Getting to Sighisoara: a tragicomedy in five parts

Part I: The Camp That Didn’t Exist

I’d read in The Guardian about a place called Varmezo Nomad Camp:

The Nomad camp is in an idyllic small village in Transylvania, away from the distractions of modern life. The restaurant serves delicious traditional fare including fresh fish from the camp’s lake. It’s a million miles away from English camping: you spend the night snuggled up in a luxurious yurt with a log fire and animal skin rug. Cleanse your skin and your soul as you bathe in the camp’s salt bath, or treat yourself to a massage. It’s a comfortable and completely unique experience, and great value (B&B €15pppn).
http://www.theguardian.com/travel/2013/feb/01/readers-travel-tips-romania-transylvania

Sounds ideal right? Only…

  1. It was near impossible to get to, our only feasible option being yet another dreaded Orangeways journey that would take us not even to the locality of the camp, but to another town that wasn’t too far away; and
  2. It no longer exists, which I learnt the hard way after already booking our bus tickets – when I realised I hadn’t gotten replies to my emails and online bookings, and then, after ultimately convincing a sweet hostel worker in Poland to let me make an international call to their number, found that it was no longer connected. So we decided to just head to the next destination (and the last place we travelled together as siblings) on our list: Sighisoara.

Which is how we got to….

Part II: The Bus That Kept Us Waiting Hours In The Cold After Midnight

In Western Europe, if a bus is late (at least in my experience thus far), they’ll just send another bus. In Eastern Europe, it’s a slightly different story. We’d gotten to our bus stop super early – 10.20pm for an 11.00pm departure, courtesy of my running late for the tram, then panicking and catching a taxi whose driver I emphatically implored to floor it and who did so as if he was in a high speed car chase. At 10:55 I began to panic; the instructions on the ticket stated clearly that the bus boarded 10 minutes before departure time and there was no bus in sight; was I at the wrong bus stop? Did I have the date or time wrong? Had I somehow been so oblivious that it had come while I was waiting and I just hadn’t noticed?

Nope, what had happened was that the bus was getting serviced. And instead of telling us about it and organising an alternative, Orangeways just decided to keep us waiting – until almost 2am!

This may not sound so bad, but it was – for a number of reasons:

  1. It had been a lovely warm day in Budapest, and although I knew it cooled significantly at night, I had continued to wear my summer clothes because the last Orangeways bus I’d caught had been massively overheated to the point that despite the -17 degrees Celcius temperatures outside the bus, everyone inside was sweating like we were in the tropics.
  2. The Orangeways bus stop is literally an empty stand outside an arena, completely unmanned at this time, and marked only by a freestanding cardboard sign saying Orangeways. It’s completely unsheltered and you get caught in all the wind blowing around the arena (which is a lot). Did I mention that this night the temperatures dipped lower than they had all week?

So we spent hours waiting in a wind tunnel in negative temperatures while dressed for summer, with almost no idea of what was going on except that every now and then one of the other passengers would call the company and they’d tell us to keep waiting. I was so cold that I honestly thought I might get hypothermia or frostbite.

At 12.30 a bus did come – and we got so excited – but it had come only to tell us that we need to keep waiting, and then left again. Crushing.

The lesson of this story (apart from check that your accommodation still exists before you arrange transport there, and dress warmly enough for European winter nights) is to avoid Orangeways buses at all costs, if possible. When the bus finally did come, for some ridiculous reason the driver decided to turn on the air con instead of the heating, we had to change buses in the middle of nowhere at another point during the night, and when he stopped for petrol/toilets, the driver accidentally locked us out for a while before he managed to get the keys working again and reopened the doors. We were unfazed; after waiting all those hours in the cold, nothing seemed that bad.

Part III: Targu Mures

Getting from Budapest to Sighisoara is actually really easy – but since I’d already booked the bus to Sovata when I’d had planned to go to Varmezo and getting new tickets was pretty expensive, I figured I’d just spend the 5E to change my destination to Targu Mures, and then spend another 5 or so to get to Sighisoara from there.

Of course, I thought this would be super easy – get off at the bus stop, buy ticket, get on new bus. Except that the bus stop we got let off at was not the one from which you get to Sighisoara – a piece of information that took a while to piece together because nobody there spoke English and the signs were in Romanian. But the guy behind the desk, when I asked for tickets to Sighisoara, said ‘Autogara Tam’, gestured wildly in a direction, and shooed me off – which, having no better idea, I took to mean that I needed to walk that way to get to Autogara Tam and buy tickets from there.

Autogara Tam was a looong way off. And they didn’t accept card there, or have an ATM, or toilet. Dylan volunteered to walk back and get cash out, while I figured out which minivan we had to get into. Having to go get cash out almost made us miss the minivan too – but we got on just in time. Our troubles weren’t over yet though…

Part IV: Google Maps Lied

The walk from the main bus station in Sighisoara to our hostel wasn’t far, but the minivan, for reasons unknown, left us on the outskirts of the other side of town. It’s okay, we thought, we’ll just walk. It didn’t look too far off on our map.

By this time of course, we were cold, starving, exhausted, and very much looking forward to hot showers and food. Instead we spent an hour walking from one end of town to the other, only to find that Google Maps had led us not to our pensione, as we’d been expecting, but to some citadel walls. We gave up; ‘let’s just get a taxi’ I suggested; assumedly it would know where Casa Legenda was. Of course, when you need to find a taxi there aren’t any around, and we had to keep walking fruitlessly for what seemed like an eternity more before we finally happened upon a huge supermarket with taxis crowded outside. Salvation!

Part V: Sighisoara

Getting to our accommodation was such sweet relief after the trials of getting there. We were staying at Casa Legenda, in the ” Countess’ Room’, apparently where Dracula’s mistress had lived. It was lovely, but had no wifi or microwave. Sighisoara itself was dead – when we went looking for food, almost everywhere in the old town was closed for renovations, including Casa Vlad Dracul, one of the main attractions – although we went in anyway, ignoring the closed for renovation sign and looking around until someone noticed us and kicked us out. The old town was eerily dead in the evenngs, like some ghost town.

We did enjoy having a gorgeous private bathroom with a (probably fake) sheepskin rug and (what looked like but might not have been) bronze shower fixtures though, and lying in bed watching Romanian TV while chomping on the chocolate bars we’d used up our Hungarian forents on, recovering. You really appreciate those creature comforts after a long journey.

The End

Would I recommend Sighisoara? Maybe, if you’re really into Romanian history. Or if you’re looking to get away to a small, quiet town where you can spend a month completely undisturbed. Sighisoara is definitely a good place for that. For us, though, not so much – and I definitely didn’t think it was worth the effort it took us to get there.

But on the plus side, at least we can say that we’ve slept in the same house as Vlad and his mistress supposedly did. That counts for something, right?

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