From the Dracula legend to the gorgeous landscapes, Romania is a fascinating country in Eastern Europe. Yet, many travelers still don’t include this beautiful place in their vacation plans and maybe the media is the one to blame here.
For that reason, today’s interview is about a sweet city in the famous region of Transylvania, Sibiu. As you know, a couple of times per month I interview a local to get the best insights and tips concerning a city that should definitely be on our bucket list.
If you want to read other interviews of this series, take a look at my “Through the Eyes of a Local” archive! I’m sure you’ll enjoy learning more about other cities from a local’s point of view.
The whole region of Southeast Transylvania features a magnificent blend of Romanian culture and German traditions as well as no less than 200 fortified churches and 7 fortified medieval towns. Among these, Sibiu is an old medieval town, founded by German settlers that came to Transylvania 800 years ago. The town is surrounded by countryside hills and snow-capped mountains that create a thrilling backdrop for the city.
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Could you please tell us a bit more about yourself? Where are you from and what do you do?
I am Iuliana, a former architect and currently travel writer from Romania. I was born and raised in Bucharest (the capital) but I moved to Sibiu almost eight years ago. My hobbies are traveling and writing, and I am doing all my best to merge the two of them in unique articles, narratives, and my travel blog Authentic Travels. My life motto is a verse of Khalil Gibran: “We live to discover beauty. All else is a form of waiting.”
What do you like about Sibiu?
Sibiu is a calm and peaceful town, with good-quality architecture, and patient people. I like very much that I can walk wherever I have to go. I seldom use the car, only when I go shopping or when I hike out in the countryside. Although it’s a medium-sized town, there’re plenty of cultural events and meetings that take place every week – in fact, this is a result of the title that Sibiu has achieved as a European Cultural Capital in 2007.
Which 3 places do you highly recommend paying a visit in the city?
The key sights are mentioned in every standard guidebook, but I want to bring more value to the readers and provide them with information off the beat. So, stroll the streets of the Lower Town – although it is an old neighborhood only with houses, the street imagery is very picturesque and animated by colorful German houses. Don’t miss the Asylum Church, the oldest church in town and the place of the first medieval hospital in the country.
One afternoon, hike up the Gușterița hill (1,5h one way) and enjoy the views over Sibiu and its mountainous surroundings. Alternatively, climb the tower of the Evangelic church and you’ll be in one of the highest buildings in Transylvania.
The last recommendation is to stroll the Fortress Street (Strada Cetății), where the only remnants of the old fortification wall are and drink a coffee at Pardon Cafe.
Is there anything you don’t like about your hometown? What is it?
As a local, I struggle with the lack of initiatives that the local communities have sometimes – people are ok with their daily lifestyle and aren’t interested in experiencing something new. I have adapted myself to this mentality and have a very peaceful, calm life when I’m at home.
On the other hand, when I’m traveling, I try to compensate my need for new and different cultures. In the past years, new Non-Government Organisations have started and the local atmosphere is more lively, especially in summer. As a tourist, though, spending a few days in Sibiu won’t make you observe this small inconvenience. Maybe you’ll just notice that there aren’t too many people out on the street after 10 pm.
What is the best way to get around Sibiu? Is it easy to reach nearby cities?
Sibiu is a medium-sized town and the old historic center is easy to walk (and pedestrianized quite enough). Other beautiful neighborhoods with picturesque houses and stylish villas are easy to reach on foot from downtown. For other cities, though, you’ll have to go to the train station or the bus station nearby. Everything is in one place, so if you miss the train, you’ll catch the next bus.
How travel-friendly is the city?
Sibiu is a town founded by German settlers, so English is not widely spoken, but we do study it in school and watch films from Hollywood. It’s more likely that the young speak English, so if you want to ask for directions, don’t go to an old woman. The airport is on the outskirts of Sibiu, easily reached in 15 minutes by taxi from the city center.
How safe is Sibiu? Is it ok to walk around with your camera or alone at night?
Sibiu is a safe place to live, visit, and explore. Since it was a Cultural Capital in 2007, the tourist police are constantly guarding the area of the old town, where most tourists go. I often walk at night and I’ve never had a problem. Maybe you’ll wonder why the streets are so empty at night, but this doesn’t mean that someone is following you and will steal your camera.
What are your favorite things to do in Sibiu?
In summer, I like to go to the town’s open swimming pool – it’s a cool place to be while surrounded by mountains. Also, there’re many events that take place in bars and cafes – you can ask at the Tourist Information Centre at the Large Square and they’ll provide you with updated information at the time of your arrival. Alternatively, you can rent a bike at the so-called Cazarma 90 (near Bălcescu pedestrian street) and pedal through the Subarini Park to the Village Museum.
What are the best things to do when the weather is, respectively, bad or good?
When the weather is good, you should go to Ocna Sibiului (thermal lakes nearby Sibiu) or to Păltiniș Mountain Resort. These two places are very close to Sibiu (20km), and locals go very often there. If the weather is bad, you can go to the Brukenthal Museum and then enjoy a hot cup of chocolate at one of the cafes in the Large Square.
What is the most traditional dish in Sibiu?
I would say that the tripe soup is a national dish (ciorbă de burtă), very tasty and hearty as well. We love eating soups, we always order them as the first dish, and is part of our culture to eat something warm even if it’s hot outside. Alternatively, you can try polenta with cheese (bulz or mămăligă).
Could you recommend a local bar and restaurant?
For the tripe soup go to Kontiki Restaurant – it’s a 20-minutes walk from the city center of Sibiu but they are renowned for the best tripe soup in town. You can also try the small meat sausages there (mici), dressed with mustard. And a local beer, of course, Nenea Iancu.
What is the biggest tourist trap of Sibiu?
I don’t think we have something like that. Honestly, we are honest people. Only our government is corrupted. But this has nothing to do with tourists.
Can you tell us a memory that you have in this city?
Once, it was raining cats and dogs. And the sewerage in Romania is not very efficient, so when I got home I was completely wet. At that moment, all you can think is a hot bubble-bath (even in the middle of summer) and hope that the street will quickly dry. If it happens to rain while you’re in Romania, you’ll understand what I mean.
Could you describe the people of Sibiu?
People are usually very conservative, in some cases let’s say not very open-minded. It’s hard for them to try something new or change something in their lives but slowly, with tourists like you, they start to see the world with different eyes. Not many people will invite you in their houses but the young ones are more likely to be more hospitable.
Tell us please a fun fact about Sibiu.
It’s said that the Germans settled in Sibiu were very proud people. When they built their church, they wanted to have the highest tower in Transylvania. By that time, the highest tower was in Bistrița town, so they sent two masters to measure it. They climbed the tower of Bistrița and measured its height (75 m) with a rope.
In the evening, they stopped at an inn, got drunk, and talked about their mission a bit too much. They fell asleep and their new friends cut their rope with two meters. This explains why the evangelical tower in Sibiu has only 73 m, while the one in Bistrița still is the highest church tower in Transylvania.
What piece of advice would you give to readers who want to visit your hometown?
The city center of Sibiu can be easily visited within one day. However, this doesn’t mean that there’s nothing else to see around the town. Sibiu is surrounded by nearly 20-30 unique fortified churches and the region is rich in mountain-bike trails. A bike tour to some of the fortified churches nearby is a good opportunity to understand a different dimension of Sibiu, its countryside, and cultural heritage.
What is the biggest prejudice other countries have about Romania?
I often heard that Romania is not safe to visit. First of all, we don’t have a war and we won’t have one (at least not as long as I live, this is for sure). Secondly, as in many parts of the world, there’re thieves, drunk men, and people begging in the streets. We even have one of the most powerful gypsy communities, right here in Sibiu.
But this doesn’t mean that someone will attack you in the middle of the day. As a friendly advice, though, always pay attention where your wallet and documents are, how much is the bill at the restaurant, and if the guy from the exchange office has given you the correct amount of money. If you do that, I think you’re accustomed pretty well to Romania.
Can you tell us a book based on Romania?
The most famous book about Romania is actually not about Romania. I am sure you have heard about the Dracula Legend/story/book. Well, let me disappoint you: Dracula’s Castle is just marketing because that place was mentioned in that book. There’s no real story behind it. The truth is that one of our rulers, Vlad Țepeș, had a bloody habit to impale his enemies, especially the Turks. From lots of blood to Dracula, there’s a long way but you must admit that Romania’s marketing is working well in this case.
Thanks a lot, Iuliana for this awesome interview!
Read more interviews of Through the Eyes of a Local series and get inspired for your next adventure!
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