A Travellerspoint blog

Rila to Romania on a Special Russian Train

Castles and hay-stacks and bears, oh my!

overcast 2 °C

Religious icons for sale, near the Alexander Nevsky Cathedral in Sofia. Similar icons were for sale outside the Rila Monastery.

A frescoed ceiling at the Rila Monastery

A frescoed ceiling at the Rila Monastery

The Rila Monastery was amazing. Inside the church is dark and smells of the beeswax candles everyone is lighting for various saints, and outside the domed veranda ceilings and walls are completely covered in frescoes. Inside the walls are covered in frescoes, too, but it's darker and they look less well-kept and you aren't allowed to take photos. Monks in black robes and warm-looking hats are occasionally seen wandering about through the throngs of tourists, and there are lots of signs informing you that you aren't allowed to go anywhere near the monks' living quarters.


We ended up staying at the hotel Tsarev Vrah, 200m from the monastery. The view (above) from our nice big warm room was beautiful. It was definitely worth the 60 Bulagarian leva. I'm fairly certain that if we had knocked on some doors and spoken some Bulgarian we might have been able to stay in the guest dormitory of the monastery, but we didn't. I felt like it was best for people who were actually religious pilgrims to stay there anyway, and I really liked our hotel room.

We left the Rila Monastery by bus on Sunday afternoon. Sunday evening saw us at the Sofia central train station, reserving a sleeping compartment and negotiating with a tout who did in fact help us but who then demanded too much money for his informational services. Our train was Russian; we had tea in fancy Russian mugs; if we had not been woken up at 5:45am by our Russian train conductor we would have kept on going to Moscow. However, we got off in Bucuresti, the capital of Romania, and took another train to Brasov, where we are now hanging out in a hostel. Of course there was the 2am passport stamping when we left Bulgaria, and the 4am passport stamping when we got to the next station in Romania. In both cases, a uniformed official came onto the train, knocked on our door, took our passports, stamped them and brought them back. We didn't get as much sleep in our sleeping compartment as we had hoped.

The first thing I ate in Romania was soggy baklava from a fast-food joint at the Bucuresti train station, washed down with something pretending to be coffee. When we got off the train in Brasov three hours later (did I mention we spent 13 hours riding trains?), I had some kind of pepperoni and cabbage sandwich with lots of mayonnaise. I was so hungry at that point that it tasted absolutely delicious. After a nap at the hostel (where the dorm room actually seems to be colder than the outside air), we had soup and beer at a pub near the town square. The soup was good and hot and full of fatty pork - which in the case of the one I ordered, was not mentioned in the menu description. "Smoked bean and red onion" clearly means "full of pork and pork fat" in Romania! But I hope you aren't getting the wrong idea here - I enjoyed all of this food! I was hungry, and I was in Romania, where the roof-tops are very pointy and they still make hay-stacks. Imagine the quaint old-fashioned idea of a haystack with a shepherd asleep in the bottom of the pile, a hat over his face and a piece of straw hanging from his mouth. Now just take away the sleeping shepherd and you have Romanian hay-stacks. When I saw them out the window of the train I thought we had gone back in time.

Tomorrow: Dracula's Castle!

Posted by arwyn 12:25 Archived in Romania

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Do/does the people/countryside in Romania look reasonably prosperous or are they/it as poor as we are led to believe by all the stories of romanian orphans? Somehow I have this sense of much of eastern europe as being impoverished , maybe that is not true??

by ellen anderson

2nd comment-- it seems entirely appropriate to visit dracula's castle right around hallowe'en....
maybe you can even dress up??

by ellen anderson

Mmm... my favourite kind of soup!

Which "Dracula" castle are you visiting?

by Jesse

We visited Poenari Fortress, a castle of Vlad Tepes (Romanian ruler who kept out the Turks and whose harsh justice gave him the nickname "impaler"). It was mostly ruins but the view was fantastic. We also went over to Bran Castle but it was closed and we didn't go inside.

As to Romania's prosperity, we saw more beggars there than we'd seen elsewhere, and more stray dogs and dog shit on the streets. The young guy who was our driver to Poenari told us he only makes about 1000 Euros per year, and complained that the government was corrupt and did nothing for the people. That said, there were obviously rich people around as well. It didn't look like most people were starving, but I think a lot of them don't make very money.

by arwyn

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