translates directly to a queue.
Having arrived at the train station at nine in the morning I finally managed to muscle my way onto the bus shortly after one. I was the last one on this time around, and can thank my good fortune to a Romanian girl who took me under her wing and showed me the ropes, keeping me close and using each others positioning to secure a spot. Unfortunately, there was no seat. Instead I stood with my back plastered against the sliding door, head far above the windows and thus unable to see anything outside the bus. I remained this way for almost two hours, until I was fortunate enough to grab a seat in the back when a few passengers were let off in the middle of nowhere. At this point, I really wanted to just head back to Bulgaria, to the Black Sea to rest at the beach for a few days, to do nothing but relax and prepare for Turkey. But I had a plan to stick to..
The Pearl of Transylvania:
The journey to Sighisoara takes one further into the heart of medieval Transylvania. There is a more rustic feel to the surrounding area; far more sheltered from the debilitating creep of Bucharest than Brasov, whose proximity to the capital ensured a far more aggressive assault on the town’s development. Here one truly can feel as if they are taking a few steps back in time, with only the occasional coca cola bottle littering the roadside there to remind you what year it is, how far we seem to have come. The small city, with no more than forty thousand inhabitants, straddles a river, with its modern development extending from one side and its medieval core enclosed against the backdrop of a small valley on the other. The main square and famous clock tower are perched on one of these hills, safeguarded from attack by its now crumbling city walls.
The approach to the main entrance – through the base of the clock tower – is well preserved, permitting one to enter the old town in style. It opens up on a nice square complete with church, some restaurants, and the birth place of Vlad the Impaler – again, the inspiration for the Dracula story – which today houses a tourist café. The homes are a colorful mix of pastels, quite similar to Brasov and what one encounters throughout the Transylvanian countryside. It was a bad time to visit though as the towns streets were in disarray. This road work took away a lot from the beauty of the place, but I imagine by this time next year it will only be that more pleasant, that more worthy of a visit. Further up the hill, through a wood covered walkway one finds a secluded church surrounded by a giant cemetery, tightly crammed in and adapted to the uneven lay of the land, with the unrestrained flora enveloping each grave. The morning’s rain intensified the green tint.
At night the place remains quite sleepy. I met an American couple in my hostel who invited me to dinner but beyond that, there wasn’t much life to the town. We set out in search of a kebab place, my mainstay of the entire trip, but after almost an hour of searching, decided best to settle for some pizza, my other bread and butter option. It was a pleasant enough meal and nice to talk to some people from home, as Romania’s surliness had made me a little homesick by this point, particular with my birthday right around the corner. I had considered staying in Sighisoara for two nights, mostly because I was having trouble arranging a place in the next town on my agenda – Sibiu – but decided to press my luck and move on the next morning after one last tour of the town. Sighisoara simply didn’t feel like birthday material.
Next stop: Sibiu - the 2007 European Capital of Culture