The Carpathian Mountains

By  Colleen Boneham and Hostelling International / Photo by Dennis Jarvis

Backpacking in Romania, Brasov and More

Romania used to be a country hidden away, until its recent joining of the European Union, and I decided I wanted to discover it before it became too overwhelmed with visitors.

I started in Bucharest, where I discovered there are many different directions and prices to get to a destination. Haggling is the key!

The city architecture is varied although a medieval theme seems to prevail. There are many grey communist-style buildings within the city centre; the houses in suburban areas are older and basic, while the Parliament building, with its Champs d’Élysées style street out front, is made of Romanian marble, gold and silk. The contrasts between the buildings are so striking it’s hard to believe that you’re in one city.

My travelling companion and I ventured down the main street of the old town and found a café filled with locals and we thought we would try the local specialty, mititei. It’s a small sausage rissole made of various kinds of meat. Once we worked out the ordering system (hand gestures seemed to work very well for us), we hesitatingly ventured forth. We found that the dish was quite tasty, when cooked, not raw! We sensed the BBQ chef was in a bit of a hurry so didn’t hold a grudge against him. 

I found grocery shopping to be an adventure of its own kind. There are basic fruits, vegetables and staples in the supermarkets, but there is much more choice at open-air, fresh-food markets.

Realizing that there must be more than a city to explore, we set out via an intricate connection of minibusses to Brasov, surrounded by the Southern Carpathian Mountains. The van was crammed with people, bags, crates and sacks. Personal space, and any other kind of space, was filled. We took it as all being part of the local experience and it brought smiles to our faces. This quaint little town at the bottom of Tampa Mountain, at the south end of the Eastern Carpathian Mountains. Brasov has a city centre that is very easy to navigate, superb bakeries for breakfast pastries and a challenging mountain to clamber up. There are many bars, restaurants and shops to entertain all kinds of people. The town also has a university, but at the time I was there, it appeared to be filled with Romanians on holidays instead of students.

From Brasov we did a day-trip to Bran and Rasnov to see Bran Castle. Bran Castle is worth exploring, but do note that Vlad Tepes, also known as the Impaler (Dracula) only used the castle as a headquarters—all the tourist gimmicks around the castle would have you believe otherwise, but there is something to say for seeing the home of Stoker's Dracula. There is yet another mountain to discover at Rasnov with a fortress at the top to scramble around. The reward is really cheap beer when you get back to the bottom—one pint for approximately $2!

Romania's castles and Carpathian Mountains have inspired more than just Stoker, the list expanding to include Jules Verne's "The Castle in the Carpathians."

There are some areas of the country where mountains and pastures stretch ahead, as do the construction sites. I wouldn’t be at all surprised to see the country listed on a skiing destination list very soon.

I found the people to be friendly—they offer assistance with a smile. I had a little boy direct me to a hostel in Bucharest without having to ask for directions; I guess the backpack gave it away. I feel I only scraped the surface of what Romania has to offer, but I urge those wanting a refreshing backpacking trip to look up flights to Romania.

Romania: Experience it for Yourself

Romania was once an “old school” pocket of Europe—where horse-drawn carts and cobble-stone streets prevailed. You’ll still find both of these in the Eastern European country, but with its incorporation into NATO in 2004 and the European Union in 2007, modern European influences are beginning to impact the Romanian way of life. Whether that’s a good or a bad thing is a thought left up to the individual who takes the time to experience the country firsthand.

It’s had a wild history—laced with folklore and strong tradition. From Roman to Ottoman empires, monarchies to dictatorships, people’s republics to communist regimes—it all led to the country’s current democratic and progressive state.

What remains largely untouched by economic shifts is the stunning landscape of the country and the Carpathian Mountains. That’s only part of the reason Romania saw a record number of visitors in 2007 and expects even more this year. A country as rich in culture, people and history as Romania deserves some undivided attention and reflection on the concept of old-versus-new and the impact of modernization.

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