Salina Turda – Not What You’re Thinking

Halfway between Targu Mures and Cluj-Napoca is a mind-blowing attraction called the Salina Turda. Turda is the nearest town and Salina means salt-works. You guessed it, it’s a salt mine converted into a tourist attraction! Or maybe you didn’t guess it?

I think most people simply drive to Salina Turda from either Targu Mures or Cluj-Napoca, but we don’t have a car. Bus there and back with two little kids wasn’t very appealing. We instead chose to travel to the nearby village of Turda ( 1.5 hours, around 7.5 lei per adult, small kids free) and stay in a hotel there.

We found a place on Booking.com that ticked all of our boxes ( sleeps 4, has kitchen(ette), budget price) and hopped on the bus. No problems getting there, warm welcome, off to the Turda children’s park!

Turda for the kids
Communist era apartment blocks surround the park.

The following day we hopped onto city bus number 17 ( 2 lei per adult, small kids free) and rode out to the mine. The entrance is a slick-looking dome in the middle of a field, complete with a sandwich-meat vending machine (?).

Turda machine
Never seen one of these before…

Down the Hole

Once you pay your monies to the lady ( 30 lei adults, 15 lei kids), down the mine you go. The temperature goes steadily downwards as you do. At the bottom the temperature is an alleged 10 deg. C (didn’t feel that cold to me).

Turda mine entrnce stairs
I don’t imagine the place was this well lit back in the day.

At the bottom is a loooong (almost 1 km!) passage connecting the various parts of the mine. They all go even deeper from there.

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The main attraction is the Rudolf mine which was the last mine to be exploited. It is also the biggest and the only chamber which is not conical. On your way in there’s a gallery that opens into the top of the adjacent Terezia mine.

Terezia Mine

Looking down into the Terezia is a little surreal. It’s deep and dark, which you’d expect in a mine. There’s a pretty good echo, and a lot of racket as people enjoy the pretty good echo. You get your first glimpse of the wavy, swirly pattern in the walls from the salt mixed in with the other minerals.

Looking down you see the underground lake with the salt island in the middle. There’s some interesting platforms with lots of lights built on it, and of course little yellow rowboats floating around.

Swirly crusty platforms
Everything is crusted with salt from the drips falling
Row row row your boat
When else are you going to row a boat on an underground lake?

What’s especially cool (to me) is that the Terezia mine and the Rudolf mine intersect so that you can look from one into the other and see the difference in shape, depth, design. Makes you think of Tolkien’s dwarven kingdoms.

Two mines connecting
Gothic arches got nothing on this

Rudolf Mine

The Rudolf mine is spectacular from the first glimpse. The stairs and elevator both descend from a catwalk that runs the circumference of the upper gallery, right below the roof. It’s a peculiar feeling to have the solid mineral ceiling practically grazing your head and the enormous void falling away under your feet.

Hanging gallery
The roof slopes downward until you can touch it

The catwalk is supported by 6 x 6 beams, but who knows how old they are and the air is about 85% humidity. Does the salt help preserve the wood? Who knows. Pretty big drop though.

Down you go into the mine, either by elevator or by stairs. The stairs have dates carved into the walls to show what depth they had dug by what year. It’s a long way down to go forward in time.

Going up the stairs takes you back in time.

When you get to the bottom, awe-inspiring and breath-taking becomes surreal and a little weird. There’s mini-golf, pool tables, 5 pin bowling, ping-pong, a kid’s playground, and a Ferris wheel!! Much of it costs money on top of the admission ticket, but when’s the next time you’ll be able to ride a Ferris wheel in the bottom of a salt mine?!

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Once you tire of the giant, amazing man-made cavern, or you’re just too dang cold, you can head up and see some other cool stuff.

The Crivac

The Crivac sounds like a monster from Star Wars and / or Trek but is actually just a big winch. But it’s a really big winch! Check it out.

All hail the Crivac!
Four teams of 2 horses turned this sucker.

This enormous winch hauled bags of salt up to the upper gallery where it could be hauled out of the mine in steel carts pulled by cute little girls.

Child labor
Get to work little girl!

It was really one of the most unexpected and interesting things we’ve done so far. Really worth a visit, and if you can’t make it all the way up to Turda, there are actually three re-purposed salt mines in Romania! One of them is not far from Bucharest and the airport, making lightning-quick salt mine visits a piece of cake.

 

Winter Travel Plan

Summer is almost over, and we don’t really have a winter plan.

That’s a bit of an exaggeration. At the moment we have a flight booked to Athens for September 27 where we’ll surely spend a little time (a week?) before continuing on down to the Greek islands for the first part of winter.

At the moment, we’ve just left the peaceful farm in rural Romania where we spent the last month. But. Our cottage has no insulation, cracked windows, no heat, no fireplace. They say the temperature here can get down to -30 C, but even +5 would be tough for a skinny Canadian family with no warm clothes.

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How’s the weather in Greece in November? I don’t know. I’ve read someone say blustery, windy, cold. But is cold +18 C? or -5? We’ve been reading a bit and I think it depends as much on altitude as on latitude. I’m pretty sure the slopes of Mount Olympus are cooler than the coastline of Corfu. Still, spending the holidays on Mount Olympus would be pretty dang amazing.

A lot will depend on accommodation. We’re hoping to find a house-sit for part of the time at least. For those not familiar with house-sitting, here’s a summary:

Housesitting

People have houses, and often pets. People like to go on vacation.
They usually can’t take their pets with them, and they definitely can’t take their houses. There is a plethora of websites (MindMyHouse for example) to help people find and connect with potential house-sitters. These are people who will stay in the house, mow the lawn, and hug the pets.

Before we left India we applied to a bunch of house-sits all over Europe. Most did not reply, some politely declined. One couple with a beautiful house in the south of France replied almost immediately (ouch) after we booked our flight to Bucharest.

Unfortunately (for us) people don’t seem to want a family for their house-sit. I guess if you have a super-deluxe spotless villa and you are a retired couple you might not want kids in your house long-term. Most of these people have pets, though. Shouldn’t the wear and tear of pets versus kids be about the same?

European Visa

Another complication is the Schengen Zone visa. The Schengen Zone is a collaboration between most of the EU countries to make cross-border travel easier. It eliminates individual visas per country but puts a finite limit on how long you can stay in all the countries put together. This is good and bad for backpackers.

Schengen Zone
As you can see, most of Europe is in the Zone

The good (and obvious) side is that you can cross borders much more easily. The bad side is that you can no longer string together visas from one country to another to make up six months or more.

With the standard “Issued on arrival” visa we can stay in the Zone for 90 days per 180 day period. If we count 3 calendar months from our arrival in Athens, we would have to leave on December 27th. If we leave in the middle of that three months, the visa clock stops until we come back into any Schengen country.

What does it all mean for our plan?

That means if we stay in Greece for the whole ninety days we’ll get the boot around December 27th. Merry Christmas!

What we’ll probably do is leave for the back end of November and the first half of December, and then come back. But where to? Turkey, Algeria, Morocco, or a western Balkan?

Turkey seems like the easiest option without going north (into colder weather). If we are in the southern Greek islands (Crete, for example) it should be possible to get a boat or a flight to mainland Turkey fairly easily, no?

We still don’t know for sure what we’ll do, but we’re weighing the pros and cons of various scenarios. More to come…

Sighisoara – Dracula’s birthplace

As we’ve traveled in Transylvania, we’ve seen a lot of Dracula; we’ve seen Dracula’s castle (which isn’t) and Dracula’s actual castle (in ruins). Lately we spent some time in Sighisoara, Dracula’s birthplace.

The thing is, we didn’t come to Romania or Transylvania to tour Dracula’s high school or visit his favorite haberdasher. Dracula was a story made up by Bram Stoker. We just don’t really care that much about it. We didn’t go to the Dracula restaurant (not a lot of vegetarian options on the menu, surprisingly), nor did we see the room in which Dracula was born.

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Now that we’ve gotten that out of the way, Sighisoara is a beautiful little medieval town with a UNESCO World Heritage designated citadel in the center. Every direction you look is a scenic view.

Sighisoara clock tower
The old clock tower with the history museum inside

 

Beautiful Sighisoara
Panoramic from the tower in the citadel

There’s a long-ish covered staircase (built in 1642) leading up to a church on the top of the hill (Google maps calls it Church on the Hill).

Covered stairs
Heading up
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Heading back down

The German cemetery right beside it is a nice place to stroll around, and the views are beautiful. Despite my earlier disclaimer about Dracula stuff, there is an element of spookiness about the place.

German cemetary
The oldest grave we saw (that we could read) was 1712

Where we stayed and ate

We stayed at the Casa Adalmo, a nice mid-range pensiune-type hotel with an outdoor kitchen for the guests. Unbeknownst to us when we booked, they have a trampoline! And a dog! And two cats and a kitten! Imagine how happy the kids were.

Trampline time
Spot the flying Chica!

The one problem we had in Sighisoara (and many other places) was finding food. We often use an app called Happy Cow to find veg-friendly restaurants. In Sighisoara there’s one result, the restaurant in the Hotel Sighisoara. They have a page of vegetarian options, most of which can be served with no cheese, or a different sauce to make them vegan. We ate there twice and enjoyed everything but after two visits we had tried everything on the menu (there’s about four choices). The restaurant is a little upscale for us, so we weren’t so keen to spend the big bucks for a third time.

We tried a few other restaurants, with disappointing results. By the end of our stay we were eating at a local cafeteria down the road called the Four Seasons. The side dishes are vegetarian, maybe vegan if you don’t look too hard. Lunch cost us around $8 CAD for the whole family. Good value!