The beauty of Romania to prospective travellers is how untouched it is by the tourism industry when compared to many other European countries. It gives you a sense that you are exploring something both unique and mysterious. I have long been attracted to Romania because of it folklore, history and ruggedness, but I never thought I would get the opportunity to see it because of its proximity from Australia. However living in Europe combined with a holiday spent backpacking with my brothers made Romania accessible.
As we ventured into Romania from Budapest over the course of 14.5 hour train journey we uncovered that the majority of our fellow passengers were headed to the capital, Bucharest. My brothers and I disembarked an hour before reaching Romania’s capital and found ourselves in the mountainous and picturesque town Sinaia, a destination that can easily be considered Romania’s best kept secret. If like the Woodhouse siblings you prefer to explore territory off the beaten track, than this small town is for you. Nestled at the base of the Bucegi Mountains on the outer skirts of the Carpathians, keen hikers eager to explore the heights of Romania will be enthralled by its beauty. For the snow bunnies amongst us, Sinaia is ideal for skiers looking to conquer new runs and given the exchange rate is a considerably cheaper alternative to France, Switzerland of Germany as a winter sport destination.
With so many places to see in this world though I doubt I will have the time to go back to Romania, but it will always be in my heart. I will never forget basking in the summer sun atop the Bucegi Mountains with my brothers. We were surrounded by a group of art students as we all watched a shepherd casually tend to his flock. It was peacefully quiet with only the bells on the sheep ringing through the mountains.
The Quick 5
How did you get there?
Romania is accessible by the Eurorail network for foreigners and Interlink network for European nationals. Though we were a bit weary of the time it would take to venture further east, we also knew we might never come by this part of the world again. As such we booked a 7pm train from Budapest, electing to travel first class in a private room. By the time the Hungarian and then the Romanian authorities had checked our passports we were able to sprawl out in our bunks around 11pm and sleep safely and comfortably the rest of the journey. Best money I’ve ever spent as it didn’t even feel like 14.5 hours.
Keep in mind that the cabins are small and unfortunately warm in summer so wear clothes that breathe. There is air conditioning but the trains are noticeably older than their European counterparts so it’s not guaranteed to work as we discovered. Unfortunately there is no wifi so stock up on entertainment and bring plenty of snacks and water. There is a restaurant on board but as expected prices are somewhat higher. For those concerned with security, the first class cabins were fitted with three heavy duty locks. As I can only speak from my experience, I cannot determine what the second class carriages are fitted with but I am sure similar precautions are taken.
Tips and tricks?
If you do decide to venture into Romania by train with Eurorail don’t be surprised if the conductor takes your ticket/Eurorail pass. I assume they retain this either for border control or so that they can ascertain when and where you will disembark and notify you of your pending arrival in the morning. Of course you will receive your documentation back shortly before arriving at your destination.
Sinaia train station is very small in terms of facilities and staff. Ensure that you have organised a ticket onto your next destination well ahead of time. We spent close to 45 minutes trying to organise a train back to Budapest due to the language barrier and the staff seemed quite perplexed as to the conditions of our rail pass. They were very helpful nonetheless and we ultimately were able to organise our return journey.
As the train approaches Sinaia you will notice that fruit sellers are permitted to come on board to sell their produce, typically delicious freshly picked berries. So if you feel like a healthy snack carry some Euro or Romania lei on your person and help someone make a living. Now speaking of food, vegetarians might struggle to find a variety of options in Sinaia as the cuisine is very meat orientated, you have to emotionally prepare for even seeing bear available on the menu.
Where did you stay?
Sinaia is a resort town that would come alive particularly in the winter months due to its vast array of ski fields. As such there are few chateau inspired hotels scattered throughout out the town, and given its size you will most likely never be too far from everything. We stayed at Hotel Smart in a room which easily accommodated three adults and upon finding cosy bathrobes in our room I was sold! After arriving mid morning from an overnight train we found the staff to be both kind and hospitable. Naturally exhausted and in desperate need to freshen up, we were very thankful that they accommodated an early check in without anyone in our party having to ask. The hotel is accessible by foot within roughly twenty minutes but taxis are also found directly outside the station but you might want to ask or negotiate the price before jumping in.
How long did you spend in Sinaia and what did you do?
Unless an avid skier you will need no more than two days in Sinaia before venturing onto Bucharest or elsewhere in the summer months. This estimation is based on those arriving in Sinaia early to mid morning and leaving late afternoon the following day. I recommend spending your first day exploring the sights the town has to offer from palaces to monasteries. Upon getting a good nights rest spend your second day atop of Bucegi mountains. For 50 Romanian lei you can catch a cable car to either 1400 or 2000 metres above sea level. Though I am petrified of cable cars, particularly when they look old and rusty, the views from the top were unbelievable to say the least.
Did you feel safe?
Though I was nervous about heading east I was pleasantly surprised to discover how safe I felt in Sinaia. I never once felt threatened or on guard and the locals were very helpful. I think Bucharest would generate different feelings because it is a capital city but Sinaia is so untouched I just hope this little Romanian gem retains it’s charm. My only concern the entire time was coming face to face with a brown bear or wolves particularly whilst hiking in the mountains.
Robert Frost once penned “Two roads diverged in a wood, and I- I took the one less travelled by, and that has made all the difference.” These powerful words have always inspired me to do what I love, travel. As I get older these words are beginning to take on new meaning as my travel tastes are changing. My time in Sinaia helped me realise that I want to start exploring places less travelled and encourage others to do the same.