Hidden below the Transylvanian landscape in Turda sits a large underground wonderland with a brightly lit modern art theme park nestled 120 meters below the surface of the Earth inside one of the oldest salt mines in Europe.
Salina Turda is the largest salt mine museum in the world, and easily the most incredible. Salt extraction on the site’s surface started in antiquity, but the work expanded underground during the Roman occupation of Dacia. The salt was extracted manually using pickaxes, hammers, chisels, and steel wedges, by free people who were paid in florins, ale, and loaves of bread.
The mine was closed in 1932, but it was used again during World War II as a bomb shelter. After the war, the mine served several purposes, one of which was a warehouse for storing cheese. Regardless of its history, this salt mine is not just a huge museum, but an epic tourist attraction. It was even ranked by Business Insider as the most beautiful underground place in the world.
Today, Salina Turda has been transformed into an incredible underground theme park.When you visit, you’ll head down about 400-feet before reaching the submerged wonderland. Once inside, you’ll find an amphitheatre, a bowling alley, an underground lake with paddle and row boats, and even a Ferris wheel. You’ll also find a mini golf course and ping pong courts.
The stunning rugged caverns walls are like surreal paintings and the result of mining that carved out over three billion tons of salt. Salina Turda is open year-round. Costs vary based on your preferred package, but will typically be around 15 lei (about £3) for adults and is worth every penny, there’s nothing else like it in the world.
Twenty-eight years ago I traveled across Europe via an Inter Rail Pass, but despite getting as far a Poland, I never made it to Romania to visit Transylvania and the famous castle and the stories of Dracula.
As this summer approached Fran and I both started thinking about where we could go. We had both thoughts about taking the VW van to Romania previously, but we decided that taking the van would eat into the time we would have in traveling in Romania. The plan was to fly to Bucharest, spend a few days in the city, then catch the train into Transylvania, spend a few days in Brasov, then catch another train to Sighișoara, spend some time there, then get a final train to Sibiu and hire a car so that we could get off the beaten track.
Bucharest is a big city that is split into six sectors; the transport system is like any other city. However, currently there is no metro from the airport to sector 3 where we wanted to be based, so if you are traveling independently, your choices are either, taxi or bus. We opted for the bus, which was a bit of a challenge if it is your first time.
I hope this info helps others who have just landed. From the arrivals area follow the picture signs for buses, walk down the stairs until you can see the road outside, when you walk out of the doors, turn right, keep walking straight ahead past all of the other machines that look like they dispense tickets, eventually you will see a little hut with a glass window, this is where you can purchase tickets. Might sound simple, but that little ticket both is not easy to locate, as there is no information anywhere.
I can remember watching Michael Palin visiting Palatul Parlamentului (The Palace Of Parliament) informing people that Nicolae Ceausescu’s idea was to redesign Bucharest by constructing a series of impressive buildings meant to prove to the world how wealthy and powerful was the Socialist Republic of Romania was, but the thing that stuck in my mind was the sheer size of the building. I did some homework as to how we could visit this building prior to leaving the UK, so I knew we had to take our passports to gain access and that there would be security checks like at the airport as it’s a working political building.
Initially, I was put off by the fact that you have to be guided, but you have no other choice, as it is a working political building. However, the guide we had was excellent, I learned a lot about Ceausescu and the impact on the people of Romania and the history of the building. Despite only being able to take pictures handheld, we were able to take some images inside of the building.
Palatul Parlamentului is no doubt one of the most controversial administrative buildings in the world. Maybe Ceausescu didn’t succeed in his initial goal of redesigning the face of Bucharest, but by building it he made sure that his work will never be forgotten and personally, I think it is well worth a visit.
On the southern slope of the Magura Codlea sits a small Transylvanian village called Holbav. Although Holbav is only about 25km away from Brasov City, it feels like you have stepped back in time.
Holbav is a world away in relation to Brasov which is what makes it so appealing to me. Not much seems to have changed in Holbav over the last 100 years, there is still no electricity, no running water and none of the other comforts taken for granted in the modern Europe most of us live in.
I think Holbav represents what Romania must have been like a long time ago, and this was what I wanted to photograph.
I had read about a photographer named Vlad who lives in Brasov and discovered that I could hire him as a guide, to be honest I was not sure what to expect, but after looking at his photographs I was hooked.
As Fran & I did not have a car in Brasov getting to Holbav would have been difficult and as I cannot speak Romanian, it would have been impossible. I did not understand where to go, so we took a punt and hired Vlad as a guide.
Vlad met us in Brasov’s main square and as we walked to his car, we talked about rural Romania and photography, it became clear that Vlad was passionate about the places and people he photographs and this only made the journey more enjoyable and valuable as he told me about his Romania.
We passed what was Holbav and then continued onto a dirt track road where we passed local people with horses and carts until we came to a small tree lined valley where Vlad parked the car.
We walked up a steep dirt path in to the woods and walked for about 40 minutes until I could see a clearing ahead, Vlad then said “see that shack on the ridge, that’s where we are meeting Anna and her husband”.
As we approached the ridge, a dog barked and I could see a figure waving in the distance. The scenery was amazing even though it was overcast I kept thinking this is such an incredible place. When we arrived at what was a small holding Anna & Peter came to meet us, Anna then lead us along a steep ridge where there was a cow grazing and Vlad translated, “Anna his bringing in the cow for the night” As Anna walked with the cow, I took images as we followed her back to the small holding where there were goats, chickens, cats and the dog, together with a calf, it was a photographic paradise for me.
After taking more photographs they invited in us to Annas home, where she offered us fresh milk, cheese and other food. Vlad translated my questions and thoughts and although I could not speak a word of Romanian and Anna not a word of English, I felt like I knew Anna and had a connection. I heard some hilarious stories and some sad facts about how their way of life is dying out as young people leave rural Romania for life’s modern trappings.
The one thing that struck me, was how happy they both seemed, undoubtedly their life is hard and their material possessions limited, but they had something that was special and to me priceless.
I don’t remember how long we stayed, but after sampling home made Cherry brandy (Holbav Moonshine) it was time to head back to the car. As we left and walked back along the ridge admiring the vistas, I realised how lucky I was to have had such a great experience and to have met two very remarkable people and invited in to their lives and home. I also realised how lucky I was to have Fran and share such a magical experience.
We live in fast changing times and as Anna stated their way of life is dying, so it will disappear one day and I am pleased I have witnessed it before it vanishes.
What made Holbav and the people so special? Find out for yourself, it is the only way.