Travel between Art and Castles in Enchanting Romania

Five years ago we had made our first trip to Romania, attracted by the mysteries that have always surrounded one of the most beautiful countries in Europe. I can say that I did not choose Romania as a travel destination, but rather it was Romania that chose me. I found a very cheap flight to travel to Bucharest with a Romanian company that exactly matched some dates I was free. Without thinking twice, I fell into temptation and bought the tickets.

Later came the time to consider and what the hell is there in Romania, apart from Transylvania? To answer that question, I consulted a few forums and travel blogs that helped me to get an idea of ​​what I was going to find. While at the same time they also served as a guide to make the itinerary.

This time I also prepared the trip conscientiously because I rent a car, which would give a lot more freedom of movement. I spent several months preparing the route, consulting guides and blogs. Now, after the trip, I can say that the twelve days were distributed in an impeccable way. We could not have added or removed anything.

Before starting to shed the experience, let's go with some practical information. You must take into account the extreme climate of the country when choosing dates. Perhaps spring and fall are the most suitable seasons. Even so, at the beginning of May, there were days when it got to touch the 30 degrees. Removing a couple of nights that I pulled out my jackets, most of the trip I was in short sleeves.

We decided to go with our health insurance. As for the language, in big cities, it is easier to find people who know some English. In the villages forget it. The letters of the restaurants, often are written only in Romanian. We used to decipher them by throwing imagination. Anyway, it never hurts to carry some guide that includes the most basic vocabulary or get hold of the Google translator.

We were flying with an airline of which we did not have many references. When we got on the plane, we found a somewhat old one. It had ashtrays on the armrests. We had to wait almost an hour before being able to take off because apparently, some documents of the plane were missing. Finally, when the staff began to get tense, the issue was solved and we were able to take off, although we landed in Bucharest one hour late.

We arrived in Bucharest around 12 o'clock at night. There we had to pass a document control that became eternal. When we picked up the suitcase we went to the car, and from there, to the hotel that we had booked. It was really close to the airport (in fact, we could walk). We would not even go near the capital since we would leave it for the end of the trip. Also the next morning we had to go for the rental car to one of the airport stands.

Therefore, we had booked a hotel near the Otopeni airport. We take money at a money exchange. The taxi ride to the hotel barely cost us 3 euros. The taxis are very cheap in Romania. Keep in mind if you take a taxi at the airport, you must request in a few machines at the exit of the terminal. You get a ticket with the company and the registration number of the vehicle that will pick you up (usually they do not take more than five minutes).

The hotel we had booked did not include breakfast but there was free transport the next day to the airport. The hotel was quite average (somewhat dated) but, we were going to use it only to sleep and take a shower.

We rent a large car with ample trunk and we also added the extra insurance if there was a mishap. In the Maramures region, keep in mind that it is quite difficult to find petrol stations in some sections. So it is preferable that you go with a moderately full tank. When we left Bucharest, we left the car at the door of the hotel. We moved by taxi for our own convenience. In the rest of the cities, there is usually no problem to park even in the center.

Romania is probably the country in Europe where driving is more complicated. This is not only due to the state of the roads, which often meander between mountains and are in very bad condition, with bumps, works, and holes. On secondary roads, we can still find cows, flocks of sheep, chickens, dogs, children who play football or ladies chatting happily with their shopping bags. And the prohibition of the circulation of wagons on the roads is another utopia. To drive in Romania, by the way, you do not need an international license. We carry, as always, our own GPS and download the Romanian roadmap directly from the internet.

Throughout, I will give you some useful information to plan your trip to Romania. Meanwhile, we are going to start with the route we did.

Day 1 - Sibiu

Our first stop would be a first-class destination in Romanian tourism. Having a car and being the first point that took us closer to Bucharest, a little over an hour, is the city of Sibiu.

We were already beginning to suffer the ravages of the goat roads that are Romanian roads. Even so, the road is really beautiful, as it is located near the Fagaras Mountains, which offers some of the most spectacular scenery in Romania. And for the people we passed, we could find churches as beautiful as this one, which reminded so much of the Russian Orthodox.

Sibiu is not only one of the most important cities in Romania. It was the first in the country to get the title of European Cultural Capital in 2007, something the locals feel very proud of. But it is also one of the best examples of the influence that the Saxons had in these lands. While we were walking through Sibiu, there were many moments in which I seemed to be in a German city. We must bear in mind that here the first Saxons began to arrive around the 12th century. In fact, they were the ones who founded the city, calling it Hermannstadt.

Sibiu, like other Saxon cities, is a perfect example of a fortified city. For centuries other peoples such as the Ottomans (now Turks) coveted the treasures generated by the different guilds. The walls came to have almost forty towers and different concentric rings. Some of these walls and eight towers are still preserved, belonging to the third ring that was built in the 16th century.

The most important is the Turnul Archebuzierilor din Sibiu (Harquebusiers Tower), the Turnul Gros din Sibiu (The Thick Tower, where the oldest theater in Sibiu is located) and the Turnul Dulgherilor (Carpenter Tower). The historic center of Sibiu is pedestrianized. So if you travel on weekends you will find it full of people walking. I particularly liked the old quarters that I liked the most during the whole trip.

Its heart is the Piata Mare, which was born as a wheat market in the fifteenth century. Over the years it became the soul of the city and here were all festive celebrations. When we were there, a busy street market of plants and flowers was held. It was rare that I was not loaded with a pot under my arm. The square is surrounded by colorful houses. It is a proof of the wealth of the merchants of yesteryear.

The most important building in the square is the Palatul Brukenthal. It once belonged to the governor of Transylvania, Samuel von Brukenthal. It is currently one of the most important museums in the country. Next to it is what locals know as the Casa Azul, a beautiful Renaissance-style building. On another side of the square stands the church built by the Jesuits, in which the Clock Tower stands out.

If you are interested in the history of the city, just one step away you have the Muzeul de Istorie, in the building that housed the old town hall. From there you can walk to the cozy Piata Huet, with its impressive German evangelical church. This was the first area of ​​the city that was fortified and many of the original Gothic houses are still preserved. In its center is the sculpture of Georg Daniel Teutsch, a former bishop who was also one of the most important historians of Romania. Here is also one of the oldest monuments of Sibiu, the Tower of the Stairs.

The Piata Mica (Small Square, known in antiquity as Circulus Parvus), still retains much of its medieval atmosphere. It is where the artisans lived and in fact. It is protected by the Turnul Sfatului (Council Tower of Sibiu) and in it, we can find some of the most important buildings in Sibiu. There is an ancient monastery, the Information and Documentation Center. The Franz Binder museum exhibits objects brought from expeditions to Africa and Asia in the 20th century.

There is also the Pharmacy Museum in the palace that hosted the first pharmacy of Sibiu, The Black Bear. And very close we have one of the most charming corners of Sibiu, the Bridge of Lies, surrounded by legends around its name. Some say it's called that because if one said a lie when crossing it, the bridge would collapse. Others say that is where couples of lovers were cited to make promises that were not always fulfilled. The tradition recommends that if you cross it and you want your wishes to be fulfilled, you say exactly the opposite of what you would like to achieve. On a practical level, it is the point of union between the Upper City and the Lower City.

The Nicolae Balcescu street is the liveliest street in the city. It is full of nice shops, the oldest hotel in Sibiu, restaurants, and something that surprised us, the many bakeries. For Romanians, pastries are given luxury and they put at your disposal some very tasty and price-packed sweets. There are placentas (puff pastries usually stuffed with pumpkin) to Cataif of Turkish origin, the most famous pastries from Transylvania (the langosi) and the krapfen with cream.

Look, if sugar is given importance in the country when a guest arrives at home, one is treated to the Dulceata, an assortment of cakes. Although my very favorite is the Papanasi, those tender scones that are served warm with sour cream and cherry jam. We spend the whole trip eating them, what a delight.

As for accommodation, it is another success. We stayed at the apartment. Although it was some distance from the center, it did not matter to us to take a car. It only took ten minutes. It is located in a super cozy country house. The rooms were very spacious and although there was no breakfast, they offered us coffee or tea when we got up. They do not accept credit cards but in exchange, the price was super cheap.

Day 2 - Alba Iulia

The next stage of our trip would take us to Alba Iulia. And who was going to tell us that we were going to have the great good fortune that just coincided with the big week of the city? The huge Roman Apulum festival takes place, in which almost 67,000 inhabitants participate of Alba Iulia, some as improvised actors and others as spectators.

In ancient times, what is now Romania and Moldavia was the Roman province of Dacia. The current inhabitants feel tremendously proud of their past and for this reason, celebrate this festival. There are gladiator fights, workshops, markets, dances, shooting competitions with bow and slave fairs are recreated. We loved finding the city so lively.

After parking the car and leaving the suitcases in the hotel, right in the center, we went to visit the Cetatea or Ciudadela, which as I said was immersed in the festivities. The Citadel is a prodigy of architecture. Its layout is a seven-pointed star that has a perimeter of 12 kilometers. It was built on a former Roman fortress under the order of the Habsburgs in the eighteenth century and has six entrance doors.

Among the highlights are the Orthodox Cathedral of Reunification and its beautiful courtyard and the Catholic Cathedral of St. Michael. It for many centuries hosted the tombs of the richest Hungarian families. There is the Royal Palace (Palatul Princiar), the almost 30-meter high obelisk, the statues of Charles VI and Michael the Brave.

Apart from the citadel, in Alba Iulia, there is not much more to visit. Therefore, it came to us as a fable to rest a few hours on the road and take the opportunity to spend the rest of the afternoon drinking cocktails. For dinner, we chose the cozy restaurant, where we eat its delicious Ciorba. The Ciorba is the Romanian soup usually made of vegetables or meat. The most famous is the tripe (Ciorba de Burta) and the meatballs (Ciorba de Perisoare). We then go back for rest.

Day 3 - Cluj Napoca

Despite the fact that our next destination, Cluj Napoca, was only 165 kilometers away, the three hours of travel is not taken away from us. So we decided to get up early to take advantage of the day. This was another of the most beautiful sections of the trip as we went through mountains and forests irrigated by large rivers. In this area, it rains a lot. Although to us, we were lucky to get the sun. Our accommodation in Cluj Napoca was on the outskirts of the city.

It was in the middle of the field but it turned out to be a one-floor, super modern hotel and totally adapted to the environment. Further, I had a huge garden where it was a joy to go out for a tea in the evening after a long day of walking. It was carried by two super nice girls. The only thing is that the rooms were meant to be so innovative that the bathroom was completely transparent.

The city was at the time the Hungarian capital of Transylvania and today remains the most important city in the region. We noticed nothing else to park in the center. There is a lot of traffic, lots of people, premises decorated with great taste and, above all, a lot of students. Cluj Napoca is a university city with a lot of youthful atmosphere and bookstores every two steps.

Many of the streets in the historic center are pedestrianized. So we took advantage of the opportunity to have lunch in one of them, on the terrace of the restaurant with delicious pasta. After dinner, we went to the center, which gives enough of itself. We start at the Piata Unirii, where Biserica Sfantul Mihail stands out. It is a very beautiful church that is said to be the most refined Gothic monument in Romania.

Opposite it is the equestrian statue of King Corvinus, whose home can be visited on Str. Matei Corvin. In the square, we also find the National Museum of Art, in the Banffy Palace, and the Pharmacy Museum. Other nearby museums are the Transilvania History Museum and the Emil Isac Memorial Museum. And besides, a few steps away, were the Franciscan monastery, the Biserica Reformata din Orasul de Jos and the church of San Pedro and San Pablo.

Already in Memorandumului street, we take one of the liveliest avenues of the city. It consists of Baroque palaces and some more recent ones. Here is the Ethnographic Museum. Moving a little away from the center, along Universitatii Street, we head straight for the Biserica Piaristilor. Next door is the M. Kogalniceanu street, with the Convictus Nobilium. It formerly served as accommodation for students who were children of wealthy Hungarian families.

On this same street is Biserica Reformata, with an eighteenth-century organ. On the back street, Palatul Toldalagi-Korda is where they are holding painting exhibitions. At the end of the Kogalniceanu, we reach the Piata Baba Novac and its Bastion of the Tailors. It is a defensive tower of the nineteenth century that was one of the entrances to the city in the nineteenth century.

But without a doubt, the building that we liked most in Cluj Napoca was this one down here. It is the Orthodox Cathedral of Our Lady of the Assumption. Although it is not very old (it has not yet reached the century of life) the elegance of its Byzantine dome is incomparable. Just in front of the cathedral, we have another beautiful building, the National Theater.

romania travel wallpaper images

Day 4 - Maramures

Before continuing to our next stage, let's stop to talk about the gypsy palaces since we meet more than one throughout our trip and they are a unique phenomenon. These replete palaces have fostered the curiosity of architects from all over the world, who have even come here to carry out studies on the subject. We still do not know very well the reasons for this singular architectural current.

They stand out for impossible pagodas, medieval turrets, ornate balconies, silver and gold roofs, marble, Roman columns, ornaments from a thousand and one types and, above all, a lot of colors and a lot of brightness. How much more quirky is the palace, the owner feels proud to show it to the neighbors. Enjoying them live and direct means staying with your mouth open. We have never witnessed anything like it.

The next day we were waiting for a long journey to one of the regions that we most wanted to know: Maramures. This second stage of the trip would begin in Maramures. It is one of the regions of Romania that has best preserved its traditions. This is thanks to the isolation that remains of the big cities. The nearest airport, that of Cluj-Napoca, is about 300 kilometers away. And touring Maramures by public transport is almost impossible. It is essential to have a car to get to the most interesting corners of this beautiful region bordering the north with Ukraine.

It is said that the inhabitants of Maramures have the honor of retaining the true Romanian spirit, rooted in these lands. Thanks not only to the fact that they are direct descendants of the Dacians, they were allowed to keep their traditions and customs intact. Unfortunately, the same thing did not happen in the rest of the country.

We continue our journey through Maramures, which started in the city of Baia Mare, the capital of the region. Our accommodation was this time at probably the nicest room of the entire trip and also in the center, near the Municipal Theater. The price was 31 euros per night. As you can see, in sleep we spent very little in the 9 days we were, approximately 150 euros per person.

At a tourist level, Baia Mare did not offer as much as other Romanian cities. So in one afternoon, you can see the most important thing. Everything revolves around the main square, the Piata Libertatii. It has managed to preserve several buildings of the seventeenth century. In its surroundings are pedestrian streets which is a pleasure to walk. In the good weather that we were in the jackets began to catch dust inside the suitcases.

In the square is the Casa Elisabeta, where the Prince of Hungary Iancu Hunedoara lived. The Stefan Tower is the only thing that survived the 15th-century church that was destroyed in a fire 300 years after its construction. Next, we have the Cathedral of the Holy Trinity, built by the Jesuits.

In the Izvoaraele Square is the Bastion of the Butchers, the remains that survived the wall that the guild built. Its museums are also important, especially the Mineral Museum. Baia Mare even today continues to live from the gold and silver deposits. Another recommended museum is the History Museum, which opens from Tuesday to Sunday.

In the surroundings of the city, there is also the Muzeul Satului, with several open-air houses. It pretends to show the architecture of the region. Although we did not approach to see it because, in the end, we would enjoy the "real" villages during the next days. Therefore, seeing that there was not much more to see, we go back to the hotel.

Day 5 - Sapanta

The next day we would start our route going to visit one of the places that I most wanted to know in Maramures. It is the Alegre Cemetery of Sapanta. It is 20 kilometers from Sighetu Marmatiei and is a unique corner of the world.

Sapanta was created in the 30s by the initiative of a local artist, Stan Ioan Patras, a painter, sculptor, and poet. During half a century he dedicated himself to carving and painting these original wooden crosses. These are totally personalized, that pretend to be a reminder of the life of the deceased. After the death of Patras, his disciples have continued their work faithfully to the original idea.

Each tombstone follows a definite pattern. In the upper part the drawings that refer to the life/death of the deceased are placed and around them, flowers and geometric drawings are painted. Almost always dominates the so-called "Sapanta Blue" but other colors also retain their meaning. A short poem is also added. It is believed that this tradition, that of seeing death with a festive spirit and not as a traumatic process. It is a legacy of the ancient Dacians, who believed in the afterlife. There are more than 800 crosses and the waiting list to be buried here is very long. In the cemetery is also one of the most spectacular churches we saw on our trip to Romania.

On the outside of the cemetery, there are a lot of souvenirs stands very cheap and quite tacky. It's always been very funny to me in Romania how ugly are the magnets, cups, shirts and other paraphernalia that flourishes around tourism. That, paradoxically, gives even more desire to buy it.

After Sapanta, we continue in the Valley of Iza. It is a beautiful extension of the Carpathians, dotted with small villages. In a place where the most ancient traditions are still alive, the doors symbolize the passage from the safe inner world to the dangerous outside world. They are extraordinary works of art full of symbols such as the sun and the rope (meaning life and continuity). There were so many and so beautiful that we were finding that we stopped a lot of times along the way to photograph them.

In many houses, we also see many pots hanging in the gardens. It is a sign that a young married woman lives inside. We suppose that it is a way of attracting the suitors with the trousseau. And along the roads, we find a multitude of men and women walking with the typical costumes of the region.

While we were going through small villages, the number of half-built houses we could find attracted our attention. Another curiosity of many of the houses is that some of them are really stately. Yet they have not worried or about paving the land that surrounds them. In many cases was a quagmire or an open-air storage room where hundreds of odds and ends were piled up. They, by the way, do not follow an architectural criterion and are made at the whim of the owner and there are of all shapes and colors.

In Maramures, the main attraction is its beautiful wooden churches. In my opinion, they are some of the most beautiful in Europe. Although only one third survive of those that were two centuries ago it is worth a trip through this area to see them. Its importance is such that eight are World Heritage Sites (it is the place in the world with the most World Heritage Sites by square meter). I clarify that even those who do not hold this title, churches in tiny villages, are also frankly spectacular.

Although in the Middle Ages it was common for churches to be made of wood in Europe, they were also more flimsy. Since on many occasions, they were devoured by fire, so they began to be built of stone. However, in Maramures, the architecture managed to maintain itself because the Austro-Hungarian Empire forbade the stone churches.

Especially in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, hundreds of churches were built with common characteristics. There were narrow bell towers, interiors richly ornamented and with separations for men and women. Its location is almost always in local cemeteries. During those centuries there were at least two schools of master carpenters.

One of the most impressive ensembles of churches in this region is the Barsana Monastery. I was speechless when I saw his feet. It is reached after traveling on a secondary road. We saw it in the distance but we had to do several laps until we were able to find it. It is on the top of a hill that is said to have been used in the past to bury the deceased. As people were buried quickly and without any religious service, it was decided to build at least one church where family members could pray to their dead.

And so, in 1720, Barsana, an Orthodox monastery, was built. On its ruins rose the current, much more recent but no less beautiful. Within the monastery complex, apart from the church (whose interior is really dark, formerly the churches were lit with candles but this favored the fires), is the abbey.

There is the House of the Prince and the House of the Artist, as well as different workshops, the dining room and the museum of icons. It is fascinating how the master craftsmen have managed to mimic the wooden buildings with the nature that surrounds them in a masterful way. And all without using a single nail.

The other seven World Heritage churches are St. Nicholas in Budesti, St. Paraskeva in Desesti, Nativity in Ieud, Holy Archangels in Sisesti, Poienile Izei, Rogoz, and Surdesti. But as I say, there are many beautiful churches scattered throughout the region and you will find them without any problem.

The only problem we encountered on this day was the difficulty in finding places to eat. In fact, we often asked ourselves in which supermarkets the people of the villages would go shopping. Because, if we removed some pharmacy, we hardly saw any establishments. In the end, we managed to find a wedding hall (yes, it is surreal) in which there was no client and was a lady who spoke only Romanian.

As it could, the poor woman made us understand that other than a little soup, a tomato and egg salad with potatoes she did not have much more to offer us. Taking into account that in the end, the food came out for four euros per head and the love with which the owner prepared the food, not only did we not have reasons to complain but we left her to tip practically what the food had cost us.

To sleep we chose the region of Viseu de Sus, famous for the Mocanita steam train, which we did not use for having a car. They say it is a nice experience for train lovers. With a breathtaking slowness of ten kilometers per hour, this train of almost a century old goes through the Valley of Vaser. It crosses forests, rocky gorges, and streams where, if you are lucky, you can see in the distance bears and deer. The train departs every morning at 08.30. The journey lasts six hours, so it is advisable that you bring your own food.

The hotel where we stayed, the best of the trip, was a picturesque mountain hotel, with spectacular views. A fantastic establishment of four stars that for only 37 euros a night offered us a very nice room with its own terrace and buffet breakfast included. As the restaurant was at the height of the hotel and with the fatigue that we accumulated, we decided to have dinner right there on the outdoor terrace. I took the opportunity to order sarmale, one of the most typical dishes in Romania. They are cabbage rolls stuffed with meat. It is a real delicacy.

Day 6 - Moldavia

Next morning we headed towards the Romanian Moldavian region. To do this we had to cross the whole province of Maramures, full of small towns where it was very common to find the typical elderly people sitting on benches or rocks next to the road, just watching the cars pass by and we supposed chatting about their things. The roads in that area were a real torment. So between the towns and the state of the road, we spent a very pleasant afternoon at the wheel. That night we slept in Vatra Dornei, a city of mountain accommodation that gave the feeling of having lived better times.

The next morning we began our itinerary through the painted churches of Bucovina, a world heritage site by UNESCO, and one of the main attractions of the country. It is about churches, each of them located inside a monastery, that has their walls inside and outside completely painted with biblical scenes. The interiors of all these churches have been preserved very well, but some areas of the exteriors not so much.

We begin with the Moldovita monastery. We continue with that of Sucevita, which is a monastery-fortification. Then we went through Arbore, which is actually a church that does not belong to a monastery, and that was the worst preserved of all. We continue through the monastery of Humorului and finish by Voronet. Although the distance between the monasteries is not very large, the disastrous state of the roads leading to some of them made us spend almost all day visiting them.

At that time we saw that we had two days ahead of the approximate calculation we had made before leaving. So we decided to lengthen the route a bit and move to somewhere that was not initially planned. That's how we ended up sleeping that night in Iasi, the old capital of Moldova and very close to the Republic of the same name. We arrived at night and found a four-star hotel in a stately style that looked very good.

We went to ask the price of the room, and they told us that it cost the exorbitant figure of 60 euros, breakfast and parking included. We say exorbitant because compared to the prices we were paying until then for the accommodations was a much higher figure. But it is also true that we usually slept in a guest house and this was a four-star hotel in all its splendor. Of course, we're left with the room.

Day 7 - Iasi

The next day we took a short tour of the city. The most outstanding building of Iasi is the Palace of Culture, located in a square where there is also an equestrian sculpture and a beautiful church of Byzantine style. The rest of the supposed tourist areas or monuments were being renovated and were therefore covered in scaffolding, or simply did not seem remarkable.

As that day we went without a defined itinerary, we found in the guide a suggested route through the nearby area of ​​Neamt, so we went there. We started by visiting Piatra Neamt, which has a pretty square that communicates by stairs with a park that was really lively, and that is the center of the city.

Continuing with the route proposed by the guide, we visit the monasteries of Varatec and Agapia, and we arrive at Targu Neamt, where Cetatea Neamt is located, old restored fortification. The access to the fortification is very original: after climbing a very steep hill, you get to the house where the entrance is paid, and from there you go by a footbridge supported by huge pillars that reach the fortification.

We ended the day's visits with three other monasteries: Neamt, Secu, and Sihastria. The monasteries always had a very similar form. There is a square construction with a huge patio in the interior, in the middle of which is the church. And in general, they are all very well restored.

From there we headed to Lake Izvorul Muntelui, a huge reservoir next to Bicaz, which showed that its level had fallen dramatically. The winding road that borders the reservoir offers spectacular views of the area. As it was getting dark we looked for accommodation, and found a hotel on the road next to the reservoir where we broke the record: we paid 18 euros for a double room with bathroom (without breakfast, of course). To have been an impromptu day out of the planned itinerary we thought we saw places that were well worth a visit.

Day 8 - Targu Mures

The next day we arrived at Targu Mures. The city had a very good atmosphere. We had the intention to eat in the most famous restaurant in the city, not so much for the fame as for the supposed quality. This place also had accommodation. So we decided to stay and so we could enjoy the food with a good bottle of wine from the area, then go up to sleep in the room. And it was said and done. In the guest house there was just a double room, and once we checked in, we went to eat and then went up to the room to rest, that we would visit the city in the afternoon.

With renewed energy, we began the visit by the fortress, which was worthless. We continued through the Plaza Trandafirilor, with a rectangular shape and which is the center of the city. It has a park in the center, which was very lively with stalls with food, clothes, and typical crafts, and many buildings quite well reformed on both sides.

At one end of the square is the Orthodox church and on the other the Palace of Culture, which we tried to visit but which was already closed. So we decided to go see it the next day before continuing with our route. We continue our visit by Targu Mures strolling aimlessly. We find a synagogue and a large esplanade in front of the National Theater that was under construction.

We stopped to visit the interior of the Palace of Culture, and it was a success. Inside there is a room for theater or music, in which they were doing a competition of popular dances, and several rooms and smaller rooms, in some of which there were painting exhibitions. But the palm was taken to a room full of stained glass and mirrors, in which there was a large group of Spaniards with a guide who commented on the motives of the stained glass windows, so we hit the ear and got a free explanation.

Opposite the Palace of Culture is the prefecture, which has a tower that can be climbed, although it must be requested at the box office of the palace itself. So we did, and a girl accompanied us with a huge key and opened the door to the tower and left us there, commenting that we had 20 minutes. We climbed high to contemplate the city, and although the view is not particularly spectacular, it is well worth the effort.

Day 9 - Sighisoara

The next day we returned to Sighisoara, probably the most beautiful city in all of Romania. And home of Vlad Tepes. Vlad Tepes, Vlad Dracula, Vlad "The Impaler". The best-known Romanian in the world. Hero for one, villain for others. The legend that surrounds his life, in which reality and myth tend to mix, have made him a unique character, probably one of the most studied in Europe.

Extreme cruelty displayed with the enemies inspired Bram Stoker to write his masterpiece, "Dracula" and create that character, count-vampire. He went on to become a classic of horror literature and on which later would roll so many movies. But Vlad Tepes was much more than that. The role he played in the history of Romania as a country, despite dying at only 45 years old, is very important.

Despite his reputation as a violent and implacable man, the Romanians consider him a patriot. He fiercely defended the interests of his people. And now, almost six centuries after his birth, they have even more to thank him for. His figure draws to Romania every year to thousands of tourists. Ask anyone who goes to the country for the first time what you most want to see is the castle of Count Dracula.

The fact is that the figure of Tepes has made Sighisoara, the city that saw him be born, one of the most visited places in Romania. The city is small and it is perfectly covered in a day. Still, we would stay in the night for two reasons. The first is that when leaving the sun Sighisoara seems even more sinister. Second, we wanted to go back to sleep in a beautiful medieval hotel, with lovely wood rooms and four-poster beds and veils.

Sighisoara was a heavily militarized city, and walls, towers, and bastions have survived to this day. Some, such as the Cositoliror Tower, still show the impact of the war with the Turks. The city is divided into two parts, the lower city and the upper city, the most beautiful is the latter. In the citadel, the Piata Muzeului stands out with its beautiful Clock Tower (which besides being a museum, offers wonderful views of Sighisoara).

Very close is the Biserica Manastirea, a church that was rebuilt after being destroyed by the Mongols and whose interior highlights Oriental rugs. From there you will get a really nice view of the Orthodox church that is located in the lower town. Other towers that are conserved are that of the Herreros, the Tailors, the Zapatero, the Cordilleras and the Dyers.

The Town Hall, of neoclassical style, and the Venetian House are other key points of the citadel. Throughout the old town that Saxon air is maintained when the city was called Schässburg. Although the truth is that today there are hardly any Germans. Yes, it is preserved, the home of Vlad Dracul, which hosts an exhibition of medieval weapons. Here is a restaurant where we had a lemonade on a terrace.

Speaking of the Cetatii square, the most important of the citadel, it is really pretty. It is flanked by Renaissance and Baroque palaces (many of them converted into hotels and restaurants), among which the House of the Deer stands out. In this square, the most important guilds used to be grouped. Sighisoara has been able to faithfully maintain its links with the past. The medieval festival that is held annually in the month of July is one of those with the best reputation in Eastern Europe.

From here we walk to the Scara Scolii (Staircase of the School), a covered wooden passageway (really spooky) with more than 170 steps leading to the Liceul J. Haltrich school. Nearby we find the Church of the Hill, the Biserica din Deal, the fourteenth century, and the Saxon Cemetery.

In the Piata Cetatii itself and in the street that goes to the staircase, we have a lot of souvenir shops where, of course! the protagonist is our esteemed Vlad Tepes. We bought cups, magnets, a clock, t-shirts. When we started unpacking things, it seemed like we had done a dramatical themed tour. That, in the end, we did it.

From Sighisoara, we set course for Brasov. We decided to go before Harman and Prejmer, towns near Brasov that have different citadels. We passed on the car by Harman's, and it gave us the feeling that it was closed. But in a ruthless act of vaguery, we did not go down to check it, so we went to Prejmer's.

In this citadel, we enter. It is a rather original construction with a fortress with a circular shape, in whose walls there are a huge number of rooms and rooms, and in the center, there is a church. It is assumed that this construction would serve when the town was besieged could all take refuge in the interior, but it must be a somewhat overwhelming experience.

After the short visit of Prejmer, we marched to Brasov. The first thing we did when we arrived in Brasov was to look for accommodation. We found that the prices were much higher than what we had paid so far: you could tell that we were already in an authentic tourist area. And it is that until that moment, although we had coincided with some groups of tourists, curiously mostly Spaniards, in general, we had gone through little or no tourist areas.

But you see that Brasov is included in all circuits. After asking in a couple of pensions, we found a hotel in the very center of the city that we thought was good, and we stayed there. Once we did the check in we started the visit. As we had breakfast a lot, despite being the time of lunch we settled for a Covrigi, typical Romanian bun.

We decided to go up to the citadel of Brasov, and it was a tremendous mistake. It began to rain timidly, and we took refuge in the entrance of a portal, but immediately the sky blackened in a sudden way and a hailstorm of epic proportions began to fall. Drained to the bone (literally), we managed to reach the post office building, where we sheltered ourselves.

As time went on and it kept hailing, and we were soaking wet, we went quickly to get a taxi and went back to the hotel. We put the clothes to dry and took a shower. And since it did not look like a drain, we decided to take a nap. When we woke up it just sparkled, and after a while, the rain completely stopped. It was time for a second attempt to visit the city.

Brasov was the largest city we had seen so far. We started the visit in Sfatului Square, downtown and where the hotel where we were staying was located. The square is very well preserved. In the center, there is a building that houses a museum, and the square is made up of typical buildings of two or three floors with colored facades.

We walk to the Black Church, which in reality is not so much, and we continue, passing through the Ecaterina Gate until we reach the Sfantul Nicolae Church, where they were celebrating mass. Orthodox churches are different from Catholic churches. There are no benches to sit on, and the masses last longer. The parishioners enter the church for a while, hear a bit of the mass, and leave, so there is always a constant movement of people coming and going.

Then we passed by Sforii Street, which is said to be the narrowest street in Europe. We continue to see the remains of the walls and towers that are still standing. Later we were walking around for a while and seeing how little by little the city was recovering its pulse after the hailstorm. We went back to Plaza Sfatului, and from there we went to the other side of the square, where a hill stands in which we saw that there was a tower and from where we supposed it would be a panoramic view of the city. Going a bit cross country, or rather, ride through, we managed to get to that tower, from which there was indeed a nice view of the city.

In the center of the city, there are a lot of cool places and being Friday, there was a lot of liveliness, with many young people having drinks. The Town Hall Square, the Piata Sfatului, was at the top of walkers and the most important pedestrian street, the Republicii, full of terraces. The historical center of Brasov is one of the most beautiful in Romania, and the beautiful Orthodox cathedral, the Trumpeter's Tower, the Merchant's House or the Black Church shine with it.

Brasov was another of the cities most coveted by the Turks and part of the wall that protected it is still preserved. There are some bastions such as the White and Black Towers or the Bastion of the Blacksmiths and the Weavers, as well as the Doors of Schei and Santa Catalina's.

The Citadel is located at the top of the city and from there you have the best views of Mount Tampa, at the foot of which is Brasov. I was very impressed to walk around the center and realize that we are at the foot of the mountain. It is common for bears to go down at night to look for food in garbage containers.

As it was getting dark, and it was not a plan to walk through the forest without light, we went down to the city and went to dinner, which after all we had not eaten more than a snack. We went to dinner at the restaurant, also recommended in several forums, and that was a success. We ate the special dish of the house for 2 people, consisting of a pork tenderloin stuffed with cheese with herbs, and accompanied by potatoes and grilled vegetables that were really exquisite.

The hotel in Brasov was more of a pension than a hotel but for 28 euros we could not ask for much more either. The rooms were large and had a terrace but it was all very old and it looked like a student residence. The staff, yes, was very friendly and we had private parking.

Day 10 - Rasnov

The next day dawned sunny, and we decided to climb the fortress before continuing our route. The fortress is worth nothing, it just deserves something worth the view of the city, since it is at the top of a hill. From there we went to the neighboring Rasnov, whose main attraction is that it has a fortress on top of a mountain. We arrive with the car to the parking lot of the fortress, and to access it there is the last stretch that can be done walking or on a train pulled by a tractor that they put to that effect.

Although the climb is quite steep, it is short, so we decided to do it walking. Once the entrance is paid, you can walk freely inside the fortress. From the top, we get a magnificent view of the neighboring Carpathians, which at that time were quite snowy. The rest of the fort does not have anything particularly remarkable.

From there we went to Bran to see the famous castle. After a lot of days in Romania, we finally entered Dracula's territory. It is rather a fortress, built on the rock of a promontory from where they controlled the entire area. This is where we found the biggest agglomeration of the trip. The castle is relatively small, and all the rooms are decorated with historical objects.

It is a labyrinthine conglomerate of corridors and stairs, although the visit is oriented so that it passes through all the dependencies that are open to the public. But between that, the corridors were very narrow and the number of people that there was, it loses all the glamor that could have had the site.

However, it is the most visited monument in the country precisely because of what we told you before, his association with the figure of Count Dracula since Bram Stoker was inspired by him for his novel. Although the reality is that Stoker was never here and Vlad Tepes did not live in the castle either. But as soon as thousands of tourists began to arrive attracted by the legend, they forgot the prejudices.

But it is in Bran where it reaches truly epic dimensions and the only place that we find ourselves with a lot of buses of tourists and groups of Japanese. Until then the tourists with which we had rubbed shoulders was basically Romanian.

We arrived under a leaden sky that even left us a gift storm. So the castle itself was much more in keeping with the mysterious and sinister story that follows it. We were surprised at the immense flea market that is mounted at its feet. Here is another good pile of souvenirs of Vlad Tepes that we take. We add Romanian cheese (Branza, which is how they call it). The most popular is the milk of sheep, softer than cow's, and they sell it already vacuum packed so you can throw it in your suitcase. As the day was getting ugly,

After this visit, we left Transylvania and all its topics and went to Sinaia, where is the Peles Castle. Sinaia, one of the most beautiful villages in the country, lies on the borders of the Prahova Valley. Although territorially belongs to the region of Wallachia, culturally its inhabitants are more linked to Transylvania. It is one of the favorite destinations for people of Bucharest for their winter and summer vacations.

Its proximity to the capital, just over 120 kilometers, and the beautiful natural environment that surrounds it, commanded by the Bucegi mountains, have made it a destination tourist essential for both Romanians and foreigners. Sinaia is a charming mountain village, with a certain residential air. It surprises when we put our feet in it for the beautiful monastery, the work of Mihai Cantacuzino,

But what really attracts thousands of tourists every year is that pair of wonderful palaces, Peles and Pelisor, which by themselves constitute one of the most perfect architectural works of Eastern Europe. The first we visited was the smallest (no less beautiful), the Castelul Pelisor. It was built in the early nineteenth century under the orders of King Ferdinand I, who made it his summer residence. If its facade is spectacular, it is not less the interior, composed of almost a hundred rooms.

To tour it (after paying an entrance fee of about 4 euros, they charge you 6 euros more if you want to take photos) you have to put some bags on your feet that they give when you enter, to avoid soiling floors and carpets (there are many visitors that happen here daily).

The palace was built following the whims of Queen Maria, wife of Ferdinand. She was of Scottish origin and had the walls decorated with lilies that would remind her of her longing for Edinburgh. The relationship between the monarchs gave rise to multiple gossips. Although they had six children, it was rumored that the queen enjoyed various lovers. In the end, the kings seemed to enjoy more of a lasting friendship than a full-fledged marriage. Maria was a queen much loved by the Romanians.

The queen, a lover of art that thanks to her social position could indulge in the design of one of the most romantic castles in the world. Together with the architect Bernhard Ludwig, she supervised the works at all times. Prevailing the art nouveau style but also giving place to Byzantine art and even unexpected Celtic influences, the different rooms are succeeded, decorated with an exquisite taste. Viennese furniture and delicate paintings adorn some of the main rooms, such as the Hall of Honor, the offices deprived of the kings. The chapel of the queen or the Golden Room is probably the most dazzling star of the enclosure.

And the great jewel in the crown is the Peles Castle, much larger than the Pelisor (it has 160 rooms). After Bran's, it is the second most visited place in Romania. And it does not surprise us because if in photos it impresses, it does double when you see its feet. Being Saturday, we found a lot of visitors walking through the surrounding gardens. It is very large and clearly inspired by the Victorian parks.

As a curiosity, Peles was an "advanced" building for its time. We talk about the end of the 19th century. It was the first castle in Europe to have electricity and also one of the first to have a heating system. However, its exterior sought to move away from those new brick constructions that were beginning to dominate within the global architecture. It was intended to emulate (but in a big way) those beautiful Bavarian houses that we ourselves had enjoyed in Germany in past trips.

Between the hundred and a half of stays, we find a theater (which Gustav Klimt decorated, and spared no expense). There is a library that came to keep more than 10,000 copies, an immense weapons room, the luxurious Florentine Room or the Venetian Room with its collection of mirrors. For the demonstration of the power of royalty a century and a half ago, Peles Castle was built by King Carol I.

The next day we have to arrive in Bucharest. So we decided to finish the day and we started looking for accommodation. We found a hotel that we thought looked good and decided to stay. As we had already passed the time of the meal, we made some time for dinner. We walked a bit through Sinaia and saw the monastery of the same name. The city seemed to have no appeal, despite which it was very lively, we assume that being a ski center and being next to Peles. And the monastery was quite good, very similar to all we had seen during our journey.

We decided to have dinner at the hotel because here they had Armenian specialties and we wanted to try them. The food was delicious. The problem was that there was a large group on an organized trip. We can see that the dinner price included a local live music show. And although we have no problem listening to new music, we do not like too much to force us to do so while we eat quietly, and also with a volume of decibels bordering on the dangerous. The bad luck was that they started with music in the middle of dinner, that if it had started before we would have fled in terror.

Day 11 - Bucharest

The morning of our penultimate day in Romania we drove to Targoviste, a city that is not worth much either. The only thing worth visiting is a complex in which there are a church and a tower that can be climbed to see the area from above. Once we finished our quick visit, we headed to Bucharest. And we arrived at the end of the trip in the capital of the country, Bucharest.

We had our doubts about what we were going to find, as the comment we had most heard was Bucharest? It is ugly! It's not worth it more than to stay a few hours! "Well, sometimes it's almost better to go with low expectations to get a pleasant impression of a place. Because I liked Bucharest a lot, not very much! More than what I expected.

In Bucharest, the accommodation cost is much higher than in the rest of the country. Perhaps because many people fly here to do business, but it is still lower than the standards of other European cities. We stayed in a four-star hotel, quite central, near Piata Victoriei. At night we took advantage of to dine in the area as there were plenty of bars and restaurants. There were modern and very cozy rooms (that shower of several jets at the end of the day was the best), buffet breakfast included and a very friendly staff. We did not have a previous reservation. The charming reception guy was very funny.

Bucharest was once considered the "Paris of the East", precisely because many of its avenues resembled those of the French capital. It is an authentic hecatomb. We begin our journey through what is probably the symbol that best represents the megalomaniac madness of Ceausescu: the Palatul Parlamentului or Palace of Parliament. The one that after the Pentagon is the largest government building in the world (64,000 square meters, 3,000 rooms, and 440 offices) was the dream of a lunatic.

From the Plaza de la Constitución, located opposite the palace, the immense Unirii Boulevard (4 kilometers long and more than 100 meters wide), which pretended to emulate the Champs Elysees of Paris. It is a gigantic avenue. Today it draws attention to see how an avenue is full of shops of all kinds, the turns that life gives. Plagued with trees, it is one of the favorite places for locals to go for a walk on sunny days. It flows into Piata Unirii, the very large square where traffic jams and honking are the real protagonists.

From here we start the walk through the old town, which, seemed to me that it had enough to offer. Almost the entire historic center is pedestrianized. Its main street is Lipscani and next to it we have those of the old guilds (nevertheless, this was the merchants' neighborhood) like that of the hatters (Sepcari), the saddlers (Salariilor), the furriers (Blanari) or the merchants of Gabrovo (Gabroveni).

It is an ideal area to take a walk as the terraces, the markets, the shops, and the ice cream parlors follow each other. Here we also find the ruins of the Curtea Veche (Old Court), the first royal palace that had Bucharest and that succumbed victim of an earthquake in the eighteenth century. And who ordered the court to be built? You guessed it: Vlad Tepes. His bust in front of the few columns that survived attests to who is the most important character in Romanian history. And also the most eccentric. He himself was in charge of destroying this small citadel, before the earthquake, when he tried to recover the throne.

In this area, the beautiful National Bank stands out, of French neoclassical style, and the beautiful Sfantul Anton church, to which many devotees go every day. In front, we take advantage to eat in a mythical place. It is an old eighteenth-century merchants inn. We found it by chance because we did not know its existence. It was a success because the restaurant is beautiful and also with good weather you can eat outdoors. We tried (again) the delicious Romanian bacon and we barely left at 15 euros per head. It is a real gift if you take into account the experience of eating in such a nice and important place at the historical level.

One of the churches that I liked the most in the center was San Nicolás. It seemed that we were in Moscow. In fact, the locals know it as the Russian church, although we find it in works. But look how beautiful their domes, not very common in Romanian architecture.

In a nearby street is the Romanian National Library (four million volumes) and the Bulgarian Church. As you can see, Bucharest is full of religious temples. Another of the most important is the Monastery of Stavropoleos, which preserves tombstones of the seventeenth century. On the same street as the monastery is another of the legendary gastronomic venues in Bucharest. The Caru 'Cu Bere (Beer Car) is a tavern dating back to 1975 (better to go with enough time because it is usually full of people).

A little further on, we have the National Museum of History. It is in a 19th-century building that was previously the headquarters of the Post Office. With more than 60 rooms, the Columns of Trajan and the Romanian National Treasure stand out, with pieces of goldsmith's work and jewels of the monarchs from the Bronze Age until the 19th century. Inside is also the Museum of Philately.

La Calea Victoriei is the great avenue of Bucharest, the equivalent of the Castellana in Madrid. It is perhaps the most "French" street in the entire capital, with its colorful 19th-century buildings that once housed the most luxurious shops in the city. This is the best legacy of a glorious past, prior to the world wars and the communist era, when the country lived its best moments.

The building of the Savings Bank (Palatul Casei de Economii si Consemnatiuni), the Odeon Theater and the Gheorghe Tattarescu Memorial Museum are relevant on the avenue. Leaving towards Strada Doamnei we have the church of the same name, one of the oldest in the city. And here below the charming church Kretzulescu.

The Cercul Militar National is another of the most important buildings in Bucharest. It was built in 1912, though as a place of recreation for the soldiers and the high commands of the army. This area also hosts many university buildings and there is a lot of student atmosphere.

If we continue on the Strada Sf. Vineri we will arrive at the Coral Temple Synagogue (in Bucharest before the Second War lived more than 40.00 Jews). It exhibits an exhibition about the Jewish martyrs. Although it is not the oldest synagogue in the capital, it is the Esua Tova, built in 1827.

Near here we visit the church of San Jorge and the Biserica Coltea, next to the first hospital in Bucharest, the Coltea. On the opposite is the Museum of History and Art in the Sutu Palace. From there we go to the Piata Universitatii, one of the most beautiful in Bucharest. Here we admire the National Theater and, among others, the statues of Miguel the Brave and the mathematician Spiru Haret.

On the other side of the square, we find the Palatul Regal (Royal Palace), which has been used by all the presidents of Romania. Currently, and after suffering serious damage during the fall of the communist regime, it houses the National Museum of Art, with more than 100,000 works among which those of artists like Velázquez, El Greco, Murillo or Monet stand out.

Going by the Calea Victoriei we arrive at the Românâ Academy (dedicated to the study of the Romanian language), the National Literature Museum, the Lens-Vernescu House and the Cantacuzino Palace. Already in the Piata Victoriei, we have the palace of the same name, the Taranului Roman Museum and the National Museum of Geology. A little further north we find the Arc de Triomphe in commemoration of the victims of the First World War.

We returned to the Piața Revoluției and ended up eating at probably the most famous restaurant in the city, and rightly so. Just to see the place is already worth going. The food was fine, but maybe we did not get right by asking because we have to admit that we ate better in other places. In any case, it is a place to go.

In fact, it is usually always crowded, and this time it was no exception. There were two musicians entertaining us, fortunately in a much more subtle way than we suffered at the Sinaia dinner. After this, we returned to our car and headed to the airport, where we took the plane that brought us back.

1 comment:

Jeevan said...

Thanks for revealing the title of Ajith's next theater release! Seems like a super action film...

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