Subject: Transylvania
Hi, everyone --

I am just back from another trip to Transylvania, where I attended a wedding and its all-night party in a small Hungarian-speaking village. (And another grand party celebrating the same wedding, this time in Cluj-Napoca, the main city for that part of Romania.)

Four of us tried the train trip from Budpest to Cluj. Fare is cheap, even for first class (if you buy your tickets from the MAV - Hungarian State Railways - office in Budapest.) Pay no attention to the rates quoted on RailEurope, for example, as there are excellent round-trip deals to be had directly from the railroad. (MAV office is at 35 Andrassy Ut., near the Octagon metro & tram stop - I would recommend buying rain tickets there rather than at a station, as the office is well-organized and staffed with helpful people.)

"First Class" to Romania is relative - train cars are old, shabby, a bit grubby, and if you don't bring your own food & water you are absolutely out of luck, because it's a 6-7 hour trip with no food service on the train and no long stops, except at the border.

For all that, there is a lovely stretch of the trip through the Carpathians - I can't think of a nicer introduction to this fascinating part of the world if you have the time to spend.

Cluj has a beautiful central park, and an extensive botanical garden, both worth a visit. We also went to the art museum, located in a former palace on the main square, and enjoyed it very much - the building itself is worth the price of admission.

Romanian currency is mind-boggling - all those zeroes. Do break up the large bills you will get from the ATM, as no one except bank tellers ever seems to have readily available change, in spite of having had to deal with this horribly inflated currency for years.

Also, do not expect to be able to use credit cards easily, if at all. Although larger hotels may take them (I don't know about this from personal experience) most places, even in the large cities, will insist that you put in a PIN number, no matter what sort of card you use. It's better to deal in cash. If you must use a card, insist that the store or hotel call the toll free number on the back of the card to establish that it does NOT require a PIN.

Another note - hotels in Romania will usually be quite happy to figure your bill in dollars or Euros, if you are paying in cash. This also goes for small hotels in Budapest, which often do not take cards at all.

Julie happy to be back in cloudy Seattle