We explore an enchanting little town called Cluj, where the sun sets at 10 in the night
The first thing you need to know about travelling to Transylvania, as the large historical central belt of Romania is popularly called, is that getting a visa is a long painful wait – a mysterious process that may take anywhere between three days to thirty days. No one at the Romanian Embassy in Delhi is ever in the mood to answer phones or answer emails. The much-awaited visa arrived the day after the scheduled date on the flight tickets submitted with the application — almost 25 days after I applied. And all I got was a single entry visa valid for just seven days.
I was visiting Cluj-Napoca to attend the Transylvania International Film Festival with multiple venues all over town. Around 55,000 people visit the film festival in Cluj annually and this period in the first week of June may be the best time to visit the town if you want to meet a truly cosmopolitan bunch of travellers.
Since Cluj is a university town bustling with young people who understand and speak English, getting around is not much of a problem. The town has a population of about 3.75 lakh people and a majority of them are students. If you are vegetarian, be warned that the options for food are really limited. Four-star hotels in Cluj compare well with two-star hotels in Indian metros and charge a bomb (anywhere between 75 to 80 Euros a night), so you are better off staying in service apartments.
Thanks to a Moldavian filmmaker friend, Vitalie, I found a fully furnished service apartment with two rooms for 12 Euros a night, a little away from the town centre. Taxi is the local mode of transport and the drivers charge you by the meter (1.8 lei per kilometer; 4.1 lei makes a Euro).
At the centre of town is the Unirii Square, where St. Michael’s church, the tallest tower in Romania, is located. You will always find tourists posing in front of the statue of Matthias Cornivus, former king of Hungary, who was born in Cluj. Diagonally opposite is the picturesque New York Palace. The architecture of buildings in the area is strikingly old world.
On the other side of the Unirii Square is the symmetrical Iuliu Maniu street and if you walk one block, you will reach the Avram Iancu square that is flanked by the other church, the Orthodox Cathedral, and the majestic National Theatre.
Right in the centre of the square is a tall statue of Avram Iancu, a Romanian lawyer and revolutionary, where he seems to be saying “No Photographs” with his palm raised towards you. There’s also the Central Park, the Botanical Garden and a host of museums to do touristy stuff. Shopping is restricted to limited business hours on weekdays unless you want to head to the malls – the Iulius Mall and the Polus Centre at the other end of town.
But the real charm of the town lies in its clubs and love for art and architecture. Boiler Club, for example, used to be the boiler room of a factory now shut down and hosts underground acts. Gandu Circus from India performed during the festival in the basement there. The other floors of the building have been converted as spaces for art exhibitions.
The cafes and the bistros are equally lovely. Sample Marty’s Café if you like a Terrace Garden sort of a set-up or the Corso Café and Bistro on Unirii Square if you are dying for vegetarian food (they just have Penne with Pesto sauce but that’s great in a town with very little vegetarian food) or the street-side Klausenburg Café for your regular fix of caffeine because if there’s one thing you need in this town, it’s to stay awake. The sun sets only around 10 pm and rises by 6 am. It’s nature’s way of telling you to walk around and explore.