Dateline: Sibiu, Romania
Sun, warmth and temperature perfection; that pretty much sums up the first 48 hours of my Vladling road trip in Transylvania. At exactly 48 hours, one minute and 15 seconds, Romania suffered a freak, only-when-it’s-me, inclement weather zap. The temperature dropped 20 degrees Fahrenheit, fog rolled in and it rained like hell. Parts of eastern Romania were under water in a matter of hours. Nothing dreadful like that happened in Sibiu, but it was still a cruel turn of events after all that driving.
Our driving day between Târgu Mure?? and Sibiu could have gone smoother. Romania’s lethargic commitment to signage, accurate or otherwise, turned a two hour drive into four, including a maddening, looping tour of Sibiu’s commercial district while trying to outwit signs and deviously placed one way streets that circled the historic center, but never actually led to where they promised.
The Little Vampire and I frittered away the vast majority of the 30 minutes of sunshine that Sibiu enjoyed on our only full day in town lingering over coffee and following around a German couple carry my LP guide to Romania and Moldova – the first sighting of the book in a non-controlled setting. After that brief encounter with comfort and dryness, we exclusively saw the city from the insides of cafes and restaurants, darting and shivering from patio umbrellas to covered building entrances and generally wishing our little hearts out for it to stop pouring just long enough for us to run back to the car (it never did).
Nevertheless, Sibiu was nice to look at – all polished and redecorated for their spotlight year as a European Capital of Culture. Had we the proper cold and moisture resistant clothing, the city certainly looked primed for a good stroll. A police presence stronger than I’ve ever seen in Romania was out, manning virtually every street corner and wandering the plazas in twos, waiting for someone to make their collective days. And when no one did, they actually made themselves useful, directing traffic and even helping drivers find parking spots. Seeing as how my history with Romanian police mainly consists of them staring a hole into me as I drive through town, scanning my driving/car for any excuse to pull me over and shake me down for a bribe, seeing all this goodwill was a little creepy quite frankly.
When it’s not hypothermia weather, Sibiu deserves two full days to take in its worthwhile sites and architecture, including the abundance of the city’s atmospheric ‘eyelid’ windows. The trifecta of plazas – Piaţa Mare (Large Plaza), Piaţa Mica (Small Plaza) and Piaţa Huet (The What Now? Plaza) – are newly cobblestoned and enriched with artistic flairs like modern art and creative landscaping. The southeast remnants of the lovely 16th century city wall are a time travel trip, if you can ignore the Dacias and Peugeots parked alongside it. A number of sights, including the Brukenthal Museum, “the oldest and (likely) finest art gallery in Romania”, the City History Museum and the Franz Binder Museum of World Ethnology are all excellent. We gave it a miss due to the weather and since I’ve already seen several just like it, but the Museum of Traditional Folk Civilization, 5km south of town, has a staggering 120 traditional dwellings, mills and churches painstakingly trucked in from around the country. And though I was barred entrance by God’s Securitate, it’s probably safe to assume that the tourism office is first-rate.
Oh right, possibly the main reason everyone was on their best behavior was that Sibiu had been overrun by a Caucus of Organized, Devout Non-Atheists. The Non-Atheists verily locked out the remainder of Sibiu’s tourists for the week, commandeering the tourism bureau, filling every bed in town (we were forced to book beds in a village 15 kilometers away), monopolizing all worthwhile sights and even somewhat rudely turning us Non-Non-Atheists out of the warm and dry Evangelical Church, without so much as a glimpse of the ornamentation or the 1772 organ with 6002 pipes, into the freezing pouring rain, while they slaughtered goats or whatever it was they were doing that required total privacy and air-tight security.
Lastly, a small health problem was finally addressed in Sibiu. After dining in Restaurant Leo in Târgu Mureş (LP-listed, by the way) two days previous, I’d started on an involuntary strict regimen of racing to the toilet every 90 minutes to do unspeakable things that rhyme with “doop my ducking drains out”. When it became clear that this was the kind of food poisoning that doesn’t just eventually work itself through the system, I made a stop at a pharmacy to buy an antidote (‘Furazolidon’ for those of you who find yourself in a similar situation on your next trip to Romania). And, for the record, when the pharmacist asks you how many you want, she literally means how many pills. If you say “five”, she busts open a package, whips out a scissors and cuts up the tabs. Try that at Wallgreens! I was instructed to take two pills right away, which turned my pee a delightful color of reddish-orange. ‘Delightful’, that is, if it were being served in a heaping glass of ice next to a pool on Mallorca. Rather alarming when it comes out of your doodle. Ultimately, the pills did the trick and I was never forced to take an emergency poop by the side of the road, which I’ve never had to do in 37 years and hope to avoid for another 37.
Leif Pettersen, originally from Minneapolis, Minnesota, co-authored the current edition of Lonely Planet’s Romania and Moldova. Visit his personal blog, Killing Batteries, for expanded coverage on his gastrointestinal peculiarities and further groanings on why, oh why, is it so f*cking difficult for Romanians to put up a sign? Just one bloody sign, for Christ’s sake? I’m not asking for the world here, just an effing sign pointing to the center of town! I mean do these asshats want tourists to visit their damn town or what? Mother of God…