Our first stop was Cluj-Napoca. Or actually, it was Restaurant Vegas somewhere along the way, where one in our party was brave enough to try the Mamaliga sour cream/cheese soup of mushy polenta. A hit, naturally. We met up with a friend who has a gallery where we had some lovely Vancluse surrounded by beautiful furnishings, and then had pizza delivered to Music Pub, a cellar pub that is a university hangout. I didn't see a single non-white person in this town, which made me realise Budapest is more cosmopolitan than I think.
The next day we made our way to Târgu Mureş for lunch and a bit of a wander. Passed up the splendors of Hotel Concordia with its peeling whiteness and its interesting-looking Chinese restaurant for some hearty canteen food; Hungarian in that everyone there spoke it, and not, in that there were vegetables like snow peas.
Yes, that is a beast suckling her children pups
And then to Sighişoara, the only place I'd heard of before starting the trip. A lot of the roads are being dug up at the moment, but the town is picturesque in a muddy and rustic sort of way. There are lots of colourful buildings arranged in higgledy-piggledy fashion, and a group of 3 men dressed in tights with trumpets and a flag who parade around blaring out pronouncements of welcome in English, French, and startlingly, Chinese. A ragamuffin kid appeared with flourish when we first arrived to guide us to the pension of our dreams (it was actually, with a nice guy and musty but cute room) - he said he spoke 5 languages and proudly brandished the couple of words he knew in each of them.
The view in front was mostly chimney stacks and concrete blocks
After a night of drinking and eating in the company of our dour waiter Imre in Sighişoara and then stumbling the 10 metres it took to reach our humble bedchamber, we climbed the long and dark wooden stairway built in the 1600s to the church in the hill. I wanted to explore the cemetery, but unfortunately someone had inconveniently and inconsiderately died that day, so it was closed to tourists. Bumped into some Budapest folks (and the paraders in tights again), and then set off.
On our way to Sibiu, we stopped for a second breakfast at Medias, a town with a pretty park in the middle, some blind guitarists singing Spanish-like tunes in harmony, and a church with German origins. Lovely to sit in the sun and have some cake and coffee.
And then there was Sibiu, the most presentable of the places we went to, with newly-restored (or built?) buildings, matching pastels and perfectly-lined pavements. It's the European capital of culture this year, and it shows. It looked like a mesh of Vienna, Wroclaw and Erfurt to me. Except there were abandoned TVs on every other corner, with the sink-shaped insides spilling out onto the street.
A happy discovery for dinner, including some papanasi, which is a Romanian dessert of fried doughnuts (are there any other kind?) with cheesy cream and jam.
A last-minute stop (the decision was literally made 2 seconds before the light changed) was the castle in Hunedoara, from King Corvin, built in the 1600s. The warren of steel mills and plants and remnants (courtesy of Mr. Mittal) you have to drive through to get here makes the first sight of the castle all the more impressive. There are lots of nooks and crannies to poke around, including a 20-metre well dug by three Turks who were promised and then denied freedom upon completion, a pit where prisoners were fed to a 'beast', and a chapel with wonderful acoustics.
All road trips inevitably include an obligatory visit to McDonald's, and ours was in Arad. Nothing like bad bad fries to break a hair-raising drive on dual carriageways overtaking and being overtaken by manic drivers.
Happy dogs by Vegas