May 30, 2015
Today dawned sunny and clear, but it was time for us to move on from Breb. So after breakfast we said our goodbyes and headed out. Strangely our Google Maps route had us heading back towards Săcel before turning south, which supposedly was faster than following the main road through Baia Mare. But we decided to go along with that anyway.
Agriculture in Maramureș
Once we turned south we were in new territory. Over the pass the next valley was wider than the Maramureș valleys, and as we continued through Bistrița and Reghin and Târgu Mureș the farmers started to use machinery to bale their hay and the alfalfa fields started to become larger. The whole day was sunny, a welcome change from our recent clouds and rain.
At long last we arrived at Sigișoara, at about 5 pm. Not surprisingly our actual driving time was nearly two hours longer than the Google Maps driving time. Our pension, Casa Lia, was inside the Citadel so we found a parking lot at the bottom of the hill and walked up to find it. With the help of the map we had printed off it was easy to find, and our host Marcus greeted us very warmly. He even came back down the hill with us to direct us to a closer parking lot. It was lucky for us that it was late on Saturday afternoon, because we only had to pay for parking until 6 pm and then parking on Sunday was free.
Entrance to Sigișoara (Tailors’ Tower)
We were given a welcoming glass of țuică and some delicious homemade cake, and then we went out to look around the citadel. Marcus had given us a map but in actual fact it wasn’t too helpful because it was a poor photocopy of the original. However we did manage to use it to find a few things.
Residential street in citadel
The citadel area is quite small so wandering the streets and seeing the sights was done quite quickly. Around the citadel are gates which were assigned to various guilds, such as the furriers and the carpenters, and on the very top of the hill is a fortress-like German church with an adjacent cemetery. And right in the middle of the town is the building where Vlad (The Impaler) Țepeș was allegedly born.
Central square in citadel
Marius had shown us a place on his map which he said was the best place to go for dinner, but despite looking for it we couldn’t find it. So we ended up at a pizzeria on one of the busy squares. After dinner we returned to the pension; the evening was lovely so sitting outside was a treat. We were only staying in Sigișoara for one night, but after seeing the citadel area we realized that was quite adequate.
May 31, 2015
This morning was sunny again, so things were improving, weather-wise. We hadn’t quite seen all around the citadel yet, so after breakfast we went for a quick walk around the parts we had missed. We were surprised to meet up with the German couple who had stayed in the Village Hotel with us, and we chatted briefly with them before going our separate ways. In the central square we found a shop which sold Corund ceramics, so we bought a small piece.
Sándor Petőfi, Hungary’s national poet
By now it was 9:30 am so we headed back, paid our bill, and walked down the hill to the car. It was very easy to find our way out of Sigișoara and onto the highway. We only had three hours of driving to get to Sibiu, our destination for today, so we could take our time. Our plan was to visit yet another UNESCO World Heritage site, this time the fortified Saxon churches of Transylvania. There were six churches on the list, but we knew by now that we didn’t need to see all of them.
Farewell to Sigișoara
Today was Sunday so road traffic, in particular horse and cart traffic, was lighter than usual. Our first stop was the church in Biertan, which is probably one of the best. Finding it was very easy, much easier than the wooden churches in Maramureș, because it towered over the village! We bought our entrance tickets from the lady in the bookshop and then walked up the covered steps to the hilltop. Of course there was scaffolding around part of the church, but we could still go inside. The German churches don’t have nearly as much ornamentation as the Romanian ones do, so maybe that’s why you don’t have to pay extra to take photographs inside. But there were a few wall frescoes which were in quite good condition.
Door in Biertan church with 19 locks
Biertan church pulpit
We walked around part of the outside, getting lovely views of the surrounding area. The day was sunny and warm and the fields were a lovely green. After buying a Romanian cookbook (in English) from the bookshop we carried on back to the main road.
There was another fortified church in the village of Valea Viilor, so we went to have a look at it. This one was not open, and if we wanted to gain admittance we would have had to telephone somebody and pay a 30-lei fee. So we just walked around it to look at the exterior before driving on.
Valea Viilor church
Field near Valea Viilor
We arrived in Sibiu at about 2 pm, and to find the Old Town Hostel we followed our Google Maps directions. They sent us along some narrow cobbled roads and through a ridiculously narrow alley with cars parked in it, and finally into Piața Mică, which had (expensive) places to park. We checked into the hostel and asked about parking; after finding out how to pay and messing about with cars driving in all directions at once we finally escaped from the parking lot. Down the hill a bit we found apparently free parking, and luckily an English-speaking local confirmed that it was free.
View from hostel window
So we collected all our stuff, locked the car, and walked the five minutes back to the hostel. Our room was very large and overlooked the square, where there was a festival going on with music and children dancing. So we headed out to explore. The Piața Mică was filled with outdoor restaurants and the adjacent Piața Mare was lined with upscale shops. There are several museums in Sibiu, but neither of us felt inclined to visit any of them. We felt that a late lunch of ice cream would be more appropriate.
We strolled around the town in the sunshine, looking at the well-kept buildings, and about 5:30 pm we decided to get dinner. There was a restaurant almost next to our hostel which served traditional Romanian food and it was quite good.
Later we decided to go out walking again and to get ice cream for dessert. We walked down to see the old ramparts as the sun set before returning to our room. Outside the room it was very busy and noisy in the square, but later in the evening it quieted down and we fell asleep quite easily.
June 1, 2015
Despite the curtains in our room being little more than sheers, we weren’t really woken up early by the sun. When we looked out onto Piața Mică all was quiet there. For breakfast we ate the cinnamon kürtőskalács which we had bought from the vendor in the square, then checked out and walked down the hill to find our car. We were both somewhat relieved to find it undamaged and with no parking tickets!
Old farm buildings
We had another short drive today, so our plan was to visit the ASTRA open-air museum which is out on the edge of the town. Officially it’s the ASTRA Museum of the Traditional Folk Civilization. Navigating there was easy, and we only missed one turn. Parking was also easy; we noticed that people were parking at the side of the road so we did that too. We had arrived before the posted opening time, but that didn’t seem to matter as the ticket office was already open. We bought the little guidebook which had a very helpful map to get us around the whole site.
Going to church
The site contains original buildings from various parts of Romania which represent different activities such as pottery-making, gold-mining, weaving, iron-working, etcetera. We wandered around the area, which is divided into two large sections separated by a lake. The day was hot and sunny and there were a surprising number of people there considering it was Monday. Most of the buildings were static displays but a couple had interpreters there to explain things (not necessarily in English).
We stopped at a refreshment stand and bought some mint lemonade—what a refreshing drink! We also bought 100 grams of chocolate fudge and sat at a table listening to a really bad violin player. We visited most of the buildings in the park and then decided to have lunch at the restaurant there, which serves standard Romanian dishes. This turned into a frustrating experience. We waited a long time to be served, and then an extremely long time to get our meals. And when they arrived they weren’t what we had ordered! We sent the salad back to get it changed, but didn’t dare to ask for the right kind of potatoes.
By now it was after 2 pm and we were finished with Sibiu. So we found the car and headed off towards Zărnești and the next part of our adventure.