Transylvania means ‘the land beyond the forest; and is the north western part of Romania.
Cluj-Napoca is the largest city in Transylvania and is a university town with a beautiful old centre with 18-century buildings and Roman ruins beneath. Right in the centre you’ll find the oldest house that dates from the 1400’s and St. Michael’s Church, over five centuries old and built in an imposing gothic style.
Cluj-Napoca was known for 10 years for its mad mayor – a demagogue and a chauvinist – who painted all the benches and garbage cans in Romania’s national colours of red, yellow and blue and spread Romanian flags all over the city. He even made sure the bus tickets had the national colours printed on them. Crazy as he was, he did a lot to brighten up the centre of town.
The centre, which is also the old part of Cluj, is dotted with shopping boutiques, cafes, and terraces and is a good place to stroll around and people-watch. Around the old town lies ugly residential neighbourhoods built in communism times.
Timisoara is another university city in Romania, with 1800-century western European architecture and a bustling social and intellectual life – the Romanian Revolution of 1989 started up here.
If you want to enjoy gorgeous mountain scenery, fresh air, and still be close to a city, go to BRASOV. This is a historical trading town with a great old centre and is close to the Rasnov medieval fortress and Bran Castle.
Sighisoara is a UNESCO world heritage site, and is one of the few inhabited medieval fortresses in Europe. Inside the old fortress there is the Clock Tower (64m high, the emblem of Sigishoara), and the house where Vlad the Impaler was born. You can still see on the fortress walls holes suffered during historical bombardments and the narrow, dark streets take you back to the Middle Ages.
Every summer in July there is the Medieval Festival, where people from all over the country gather for a few days in this Middle Age citadel, and recreate and re-enact a medieval atmosphere with music, costumes, plays and plenty of drinking.
Maramures is in the far north of Transylvania and is where you’ll find the best of old Romania. Check out the Sapanta Merry Cemetery where the village sculptor, Stan Patras, carved crosses for the cemetery – he embellished them with colours, carvings and funny little epitaphs.
On the cross of Dumitru Holdis, for instance. there is a warning against overindulgence in Tuica, the Romanian national poison.
Tuica is a poisonous drink,
It brings suffering in a blink.
This is what it did to me,
Causing my demise, you see.
He who loves the tuica booze,
Will die of its overuse.
I really loved tuica, my friend,
I died holding it in my hand.
Here rests Dumitru Holids, lived 45 years, died forcefully in 1958.
(and on the cross there’s a painting with Dumitru dressed in national costume, with a cigarette and a tuica bottle in his hand)