Our next stop in Romania was probably our favorite place we visited there. Located in southern Transylvania, Sibiu is one of Romania (and Europe’s) cultural capitals. Divided into an upper and lower half, the Old Town is home to loads of charming buildings. Many of the houses in the center have a common feature, small attic windows in the rooftops that look like a set of eyes watching you. People claim that the windows were purposefully made long ago to instill fear into the townsfolk and to reign in bad behavior. Just knowing that a set of judging eyes seemed to be watching you was enough that people reigned in any bad behavior. This must have felt especially disturbing when Ceausescu was in power, with people knowing that the government was in fact keeping close tabs on them.
One of our days here we headed south to drive on the famous Transfagarasan road. Connecting Transylvania with Wallachia, the road was built in the early 1970’s by Ceausescu as a strategic military route through the Fagaras Mountains. Despite there already being several routes through the mountains, he wanted to ensure a quick getaway route that would be hard to block in case of a Soviet invasion. Now also known as “Ceausescu’s Folly” the road had a huge financial and human cost. Now it is more famous due to being hailed by Top Gear as “the best road in the world.” It’s a winding road that climbs to about 6,700 ft and is filled with hairpin turns, S-curves, and steep descents. At the top of the road is Balea Lake, a beautiful glacier lake. There were plenty of hiking opportunities there as well.
From there we visited an 800-year-old Cistercian Abbey. Built by the Cistercian monks, the abbey is one of the oldest examples of Gothic architecture in Romania. The monks living at the abbey led lives of manual labor and self-sufficiency, supporting themselves through agriculture and brewing ales. Legend has it that the abbey is haunted, with the ghosts of the monks who once lived there. It was really neat to visit and was a quiet place just to relax. Today the abbey is used as an evangelical church, with the priest living right next door.
Our last day in Sibiu we took the bus to ASTRA National Museum, Europe’s largest open-air ethnographic museum. We spent the afternoon wandering through the traditional homes, churches, and windmills, just enjoying the atmosphere and imagining what it was like to live hundreds of years ago. Overall, we just loved being in Sibiu and would definitely return. In the city itself there were loads of great restaurants and cool bars with awesome local beers (Hop Hooligans makes some good ones).