Sibiu: A German Town in Romania (& Ceausescu’s Mountain Road)

By Ruben Alexander
This entry is part 2 of 4 in the series Romania 2017

ROMANIA – A  scenic six hour train journey from Timișoara – including a change in Arad, which I considered visiting as well – took me the 330 kilometers to my next destination, Sibiu, which I liked immediately on arrival, at about eight in the evening (I’m not showing these photos in the order I took them in).

1. Sibiu is a very well preserved walled city, the architecture of which hinted at something I didn’t know yet when I arrived

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3. Just look how tidy and whitewashed the main square, Piata Mare, is, it could almost be in…

My hunch turned out to be right, Sibiu, also known as Hermannstadt, is a German town, one of the seven fortified Saxon towns that gave Transylvania its German name (Siebenbürgen). The girlfriend of the owner of the hostel I stayed in, who was a Transylvanian Saxon, told me a lot that I didn’t know about her people, who I thought had passed into history long ago. But I was wrong: they had been a majority in Sibiu until the 1990’s, when most of them emigrated to Germany in search of better opportunities. Some of them are starting to come back now, as she did a few years ago. The Transylvanian Saxons are not to be confused with people from Saxony, as they originally came from western Germany and speak a dialect similar to Luxembourgish. The current president of Romania, Klaus Iohannis (who was previously the mayor of Sibiu) is also a Transalvanian Saxon from Sibiu.

4. The hostel itself (the third house from the left on this picture), La Padre’s, was one of the nicest I have ever stayed in. The owner, a retired music teacher and outdoor type “who you can call Padre”, had built beds for about ten people in his own house. He really did a good and loving job, and the Mezzanine I had slept in was very comfortable!

5. A church around the corner from La Padre’s hostel

6. One of the few ugly buildings in central Sibiu

Though I spent two nights in Sibiu, I didn’t actually have much time to make photos of it, the reason for which you will find out at the end of this post. But that doesn’t really matter, my last evening was enough to give you a quick, touristy impression of how nice it is.

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11. The Lutheran church

12. View from the stairs to the church

13. Another stairway from the lower to the upper town

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15. One of the main sights of Sibiu’s old town is this street, which starts in the lower town …

16. … and leads runs up between two walls …

17. … to Piata Mica (small square), which is separated from Piata Mare by a row of houses and a church

18. Piata Mare again

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21. I actually made this picture when I arrived (by train) but I’m posting it now because we’re looking towards our next destination, which is situated high in the Carpathian mountains

The Transfăgărășan: Ceausescu’s Mountain Road

Now the reason I didn’t spend very much time in Sibiu: someone else who was staying at La Padre’s hostel on the night I arrived had rented a car and offered to take me with him on a scenic mountain road called the Transfăgărășan, which he had wanted to drive since he had seen in on Top Gear. Padre told me that was an offer I couldn’t refuse, so I didn’t. The Transfăgărășan (a name which took me about a week to be able to pronounce) was built in the early 1970’s to a great financial and human cost, with no other purpose than to be able to evacuate the army in the case of a Soviet invasion (apart from that, it doesn’t really go from anywhere to anywhere). Anyway, it was a very spectacular drive, and the driver was Pakistani, so I also learned some things about Pakistan which I won’t share with you here as I don’t have any pictures to go with it.

22. Approaching the mountains in the village of Cârțișoara

23. As you can see here, the Transfăgărășan climbs and climbs by way of one hairpin bend after the other

24. Even further up now, the temperature here was very pleasant, considering it was 35 degrees celsius down below

25. There was even a little bit of snow by Bâlea Lake, which lies shortly before the final pass (not shown is that there were also a lot of tourists here: a continuous procession of cars, campers and even bikes)

26. Now quite far down the other side, Lacul Vidaru and the (hydroelectric?) dam that created it

27. The lake is overlooked by a communist superhero (who I was later informed is Prometheus, for some reason)

28. View back towards the pass we took

From here, the road descended back into the inhabited world, though it was very different, as we were now in southern Romania (it was very nice and I would have liked to make some pictures, but that’s the limitation of car tourism)

29. The last picture I made, of the monastery of Curtea de Argeș

Padre had told me that I would easily be able to return to Sibiu on the same day, but my premonition that this wouldn’t be possible turned out to be right when we arrived in Pitești (where I learned that single i’s on the end of words are muted in Romanian, making Pitești ‘Piteșt’ and București ‘Bucureșt’) around 7, just to late for the last bus. I could have hitchhiked, but figured that this would take me at least six hours, and got back in the car for the last hour to Bucharest instead. I like Bucharest (where I slept in the car), but decided not to visit it this time (it’s much too big), and took a bus back to Sibiu, which I still wanted to visit and where most of my luggage had slept at Padre’s hostel:D

The seven hour trip back by the normal road through the mountains was also very picturesque, taking me through Valea Oltului, whose name taught me something else about the Romanian language. I had already learned ‘ul’ or ‘a’ to the end of a word was the article, making ‘lucul’ ‘the lake’ or ‘valea’ ‘the valley’ from a friendly lady at small museum in Cârțișoara the previous day. Knowing that ‘Olt’ was the name of the river, and having seen the word ‘municipiului’ on garbage trucks, it was not hard to guess that the addition of ‘ului’ means ‘of the’ (so: Valley of the Olt).

Anyway, I don’t know how many people are actually going to read all this, but stay tuned for our next destination: Cluj-Napoca!

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