Disclaimer: all of the amazing photographs that you see in this blog were taken my travel buddy Kathryn Cooper – click on her name to visit her website. Thanks once again Kathryn!
Romania far outweighed all of my expectations, from fascinating Gypsy villages and rolling hills and mountainous resorts, to spellbinding architecture and streets steeped in history – the birth country of Vlad the Impaler (A.K.A Dracula) really has it all!
I was invited to Romania by an accessible tour company called Sano Touring and together we tailored an awesome itinerary spread over six days and encompassing as much of Romania as we could possibly fit in. You too could participate in a similar tour, and I can highly recommend booking through Sano Touring!
Not only are the staff and guides at Sano Touring thoroughly wonderful people who are full of knowledge about Romania, but they really take their time to plan an absolutely amazing accessible itinerary, covering all bases right down to the fine details. I cannot recommend them highly enough – and Romania is such a gorgeous country, as I’m sure you’ll get a sense of through the pictures posted on this blog and the others that come.
Day 1 of the Romania trip involved arriving in Cluj-Napoca somewhat behind schedule as my travel companion Kathryn, and I, checked into the Opera Plaza Hotel, a little after 9pm and all but mustered the energy to guzzle down some scrumptious dinner before hitting the sack and sleeping right through to the morning. The hotel itself was stunning, and the rooms were perfect for me in my wheelchair, with a nice large roll in shower and a very comfortable king-sized bed. The breakfast in the morning was also something special, and with so much choice of locally sourced food, it was perfect for setting us up for a very busy day ahead!
Our first port of call on the itinerary involved a tour of Cluj; checking out the University Campus and the famous central square, which is dominated by the Gothic-style St. Michael’s Church and is also home to a large statue of Mathias Rex – an old king of Hungary, adding a splash of contentious history into the mix.
Rather fortunately, St. Michael’s Church was also quite accessible, with a level-access entrance that was barrier free and wide framed doorways which are to be expected from a church. The slab-stones within the church aren’t the smoothest of terrains for wheels, strollers or crutches, but with a little bit of caution, it is manageable and well worth checking out as it’s free to enter.
From Cluj, we headed straight on through to Alba-Iulia, passing some rather incredible Gypsy villages along the way as we traversed our way through stunning Transylvania countryside. When you’re driving through such a breathtaking area, you soon forget about the torment of being stuck on single carriageway roads for hundreds of kilometres given that there’s so much to be in awe of.
The central area of Alba-Iulia has all been recently restored and refurbished, and the grand designs and architecture make for a great afternoon of mooching around. With stalls selling local food and a fair helping of things to see – plus an awesome vantage point to see some breath-taking scenery and take lots of photographs – Alba-Iulia should be on your hit-list of destinations to stop at when in Romania.
For those that need an accessible toilet, there’s even a stair lift for wheelchairs down into the underground toilet facilities, which is something I didn’t necessary expect to find in the middle of Romania – but then again, the country is full of pleasant surprises.
Whilst you’re in Alba-Iulia, or anywhere else in Transylvania for that matter, I highly recommend that you try out some Langos, which is a delicious traditional snack, which has its origins in Hungary but has spread and been adapted all around Eatern Europe. The bready-doughnut style texture, mixed with a whole variety of toppings (I chose sour cream and cheese) is really heavenly.
If you would like a more detailed account of everything that is accessible in Romania, keep an eye out for my Accessible Romania Guide that I will be producing in the near future, and which will be available as an e-Brochure.
From Alba-Iulia we then pressed on through the remainder of the afternoon and made our way to Sibiu, where a tour guide was waiting to show us around the Astra Open Air Museum – which offers a fascinating insight into how Romanian life used to be – and in some cases – still is a bit today; with the use of primitive technologies, passed down from generation to generation. All of the monuments and structures in the open air park, represent the values and traditions of Romanian village life.
Although it’s a bit difficult to make it up towards the old houses in the village, given that the hilly paths leading up to them are not designed for those with mobility needs – i.e. me in my wheelchair – there’s still plenty to keep you occupied and with so much to see, I found myself having no real desire to go inside the buildings, but rather, I enjoyed rolling around the smooth paths and just taking in all that there was to see… which was a lot!
Whilst I was at the Astra Open Air Museum there was also a traditional Romanian fair taking place for that whole week, and so there were many stalls where people from the surrounding areas could come and sell their products. This whole experience made for a much more interesting atmosphere as it made the village appear to be ‘lived-in’, and thus, it was far easier to envisage what life must have been like during those eras.
Later that night we headed back to the Open Air Museum to have a meal with our guide Miki at one of the Traditional Inns, which is a perfect place to grab some authentic Romanian food. Let’s just say, I was full of delicious Polenta and Romanian beer by the end of the night!
We’d also checked into the Hilton Sibiu, which again had excellent facilities for me in my wheelchair, and a very cool layout for the hotel itself. I’ve never stayed in a hotel where all of the main corridors face outwards into the main lobby area. Having seen this design quite a few times in movies and so on, it was cool to finally not only be able to see it first hand, but to be staying in such a place! I’d definitely recommend if your budget allows, and the pool area is also really awesome (even if we didn’t have enough time to go for a swim given that our schedule was so action packed).
Overall, it was a very warm welcome to Romania, and something which was both insightful and engaging. Having the freedom to drive wherever we liked was also liberating, and it was nice to not only be bound by the stereotypical haunting grounds for tourists, but instead, to be receiving a much more in-depth look of the REAL Romania – again, all thanks to the awesome Sano Touring!