Well, I’ve made it back to my favorite Romanian city: Cluj. But the journey here is a story in itself. I was able to book a ride share, successfully this time, from Bucharest to Sibiu. The driver was even kind enough to pick me up at the hostel. After making a few stops on the way to locate more passengers, we made it north through the Carpathian Mountains. It was not at all what I was expecting. Last year I booked a ride share from Bucharest straight to Cluj, and I quickly discovered that not all routes are created equal. On the way to Bucharest in 2015 we passed through Brasov, and the mountain views were simply spectacular. I assumed the route north to Sibiu would be almost the same, but I was incorrect in this assumption. So I advise anyone in the same situation to take the more scenic route through Brasov. Of course, if my Workaway plan comes through, I’ll be spending much more time around that city – plenty of time in which to hike the mountains.
Regardless, I made it to Sibiu and checked into the Center Hostel, the one recommended to me by Clara, the Belgian girl with whom I took the walking tour in Bucharest. I’m still not too sure if I would suggest this hostel to other travelers or not. It was almost like a hidden gem, except the owner was an octogenarian woman that only spoke German. Regardless, within ten minutes of checking in I was invited by a German girl (Merle, I believe was her name) to accompany her to a Billa supermarket to pick up supplies to go hiking in the mountains in the morning. Of course I agreed.
We awoke at 0630 in order to catch the 0700 bus (number 22, if anyone wishes to make the same trek) to Paltinis. It took an hour to arrive, but we finally started hiking just a little after 0800. The trails through the mountains took us, eventually, to a tiny village named Rasinari. It was quite an easy hike, but was devoid of most of the beautiful mountain scenery I was hoping for. Along the way we were lucky enough to see wild pheasants, as well as horses roaming around one of the clearings. We passed a sheep farm deep in a valley below the walking path. After approximately six hours of walking we arrived on the other side, in the tiny village. Unfortunately, being a Sunday evening, we couldn’t find any buses for the 20 kilometer walk back to Sibiu. So as soon as we got to the main road outside the city I stuck my thumb out and we were lucky enough to hitch a ride with two ladies within just a few minutes. Merle had never hitchhiked before, so I’m glad it worked out for us. The ladies dropped us off in the center of town, just a ten minute walk to our hostel.
The next day Merle left early in the morning, and I took the day off to relax. For some reason, the hike made me really tired. I ventured out into town for an hour or two, to eat, explore, and mail some post cards. The rest of the time I relaxed and talked to my new German roommate, a guy that was on vacation in Romania for about eight days. I still don’t understand how anyone could enjoy such a short holiday. The next morning I caught a bus at 1230 for Cluj – and was quickly disappointed.
I was fortunate enough to find a couchsurfer for the first few days in town. Alice lives about 5 kilometers outside of town, in a fairly new apartment complex. I arrived in Cluj at about 1600, and she worked until 1800, so I tried to find the three spots that serve as my best memories of this city from last year. The first is what Hanna and I have termed “the juicer.” It is one of the many short, metal road blocks around the square that serve to keep cars from driving into a pedestrian area. They all look the same, but this one, in front of the KFC restaurant, was apparently hit by a car at some point, and bent at a slight angle. Hanna and I noticed that the tops of all these blocks look like fruit juicers, so last year we bought an orange, took a glass from the hostel, and actually squeezed our own fruit juice in the town square. However, the city seems to be renovating that part of the sidewalk, and they have torn down all the blocks along the street. I was devastated.
My second of three best memories was a nice restaurant Hanna and I ate at, mostly because we had spent two hours in the rain touring the cemetery and the restaurant was the first place we saw to dry off. Dinner was excellent, and the dessert (papanasi) was even better. Named “Eben Ezer,” it was right on the square. I decided while I wait to enjoy some more of the delicious pastry, but the restaurant was nowhere to be found. It seems that it has closed since last year. That’s two strikes.
The last of my three best memories was located at the top of a hill on the north side of the city. Last year, while my knee was still badly damaged, it was quite a feat to make it to the top. This year was much easier. There is a giant cross at the top that sits upon a massive stone base. Someone, in their infinite wisdom, sprayed graffiti on the stones that read “Nothing is forever, but it will be. I promise lemonade.” I have no idea exactly what that meant, but that’s what made it so hilarious. And inspiring. I kept a copy of that phrase on me the last few months I spent in the United States in order to encourage me – to prove there was actually a light at the end of the tunnel. Well, needless to say, that has been covered up with gaudy silver spray paint. I just can’t catch a break in this city.
So now I think I’m going to implement a new personal guideline. Having been disappointed thrice upon my return to Cluj, I think I may rule out returning to places that have such pleasant memories, in order to preserve that which I care about the most. Instead of risking losing those memories by finding out they no longer exist, I will just avoid those places altogether and remember them how they should be remembered. I can’t explain how heartbreaking it is to learn how much has changed in the past year – just about everything I was hoping to see is no more. I am afraid my love of Cluj may have disappeared with my favorite memories of it.
Okay, I need to change the topic. I am going to give Cluj a chance to regain my appreciation. I met up with Alice, her sister, and her brother-in-law last night. We had a quick drink in town, then came back to her place for a few beers. This morning I caught the bus into town and explored a bit. I ate lunch at some restaurant that was so incredibly average that I didn’t bother to look up the name. At Alice’s advice I walked across town to Livada and ordered some papinasi. It was tasty, but not nearly as delicious as I remember it last year. I guess nothing is as good as the first time, when it’s a new experience…when it happened accidentally and organically. Ugh, anyway, I went to the tourist information center and picked up a few brochures on day-trips around the area. The rest of the night I am going to research things to do this weekend. Alice is only able to host me until Friday, so I will most likely try to find a hostel in the area. There is a town a bit south of here called….Turda (haha) that has quite a bit of nature-related activities to do. I think I will head there this weekend. Cluj just seems so different and empty without Hanna and Radu. I doubt I will stay here nearly as long as I intended. Meh.