15.08.2007 22 °C
There is little doubt that the real estate I have devoted to Romania’s transportation deficiencies has grown a little old. I must sound like a broken record, and again, my apologies must be expressed to what seems to be an otherwise interesting, albeit frustrating, country to visit. It’s quite unfortunate – and telling – that we are so quick to let moments of frustration – singular or recurring – supplant, if not completely obliterate, any fondness we may develop for a country. So with an eye toward presenting a far more uplifting message in this entry, my intention is to limit my account of the travel and focus more on my appreciation for Sibiu; a breath of fresh amidst all the moments of frustration Romania offered. But first…
Waking up alone in a foreign country on your birthday is somewhat of a strange experience. Though never one to place too much emphasis on my birthday, it was a little goofy spending an entire day in the company of strangers, never mentioning what is personally relevant about the date. Sure the emails from home were nice, but having everyone you care about operating on an eight hour time delay can be limiting. So perhaps next year I will make more of an effort to be around friends and family, though it remained memorable.
As mentioned in the previous entry, my goal for the day was to navigate my way from Sighisoara to Sibiu in as pain free a manner as possible. My transport options were limited to three buses across the afternoon so after one last stroll through the old town I gathered my belongings and set off for the bus station with my fingers crossed. Though there was some confusion over the timing, and one mini-bus missed, I was able to catch a normal sized bus that would take me the three hour journey through the hills. My wait turned out to be less than two hours – genuine progress – though the ride was another story, the bumpiest bus experience one could imagine. The full sized bus had no business on the back roads, with the road’s contours causing a consistent bob up and down for the entire journey, w/ occasional bumps sending the passengers airborne, once or twice catapulted more than a foot in the air. Thankfully the landscape was some of the best I had seen in a few weeks, rolling farmland stringing together one village to the next.
Arrival in Sibiu was somewhat confusing, having been deposited on road side is some random part of town rather than a central bus station, or such. Thankfully there were a few other backpackers – Hungarian and Spanish couples - in the same boat as me, and after a few awkward interactions with locals, as well as a few educated guesses, we successfully navigated are way to the center before heading our separate ways. As I was unable to find housing in advance, my first order business was to find the tourist office in the central square in hopes that they would be able to help arrange a bed for the night. Thankfully this wasn’t much of a challenge, with the office quickly setting me up a hostel 10 minutes from the main square, just down the way in the lower town. When I arrived, it turned out I was their only guest for the night – a little odd.
One of my main reasons for visiting Sibiu was its status as one of Europe’s Capital of Cultures. Each year, Brussels confers this title on two cities within the union as a means of promoting the cultural prowess of a country and more so, in hopes of stimulating its tourist industry. In its initial years the title was typically awarded to well known cultural giants like Paris and Athens, but in time has evolved into an instrument to elevate often overlooked cities not only deserving of attention but also in need of a boost. Sibiu embodies these two characteristics, a fantastic little place which remains off the radar for most seasoned European travelers, particularly the English speaking crowd. Visiting Sibiu was not only an opportunity to check out another one of these anointed cities, but to do so during the height of its reign, with its resulting festivities.
Each day, locals and tourists were treated to a laundry list of cultural activities, both promoting the local heritage and traditions but also those from throughout Europe. As one would imagine, churning out a daily agenda of activities is a handful for one city or region alone, so talent from all over the continent is flown in to fill in the empty spaces. Events included almost daily concerts on the main square - one of the more pleasant, cleanest I have encountered, particularly in the East – uncluttered by automobile traffic and dominated more by the varied pastel colors of its buildings than some iconic church. There was also an entertaining parade - led by a drum/beat troupe from the Dutch West Indies - held on a pedestrian shopping street near the square which captivated the mostly Romanian crowd (Caribbean culture is, as you would imagine, typically quite scarce in these parts). In the rain I also watched an amusing Dutch rap group whose lyrics were predominantly in English. My guess is the locals didn’t really understand what they were saying, but in most cases this was probably a good thing as their message wasn’t so uplifting.
That night, I stumbled into the Spanish couple from the bus and ended up sharing a drink with them. It was great opportunity to begin practicing the language given my impending move to Madrid. We slipped in and out of the two languages pretty effortlessly, and I learned a little bit about their home Galicia, the region of Spain which I have been most interested in traveling to in during my time there. After parting ways, I found a little Jazz bar to have a drink, delighted to splurge on a Leffe Blonde, my preferred Belgian beer during my five months in Brussels. Not that I haven’t enjoyed the beer in the Balkans, but you typically encounter simply another iteration of light beer with few distinguishing features from one country to the next. After a beer I decided to turn in, go back to my empty hostel and enjoy the solitude.
The next day was spent mostly on foot, exploring all corners of the upper and lower towns, Sibiu’s modern sprawl, and many of its churches. There aren’t many museums worthy of attention, no historical landmarks of note, and few signs of the revolution or scars of communism. It simply is a pleasant little city to meander through during the day, with pleasant parks to sit and read in, great cafes/squares to grab a drink at, colorful architecture to admire, and a marginalized river to laugh at. It was peaceful, packaged for tourism during the time of my visit – on show, in every sense of the word - and that made it good place to be, raising my spirits and overall opinion of Romania before returning to the capital. Next up, Bucharest – a four hour bus ride which proved to be the most pain free yet – normal in every sense of the word minus the pit stops on the side of the highway where everyone ran into the woods to relieve themselves – who needs a toilet?!