Small towns like Sibiu tend to get overlooked as mere hopping off points that can be skipped over entirely. A statistically unassuming city literally in the middle of Romania, Sibiu is a fortress city that holds its own for travelers heading to mountainous border of Transylvania. Voted by you as The Best City to Visit in 2013, here are the best parts of Sibiu not to be missed.
Where To Stay
Visiting in the middle of winter I had my pick of hotels, hostels, and guesthouses. The one that eventually caught my eye however was Pension Zanzi, a close 5 minute walk from the historic city center. Inside, Zanzi has the cozy feel of a cottage with large wooden beams featuring prominently holding the structure together. The staff also went out of their way to be helpful – in one instance locating a gym for me when I asked and then driving me there on the first day to make sure I would find it.
The rooms tend to vary in quality, but for the rates around 112 Romanian lei ($35 USD) a night, Pension Zanzi’s a bargain for a single room with a more local feeling than the larger hotels across town. Alternatively, if Zanzi is booked up, take a look at the newly opened Welt Kultur Hostel which came highly recommended from knowledgeable locals.
Crossing From Big Square To Little
Sibiu is a small city travelers can mentally organize around the Big Square (Piata Mare) and Small Square (Piata Mica) adjacent to it. Basically everywhere to see is within a 3.5 kilometer radius; aside from the outdoor ASTRA Museum of Traditional Folk Civilization, you can get everywhere on foot. Inside town there’s the Brukenthal Museum – containing paintings by Romanian artists with additional fees to access the second wing of the museum featuring a larger collection of European art.
Though you’ll really have to love portrait paintings or museums to enjoy the Brukenthal, the ASTRA is worth the 20 minute, 1.5 lei ($0.50) ride to the last stop on bus 13. The model homes aren’t anything special – especially if you’ve ever seen one of the countless villages in eastern Europe – it’s the 10 acre backdrop of the lake and forest that will capture your senses.
Entrance is 15 lei ($4.50) to the ASTRA which, doubles as one hell of a jogging trail if there’s no ice on the ground.
- Budget Breakfast – Although its touristy nature doesn’t make it a popular choice for locals, if you’re like me and need lots of fairly-tasty calories in the morning, head to Casa Frieda. For around 45 Romanian lei ($13.50) you can get an omelet, salad, soup, bread, drink, and side dish. Then watch your waitress’ shocked look as you consume it all.
Afterward you might want a dose of caffeine or shot of lung cancer as Sibiu has a glorious cafe culture in a country where 26% of the population smokes. To go along with the sultry fog of carbon monoxide in the air are refreshing waves of free wireless, some of the world’s fastest, available pretty much anywhere.
- Pardon Cafe & Bistro – Quickly became one of my favorite cafes in the world for its ambiance, food, coffee, and wine. Often the managers or owners will be walking around to show you around Pardon, if they do, tell them hello from me.
- Baroc Cafe – Less than a quarter of the size of the smallest cafe in Sweden, I almost walked out because I was confused when I first entered. Baroc holds about 8 people, including the server, comfortably, ensuring you’ll never have to wait for your espresso.
- Bistro Salut – Although the decor is distinct, you’ll notice the similarities to its larger cousin Pardon Cafe right next door.
- Mustache Caffe – A good mix of liveliness, fast Internet, and size for a short coffee break or few hours of working for you digital nomad and business traveler types.
Church Hop To Liar’s Bridge
Much like cafes, there are no shortage of churches in Sibiu to visit. Since it’s not quite as fun to indulge in church-visiting burnout as it to
drunk drink your way around town, you can narrow your selection to these holy buildings.
- Holy Trinity Roman Catholic Cathedral – Despite being one of the largest churches in Sibiu that sits right in Piata Mare, once you’re inside you’ll wonder how such a building can hide in plain sight.
- Holy Trinity Cathedral – Designed after the 1,477 year old Hagia Sophia in Istanbul, if the interior artwork doesn’t grab you, the solemn prayer might draw you in to contemplate more than physical brick and stone.
Unfortunately the impressive Evangelic Chruch in Piata Mica has been closed for renovations for over a year. Rather, wander a bit to find Biscerica Azilului as you cross The Bridge Of Lies. According to local legend, Liar’s Bridge will collapse if a fib is told on it. Given that it’s been standing since 1859, it would seem the residents (or at least, boyfriends) of Sibiu are tactfully trustworthy.
Where To Eat In Sibiu
Visually, Sibiu is a difficult place to discern good, local food. Not that there isn’t any but a casual walk along the pedestrian Strada Nicolae Balcescu showcases overpriced eateries whose clientele don’t know any better than to keep looking. Right beyond the old fort walls of The Citadel of Sibiu is, in my opinion, one of the best places to eat in town.
- Crama Ileana – Authentic Romanian cuisine in a welcoming environment floating just below street level, if you’re in Sibiu, you need to eat in this restaurant that looks more expensive than it is. A large meal, sides, soup, plus glass of wine will run you about 60 lei ($18).
- Tango Grill – A good mix of Romania and Western dishes done very well, its location in Piata Mica – or reputation make – it a bit more expensive than it should be.
Going back to a favorite of mine, Pardon Cafe also has a noteworthy kitchen and pizza oven.
Tiny To Its Advantage
Many said, “Sibiu’s too small” or “you’re visiting at a bad time of year” when I arrived early December in Romania’s 18th largest city. Honestly though, those were two of the aspects I enjoyed most about Sibiu. The Christmas market in the middle of Piata Mare brought the frigged evenings to life. Strolling through the warm lights scented with spiced wines, my surroundings were devoid of other tourists, who generally prefer to visit during the warmer months for festivals, giving the sense I had Sibiu all to myself - which was an honor to have of The Best City to Visit in 2013.
You can’t travel with a desk literally hovering over your lap but don’t have to swear off your career to visit the places you want. There are countless ways to see the world, if you’re one of the privileged few who can, as there are endless ways to earn a living. Traveling the world doesn’t have to be the antithesis of a job you hate despite a popular narrative which can be discouraging, especially if you love your profession.
Living On The Fringes
People often assume I left to travel 6 years ago to free myself from a cubicle I was metaphorically chained to. Ironically, leaving my job was the hardest part of a journey that began as a subtle series of circumstance, one that has lead me to a unique lifestyle with its own limits. Being a digital nomad isn’t freeing yourself from society, it’s simply repositioning yourself within it.
You can’t have one without the other – you need pilots to fly planes, network engineers to maintain Internet connections, and Palermo’s a good example of happens when there’s nobody around for regular garbage collection. Most professions aren’t portable but they don’t need to be, so long as you are from time to time.
Freedom Is Sitting Between Your Ears
Traveling has a profound effect on the human brain, reducing stress up to 4 weeks after a vacation and can even result you earning a higher income. However those benefits don’t exist in a vacuum – people who like their jobs have been shown to be physically healthier with few better indicators of mental health than job satisfaction. So, doesn’t it make most sense to try and do both – travel and have a job you love – whatever the specific ingredients of that blend happen to be?
For some of us, that’s writing while living in various cities throughout the year. Picking apart computer code for clients who don’t care where we are physically so long as we’re available digitally. For most, the line between home and office is more clear cut, if you work in an office at all.
Judge You On Your Terms
Our DNA leads us to believe we’re better than everyone else so it’s not completely surprising that many digital nomads, location-independents, whatever you want to call them, think ours is the superior way to vacation with vocation. It’s important to remember that most of life’s limits aren’t physical, so if you see traveling and work as a multiple choice dilemma, you’re missing the point of both.
Cenotes are freshwater pools formed when limestone beneath the Earth’s surface dissolves or collapses exposing the water table. Invisible until some of the rock ceiling caves in, the most famous cenotes like Zaci are large: 80 meters deep (265 feet) and 45 meters (148 ft) wide. Crude numbers that don’t capture how visually surprising Cenote Zaci is at first glance at the end of its narrow staircase entrance.
Mayan communities often centered themselves physically and culturally around cenotes as these freshwater supplies were believed to be windows to the afterlife. Valuables (plus the occasional young woman) were ritualistically thrown into them to appeal or appease any number of Mayan gods. These days only tourists toss themselves gently into the chilly waters from steps leading into them; while a blogger’s cold toes recommended they instead snap photos from higher above.
Globally cenotes are usually isolated formations, but on the Yucatan Peninsula over 6,000 connect along what happens to be part of the 565 kilometer (350 miles) Chicxulub Crater‘s edge. A massive hole caused by a 10 km (6 mile) wide asteroid (or comet) which sent most dinosaurs to the reptile afterlife 66 million years ago. Cenote Zaci is a window to that world as well, watched over by dinosaur’s last living descendants we call birds, who swirl in flight at the entrance above the caves.
There is something about food being prepared without walls, under a sorry excuse for a roof barely out of traffic’s way, that’s perversely enticing. Plumes of smoke accompanied by sounds of crackling grease and popping animal bits call for you to enjoy one of the simplest forms of cuisine where chef, ingredient, kitchen, and customer are all within arm-length.
At its worst street food is a low budget equivalent of a colonic – at its best the most memorable of calories we can consume on our travels. I obviously haven’t been to every city or country (although I’m working on that) but to answer a question I get often, these are the places where I’ve had the best street food.
5. Manila, Philippines
The Philippines introduced me to a number of new tastes and although it’s probably most famous for its unfertilized duck fetus balut, I would recommend starting out slower with kwek kwek. A version of tokneneng (fried hard boiled eggs), kwek kwek is a quail egg fried in orange batter, often served with a side of vinegar sauce for dipping. Follow that up with a sweet like banana cue – deep fried banana coated with brown sugar served on a stick – and then continue eating with these 12 must-try street foods in Manila.
4. Oaxaca, Mexico
The foods of southern Mexico are colorful and much like Manila, Oaxaca’s standout street fare is chapulines, simply because many visitors aren’t used to eating cooked grasshopper. Although chapulines shouldn’t be avoided (especially if you’re on a low carb diet) you can indulge your protein needs with other meats on top of a tlayuda. (Vegetarians can substitute eggs or squash.) Similarly stuffed with various ingredients its dough can barely handle are Oaxacan empanadas; a thin slice of Oaxaca’s cuisine.
3. Austin, Texas
Although almost all of the outdoor food here is sold from a cart, the uniformity stops there. The city’s motto, “keep Austin weird” really means keep it unique; which is why you don’t find chains of carts selling the same foods. It is hard to roundup the street eats in Texas’ state capitol where there’s a food cart or trailer on every corner you’re likely to be on. Many tourists end up on South Congress Avenue where Serious Eats recommends these 6 trucks and for everywhere else, consult Austin Food Carts for lunch, lunch, snack, and dinner.
In a country whose workers put in more hours than most other nations and enacts a strict legal system, Singaporeans rebel among foods served by enthusiastic stall vendors. Open-air food markets like Newton Circus Food Centre are surprisingly chaotic as touts from over 50 stalls rush to offer you cuisine from all over Southeast Asia. It’s best to do a quick walk-through first so you don’t make any snap decisions; generally the center of the markets are calmest. (But hardly calm.) But if you do end up making a quick decision for the most part, it’s hard to go wrong.
1. Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
People ask me all the time where the best street food is, the answer is this city my friends http://t.co/wW9O11jCG5
— Anil (@foxnomad) October 3, 2013
Rove around Kuala Lumpur’s shopping district Bukit Bitang, wandering right behind the expensive malls to find SB Corner, an inexpensive but impressive Malay buffet. There you’ll find Indian and Chinese reminiscent foods with Arab and Thai influences whose combination are really the essence of Malaysian cuisine. Mixing cultures is something that defines this religiously tolerant nation – as is food on a stick – like at my favorite nameless stall on Petaling Street.
Find The Best Street Food With Your Eyes
Stalls, especially those with less-than-hygienic appearances can be intimidating when you first arrive in a new city. To avoid illness the simplest advice I can give is to eat where you see a long line of locals. (Long line of tourists – do the opposite.)
- Street Food Expert’s Tips – Jodi Ettenberg answered everything you want to know about street food in my live chat series.
Sub-par vendors can get away with giving temporary visitors diarrhea but wouldn’t last long by sickening their regulars. Order what everyone else is eating while keeping in mind to save a little space for the next appetizing dish that might be along your path.
Where’s the best street food you’ve ever had? Don’t forget to post links to any specific places we should eat at (if you’ve got them) in the comments below!