The Night Train to Sibiu, Romania
KNOCK KNOCK KNOCK
“Passport control,” in a heavy Eastern European accent.
Repeat; a little closer…
Repeat; closer still…
Repeat; at our door!
We woke up on the Hungarian border to the not so smiling faces of the border patrol. We were ready for it, of course, but the young backpacker girls in the next cabin weren’t. “What?” “Why are we stopping?” “Oh my god there’s police!” “Passports?!? Oh OK.”
The scowling policemen stamped our passports at the door and handed them back. We knew we’d need to hand them to the Romanian border patrol in a little while so we didn’t really go back to sleep. But the girls next door did. After about an hour we were there, ready to show our passports. The girls next door went through the exact same routine. “What’s going on? Oh my god, more police! Passports again?”
After about another hour we we were back on the rails and snoozing comfortably. The night train was warm but not too hot, it started raining at some point and that cooled it off. Around 0400 it actually got cold and I pulled the top sheet over me wondering what treasures Romania was going to offer us beyond Bucharest.
Good Morning Sunshine, a Walk Around Sibiu!
We arrived in Sibiu at around 0730, fresh and ready to hit the town. We didn’t really have a good idea about the layout of the town or where we should go when we got off the train so we followed some other backpackers who seemed to have a clue.
We couldn’t even think of checking our rather dubious car rental reservation until 10:00 so we decided to see what the awakening city had to offer. Of course, that meant we’d be “those” people, dragging our suitcase and gear around the picturesque old town.
Sibiu had been the capital of Transylvania in the 19th century and a German settlement since the 12th century. As with most of Romania there has been a strong surge in restoration and renovation projects that has resulted in creating a beautifully striking Old Town center with beautiful baroque buildings and buried power lines. It is very picturesque around the center but gets more dilapidated as you get further from the tourist zone.
The city was coming to life with a few cafes opening up and setting out small tables and chairs in the morning sunlight, and we even came across a place that advertised an egg breakfast. We decided to stop and take a breakfast break. We both had the special with two fried eggs, bacon and ham, cheese, and a cup of coffee, and a plate of fries; all together it came to 9.90 lei (about 3 bucks) or the same as one breakfast meal at McDonalds.
We continued our walk about the town trying, and failing, to find the car rental company’s downtown office. In the end, we decided to scrap it, so I emailed and told them to forget the reservation as they had never even verified the request. Then we flagged down a taxi to take us to the airport to check out the car rentals there. The taxi took a very winding route to the airport. Apparently he felt it his duty to give us a windshield tour of his fabulous city.
Wild Taxi Ride Through Town
We passed a few markets that looked intriguing, went up and down winding cobblestone streets lined with colorfully painted townhouses, through an old stone city gate or two and eventually made it to a highway with signs for the airport. His antics probably added an extra lei or two I’m sure, but we finally got to the airport and and found-a deserted building! The only car rental agencies that had anyone in them were Europcar and AVIS. Neither had a car available but AVIS was expecting a VW Up to be turned in around 1000. We said we’d wait for it and retired to the Cafe for a cappuccino.
I had time to wander the airport and talk to the friendly woman in the information center as well as buy a map at the little shop. Then, we had just enough time left to consult the map, plan a route to two or three Fortified Churches on our way to Sighisoara and then to the Transfagarasan Highway and even down another cup or two of coffee. Finally, however, our car was ready and we were on the road at last.
We ended up back in Sibiu a few days later after an incredible three day road trip through Transylvania. We decided, in the end, that we could have just as easily made Sibiu our base for those three days and spent more time in this enticing little city.
- By plane, Wizz air has cheap, direct flights out of London, Nuremberg, Milan, and Madrid
- By train, Sibiu is on the Budapest-Bucharest night train route
- By car, on the transEurope highway system (E81 – E68)
- Taxis in Sibiu are cheap and easy to find. Be careful, though, as most taxi drivers will try to run up the meter
- Bus 11 from the airport to the city center costs about USD 0.60 and runs every 40 minutes between 0630 and 2330 and Google maps gives bus route information
- Walking is the best way to get around the parts of Sibiu that most people find of interested
Points of Interest
- City Fortifications – Brick and stone battlements, towers and tunnels dating back to the 12th century
- Grand Square – Focal point of the city since the 15th century, Baroque and Gothic buildings, cobble stones, and outdoor cafes
- Brukenthal Palace – Important Baroque Governor’s residence built in the early 18th century, houses the Art Museum and a small Book museum
Have you been to Sibiu? Which cafe was your favorite?
Author Bio: Jim Vail, is a travel, food, and video creator and a perpetual traveler who has been travel writing for over 14 years. For many years he lived overseas in Germany, Japan, Turkey, South Korea, and the Netherlands, and he’s visited over 90 countries.