You probably noticed our Canadian travel stories, but I don’t remember if we have ever told you that we actually moved there “forever” in 2010, but decided we love our country, Romania, and came back one and a half year later. Since 2012 we have been living in Bucharest and try to travel as much as we can across our country. It has a lot to offer and we still have a lot of places to see.

We try to use any free time for traveling and that’s why in the long weekend for Labour Day we went to Cluj-Napoca, which is one of the oldest city of Romania, situated in the heart of Transylvania region. I won’t tell you its history now, but those interested can get some information here about how this city was established. I’ll mention only that its roots go back in the 2nd century A.D. before the Roman Empire conquered Dacia. Pretty old, eh?

How to get there

Getting to Cluj-Napoca is pretty easy as there is an International Airport with lots of domestic and international flights. Also it has good road connections with European road E60 linking it to Bucharest, Brasov and Sibiu to the South and Oradea and Budapest to the North. We chose to travel by car from Bucharest and I can tell you it was a long drive, but we like to be on the road so it’s not a problem for us driving for 5 to 6 hours straight.

Of course the distance is not as long as you expect it to be, but we live in Romania and I’m pretty sure most of you have heard about its lack of motorways. Consequently all the traffic has to go through small towns and cities and the roads have only one lane for each direction and that’s why it takes so long to complete a 400 km long way.

What took me by surprise, in a good and bad way, were the short motorway parts opened for traffic along the way. There are 30 km of A1 motorway that bypasses Sibiu, then, before Sebeş, we entered the next part of A1, but we left it after less than 20 km heading to Alba Iulia, and the last motorway is the part of A3 (or Transylvania Motorway) that lays just before Turda and ends 50 km away at Gilău.

Moreover there is the train option which I think is still quite used by people here. In my opinion though it is a very long journey (around 8 hours) as the infrastructure is fairly poor in Romania and I am not a good off bed sleeper so taking the night train is not an option for me. Unless I want to sleep all day after I get off. I am not comfortable with sleeping in the same room with strangers also and the train ticket has a stiff price. Anyway, if you are a train aficionado you can find the schedule for all domestic and international trains here.

What to see and do?

Actually I should say what we saw and did.

We had not researched too much the attractions of Cluj-Napoca. Therefore for us was a matter of let’s see what it has to offer at a first glance. Of course we wanted to walk on the narrow, pedestrian only streets of the Old City, I had heard before about the Union Square, Avram Iancu Square and about the Botanical Garden of Babeş Bolyai University and I think that was pretty much all. My partner knew nothing of all so we were very well informed :). But in Romania mobile data is cheap so we could use the Internet to get around and search information about what to see and do.

We arrived in Cluj-Napoca in the afternoon and, despite the not so good weather forecast  with 60-70% chance of rain, it was a sunny late spring day. After getting to Cluj Pension where we stayed, we parked our car in the front yard and went for a walk to the city center. Our accommodation was in a nice neighbourhood on one of the hills on which the city lays, thus the view from our balcony was lovely.

Nice view of the city from our room
Nice view of the city from our room

Also, walking down the steep streets was nice, but I can’t say the same about climbing them back, especially when it’s dark and you pick the only unpaved street that goes through the cemetery (LOL).

After admiring the big, nice houses built in the Botanical Garden neighborhood, we passed the Botanical garden itself and entered the citadel of Cluj Napoca without even realizing that. Only the narrower streets made me think that we probably were there. And the old buildings, of course.

St. Michael's Church, the second largest in Transilvania
St. Michael’s Church, the second largest in Transilvania

We walked for a while on the old city streets and squares, then got hungry and remembered the restaurant with Romanian traditional food that our friend had told us and headed there. As we weren’t starving, we decided to walk to its location, even if it was a long way. Thus we managed to see most of the city, including the Central Park Simion Bărnuţiu. We found it very beautiful, remembering us a little bit of Vienna. Then we came across the river bank where people were bicycling or strolling and after another let’s say half hour we found the restaurant. I didn’t find the food extraordinary, but I think it was good value for the money.

A walk to remember

As I mentioned few lines above our way back to the pension got a little bit creepy. We use Google Maps a lot to get where we need to so this time we relied on it too. We saw our route was passing by a cemetery and I even made a joke telling my partner that we should went straight through as we had never done that before. The funny thing is (now is funny, because at that moment none of us found it that way) that the road was actually entering into the cemetery as we found ourselves surrounded by grave stones. And yes it was dark (around 10 PM), the only light being our phone flashlight. Thank god there is an app for that. Did I told you that the road was paved just till we actually entered the cemetery, after that point on being just a back road?

At the end the day we reached our pension and we also had a funny story to tell about our romantic, moonlighted walk in the graveyard (I don’t really remember if the moon was visible, but it sounds better to me this way).

Anyway, if you are like us and like to walk instead of taking a cab or the public transport be careful what route you choose. What appears like a normal road on the map might not be the same in reality.

General impressions

All in all I liked the city of Cluj-Napoca. It was a breath of fresh air for us with its uncrowded streets and parks. The architecture reminded me of Prague or Vienna even though not all old buildings are well preserved. I also found it cleaner than Bucharest and very quiet. I don’t know if the people of Cluj-Napoca were outside the city taking advantage of the long weekend or it is like that usually, but I enjoyed the slow-paced and calm environment.

Speaking about restaurants and cafes we used Trip Advisor website  for lunch locations mostly, as we had breakfast included with our accommodation and dinner wasn’t always needed. Maybe we didn’t manage to choose the cheapest restaurants, but we paid quite a sum of money (~$40) for a simple lunch – one main course for each of us, one beer for John and one bottle of water for me; sometimes each of us drank coffee. Of course it is cheap compared to western European countries, but in Romania you can find good food at a lower price.

If you are cake lovers like us, I totally recommend you the Carpaţi confectionary in the Union Square and the Greek one named Olympos on the 21 December 1989 Blvd. For less than 2 bucks you can enjoy a divine cake, but don’t eat too many!

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