Travelling around Romania is far from an easy task. We have very few highways, express roads, basically no modern infrastructure. Which is funny, considering we have the Transfagarasan Highway, one of the best roads on Earth. Still, after 1.700 kilometres by car in Romania, I have to say I am pleasantly surprised by the roads that I’ve travelled on. I haven’t had to change any spare parts to the car except for the 4 brake plates which are quite cheap and should’ve been changed a long time ago.
Spending a week on Romanian roads has taught me how to drive. I have been driving for 7 or 8 years now, but I’ve yet to go on a long trip like this until now. I am no longer a driving virgin, that’s for sure, and choosing Romania as my first Grand Tour country was a very good idea. Besides the driving, which was sublime on many roads, I have visited some of the best attractions Romania has to offer. It’s hard to make a list or a top, but nevertheless, here are my 7 favourite places from the Romanian trip.
The Merry Cemetery of Sapanta (Cimitirul Vesel)
Romania has a merry cemetery. No, there’s no mistake in that first phrase. Somewhere in Maramures county, in a small village almost to the border with Ukraine, there’s a cemetery where death is seen not only as a natural part of life but also as a complete joke. The funerary stones are actually wooden crosses with funny messages on them about the deceased. One of the more famous ones reads “here lays my mother-in-law, bla bla, if she were to live for three more days, I’d have been here instead”.
It’s crazy, when you think about it, how much people fear death. It’s unnatural. Death is all around us and it is as important as life itself. Imagine we were all immortal. It would be a tough place to live, this Earth, because there would simply be too many of us people. Having a cemetery where the deceased are made fun off by their families really sends a powerful message about death and just how normal and natural it is.
The Village of Breb, Maramures
If a merry cemetery is not a place you’d really want to see, although I don’t know why you wouldn’t want to laugh at death for a little while, then head to Breb. This small village in Maramures is close to Sapanta and Sighetu Marmatiei. Coming after some twists and turns of the road, the village of Breb is the place where you’ll find the famous wooden doors of Maramures. These wooden masterpieces are marvellous. I am not sure we’ve made it to the very best doors in the village, but if you look further on the little streets, you’ll surely find even more impressive masterpieces.
Most foreigners have heard about Voronet when it comes to Romanian monasteries. If you’re not a religious person but still want to see some monasteries in Romania, I urge you to start with Barsana. Located in Maramures, this monastery has turned out to be my favourite from all of the monasteries that I’ve visited throughout the trip. And I’ve been to 6 or so! The wooden work is surreal here. I don’t know if it makes you feel closer to God or not, but it surely makes you feel calm, relaxed and somewhat energised. Voronet and the other monasteries were all impressive, but Barsana overwhelmed me by its simplicity and the natural beauty surrounding the complex.
The Only Meter of Highway in Moldova
Romania is doing poorly when it comes to roads and highways. Well, in the region of Moldova (the region of Romania called Moldova is close to the actual country of Moldova, but the latter is a country of its own) there’s only one meter of highway. Don’t believe me? Just check out the picture above. To be honest, it was more of a publicity stunt for some guy in the region, but nevertheless, as a method of protest against the incompetence of the government, I think it did its job perfectly.
Bicaz Gorge (Cheile Bicazului)
This was probably the most serene natural wonder of the entire trip. Imagine a road so magical, so unreal-looking, it just takes your breath away. Set along a mountain road in the middle of the country, the Bicaz Gorge is a passageway road that’s built straight through the stone. The road twists and turns like a snake through the rocky walls that simply look like they’re about to fall on your head at any moment. The river that flows alongside the narrow road adds value to the entire experience. Parking the car somewhere near the gorge can be hard, but once you find a spot, simply walking along the road and through the rock is a magical experience.
Red Lake (Lacul Rosu)
The legends and myths of the Red Lake, located a few miles away from the Bicaz Gorge, are many. What stands out to me though is the beauty of this lake, as well as its mystical setting. The cut tree remainings that emerge from the water, the hills covered by pine trees and the colour of the water, which is a light green, all make this place a very special one. I have seen many lakes in my days, but here at the Red Lake, nature has really painted a canvas which almost looks unreal. Nature can sometimes be unnaturally beautiful, and it sure is the case here.
I said it again and again, and here I am saying it again: if you have time for just one place in Romania, go to Sighisoara. This is by far my favourite place in the country. The citadel of Sighisoara is illegally beautiful. It is a walkable museum of cobble-stone streets, old houses, a covered stairway to the top that will cover your cardio training for the day and a beautiful, climbable clock tower that overlooks everything. If you’re in Sighisoara during the summer, you might be lucky enough to stumble upon the medieval festival, the event that has put the city on the international map. Still, I am glad we were one or two days late, as the city was somewhat calm and we were able to walk along in the citadel in a more relaxed fashion.