I can safely announce that Sibiu was my favourite city, or town, in Romania. Like I mentioned in my previous post, Romania alternately under- and overwhelmed me in equal doses. So, evidently, I enjoyed Sibiu as much as I was indifferent to Timisoara.
The thing in Romania is… Since it’s not part of the Schengen agreement, Indians only spend 5 days there in all, including the days you get in and out (no overnight train business allowed!). So I couldn’t afford to loiter in any place. My schedule those 5 days was literally… Reach in the evening, leave the next afternoon. I spent an average of 4-5 hours on the bus everyday, and since it was winter, I’d reach each new city well after it was dark.
I reached Sibiu at just about 9pm, and as usual, I had no hostel reservation. I had a map from the bus station to the city centre. The bus stopped elsewhere though, and thankfully, I had the sense to ask someone for help, and thankfully, she was nice enough to drop me off closer to the centre.
It looked deserted for a while, and there was no wifi, but a few minutes later I reached Sibiu’s famous Christmas market. As you can see, everything was shut 😛 Romania is evidently not like India. It was just barely 10pm by then and everything was sun-saaaan! The next morning things were better though. Luckily the weather was not as awful as I had found in Timisoara!
I said Sibiu’s ‘famous’ Christmas market because it was the first traditional Christmas market that Romania could boast of. Its first occurrence was in 2007 in Piata Mica (more on that in a moment), but has been happening in Piata Mare for the last few years. I think I also remember hearing that it is Romania’s largest.
Sibiu is split into the Upper Town and Lower Town. The Upper Town comprises of three squares- Piata Mare (Big Square), Piata Mica (Little Square) and Piata Huet (I don’t know if Huet means anything). The hostel I chose to check with first was Old Town Hostel on Piata Mica. I got lucky! It was cosy and cute, and in a 450 year old building. Fascinating! Aaaaand I got an entire 6-bed dorm to myself. There was only one other guest in the hostel and he had his own 8-bed dorm.
This other guy, incidentally, looked like Hugh Dancy. NOT KIDDING! I wish I had said hi
In the morning I got some recommendations from the hostel staff and went exploring. My eventual destination was to be a farmer’s market where, apparently, old ladies sold freshly prepared artisanal cheese. And since the realisation was starting to hit me that in two-ish weeks I would be back in India and my endless supply of my new obsession (yes, CHEESE!) would be over, I wanted to stuff my face as much as I possibly could. And free samples??? Count me in!
Walking across Piata Mica and over the Bidge of Lies…
… takes us toward The Lower Town.
The Upper Town has pretty much all the historic sights of the city, and has traditionally been the wealthier ‘commercial’ area, while the Lower Town, is the ‘manufacturing’ area and is lined with colourful houses on cobbled streets.
I did manage to reach the market. I love visiting open-air markets and supermarkets in different countries, and eve cities. I think I’ve mentioned this in a previous post, but I’ll say it again. It really gives you an idea of the country, and you can find really interesting things to eat (I found dark chocolate peanut M&M’s in France! Never seen them before or after!).
What I didn’t manage, was to find those old ladies selling cheese (and giving out free samples).
I also crossed Dancy-Doppelganger and we smiled awkwardly at one another.
As much as I enjoyed browsing through the market (and eating random things- my breakfast was bread stuffed with sheep cheese- local’s recommendation, and it was yum), and the supermarket, my heart did slowly break when I saw this.
What? Maggi is not an Indian thing? My childhood just shattered!!
Piata Huet is the oldest square in Sibiu and is adjacent to the 14th century Evangelic Church (which was built on the site of a 12th century Roman church).
Sibiu has Romania’s largest German community and has a sizeable Hungarian population as well (it belonged to Hungary at one point). Piata Huet is supposed to be the most ‘German’ area of the city.
One of the most fascinating things I saw in Europe were these little markets selling cheese and bread and eggs. It may not seem like a big deal to Europeans, but for someone like me who’s grown up in a city in India, it is the absolute definition of ‘quaint’!! I’m pretty convinced that this sight helped Sibiu’s ranking in my eyes!!
At the back of this picture you see the Orthodox Cathedral. Work actually started in 1902 even though it was supposed to start in 1857 (my sister has a ‘Time Theory’, which talks about how the same time can mean such different things to different people. So while in 1857 Bishop Andrei Saguna was taking the initiative to construct this church, my people were furiously fighting for our country’s freedom with the Sepoy Mutiny of 1857!!)
Well, since Indians are only allowed 5 days in Romania, I didn’t have much time left in Sibiu. I had to take a quick round of Piata Mare and catch the evening bus to Brasov. That way I could spend that night in Brasov, move on to Bucharest for a day, and finally leave the country in peace without getting deported. But a single misstep, and I was too terrified to even contemplate the options!
Piata Mare is the historic centre of Sibiu and is, as the name declares, a large square. There are shops, restaurants and cafes on either side. Walking further takes us to the Christmas market, beyond which is Piata Mica and my awesome hostel.
I can’t quite put my finger on what made me find Sibiu so charming. Maybe when you look at a town that is so, let’s say, unpretentious, you tend to associate good feelings with it. Unlike much of Eastern Europe, I got almost no special attention here. On rare occasions, in other countries, I have been subjected to racial slurs. And on many occasions, in most other places I was treated as something so unique, and I got better treatment than I probably would have otherwise- just because of my skin colour and where I’m from.
But in fact, in this country I had been asked to be specially careful because of my physical and cultural similarities with the Roma people (gypsies) who are actually descendants of Indians that had slowly migrated west and settled in Romania centuries ago. And yet, I was left completely to myself (it did get a bit lonely though, something I didn’t have to face elsewhere).
What’s your take on Sibiu? I did intend to go Vampire chasing in Romania, but thanks to the time constraints, I was evidently unsuccessful. But to end on a happier note rather than a memory of my failed mission, here’s a sign I saw at the bus station 😀
What’s the funniest sign you’ve seen in a foreign country?