The idea of hitchhiking has always interested me since I was young, whether it was hearing my parents’ stories about doing it to get to concerts, other towns around where they lived, or reading about it in books. Hearing about these adventures, I envisioned being filled with the excitement of not knowing who you’d be picked up by; each new experience differing from the next, almost like a lottery system where anything is possible. The chances of something going wrong are fairly slim, so I figured while I had the opportunity and drive to pursue this interest I would. With Romania’s reputation for being easy to hitchhike (as this is a normal form of transportation that locals use all the time), I decided on a free weekend to visit Brasov and Sighisoara, two cities that a couple friends staying in my hostel had recommended to check out further up north.
I began my adventure by taking a train up to Brasov in the early morning directly after finishing a night shift on about an hour of sleep, and promptly passed out for the whole of the three hour train ride there. Checking into my hostel, I was able to quickly find a bus going toward Bran Castle (better known as Dracula’s Castle). Away into the countryside we drove, until we reached the small town of Bran. From the road, the castle loomed above, dauntingly hanging on the cliffside above the historic small town. I paid for a student ticket, and walked up the path to go inside, surrounded by tourists as this was one of the biggest “things to see” in all of Romania. Believe it or not, the castle actually has no correlation with Bram Walker’s Dracula, and the reputation has only come to be known from the people of Bran claiming the castle was used as inspiration for the novel. Vlad the Impaler, the merciless ruler who Dracula was based off of, was actually from Sighisoara, the other town I visited about two and a half hours north.
Walking around inside, I was unimpressed by the lack of interesting information and architecture, however the courtyard was nice. Leaving after only forty five minutes spent on the site and with eight dollars less in my pocket, I walked into town and was pleasantly surprised to see langos, a treat that Jeremy and I had been introduced to by Bence when in Hungary over the summer. I immediately bought one, savoring the greasy and sour taste, then walked back through the town to try my thumb at hitching the forty minutes back to Brasov.
After making a hitching sign for Rasnov, a town in between Bran and Brasov that was known for its citadel view over the valley below, I was immediately picked up by a Romanian driving past. He spoke good English and was more than happy to give me a lift, and I was so amazed at how quickly and effortlessly I got a ride! Twenty minutes later, he dropped me with a smile in front of the town of Rasnov, and I began my ascent up the mountainside to see the view from above, enjoying the fresh and beautiful air as the golden hour approached. Rays of sunlight glistened through the pine trees that surrounded me as I lightly began to sweat on my climb, eventually reaching the top to appreciate the view.
Wanting to get back to Brasov before it grew dark, I raced down the mountain, and was just as quickly given a ride to Brasov by a newly retired Israeli man who briefly told me his life’s sorrows. He had recently become estranged from his (much) younger wife, and had his children cut off all contact with him, resulting in his drastic move to Romania to start anew. Buying a massive house near the Bran Castle to rent out, he hoped to reclaim his life and live in a country that his parents had left many years prior.
Realizing that Sighisoara was about two hours farther up north from Brasov, I decided to wake up early in order to hitch a ride and maximize my daylight before couchsurfing at the house of a group of European Volunteer Service students in a small town nearby. Using the handy built in app from Hitchwiki on my offline maps, I was able to find the best options for where I needed to get a ride, however after an hour or so of waiting, and very few cars passing, I realized that I needed to walk further out of the town in order to find another big crossroad before the highway that led directly to Sighisoara.
After freezing my hands off and being battered by huge gusts of winds from the massive trucks speeding by me, I was picked up by a lovely couple who were going out to visit their parents in a small village close to where I wanted to be dropped. The husband practiced his English while his wife asked him questions for me, and they were surprised to find out that I was an American and equally excited to know that I was hitchhiking. Their idea of Americans was how adventurous and driven we were to succeeding at a goal, and I decided this was a very nice idea to have about a whole group of people.
Walking into the old town (on a Sunday), I was surrounded by fog and the beautiful colors of pastel buildings, the only one around as I traversed the winding, empty streets. It was so cold my fingers grew numb as I dipped them into my pockets, burying my neck into the collar of my jacket and walking toward the looming clock tower at the center of the town. The views it gave showcased the old and scattered architecture of the city, blanketed by a large white cloud that spread into the abyss.
I then hitched two rides, from a man who spoke no English or words for that matter, and a truck driver who used his GPS to drop me directly in front of the house I was couchsurfing at. I quickly met Eszter, Minerva, Ainoa, and the rest of their housemates who immediately made me feel at home, and showed me around all of their various projects. The space they lived in was so creative and fun; I had a blast spending time with them and we ended our night by watching Lean On Me, which I hadn’t seen in ages. I even gave an interview to Ainoa and Minerva, which premiered on their radio show as a part of their EVS project about my travels!
In the early morning, I hitched another two rides back to Brasov, and then decided to take a train to get to Bucharest as I was exhausted and had spent way too much time trying to get picked up (although successfully) in the cold. In between my rides, I realized that there was a secondhand clothing store nearby, where I promptly bought a scarf and gloves to keep me from freezing as I waited with my thumb out in the freezing weather. It was frigid and starting to sprinkle a bit when I finally was picked up by a Romanian truck driver who had worked in Spain for five years, so we conversed in broken Spanish for the remaining two hours to Brasov. Halfway through our ride, we stopped and he even purchased me lunch, a beer, and coffee, then dropped me off directly in front of the train station where I bought a ticket directly home and basked in the warmth of the train car.
Lesson learned: hitchhiking alone can and is just as awesome as you’d expect, but if you decide to do it in the winter time PREPARE YOURSELF for (possible) long waits. Also, bring gloves, a scarf, and a hat along with warm clothes. I will surely be hitching more in the warmer months ahead!