Note: This is one of my longer blog posts. The reason for this is that it was my last outing with the DRBD (Discover Romania Beyond Dracula) gang and we had so much fun! Also, I still have so many posts to write but I don’t know where to start. My trip to France, Finland and Spain are still in progress. Hopefully, I’ll be able to nail them down by the end of the year.
A three-hour, 50 lei train ride from Timisoara deposited us into a lovely train station that services Băile Herculane, a spa town that holds some of the oldest hot springs in Europe. There are several springs around the area. One spring is for stomach problems, one is for the eyes, and one is even for STD’s. There is a long history attached to these baths and springs. People drink the water from these springs, and to be honest, the water was very funky-fizzy due to the iron in it.
Interesting historical tidbit: Roman legions once occupied this area during the time of the Dacians, and even Franz Josef, Emperor of Austria, was said to have bathed here to cure his syphilis.
We arrived at 8 in the morning and Sebastian, who was our host, greeted us. His cabin was barely 5 minutes away from the station by car. The view from the cabin was incomparable, with the mountains of Cerna serving as a resplendent background to such a peaceful place.
Here below is Sebastian cooking omelets over the fire with lots of onions, bell peppers, pancetta, and tomatoes. Hands down, that was the best ever omelet I’ve ever had.
Right after our brunch, we slept. Everyone was knocked out. I think it was because we were full but, more than that, everyone remarked that it might have been the air as well. They told us that the air around the area has negative ions, which, considering that we’re only at an altitude of 168 meters is really rare. The area is also full of black pine trees, which adds to the cleanliness and freshness of the air.
After the really refreshing nap, we went to the springs. There were so many people, young and old, milling around the place. Sebastian was telling us about the history of the place and why it was so unique while we were on a bridge overlooking the Cerna River. He spoke about the unique air quality at length too. I remember looking up from Sebastian’s explanation and seeing yellow leaves being blown away like gold dust shimmering in the breeze. This was one of the most beautiful views I had seen. Probably the most unforgettable moment in my trip.
We put on our swimsuits and took a dip in one of the baths. We only had to pay 5 lei for it. The water of the bath came from the hot springs in the mountain. The odor of sulfur was strong with rotten eggs but the warmth of it was restful. The pool we had entered had 7 or so elderly patrons. Our group was boisterous and loudly splashed about. So, after about 10 minutes, the elderly retreated from our energy, leaving the pool all to ourselves. We stayed for half an hour and left for the cabin.
We made an early dinner out of grilled vegetables, cheese, smoked pork fat and bread. It was delicious. Everything we ate was locally grown and organic. We even drank some house wine. After the dinner, our host, Sebastian, with his wife, Nicolina gave us sweet cakes. They were homemade too! I ate lemon cakes and coffee cakes and they were divine! I’m starting to understand why Romanians are reluctant to go to restaurants. It’s probably because homemade food is better than any of the restaurants.
At around 10 at night, we put on our swimsuits again and we left to get some water from a fountain that has existed since the Ottoman Turks came. We filled up several bottles for our use later on. We directly went to the hot springs and were greeted with hazy darkness. The hot springs were located directly beside the Cerna river. With no lights on, we had to use some old flashlights to manage our way. The steam from the springs also limited the visibility but added to the adrenaline rush of discovering a new place, especially at night. There were two man-made pools on the upper levels containing hot spring water. I made the mistake of jumping inside! Goodness, I felt like I was boiled alive. After the initial shock, I started to like it. I could feel my muscles loosening and relaxing. However, most people in my group wanted to move to the lower springs, the ones by the river. The lower springs were naturally formed and was right beside Cerna river. So we got out and went down the muddy and slippery slopes.
Once we were in the natural springs, I lay down on my back, and looked up. Diamonds greeted me, sparkling brilliantly. The dark blue velvet of the night sky enhanced the dreamy illumination of the millions of stars winking at me. I could understand why Hercules would rest here as the legend says. The nature is simply breathtaking and the springs were rejuvenating.
To add more excitement, and to get way from the heat, we crossed over a couple of wobbly rocks into the river, which was freezing. The sensations were amazing, I could actually feel my blood vessels expand and contract. It was a refreshing dip! After 2 minutes in the river, I crossed back to the heat of the spring. I actually felt my blood pounding. It was a great feeling. After 30 minutes in the hot spring, floating, stargazing, laughing, and talking, we left.
When we arrived at the cabin, we had another feast to finish! We had a ciorba (soup) with potatoes, carrots, bell peppers and the smoked pork fat. It really warmed me up! The soup was divine with bread. There were also some sarmales, which are basically minced meat with herbs and rice rolled in a cabbage leaf. They were the best things I’ve ever eaten. I’m looking back to my low opinion of Romanian dishes and reevaluating. It was one of the heartiest meals I’ve ever had. To sum it all up, it was a great night!
The next morning, we were supposed to be up and away by 9 however, we slept through until 11:30. So we had lunch. They had made an eggplant salad (crema de vinete), which was delicious with bread. They made it by roasting the eggplant over the grill and then mashing it together with some herbs and mayonnaise. At this point I had stopped doubting the food. The food was great. Romanian food is great! I count myself very lucky to have been welcomed by Sebastian and Nicolina into their home. For dessert we had some sweet bread with rahat (Turkish delight) inside. I was smitten with this, so much so that I bought a bag of rahat after coming back from the trip.
We left for Orșova, which was half an hour away, to visit the River Danube. The boat ride cost us 25 lei per person. It was, as with all things in this trip, relaxing. We visited the last Dacian King, Decebalus Rex, who was high up in his mountainside perch. The sculpture, which looks ancient, took 10 years to sculpt and was made from 1994-2004. Drăgan, a Romanian businessman, paid for it, which explains the second line of the inscription:
We also entered the Veterani Cave for 6 lei. The cave was very fascinating because of its history. First of all, it had been a place of worship for the Dacians then eventually it became a 3-level military fortress during the Austrio-Hungarian era. The only level not submerged in water is the top one. The cave had all the natural amenities, it had natural refrigeration, natural air-conditioning from a tunnel that led to the mountains, there was even a well as water source. After this, we went back to the cabin.
Right before we left for the lovely 19th century train station, Sebastian took out two huge watermelons for us. He gave us huge wedges! He ate without his shirt on. He said it was easier. I concur. We spent a good 15 minutes eating our wedges.
My overall rating for Băile Herculane is a solid 9/10. The downside being the extremely short time we were there. The experience was lovely! Sebastian and Nicolina welcome guests to their cabin for a certain amount. I only paid 50 lei for the entire stay. The money was for the food we ate. I was more than happy to fork the amount over, seeing that we had several delicious meals. (A meal in a restaurant in Timisoara is 20 lei minimum and not as delicious.)
And finally, before I forget, one of the best parts of the trip was David, their dog. David is a small mixed breed cutie. He loved to sit beside me on the steps up the cabin. He chases away wolves too. He could understand the command “lupu,” which means wolf in Romanian and his ears would perk up and he’d start patrolling around the cabin.
This trip was one of the best trips ever. I, honest to goodness, never expected myself to be floating in a hot spring, in the middle of the night, while marvelling up at the universe when I signed up for Discover Romania Beyond Dracula. I never expected to eat the best homemade food. I never could have expected a lot of these things. And I guess that’s the best advice when travelling: to not have a lot of expectations!