Last weekend my friends and I headed over the border to the city of Cluj-Napoca, which is located in the Transylvanian region of Romania. The main reason for the trip was that one of my coworkers needed to do a border run. Most people are allowed 90 days of visa free travel within the Schengen zone and then after that you either need a work permit or a residence permit. AIESEC arranged for a residence permit for me which is why I can stay in the Schengen zone until the end of my internship. However, my co-worker needed a work permit and it hasn’t come through yet. So keep her current, we needed to leave the zone for a little bit.
This trip was such a spur of the moment decision. We knew we had to go out of the Schengen Zone, but we didn’t know where we were going. Our two main options were Croatia or Romania. I felt more comfortable with going to Croatia because it seems like a friendlier country. The idea of Romania kind of scared me and everyone seems to have a horror story related to the country.
We ultimately decided on Romania because a) none of us have been there before b) it seems like a random adventure and c) it seemed like the more affordable option. Plus, if you’re going to Croatia, you’ll want to go to the coast and we just didn’t have enough time to get to the coast and back again over a weekend. So Romania it was!
And boy was I sure surprised. I had the loveliest and relaxed weekend. It really was a weekend getaway. When I had to go back to work the Monday after I felt so relaxed. I didn’t want to do anything at all. It took so much effort to get my head back in the swing of things.
The train ride to Cluj was long – 7 hours or so. We passed the time sleeping and chatting about randomness. The border crossing was interesting. Our passports were checked twice: once in the last town in Hungary and again in the first town in Romania. I now have 4 new stamps in my passport! It was a bit unnerving because they would take your passport out of your eye line to get it stamped. The first time it happened I was so freaked out.
Did you know Romania is in a different time zone? We had no idea. Our train was due to arrive at 9:45 in Cluj. When we pulled up to the station at 8:45, we saw that everyone was getting ready to leave. We doubled checked with someone else on the train that this was in fact Cluj before getting off. It was then that we clued in that we were an hour ahead. I felt like such the ignorant tourist. Such an important detail and we didn’t know!
The next morning , while some of the others went in search of a sports bar to watch a rugby match, I set off with a girl from Japan to explore Cluj on foot. Turns out the city isn’t all that big. We managed to see all the main parts in 2-3 hours of walking. The weather was glorious. Nice and warm, but not too hot.
First stop was the massive church and statue that we saw on the way to the hostel the night before. The church of St. Michael’s is the second largest church in Transylvania, but the tower is the tallest.
In the square stands the statue of one of Hungary’s past kings: Matthias Corvinus. The statue was erected in honour of him being born in the area. This part of Romania use to belong to Hungary and you can see many remnants of this in the cities architecture and statues. Cluj is home to the second largest urban Hungarian community in Romania after Târgu Mureş.
From this square, we could see far off in the distance another church, but instead of having pointed spires, it had a dome. Not knowing what we were going to see, we headed that direction. Turns out we had stumbled on the Orthodox Cathedral in Avram Iancu Square. We weren’t able to go inside because there was a wedding happening at that time.
Opposite the cathedral is the Lucian Blaga National Theatre. It is is one of the most prestigious theatrical institutions in Romania. The theatre shares the same building with the Romanian Opera.
For lunch we wanted to try something Romanian. The tourist information booth recommended two restaurants and we went to check out one of them. One of my Romanian friends recommended I try this belly soup. In actuality belly means tripe. I have no problem with tripe, but some of the others I was traveling with were not so impressed by it.
It was a bit sourish and very oily. I don’t know if I would order it again. I definitely prefer the Hungary goulash! The restaurant we were in was so adorable. Everything was decorated. It was probably a touristy thing, but we didn’t mind too much. It wasn’t all that expensive and they were setting up for a wedding, so it can’t be all that touristy if the locals go there.
Following our massive meal, we headed up a small hill for a view of the city. The rest of the day was spent wandering from place to place, nibbling on food and enjoying the sun with a cool drink. All in all, the perfect first day of a getaway weekend.