I knew virtually nothing about Brasov before I went.
To be fair, that is not a rare occurrence. My “research” for most of the places I go these days seems to consist of spending five minutes on Google then downloading a WikiTravel article to read on the train. I could say this is because I prefer local neighbourhoods to tourist attractions, following my intuition rather than a map. There is some truth in that, but usually it’s just because I’m too cheap to buy a guidebook and too lazy to do any reading.
The small city in central Romania is usually used as a base to explore Bran Castle, famously (although wrongly) associated with Vlad the Impaler – the apparent inspiration for Count Dracula.
I didn’t even go there.
Instead, my two days in Brasov consisted largely of wandering around the medieval old town, eating vast amounts of delicious fatty pork, and making friends with the local stray dog population.
We’d noticed a significant change in the weather as our train trundled slowly further away from Bucharest. The summer heat started to wane, clouds replacing blue sky as we climbed up into the mountains less than 170km away. It was grey and a little drizzly as we pulled into town, but nothing could dull the attraction of the masterpiece high on the hills above us.
Yes, that is a Hollywood-style sign. No, I am not sure why.
Somehow tearing our eyes away, we found our accommodation and headed out to explore the old city. And by “explore the old city”, I mean “find somewhere with food and cold beer”.
That mission successfully accomplished, it was time for random wandering. The town square was bright and colourful, the restored buildings shining in the sunlight that had by now decided to make an appearance. A nearby gelato stall restored the energy lost during the 100 metre walk since lunch, so we carried on to Catherine’s Gate and the (not particularly) Black Church, two of the more famous attractions in Brasov.
Somewhere along the way, a stray black and white dog decided, without even so much as a discussion, that he was in fact my new best friend.
I walked. He walked.
I stopped. He stopped.
I glared at him. He gave me his best “but I love you” face.
And on we went.
It wasn’t until I made to go inside the church that Sparky gave up his bonding efforts, and mooched off to find someone else to annoy befriend.
The following day we took a bus to the nearby town of Rasnov, home to a less-touristed and better preserved fortress than the one in Bran. Playing a now-familiar game of “do-we-get-off-here-no-idea-shit-well-everyone-else-is-so-I-guess-maybe-we-should”, we missed our intended stop and had to endure a ten minute walk past beautiful restored buildings and conversations with friendly old people who didn’t speak a word of English.
Yes, it was a real hardship.
Eschewing the road that went up to the fortress, we opted instead for the dirt track hidden at the back of a courtyard beside a bar. It ended up being a shorter, steeper and much prettier route, with only a couple of pulse-raising moments along the way as feet slipped on rocks and tree roots.
And as an added bonus we got to see another Hollywood-style sign, this time from close up. No, I still don’t know why.
I was impressed with the fortress, a surprisingly large area in various states of restoration. It was busy without being packed full of tour groups, and the views out over the town and surrounding countryside would have made the hike up there worthwhile by themselves.
Being a weekend, the buses only ran once per hour, so after waiting 59 and a half chilly minutes for one (of course), we eventually made it back to Brasov and had to decide on a very important topic.
Where would we go for dinner?
From the guesthouse owner to friends of mine, the answer was unanimous: we had to go to Sergiana. Located on one edge of the old town, down a few steps into a warren of booths and tables, our first impressions were great. The dimly-lit cellars had a moody, smoky vibe, and although the waiters spoke English, most of the nearby conversations seemed to be in Romanian. Always a good sign.
As we were sipping large beers and perusing the menu, the waiter came back and quietly changed our entire lives. With a plate of pork fat.
Seriously, I don’t know (or even want to know) what those little chunks of meat actually consisted of, but it was pretty much an orgasm in fried bovine form. Lauren and I just sat there looking at each other, entirely speechless after the first heavenly mix of greasy pig and tangy onion.
It was due only to politeness that we even bothered to order main courses. Both of us would have been deliriously happy to have gone for a large bucket of this starter, burying our heads in it until we resembled the animal from which it had come.
The rest of the meal was good – excellent, in fact – and remarkably well-priced given both the quality and quantity of the food.
It was the pig fat, though, that we just kept talking about. Continuously. For days.
Waiting for the train the following morning, I couldn’t help but wonder if there was enough time for one last trip to Sergiana before we left.
Because, I mean, there’s nothing wrong with fried pork and onions at 7.30 in the morning … right?
This trip through Central and Eastern Europe is made possible by the good folks at Eurail.com.