Grabbing a train with a fellow traveller
I met Antoine on the final night of my first stay at Podstel in Bucharest. He was from the Burgundy region of France and travelling for a few weeks through Eastern Europe by himself. I hadn't quite made up my mind as to where I was heading to the next day, with the Black Sea, the Danube Delta and Brasov the potential destinations. (I had also wanted extend my stay at Podstel, but they were unfortunately fully booked.) Antoine suggested that we travel together to Brasov and pointed out a highly-rated hostel. I agreed, as he seemed like a nice guy and thought it would be nice to have some company.
(Travel tip: You can search Booking.com and Hostelworld.com to search hostels by price, rating and reviews, but always check the hostel's own site before booking. You might find that you can save considerable amounts of money, ranging from 10% to even 5 Euros a night!)
We decided to take a train from Bucharest to Brasov for convenience, although blabla cars and buses are also good options. The journey was quite comfortable and I managed to publish a couple of blog posts. I also felt safer travelling with a companion, as we could look after each other's belongings during toilet breaks!
Writing some posts on the train from Bucharest to Brasov.
Trains in Romania come in three main types: regional (R), inter-regional (IR) and intercity (IC).
The regional trains are the cheapest, but take considerably longer and foreigners and even the Romanian locals don't often take this train. They are usually taken by the Roma community ("gypsy", although I'm not fond of this term) and I've heard comments from fellow travellers that, although safe, the trains can get quite loud.
The inter-regional trains are much faster (2.5 hours from Bucharest to Brasov vs 4.5 hours on the regional trains) and are of a high standard, with relatively spacious reserved seats, power sockets and toilets. A second class ticket costs 50 lei (RON), the equivalent of £10. I've heard that first class tickets aren't worth the additional expense as there isn't that much difference in quality.
Intercity trains weren't available on this route, but they are the highest quality and they were recommended by the locals, where available.
(Travel tip: You can only buy tickets a maximum 1 hour ahead of the scheduled departure time. Do get there with a sufficient buffer though, as queues can get quite long and the ticket office isn't very efficient.)
Our train. Despite the old exterior, the interiors are relatively modern and comfortable.
The Kismet Dao Hostel in Brasov
The hostel we stayed at was the Kismet Dao Hostel (how zen - love it!), located around 10-15 minutes' walk away from the Old Town. It was really good value, at 12 euros per night in a 6 bedroom mixed dorm that came with free towels, free breakfast (cereal, bread and coffee) and a free drink for each night of your stay!
The hostel had a lovely garden outside, with sun loungers and hammocks to chill in, and a basement common room with an assortment of sofas and hammocks. I was especially excited by the hammocks, which I'd never tried before!
My first hammock experience (I fell down as soon as I jumped on...)
It was no Podstel (who at the time of writing has plans to expand in Brasov) but a very nice hostel indeed. It's just the little attention to detail at Podstel that made the difference. For example, Podstel made sure that each bed had easy access to power sockets. I could tell it attracted a slightly different crowd - although not a "party hostel", the travellers seemed more party inclined (the free beer probably helps!)
The walking tour
Off the back of great walking tour experiences in Bucharest, Antoine and I joined the free walking tour of Brasov that evening. We invited Adriana, a Spanish girl who was hanging around the hostel, to join us on the tour too (#makingfriends).
The diversity of architecture in Brasov was stunning. This is the oldest orthodox church in Brasov (I think)...
The tour gave us a good introduction to the history of Brasov, the heart of Transylvania. The mixture of Austro-Hungarian culture, German and Ottoman influences was fascinating, as was the tripartite religious backgrounds of the Orthodox, Catholic and Lutheran Christianity. We even stopped by an art exhibition that was going on near Rope Street (the narrowest street in Europe) and got to try some free wine!
A word of warning. The walking tour in Brasov is on the long side, being around two hours and a half long. It was good, don't get me wrong, but they did include some fluff (e.g. dressed up actors that didn't speak great English) that was potentially unnecessary given the adult audience. There's also not much walking, as the town is pretty compact. Don't be shy to cut the tour short if you're getting a bit bored - just remember to tip the guides before you go (suggested tip: 15 - 20 lei, or more if you can afford it).
The main square in Brasov at night.
Adriana decided to head home after our wine break at the art exhibition, and I ended up envying her decision! The three of us agreed to go on a tour together the next day to visit a bear sanctuary, Bran Castle (the castle incorrectly attributed to Vlad the Impaler) and Rasnov, a beautiful citadel.
Unexpected reunion over dinner
When the tour finally finished at half 8, Antoine invited Caroline from Sweden, who he'd met on the tour, to join us for dinner. She agreed and asked if she could bring another girl she'd met at the hostel she was staying at.
It was one of those serendipitous moments, as I was filled with both surprise and delight to see a familiar face walking towards us. It was Maria, one of the "kindred spirits" who I'd met at Podstel on my first night.
Ursus Black (an okay dark beer) and Maria!
The four of us shared a great meal at La Ceaun, which had some great traditional dishes that were very cheap (meal, beer and water for under £10). After dinner we shared stories late into the night over some good beer at Ciucaș, a popular brewery on the edge of the Old Town. (It had a good range of beers and other drinks, although I had yet to taste a really good beer that I was promised in Romania!)
It was the perfect end to yet another beautiful day in Romania.
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