Apart from money problems and forever getting served the things we didn't order (and not getting served what we did), I found Brasov - at least the bits we explored - a charming little strange town.
Gregor from Casa Rozelor had given us the name of the driver who was to pick us up at the airport but it was someone else who came. He spoke very little English but as we passed Ploiesti he pointed it out to us and said, "Ploiesti." This place is what someone from the 1880s would have imagined the future to be. Huge pylons carrying electrical cables in every direction, gas pipes running along the ground and up into the air in a U-bend, sand and dust everywhere.
We got to Brasov safely despite some crazy driving. Cristina, the landlady, was at Casa Rozelor to receive us. B couldn't stop gasping when we were shown our room. It was actually a suite, spacious and nicely decorated with art pieces on the walls and in corners. "We only have suites," Gregor, the landlord, had said in his email.
Currency woes and wrong orders
Our trip was not without problems, mostly through our own carelessness. Forgetting to bring the money that I had changed at a Post Office in London was only the beginning. On arriving in Romania, we found the rates there much cheaper. Unfortunately we went into the wrong money changer in Brasov and got ripped off.
Also, ordering food was a rather hit-and-miss affair. At Prato, where the ambience was great and food decent, B asked for olives to nibble and got a large plate full of them. At Cafe 13, I ordered a black coffee and received some iced alcoholic coffee concoction.
At Sergiana, which served cheap and excellent local cuisine, we requested a side dish of fried cabbage and were served a sausage, cabbage and mash main course - in addition to the two mains we were already having. To his credit, the manager apologised for the mistake and did not charge us for the dish. We had gone in with low expectations about the service, which we'd read was bad, but came out rather satisfied.
The only place that got our orders right was a cake shop called La Vatra Ardealului, but that's because the cakes were displayed in a glass shelf and you could point out what you wanted. Even there, they didn't serve macchiato, as with many other places in Romania. If you don't like too much milk in your coffee, the best bet is to go for a 'long espresso' and ask for some milk on the side.
Advice to tourists
All our problems could have been easily avoided, so remember:
- If you're travelling from the UK, it's cheaper to buy Romanian New Lei in Romania than in the UK.
- Along the pedestrianised street in Brasov, the money changers often advertise one rate for travellers' cheques and another, extremely unfavourable rate, for cash. To make sure you don't get the wrong rate, go to the Exchange Office at Aro Palace Hotel.
- Do not order anything not on the menu.
- Make sure you point at the item in the menu that you are ordering.
Although we were out of Brasov on day trips almost every day, we managed to find time to walk around the main square and a little beyond. There was a large park near the main roundabout, where people gathered to play backgammon, chess and a tile game that I called Romanian Mahjong. The square had an Italian feel to it, and on Sunday morning, we counted at least three weddings as we walked from one church to another.
Cristina: Weekends in Brasov are for getting married.
We had wanted to climb up the Tampa (pronounced "toom-pa") but by the time we got there it was rather late and we'd have missed the last cable car coming down, so we took the cable car up and walked down instead.
There were excellent views from the top. Coming down, we took the 'Serpentinelor' route, which, as the name suggests, was a long, snaky path. A man passed us as he was running up, and then overtook us on his way down. He did not follow the route, but cut straight across many of the loops.
B: All the shortcuts were 'run out' by him.
After coming down, we walked to 'Agro Central', a run-down market area, where, according to Cristina, there was a harvest festival with market stalls selling fresh vegetables, flowers, fruits and some excellent local grape juice.
We bought a two-litre bottle and I couldn't stop drinking it.