Our First Impressions Of Romania
… or how we ended up in the most abandoned part of Romania where roads just disappear. Then searched for a hotel that seemed not to be built up yet. And also found charming waterfalls.
I’m telling you the moral of this story in the beginning: if you are looking for a place off the beaten track, you might find one. And charming waterfalls will cheer you up, no matter what. Well, let the story begin…
The neighbour we haven’t met
So Romania. Our neighboring country that we’ve visited for the first time. Not that we didn’t know anything about it. We knew a lot. For one, we have several friends and colleagues who grew up in Romania. I remember the stories they told about their childhood. But there’s one story I can recall very clearly. They went to a party to the nearest town as teenagers, and then walked back to their village through the forest in the middle of the night, a bit drunk and all the way singing loudly – to keep away the bears. I mean, how could I possibly forget stories like that?
I read books that take place in Transylvania. I know legends of the Székely Land. Romania has became almost equal to the magical mysteries of the Transylvanian mountains in my eyes. And when it comes to visiting Romania for the first time, which region do we choose to visit? Of course, one that we’ve never heard of.
Our destination: Nera Gorge-Beușnița National Park
To defend this choice, I could say we were looking for places off the beaten track (blah blah blah…). But the truth was much more practical. We only had a long weekend this time, and Transylvania is too far for that from Budapest. So we digged up some information about nice places to hike in Romania, and ended up choosing Nera Gorge-Beușnița National Park for our long weekend getaway. It seemed to have some lovely waterfalls, and who needs more than that?
Nera Gorge-Beușnița is located in the southwestern region of Romania. We crossed the Hungarian-Romanian border at Kiszombor. This border crossing is not on the motorway. It doesn’t only mean the inconvenience of driving on narrow country roads, but also gives the advantage of avoiding long queues that are typical at our Schengen country borders on any long weekend.
So we crossed the border quite satisfied with our choice since we waited for about 30 seconds. Roads were pretty good quality, too. Well, until about Timișoara. Timișoara is the largest city in the region, and our national park lies still further south of it. As we left Timișoara, our satisfaction slowly disappeared. It felt like we entered the Unknown. Roads were not maintained in the past couple of decades. Houses were abandoned and half-collapsed.
The road to the past
Was it a good idea to come here at all? Should we turn back? Who would drive past Timișoara anyway? Looks like no one else. Even our map said that other than a small town and some teeny-tiny villages, there’s nothing there. Well, and Nera Gorge-Beușnița National Park, our destination.
The potholes in the road became larger. So large that we had no chance of bypassing them, but so deep that we still tried it. As I started complaining that we (and in this particular case, I) still have more than 30 kilometres to drive, we had to realize that the paved road ran out of pavement. It didn’t look like it was planned, rather that some reckless worker is yet to finish this road. Except, there was no worker in sight. Or road reconstruction sign.
The terrain would have been a challenging fit for a cross-country car. Our small Suzuki, optimized for the casual city driver, felt pretty uncomfortable, and so did we. But suddenly, the road was paved again. Well, I’m not sure whether that’s the right term. Due to the large potholes, the ratio of the non-paved area was technically more than the paved area. Let’s say it was supposed to be paved. 10 years ago, it probably was.
Though the whole region looked like it was forgotten decades ago, we found some villages with people in them. Houses were old, some of them uninhabited for a long time, but people obviously lived in most of the old houses. We saw stray dogs on the streets. Herds of them. Trash, too – in the channels and in the small rivers in the villages. Not a cheerful sight altogether. Where’s that charming place we are looking for?
A small village, a red cross and the rain
Finally, we arrived to the tiny village of Socolari where our trail was supposed to start. It was immediately clear why I haven’t found any place to stay in this village on Booking.com. Socolari was a village in the past – long before the age of the internet (not to mention Booking.com). I know it sounds foolish but I’m sure it’s the case.
Luckily, the trailhead for our lovely hike to Beușnița Falls already existed that time. At least we found the sign: a red cross painted on one of the trees at the end of the village. But no other sign. No “Welcome to our national park, here’s a trail map for your convenience”. Nor any parking lot. Or pullout. Or other car. We decided to park on the street. We probably won’t be in anyone’s way.
An old lady appeared at the entrance of a nearby house, looking at us suspiciously. Gosh, I forgot to look up the phrase “Good morning” in Romanian. So I just nodded and smiled at her. She didn’t smile back, and I was wondering when was the last time anyone entered here from the Outer World.
The moment we grabbed our backpacks and set foot on the trail, it started raining. Now, is this the sign to turn back now? We should have turned back long go. Six villages ago, probably. There won’t be anything nice here. We kept on going. The trail was muddy. Very muddy. We squelched further, more and more grumpily after each step.
Sunshine, butterflies, waterfalls
Suddenly the sun started shining. It was one of those sudden spring showers that come and go. We arrived to a meadow that was covered by wildflowers. I noticed small purple butterflies. Not just a few, but about twenty of them flying around my head. Our mood changed with the weather. Everything looks nice in the sunshine, doesn’t it?
Now that we were not focused on the bad road, and how much it can damage our car, we realized that the landscape is actually quite pretty. Though it looked like no one else is interested in this national park, we knew we found the right one, and that it was worth finding.
Our path ran by a crystal clear stream with lots of small cascades and deep pools. We found the tiny but breathtaking milky blue karst lake, Ochiul Beiului. We found not only Beușnița Falls, but two more fabulous little waterfalls surrounded by large mossy cliffs. We even bumped into other hikers later. It turned out that this trail is accessible from several places, and the trailhead we found is “not the usual one” – as a guy from Bucharest carefully phrased. Well, well, what a surprise…
Anyway, the beauties of this trail made us forget about our struggles with the road. For a while. We were reminded again in the evening, when we had to drive about 1.5 hours to Reșița, the closest city where I was able to find accommodation online. In the last 20 minutes of the drive, we were back in the present. The roads actually became acceptable, and when we noticed the tall grey building blocks of Reșița in the valley, it looked like a metropolis.
Finding the hotel that doesn’t exist
Then Google led us to the address specified in our Booking confirmation email. “You have arrived.” There was only one problem: no number 14 on the street. Even number 10, 11 and 12 were houses under construction. What? Is this the correct street? We are looking for a hotel that’s also a restaurant. Can you see something that looks like that? It was the correct street. And there was no hotel in sight. Neither restaurant.
I noticed an old couple in a nearby garden. Oh, I really should have looked up “Good afternoon” in Romanian. I asked them whether they speak English. They shook their head. But the man asked in German whether I speak German. “A little bit” – I answered happily. My happiness didn’t last long since it seemed that it was all their German. But from their gestures I was able to figure out that this is the street we were looking for. And that they’ve never heard about this restaurant.
Luckily, Csaba is quite creative in unexpected situations. After some unfruitful attempts to try to look up the name or the address of the hotel on his phone, he suggested driving around. Since places registered on Booking.com usually exist. I couldn’t disagree.
Not much later, we discovered that our place did exist. But it was not on the street provided in our confirmation (okay, it was Ioan Vidu I instead of Ioan Vidu II Street – hardly matters, right?), and its name was mistyped in Google Maps. That’s why we were not able to find it online either by name or by address. But who cares when we finally found it in reality?
How long does this post go on, and where’s the happy ending?
We entered the restaurant. We couldn’t see any counter. But the room was nicely decorated. Nicely dressed, cheerful people all around. It was a wedding. Okay, so maybe the check-in desk is somewhere else. We tried to ask one of the waiters. He couldn’t understand our English or German either, but he might understood the word “hotel”, because he gave a look that said: “What kind of hotel are you talking about?” Weird. However, a man – probably one of the guests on the wedding – came to us and told us to go up.
Finally, we found the counter. English? German? No success. We just showed our printed confirmation. The waiters exchanged some confused looks. We could tell they’ve never seen such a confirmation before. They gestured us to wait.
A third man appeared. He didn’t speak English or German either. After looking at our paper, he shook his head and said something in Romanian. Then our savior arrived: a young waitress who spoke some English. She instantly became the translator in the conversation.
It turned out that the man is the owner of the place. More importantly, it turned out that we found the right place. The young waitress also reassured us that they have vacant rooms, too. However, it came as a surprise to everyone that we have a booking – not to mention that it’s already paid. Fortunately, we could explain it to the waitress, then she seemed to explain the same to our surprised host.
I remember that this place had zero reviews. Well, it was obvious why. They probably forgot they registered to Booking, and we were their first unexpected Booking guests. We’ll never know for sure though, it was too much to communicate. And we were tired and just happy to get a room finally. And what matters the most is that we got a nice room in the end.
Remember those friends I mentioned? They grew up in Romania, but we did manage to tell them about a place they’ve never seen or heard of. Looks like we did find the most abandoned corner of Romania. With some charming gorges and waterfalls.