europe, travel

Old Towns of Europe: Cluj -Napoca

One of my favourite ways to explore are long weekends to European cities, often their capitals. During these trips, I try to go to cheap places, though often take advantage of low prices for things like coffee, meals, and drinks to enjoy treats. The flight from London was £20 return (though sadly I don’t think it will be that again for a while!)

I enjoy seeing the cities, and going for day trips to surrounding historical or scenic areas. These long weekends are often very jam packed and tiring, involving a lot of walking, and I often return feeling fufilled but incredibly knackered!

In these series of blog posts, I encourage others who wish to have packed, busy long weekends in historical cities how to do so on  budget, and fitting in as much as possible.

In September 2019, I visited the Romanian city of Cluj-Napoca with my friend, Ailsa. We arrived on a Saturday morning and left Tuesday evening. We found the accomodation options in the city to be very affordable, and very cool and quirky.

Language: Romanian

Currency: Leu- (RON) £0.19 to 1 leu; 0.21€ as of 08/2020

Getting to town:

Airport to city centre by bus:

Bus: 5 or 8

Cost: 4 RON return

Length: 20 minutes

Location: Outside the airport, across the main road.

The bus stopped in town and we wandered about, getting snacks from one of the many super markets and wandering around. The town is pretty small and easy to navigate.

History:

Located in the Translyvania area, the city is retains many historical structures from centuries of occupation. The name Napoca comes from the original pre-Roman settlement (possibly Dacian) located where the city now is. Roman ruins are visible around the city, although it thrived in the Medieval period and Post Medieval period, as well as being part of the Kingdom of Hungary.

The architecture of the city reflects the Renaissance, Baroque, and Gothic.

Exploring the city:

at 6pm on our first day, we attended a free city walking tour, meeting at the Matthias Corvinus statue. These tours are run by Cluj Guided Tours and take an hour and a half. This was well worth attending, providing a good history of the city. 

The main square of the town contains St Micheal, a Roman Catholic church of the 15th century, with the statue of Matthias Corvinus in front. The oldest portion of the church dates to 1390, whilst continuous additions and repairs occurred well into the 19th century.

Within this main square, beneath glass that needs a bit of a clean, ruins of a Roman building can be seen.

Walking behind the cathedral and crossing the main road leads to the museum square area. Within this area are some of the older buildings in the area, including the birthplace of Matthias Corvinus.

Matthias Corvinus was King of Hungary, Croatia, and Bohemia, as well as Duke of Austria from 1458 – 1490 who would wander amongst his subjects in disguise. Amongst his accomplishments as ruler was the establishment of one of the earliest professional standard armies of Medieval Europe, and promoted the careers of talented individuals chosen for their abilities rather than their social status. He was also keen on arts and literature, with his royal library being one of the largest collections of books in Europe.

The Tailors’ Bastion is a 16th century structure consisting of old walls, and markets selling honey and other freshly made goods can be picked up within the old walls.

The Dormition of the Theotokos Cathedral on the Avram Iancu Square, across from the National Theatre, was built in 1933 and can be visited if you would like to see inside an Othrodox Cathedral. Please wear respectable clothing.

The 16th century Cimitirul Central (Cemetary) is a sprawl of tombstones and memorials hidden beneath trees. The large area was established following deaths from the plague and has grown with the city, with burials still taking place now. It is free to walk around (unlike similar Highgate Cemetery in London), and has similar appeal to the Lychavik Cemetry in Lviv, Ukraine.

A walk up to the view point at Cetatuia Park gives a nice panorama of the city.

HOIA FOREST

From the city centre, we ventured to Hoia Forest, allegedly haunted/supernatural due to curved trees (though I have definitely seen these trees in other places).

The walk was not too long, we explored the forest and found some of the trees, it was a good healthy walk. Be careful of the wild dogs wandering about though! It was alright, nothing too remarkable though.

Day Trip- Turda Salt Mine

We got a bus (small white minibus with ‘Turda’ written on a sign in the window) from the corner of Piata Mihai Viteazu and Strade Ion Popescu Voitesti- near a bridge crossing.

If you would like more up to date advice on the bus schedule and location, please visit the Tourist Information near the main square. They will give you a helpful map and schedule.

It was 35 minute journey costing 8 RON

The bus dropped us off in Turda and we walked 15 minutes to the ‘old’ entrance of the mines- it wasn’t a grand entrance, which is on the other side but a longer walk.

The mines are open 9 til 5 every day

Tickets- 40 RON Adults

20 RON Students, Seniors

The salt mines upper floors contain the history of salt production in the area, starting in the Roman period with earliest records mentioning the Turda salt mines dating to 1075. As vistors, you can see the machinery used in the 19th century and walk around the echoy chambers with their fascinating salt walls.

Following  the one way paths, we arrived at the the stairs down to the cavernous level in which a fair ground has been install. In this area, you could ride a ferris wheel, play mini golf, as well as a plethora of fair ground rides.

A single stairway in the corner (going two ways) led to the lowest level, the queue of which was long. this led to a boating lake (visible from the upper level). This cost about 20 RON to rent a row boat for 20 minute and you could row around.

The queue for the lift back up is very long.


TURDA GORGE

We took the same bus to Turda as before. We asked in the information centre about buses and was guided to a bus stop by a big flag. This bus would have taken us to the town and then walked an hour. I WOULD NOT ADVISE THIS. This never arrived, or the information we received was wrong. The town is a long walk from the gorge and the roads did not contain many pavements, putting you at risk along potentially busy roads.

We opted for an Uber. These were advised over regular taxis and I agree with this advise. Both times we got Ubers, the uber drivers charged us more than they initially said, and claimed our journeys took longer. This meant we were able to raise disputes, and we felt safe knowing we were being tracked where we were and who drove us. It did take a while for an uber to agree to take us.

It cost us about 14 quid each way for the Uber. Obviously not as cheap or public transport using as I would like, but it really seemed like the most sensible option. As I was with a friend, we were able to split this cost.

At the gorge entrance, there was a little ticket booth, costing 4 Ron although this was more of a loyalty box.

The walk took 1 hour each way, as it is not a circular route.

The gorge was pretty unsafe but made it exciting. PLEASE WEAR SENSIBLE SHOES and bring water and snacks, if you can bring first aid kits, you should. There were rickety bridges made up of just logs, thin cord and unstable paths to walk on.

The rushing river was exciting and we were surrounded by beautiful views- was very enjoyable and peaceful with no one else about.

Once we got to the end, there was no real further ways or accessible towns to go to so we return the same way and enjoyed the gorgeous empty nature.

Once we got back to the start, we requested an uber which actually came (it was about 20 mins from Turda town to the gorge), else it would have been another long walk to the nearest town.

We went for coffee, cake, and ice cream in Turda and rested our legs before venturing back to Cluj Napoca on the bus. The town was small but nice to wander around.

WHERE TO EAT:

The food in Cluj was very delicious and great prices. The range of restaurants was large and my friend, being a vegan, was able to find lots of food places that served delicious vegan food.

Bistro 1586 – For a three course meal, we paid the equivalent of £18 and the food was incredibly fancy and delicious. I would recommend here if you want a high class dining experience.

The Soviet Cocktail Bar– This bar had great drinks that were strong and inspired by Soviet occupation, including the decor. The Compot cocktail was a particular favourite of mine as it was inspired by the Eastern European side dish of the same name, but with added booze. It came in a jar with a little lid, like babcia would make.

We were there for the Happy Hour and the drinks cost about 10 RON.

The Guild Hall – We stopped for some board games and coffee here, which was a nice way to unwind after all the walking.

Cafe Bulgakov– A delicious Hungarian restaurant. The food was very well priced and the building was down a pretty alley.

Little Holes-in-the-Wall everywhere selling very cheap filled pasties are highly recommended- cheap grub and great stomach fillers!

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