We met some English chaps in Budapest, who had just returned from touring Transylvania, and they told us that there was an amazing salt mine in a town called Turda in Transylvania.
We had an offer of couchsurfing accommodation in Cluj, the nearest city to Turda, and there was a direct train from Brasov to Cluj, so we decided to make Turda a day trip from Cluj.
Our last day in Brasov was a quiet one, drinking lemon tea and hot chocolate and using WiFi in cafes. We had breakfast and lunch at the same cafe, because they had a very friendly cat. It wasn’t their cat – it belonged to the pharmacy next door – but it liked to sleep on their comfy seats.
At lunch time, Jenny had a salad with chicken on it, and the cat was very polite about waiting to be offered small pieces of the chicken. It maintained high visibility, and didn’t go to sleep, but it was very polite, and accepted our boundary of “no feet on the table”.
Tom was still feeling rather ordinary, so he had a nap on a bench in the sun, and then we splurged on good quality hot chocolates from Chocolat. Before we knew it, it was time to go to the train station.
We took the overnight train from Brasov to Cluj, arriving at 6am. We had sleeper berths, second class, and in Romania that means six berths – triple bunks each side. Fortunately, there were only four people in the compartment. We can’t imagine how people manage with six bodies and their luggage in that tiny space!
We didn’t want to descend on our hosts ridiculously early, so we stayed in the station waiting room and ate breakfast from the supermarket over the road – fruit, bread, and drinking yoghurt – washed down with thimbles of hot chocolate from the overpriced cafe in the waiting room.
The place where we were staying was called The Permanent Culture Club. It used to be a guesthouse, but the owners were social activists, and decided to close the commercial enterprise and open the space instead for meetings (in the former cafe area) and couchsurfers (in the rooms).
And it has cats! Three are officially fed there, but there is at least one more that unofficially comes and shares the cat food.
It also has Winnie-the-Pooh slippers – just the thing for someone who needs to keep warm and drink lots of fluids.
In the back yard, they have started a permaculture garden, and they have tomatoes and corn ripening, while the greens for next spring have just been planted. The idea of trying to grow vegetables somewhere that has snow on the ground for months is very daunting to us, but it’s normal to Europeans, and the plants seem to grow well enough in the few months of warmth and sunshine.
We took it very easy on our first day in Cluj, having a four-hour nap and buying some groceries.
On our second day, we headed into the centre of Cluj to see what the city had to offer in the way of pretty buildings, WiFi, and hot chocolate.
The bus stopped between the National Theatre and a cathedral, so we hopped off to have a look.
The cathedral was being renovated (funny how so many of the churches we have seen are in the process of being renovated …) but it was still functioning, and we got to see a Romanian christening.
After admiring the cathedral, the National Theatre, and the fountain between them, we headed into the old town in search of hot chocolate.
We noticed one building which exposed the grand fraud of European buildings – those large blocks are completely fake! The buildings are actually made of brick, and the bricks are even cut at 45 degrees to make the edges of the “blocks”, before the whole thing is rendered and painted. Sprung!
We found a large square beside St Mathias Church. There is a huge monument beside the church dedicated to King Mathias, a Hungarian king during the period when Transylvania was part of Hungary. We were told teat the Romanian government doesn’t like the monument, and it is maintained by the Hungarian government.
The church itself is reputedly one of the best examples of Gothic architecture in Europe.
Given this fact, we found it interesting that there was such vivid pagan symbology in the Holy Water font!
In the square was also an excavation to the Roman ruins below the town square, covered with something like Perspex. The Roman town was called Napoca, and Cluj still maintains the link, being known as Cluj-Napoca.
The pride in the Roman history may be the reason for yet another statue of Romulus and Remus suckling from a wolf – we guess there is a reason that they chose the name “Romania”.
Cluj has done a great job of having new buildings fit in architecturally in the old town area. This relatively new church has been built in traditional style, and integrates seamlessly with the neighbouring buildings.
Like other European old towns, Cluj has many passageways into fascinating courtyards within the buildings. We went down one, excitedly following the signs to the “zoo” shop (pet shop), only to find that the sign had lied, and they didn’t have any kittens. Only fish. Sigh.
Tom was impressed with the version of “chocolate croissant” made in Cluj – it has Nutella-flavoured filling!
We stopped in to a fruit market in the old town, and a supermarket, and another bakery, where we finally succumbed to curiosity and bought one of the bread roll thingies we had been seeing everywhere, which apparently contained salami. We stashed it for later consumption.
We finished up our afternoon in Cluj with pizza at an underground pizzeria (literally underground – built in the old cellars), which also had very good hot chocolate.
The old town area of Cluj is pretty small, and we wouldn’t advise making a special trip to see Cluj itself. It is a good base for exploring the surrounding areas, though, including Turda, where we will go tomorrow.