Winter hiking in Retezat Mountains, Romania

Winter Hiking in Retezat, Romania

I would like to tell a little more about my adventurous hiking trip to one of the most beautiful mountains in Romania, Retezat. I travelled with an experienced hiking group from Budapest (Hungary) to Retezat National Park to get some more winter hiking experience and enjoy the wintertime in Romania. I must say a well spent 4 days in the most wonderful places I have ever been.

We started our journey very early in the morning from Budapest by a minibus, 9 people gathered together for the same dream to conquer the Retezat and Peleaga Peak but not at least to enjoy the weekend. When joining a new group of hikers I always have the feeling that we have somehow the same heart who loves the mountains. The bus journey took 7 hours with some stops. We arrived to the Retezat National Park on the afternoon and after parking the minibus we needed to get all our backpacks and go up to the mountain shelter. We walked up 5km, 500m altitude with all our stuff. It was a good warm up for the next day as I think back.

Arriving to the rest houses we needed to make fire in our little wooden houses. Each room had 3-4 beds, the fireplace was prepared but it was around -10 Celsius degrees outside and inside as well.

We made the fire and got together with the group in the common area, it was like a canteen where we could buy some hot wine, soup and other food.

After few shots and hot wines the rooms got warmer as well, so we went back to get some sleep.

Next morning it was again around -10 degrees and of course the fireplace was not anymore warm, so we needed to hurry and take our clothes on. I really liked this basic style, it was like we went back in time 50 years in time. The toilet was outside I would say long distance enough to hurry sometimes. 🙂

After a very good breakfast we started our journey to Retezat Peak from the cabin (Pietrele) which was on 1480m. We were equipped with snow shoes because that helps the walking on the snow when its really deep. If the snow its frozen you can walk on it without sinking. We hiked up through a wonderful frozen forest. I always got late as I enjoyed taking pictures.

When we went up to about 1800m there were no trees “just” the snow and the mountains. We had a very lucky day with sunshine and blue sky, every hikers dream to get this weather. I need to mention here that we were the only group hiking there so there were no traces we could follow.

After a few kilometers we found ourselves in front of a very deep wall. I was even mentioning how the hell I am going to do this? And the others just gave the answers “you can just go up there like all of us”. Honestly at that point I thought “What if there is an avalanche and we all fall down?” but the others seemed so sure about themselves that I just said to myself “ok, I am going after them, if they can do it I can do it!”.

The men made footprints in the snow and we just hiked after them. It was so much energy in the team. If I was alone there I am sure I would have said no I am afraid, but here comes the thing when you are with a strong team where everyone has the same goal they just take you to reach that.

When we got to the top of that wall I realized that we have a quite long distance to the peak. But I was telling to myself “ok you did the hard part now you can reach the top”. We hiked around one hour more to the peak, it was a bit icy and slippery at some point. We reached the Retezat Peak (2485m) around 1pm. Arriving to a highest Peak of a mountain it makes me always so happy, I would rather stay there hours wondering and thinking.

This time we didn’t have much time to wonder because in wintertime the days are shorter and we needed to come down safe in sunlight. The way back its always harder for me, maybe because going up I have the motivation to reach the peak and see the view. But also the way back I am always more exhausted and somehow harder to go downhill.

It was a long way back to the cabin where our cold room was awaiting us. We made the fire and got some hot soup. As we did not have internet or even reception for the phones the evenings were very social without media :), we played cards, drunk some wine and pálinka and told some good stories.

The third day of the trip was planned for Peleaga Peak. We had breakfast at 7.30am and started the hike around 8.30am. It started again with a forest hike and afterwards we got our well deserved sunshine.

We hiked up to around 2000m when we faced a deep wall again. I did not mention that the day before the way back on that wall  everyone slid down sitting on their bottom. I was too afraid to do it, it was just too deep for me, I was shaking sweating and it was very hard to get down. Especially that I did not have crampons on my boots. So meeting the same deep wall second time I decided that I am not going further. We said goodbye to each other and they continued their hike on the deep wall. I was looking back time to time if they are doing good there, but I could see they were up really fast on that wall. I had a long sunny tea time on 2000m and met some groups coming up. It was a Saturday so we could see more people up in the mountains than the day before.

After a few hours I was already back in our houses. In the afternoon the other team members arrived back safe, I was happy to see them again. The last night we spent playing cards and having fun.

Fourth day we had a short hike (3 hours) and after a goodbye lunch we took all our stuff and walked back to the car. In the evening we were back in Budapest with the best memories of this winter. I am planning to go back in summertime when the mountain shows its different colors.

If you have any questions traveling to Retezat National Park just drop a mail to contact@bestoftransylvania.com and I will reply to you.

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Festivals in Transylvania 2018

Festivals in Transylvania 2018

Transylvania has to offer lots of Festivals during the year. If you are exploring the region, want to spend quality time and learn more about the culture or just have some fun while traveling, you might like these festivals.

Transylvania International Film Festival, Cluj Napoca (Kolozsvár)

The Transylvania International Film Festival is organized from 2002 and it is the most important film festival in Romania. The 17th edition of the festival will be held between May 25th and June 3rd, 2018. You will have the chance to choose from more than 200 selected films from all over the world. More info Transylvania International Film Festival.

Medieval Festival, Sighişoara (Segesvár)

Sighişoara is one of the most well preserved medieval towns in the world and it is on the Unesco World Heritage list. The three days festival attracts more than 30.000 visitors each year in July.

International Theatre Festival Sibiu (Nagyszeben)

The most important performing Arts Festival in Romania offers a programme with participants from more than 70 countries from all over the world. This year the festival will be held between 8 – 17th June. You can find more info here.

Untold Festival, Cluj Napoca (Kolozsvár)

The Untold Festival takes place in Cluj Napoca between 2-5  August and its the largest electronic festival in Romania.  If you want to have fun this is the place to be in August. More info and tickets here: Untold Festival

Full Moon Festival, Biertan

Biertan is a  well known beautiful Saxon village in Transylvania with fortified churches, it is on the list of Unesco world heritage sites. The Full Moon Festival is a horror & fantasy film festival and this year will be held between 10 – 13th of August. More information here: Full Moon Festival

Other festivals worth visiting are Double Rise Festival, Jazz Festival Sibiu. 

These are mostly the international festivals in Transylvania, but I would suggest so much more which are more local.

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Praid Salt Mine

Praid Salt Mine

Praid Salt Mine is one of the biggest salt mines in Eastern Europe and it is located in Harghita county. I visited the place for the first time even though I lived more than 25 years in the area. It turned out that we went there in the best time as it was low season in October and it was not full with tourists.

The mine is 120m deep underground and it is recommended for people with different diseases like pulmonary tuberculosis and acute respiratory diseases. It is very good for healthy people too and besides the good climate, you can experience a wonderful underground world. The only way you can access the mine is the shuttle bus which takes you through a 1250 m tunnel to the entrance.

From the entrance, there are long steps down to the mine, for my parents was a bit difficult to walk down, especially when we had to climb up to the exit.

The underground salt wonderland is very attractive, it is like a small village with coffee shops, restaurants, children playgrounds and even a church inside. It is definitely a great place to spend some days. You can also work from there thanks to the WiFi connection, some people do that.A few days treatment can be a fun activity.

If you visit the area it is definitely a must see place, I spent a great time there and I will definitely go back soon for a relaxing day.

Find more information about the mine here: Salina Praid

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10 things you need to experience when visiting Transylvania

10 things you need to experience when visiting Transylvania

I wrote a bucket list for your amazing holiday in Transylvania. By trying these experiences I am sure you will get a taste of the Transylvanian culture.

1. Eat kürtőskalács and stuffed cabbage

Kürtőskalács ( chimney cake) is a Hungarian – Sekler traditional spit cake and you can find along the streets freshly made. The really traditional is covered with sugar, but you can buy some with nuts, coconut or cinnamon. Another delicious local food is the stuffed cabbage made with pork and cabbage. The cabbage rolls are filled with pork meat, rice and boiled long hours. A very delicious traditional meal in Transylvania.

2. Drink pálinka with locals

Pálinka is the traditional drink in Transylvania. The most well known in Harghita region from where I am from is the plum pálinka (szilvapálinka). With more than 50 degrees it is very strong. Locals drink a glass of pálinka before breakfast, lunch or dinner. Some people like it before each meal 🙂 An interesting fact that many families are making their own homemade pálinka. Do not miss it, but be careful 4-5 shots might be too much!

3. Watch a folk dance performance 

Folk dance is still a tradition in Transylvania and in generally in Romania. There are different folk festivals organized through the year. Besides the festivals, the cities have local folk dance groups who are organizing different events. Ask locals about the folk traditions and they will proudly tell stories about it. Check here for a video: Hargita National Sekler Folk Ensemble

4. Watch brown bears

We have a saying that “the bear is not a game” and this is so truth. The number of brown bears in Transylvania is the highest in Europe. Just in Harghita county  (the area is around 6600km2 ) there are more than 1000 bears. So if you are planning a hiking trip or staying in the forest in a tent that is not a good idea. A better option to rent a weekend house. But you can watch bears with organized tours.

5. Drink natural mineral waters

Transylvania is a real gold mine of natural and healing mineral water springs. You can find along your way constantly flowing water fountains. In Hargita and Covasna county are the most water springs with different compositions. Some are good for healing different diseases. Local people travel also 40-50 km to fill bottles with this fresh water and bring home. Aren`t they lucky to have free mineral water? I will write a more detailed blog post about this topic  later on.

6. Enjoy a day in a thermal spa

If you would like to have a relaxing day try a spa. In the recent years, many spa places are renovated with very good conditions and services. Relax in one of the Spas after a hiking day. Besides the Baths for relaxing there are many medical Spas.The medical Spas are good for curing many medical disorders and illnesses including rheumatism, endocrine, kidney, liver, respiratory, heart, stomach, nervous diseases as well as nutrition – metabolism -gynecological- disorders.

7. Drive or cycle through the Transfogarasan Road

You will get a unique experience by cycling or driving through the most spectacular roads in Europe. The road is just open only summertime from June to October. Watch this great video and get a feeling of Transfogarasan.

8. Hike a mountain higher than 1500m

In the Carpathian Mountains, you will have the chance to hike higher peaks than 1500m. The highest mountain in Romania is Moldoveanu Peak 2544m in the Southern Carpathians, Fogaras Mountains. I have never been there yet, but it is on my list.

9. Try an adventure park

Adventure parks are great fun for adults and kids too. In every park are different levels from beginner to very advanced so you can choose. In Transylvania, you can find many adventure parks to have fun and enjoy your active holiday. I wanted to try once but it was after the rain and it was too wet.

10. Live with locals in a Transylvanian village

One of the best ways to know a culture is living at a certain place for a period. Staying in a Transylvanian village you can breathe the air, live the life and eat the same food as locals. A good way to do that is volunteering. If you can spend a few weeks there you could teach English for example for kids or help the community with different work. A good way to find a place is to contact a local school,  the local councils or find a regional volunteering organization.

Got a taste of Transylvania? I hope you will put on your bucket list and will visit this wonderful region in Europe.

For more detailed information please do not hesitate to contact me: contact@bestoftransylvania.com

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Brașov – a must visit city in Transylvania

Brașov – a must visit city in Transylvania

Brașov (Brassó in Hungarian, Kronstadt in German) is a wonderful medieval city in the heart of Carpathian Mountains what  you shouldn’t miss if you are traveling to the area.

I have visited the city several times and when I am traveling to Transylvania I am always keen to spend a day or two in this city. It has the mix of modern life and historical places. The old part of the city it is surrounded with a medieval Saxon wall and  bastions. It is a good idea to visit for a long weekend. If you are planning to see more of Transylvania, Brasov can be a good starting point of your journey.

Top 3 things to see

There are plenty of attractions in Brasov and I will mention some of my favourites.

Black Church is one of the largest Gothic churches in Europe. Built in the 14th century, it was named after a fire in 1689 Black Church (Biserica Neagră) because of its black smoked walls (Die Schwarze Kirche in German and Fekete Templom in Hungarian). Inside you can see one of the largest organs in Europe and also a large collection of old carpets from Asia minor. The Black Church can receive up to 5000 people.

Town Hall Square (Piața Sfatului) is a great place to have a coffee or lunch and enjoy the atmosphere of the city with a good view. In the middle of the square is located the Town Hall topped by the Trumpeter’s Tower. Every midday, traditionally costumed musicians appear from the top of the tower like figures in a Swiss clock.

Historical Center and the Rope Street. In the historical center you can see museums, Saxon streets and discover the history of the city. The Rope Street is the narrowest city in Europe with a width of 1,3 m. It was built with a purpose of connecting two other streets and in old times it was used only by firemen.

A free walking tour is organized every day from 6 pm check out here: Walking tours

Top 3 things to do:

Enjoy the view from Mount Tampa: Mount Tampa is located 400 m above the city and offers an amazing view. If you like to hike it takes one hour or you can take the cable car to the top. For the nature lovers I would suggest to walk up and enjoy the birds, flowers and views.

Walk to Cetățuia Fortress: By walking up to the Cetățuia Fortress you will see the neighborhoods outside the historical center. It takes a short walk from the central park Nicolae Titulescu. The fortress is located outside the fortified city.

Have some fun in the Adventure Park: If you like climbing, adventure and adrenaline this park is for you. With different levels of tracks for beginners or advanced the park offers a great outdoor fun. More info on this link: Adventure Park

Top 3 things to see around Brașov

If you are staying a couple of days in Brașov you will have the chance to travel a bit around and see some amazing medieval castles, wonderful mountains and you will have the chance to taste Transylvania.

Bear watching experience: If you are in Transylvania you need to see brown bears as we have got a lot of them living wild in the forests. Romanian Carpathians hosts 60% of the Europe brown bear population. You will find different tourist agents who can take you by car from Brașov for a half day or a day tour.

Be amazed in Peleș Castle: The most beautiful castle in my opinion, I was amazed when I saw it for the first time. Peles castle is built in Neo- Renaissance style and it is located near Sinaia  about 45km from Brasov. The castle served as summer residence for the Royal Family until 1947. Peles Castle was the first European castle entirely lit by electrical current. The electricity was produced by the castle’s own plant.

Other fortified churches worth visiting: Fortified Churches of Harman, Prejmer, Rupea and Fogaras Fortress. More information about the fortified churches here: Castles 

Hiking in Piatra Craiului National Park: Ideal for a one day trip from Brasov for hiking and climbing. The highest point is s La Om Peak 2238m. You can visit the Park from Zarnesti town.

You can read some more information about the National Park here: Piatra Craiului 

Either you visit Brașov for a weekend or for a longer period, I am sure you will love it as I do! 

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Pearl of Transylvania – Lake Saint Anne

Pearl of Transylvania – Lake Saint Anne

Last weekend we visited the most beautiful lake in Transylvania – Lake Saint Anne.  The only volcanic lake in Eastern Europe is situated in the volcanic arc of the Eastern Carpathians – 55km from Csíkszereda (Miercurea Ciuc). You can find directions here.

Along the way I was admiring the beautiful landscape of the Carpathians.

We visited by car but if you like to hike there is a red cross hiking trail you can follow from Tusnádfürdő (Baile Tusnad). It is a 4,5 km long walk and takes around 1,5 hour. For the ones who choose the biking or cycling it is a good idea to take the trip from Csíkszereda. The road is good until you reach Sebsibükkszád (Bixad), after that unfortunately the road is quite bad. For car drivers a good to know that you will not be able to drive faster than 30-40km/hour. The way to the lake is not that perfect but what you will find at the end of the road it is worth it.

From the car park we walked around 20 minutes to reach the lake. The weather was sunny but a little bit chilly not that usual of May. In the summer there are places to camp and you can swim in the lake. I could imagine there a long weekend with fireplace, camping and hiking in the surrounded mountains. But be aware of bears in this area!

When I saw the lake I was amazed by the clear water. I have seen it before but I didn’t remember it was so clean. The lake is situated around 950m above sea level, the surface area is around 19ha, maximum depth is around 6-6,5 m. An interesting fact is the source of water which comes from rain.

There is a small coffee shop near to the lake so we could enjoy the time with a coffee. We walked around the lake which takes around 30-45 minutes. The area was not crowded at all, I think in the summer time is a bit different. I will definitely check out 🙂

There is a legend linked to the name of the lake. According to locals there was a girl named Anne who was forced by parents to marry to with a young man who she did not love. She was so sad and upset that she chose to plunge into the lake and drown. The story says she was not found afterwards and they named the lake after her.

All in all a wonderful destination to visit in Transylvania, a piece of heaven where you can relax and feel free.

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Weekend trip from Budapest to Transylvania

Weekend trip from Budapest to Transylvania

I am living in Budapest and I travel to Transylvania quite often. Usually I take a bus which is a long journey but worth it! The first weekend of March was one of those bus trips to visit my family. The journey started from Népliget Bus Station. There are different bus companies you can choose to travel to Transylvania from Budapest.

The Journey

I prefer to travel by bus as it stops several times and I can get off to buy some refreshments. This travel is almost 600 km long and it takes around 12 hours. (As I mentioned before in Romania there are limited km of motorways available so you can enjoy the long ride) Interesting fact that the train is not faster either, so depends on your personality how you like to travel and what kind of transportation mode you choose.

The bus was not that crowded so I traveled very comfortable and arrived home to Homoródalmás (Meresti) after 12 hours. The arrival is always full of excitements and good feelings as I meet the family and friends. The first thing when I arrive home is that I notice the silence and fresh air. If you are living in a big city it is definitely a refreshing feeling.

Well deserved home made food

After a long trip I got the well deserved delicious breakfast called puliszka or in Romanian is called mamaliga. It is made with corn flour.  We used to eat it in the morning with milk or cottage cheese.

The second day together with family we made some traditional grilled meat called miccs (mititei) which is made of sheep meat. The best to drink with it is beer. We had  the local beer called Igazi Csíki Sör. And you can not miss the home made bread!!!

The menu was fantastic as always thanks to my parents 🙂

Homoródalmás - my homeland

After so many delicious meal and drink I took the chance to walk a bit in the village and feel the local life. Homoródalmás my home place is a wonderful small Hungarian village with around 1000 inhabitants. We call it the “center of the world”. People living there live mostly from agriculture. The village has a school with approximately 100-150 kids. People are friendly and helpful, so if you are traveling alone you can meet some young people who can speak English too. (good idea to contact the local tourist information and they can give you information about accomodation and  everything office@homorodalmas.info) You can find accommodation in bed&breakfasts or you can stay with families. I suggest you to choose the families so you would see how locals are living.

6 km from Homórodalmás there is a stalactite cave in a wonderful limestone canyon called “Vargyas szoros” which is a nature reserve area but open to public. From the village you can plan a one day trekking trip and experience the natural beauty of this cave and surroundings.

View from the "Orbán Balázs cave"
View of the "Vargyas Szoros" canyon from above

Check out the relaxing sounds of Transylvania here:

Three days of fresh air and calm environment helped me to recover. Did you get that feeling too?

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5 Reasons to love Transylvania

5 Reasons to love Transylvania

When you hear about Transylvania I am almost sure you think about the story of Dracula. In this blog you will not read about it. It is so much more to see and explore than the Dracula castle. Of course you are welcome to see those too, but the transylvanian culture is so much colorful and more. I can tell hundreds of reasons why you should visit this undiscovered land but now I will give you just five of them.

1. Beautiful Nature

You will find places with untouched nature and you will feel that you went back in time (compared to western countries). When traveling around Transylvania you experience the wild nature and friendly towns/villages. With beautiful lakes, mountains you will get to explore a land where you can hear the silence of the nature.

2. Friendly people

I have already mentioned that the people you will meet along your way will be friendly. Personally after living a few years abroad I can be surprised too when going home and getting this friendly welcoming words. People in Transylvania will try to help you in any situation, no matter if they are Hungarians, Romanians or other nationalities.

3. Wonderful historical places

Transylvania is known for its history and by visiting the villages and cities with fortified churches you will understand why. It is always good to go beyond what you can find in travel books. I would suggest you to start with a city and travel around that city in smaller villages to understand better the culture and see the local people.

4. Food

In Transylvania you will find a mixed food culture with Hungarian and Romanian specialties. (I will write about food specialties later) Transylvanian people will offer you food and you will need to eat in order to not upset them. You will find it maybe strange for the first, because they are insisting you to take it and eat it even though you are not hungry. This is a cultural difference so be polite and eat from what is offered to you. 🙂

5. Adventure

Whether you are traveling alone or with friends you will have an adventurous trip. Things will never go as you plan so try to be spontaneous in every situation.

Be prepared to an adventure and you will return with an experience of a lifetime.

If you have more suggestions or experiences about Transylvania please let me know in the comments. I would be very happy to hear your story.

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Sport Holidays in Transylvania

Sport Holidays in Transylvania

There are plenty of possibilities in Transylvania for sport holidays. Whether you are visiting the region in summer or winter you always find great sport activities.

Here I will mention some of the places which are not so crowded yet, but are low budget destinations with the same possibilities as the bigger, well-known resorts and places

Harghita Mountains is part of Eastern Charpathians. The closest cities are Odorheiu Secuiesc and Miercurea Ciuc in Harghita county. Harghita county itself it has to offer many sport possibilities. You can read here a few of them:

Harghita Madaras is a 1800m high mountain with beautiful scenery and breathtaking views. The ski resort has 4 main slopes: Nagy Mihaly (black), Kis Mihaly (red), Sugo (blue upper and red bottom section) and the blue crest way. They are equipped with T-bar lifts. You can find more information about the ski possibilities here.

If you decide to visit Harghita Madaras I would recommend to visit this site, it is in Hungarian but under the contacts you will find all the accomodation possibilies in the area and contacts.

Besides the skiing possibilities you can go trekking or hiking. Hiking is recommended with a local guide as it might be dangerous. You can find programs like archery and via ferrata tours and biking.

Baile Harghita is one the most visited resorts especially for winter sports like snowboarding and skiing. Harghita Bai is situated 1400m high and it is well know from its mineral waters and ski resorts. The most preferred ski season lasts from December to March and you can find 7 slopes with length from 200 to 1000m.  More info here.

Harghita Mountains in Romania

For trekking, hiking and walking I would suggest to you to contact local travel agencies as they have high skilled tour guides and you will not feel lost on the area. However it is not impossible just you need to plan in advance. I would suggest Balu Park for a fun climbing park where you can practice your climbing skills and balance.The place is well-know by the young people living in the area.

Baile Homorod is a small location betweeen Odorheiu Secuiesc and Miercurea Ciuc known for its mineral waters and balneoclimateric resort. You can fill your empty water bottles with fresh water for free 🙂 Many locals go to this place to fill empty bottles and take home the mineral water. Did you hear something like this before? You can get fresh mineral water for free which is also tested by doctors and each of them has healing effects for different disease. Baile Homorod has also a ski slope Lobogo which is very nice but in peak seasons can be crowded.

Other ski slopes in Harghita county: Bogdan, Havas Bucin and Veresvirág.

Read more about the ski slopes here.

There are plenty other opportunities, I will continue to write about those too in the future.

Photos taken by Virginas Bando in Harghita Madaras

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Travel Tips

Travel Tips

Traveling

When visiting Transylvania (Romania) the very first thing you should know that we have limited number of motorways…, so do not plan to drive on highway during your journey. Instead be prepared to travel around “Eastern European” style, drive carefully, slowly and be aware of bears and cows.

Major airports are in Cluj Napoca, Targu Mures and Sibiu. When planning your trip always make sure to ask your hotel about possibilities how to travel from the Airport. The Aiport Shuttle is not yet common in the area, so it is a good idea to order a car or cab from your hotel, hostel. (always ask the price and agree beforehand).

You will find many ways to reach the destination from European cities to Cluj Napoca or Targu Mures there is a low cost airline Wizzair. From Bucharest you can reach Transylvania by train or buses. Find the train timetable here or you can plan your European train journey here.

Language

The English language it is not yet spoken in the area, so do not be surprised when nobody can talk to you. In many places they will understand what you would like to ask but locals are not speaking good English. (similar to Spain) Of course there are some exemptions. The common language is Romanian, but you will find many people speaking Hungarian as in the Sekler part of Transylvania (Harghita, Covasna and Mures County) the majority of people living there are Hungarians. (I am not explaining here why, it’s history)

Even though nobody can speak the language you will find very friendly people who will help you to get all you need and you will be surprised by the hospitality of the people living in the region.

Hitchhiking

Hitchhiking is a common mode of transport in Romania in some areas. I would say drivers are used to hitchhikers so they would not be surprised and you can be lucky. You might think it is not so safe in Romania, but I tell you that I used to hitchhike (not so long journeys though) and nothing happened as a woman to me. Of course in most cases I would advice to not do it alone, find a friend or another traveler.

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