Initial impressions of a place I am visiting for the first time is information I like to jot down before familiarity diminishes the observations. I generally have images of a place in my mind as I plan my travel that rarely match the reality once I am immersed in a new place and culture.
Cluj-Napoca, Romania – city of youth
Cluj (pronunciation rhymes with stooge) is the second or third largest city in Romania depending on data source with a population of about 325,000 residents. There are several cities around 300,000 people in Romania and the second city population leader changes, whereas the capital city Bucharest is over one million residents.
Cluj-Napoca was the European Youth Capital in 2015 and the most striking aspect of the city to me in first impressions is how many young people are seen on the streets. There are something like 11 universities in the city including Babeș-Bolyai University, the largest university in Romania.
So many students gives the city a vibrant pub, cafe and art culture.
The downtown seems to have two main arteries of wide one way roads running east to west. There is little opportunity to cross the main roads without being at a crosswalk signal. Even then it is best to wait several seconds before attempting to cross roads as I have seen vehicles cut off pedestrians or even more commonly, pedestrians hit the green light crosswalk en masse and leave a car stranded in the street blocking the cross traffic lane.
Bus rides cost 2.50 RON or about 62 cents. The exchange rate is currently 4.06 RON = $1.00 US Dollar, so it is easy to convert money by thinking of 1 RON Romanian leu as worth 25 cents or divide price by 4.
I rode the bus from the airport to the city center, but have not been on a bus since for the past three days. The city is easy to walk, albeit a bit noisy on the main streets through town.
I quickly learned upon arrival in Cluj-Napoca that there are limited roads that connect the main westbound artery and eastbound artery through the town center. Many of the roads off these main roads only go part way between the two main streets. There are numerous roads that branch off the main arteries, but many lead into courtyards and dead end roads. Basically I found that there is no easy way to avoid the traffic when walking around the city center since any road that cuts across perpendicular to the main east and west directional arteries is also full of cars heading to one of the main roads to go east or west.
After having spent quite a bit of time in Czech Republic and Poland over the past two years, Romanian seems more easily decipherable to me as a monolingual American English speaker. And certainly easier to navigate than places like Ukraine and Bulgaria with their Cyrillic script.
I find I can read more signs than I expected. Many places, especially pubs, have signs in English.
No problems yet encountering people who can’t speak sufficient English to help me out. As I have found in other European countries, sometimes the first person I meet in a store, restaurant or pub will pass me on to another server more fluent in English.
Average prices for meals in restaurants seems to be about 20 to 40 RON or $5 to $10. A whole pizza or doner kebab is around 14 to 18 RON or $3.50 to $4.50. At nicer restaurants in Old Town the dinner prices for pasta are 30 to 35 RON. Salmon dinner or a complete Japanese restaurant meal I’ve seen for 35 to 45 RON. Those are prices in the city center restaurants and cafes. I imagine there are less expensive places and I am sure there are much pricier fine dining establishments. I don’t care for fine dining when out and about by myself. My chicken dinner at an Old Town Square restaurant last night with a beer was 35 RON or $8.75. My doner kebab with a beer at an Old Town cafe two days ago cost 21 RON / $5.00.
An entire ham and mushroom pizza I bought cost 16 RON or less than $4.00. It was way larger than I expected considering the price and I only managed to eat half of it.
The average price for a 400 ml draft beer is 8 RON. The most I paid was 10 RON for a bottle of Stella. A common lager in pubs is Ciuc for 5.00 to 7.50 RON. Ursus is a Cluj-Napoca beer.
Pub life is pretty inexpensive at $10 a day for all I want to drink. I even read about a pub where 5 RON allows you unlimited beer for 2 hours. With so many pubs to explore, I have been limiting myself to one beer per pub and getting around to check out the decor, music and vibe of different places.
I will likely write an article on pubs I like in Cluj-Napoca.
In the nearby supermarket a 500ml Ursus Premium beer is 2.49 RON / 62 cents.
I have not been shopping for gifts yet. Cursory glances at prices in stores and craft stalls indicates there are plenty of good value deals to find.
Last year in Sofia, Bulgaria I filled half my suitcase with high quality items purchased at a second hand store for about $20.