Flights were booked, an interesting
itinerary was developed and on the third of September I boarded a short
flight to Bucharest for the beginning of my adventure. Two and a half
hours after takeoff I arrived in Bucharest and once again it was an
unusual experience for me to start a holiday without the usual jet lag.
went smooth, luggage did not take long and when I walked into the
arrival hall a driver from Unzip Romania (the company with who I
organized my tour) was already waiting for me.
drive to my hotel did not take long and this is where I got my first
impressions of Bucharest. On the outskirts there were the usual large
company compounds and I was not surprised Ikea made it over here as
to the centre I saw the first impressive old buildings. Typical grand
communist style, made to impress. We passed the Romanian equivalent of
the Arch de Triomphe and then had to make a little detour as the road
was blocked due to a local market.
Not much later I was dropped at the hotel which turned out to be walking distance from the old city, how convenient.
first impressions of Bucharest were very much in favor of this city
which somehow cannot get rid of it’s not deserved bad reputation. The
government buildings were impressive, as expected, though some cleaning
would make them look even nicer. In spite of the abundance of graffiti
the centre was amazingly clean.
was a trendy vibe in the streets and it appeared that every space
available was turned into a terrace. Everywhere people were enjoying
themselves, having a drink and smoking the occasional water pipe seemed
to be very trendy. I absolutely loved it. Memories from Tkalciceva Road
in Zagreb came back but over here it was on a much bigger scale. I just
strolled around and enjoyed the charming atmosphere. I absolutely loved
did not take long to realize Romania is still a very traditional and
religious country. Although the old city centre is rather small there
were plenty of churches to be admired. All were rather dark inside and
with a lot of shrines and paintings. Devotees were praying and I lost
count of the number of crucifixes I saw.
one of the churches I witnesses a baptizing ceremony, it seemed to be
the season for it as outside at least two other couples were waiting
with their newborn to be baptized. I enjoyed the singing for a while and
the prayers by the priest after which I disappeared between the
countless terraces once again.
a small bite to eat and a nice glass of Romanian white I returned to my
hotel for a nap. I must have needed it as I slept for good two hours.
the time I woke up sun was setting so I headed for the old city centre
for having dinner. Earlier that day I had seen a nice place in the court
yard of the Inn of Manuc, part of the former royal palace. It was a
massive place but looked very traditional in a way and so it was. A band
was playing, there were groups of people celebrating (even a wedding
party took place at one of the tables, and all guests were dressed
knew I made the right decision with the fancy lamb roast when the
waitress had a smile on her face when I ordered it. And it was lovely,
especially with a glass of Romanian red which was surprisingly smooth.
I could have spent here much longer I went for another stroll through
the old city centre which now felt more like a massive open air bar. It
started raining but it did not bother me. I watched the scenery with a
big smile on my face. People style dancing in a cafe, others occupied in
a vivid conversation whilst zipping a drink or smoking a water pipe.
heavier the rain became, the bigger the smile on my face. I had a
shiver down my spine and realized that once more I had fallen in love.
No, not with Bucharest but traveling in general. New places, new
cultures, new experiences. I decided I should do this more often and
with being retired nothing is stopping me…
a good night’s sleep I had a refreshing shower, enjoyed a good
breakfast and was ready to hit the road again. I wanted to start today
with a visit of the world’s second biggest building, the palace of
parliament. This was built in less than 5 years time by over a million
constructors. It can also be considered to be the ultimate communist
madness created by dictator Ceausescu and his wife before the revolution
started in 1989.
quick look at google maps showed me it was not to far away so instead
of grabbing a cab I decided to go for a stroll. I started down the Calea
Victoriei and passed the old city. Further south I saw some of the
impressive buildings of the Romanian court and then continued on a more
modern looking road.
at the next junction I saw the massive palace of parliament, not that
it could be missed. Enormous, massive, pompous. I could hardly believe
it’s size and even better, the sun put it in a beautiful light this
morning. Needless to say I had an enormous smile on my face.
I had not booked a tour yet my first priority was to get a place on
one. It took me quit a while and a long walk to find the entrance and
there I was lucky enough to get a place on the first tour of today at
11:00. As by now it was only 9:00 I had time enough so I decided to go
for a walk and admire the exterior of the building.
around it gave a good impression of it’s sheer size. I do not know how
many entrance gates I passed, as well as the added entrances for the
underground parking garage. Friendly but strict guards allowed me to
make pictures but no more than that. Entrance strictly forbidden…
the Bulevardul Unirri I spotted a fountain which seemed to have no end,
it was impressive to say the least and only later during my tour of the
palace I found out how long it was.
in time to enjoy a cup of coffee I returned to the booking centre where
punctual 11:00 our tour starts. First I had to pass some security
measures which would not have been misplaced at an airport and where I
had to leave my passport behind. It took a while before the whole group
was processed but then we started. As soon as we climbed some stairs I
got my first impression of this colossal building and it’s wealth.
guide had a wonderful sense of humor and I loved her smiles when
certain topics were discussed, her sarcastic sentences but even better
what was not said but insinuated. She was absolutely brilliant.
next hour and a half we were lead through reception halls, conference
rooms and endless corridors. Every room left an even longer lasting
impression, what a madness.
the balcony I had a good view over the Bulevardul Unirri and it’s
fountains. Originally it was supposed to be 1 1/2 km long but this was
not good enough for Ceausescu’s liking so more buildings were
demolished to create a view from the balcony over a boulevard that was
over 4 km long. The irony was the Ceausescu never survived to fulfill
his dream, speak to the masses from the balcony where I was now
tour was over far to quick for my liking and by the time we were
finished we were only shown less than 10% of the entire building. It had
been an amazing experience though.
took it easy on my way back to the old city where I selected a nice
place in the sun for my lunch. I selected spiced pork and when the
Romanians say a dish is spicy they for sure they are not kidding. I was
not sure whether it was the wine or the distance I walked that morning
but I started to feel extremely tired. So I headed back to the hotel and
went for a well deserved nap.
I had planned something for the evening I set the alarm and that was no
unnecessary luxury. For sure I would not have woken up in time.
my tour earlier that day I had met Vincenzo, an Italian and he had
given me a brochure of a free walkabout tour he highly recommended. I
sounded interesting so I went to the National theatre where the meeting
point was. A nice international group gathered together for what turns
out to be a extremely interesting experience.
our guide started telling us about the changes that occurred in Romania
during the revolution and led us past several landmarks. They were not
your typical touristically highlight s but meaningful places in that
violent art of Romania’s history. It did not take me long to realize I
had made the right decision for joining this tour as it showed a
completely different perspective.
had plenty of abandoned cultural centers and we passed several of the.
Each time we were told their story and significance. Carey had a great
sense of humor, very similar to our guide this morning and I thoroughly
enjoyed the walk.
one point we passed two passages, one which was famously decorated with
colored umbrellas while the other, the English passage, had a darker
history as it used to be the Bucharest red centre, which was now a
domestic area for the less fortunate.
are never far away in Romania and this was another example of that. Not
much later we passed a festival named after a famous Romanian composer
and witnessed a classical concert. We did not have much time as we
continued our tour to the gardens of Eden, an abandoned garden now
turned into a quiet pub.
catholic cathedral marked the end of our tour but of course this came
with an unbelievable story as well about the building that was
constructed next to it but never used…
the first moment until he very last I had loved our walk. Vincenzo and I
returned to the old city for a beer and relive memories of a very
special day after which we said goodbye and I found a place for dinner. I
ended up in Caru’ ce Bere, Bucharest most popular place and tasting the
food I understood why. That night I fell asleep the moment I saw my
bed, what a wonderful day it had been.
day I was woken up by the alarm and even had some time to write my
diary. But then I saw Diana and Christian, my guide and driver for the
next couple of days so it was time to hit the road again.
soon as we left Bucharest the landscape changed and big colossal
buildings were replaced by small villages and simple houses. It was here
where I first could feel the poverty as most houses were only half
finished and a lot of work needed to be done.
I did like the more rural atmosphere and the activity. People selling
their harvest in front of their houses, farmers working on the field,
all had a nice feel of Europe how it could have been decades ago.
first stop was a winery. In the basement, where the barrels were stored
I was explained the history of the winery and how the grapes were
cultivated. It did not come as a surprise I really liked the local wines
that were offered to me afterwords during the tasting. Like Croatia
Romania has a lot to offer but their batches of wine do not justify
large export quantities so unfortunately they remain largely unknown in
stop was the famous Peles castle. Before going over there though we had
a stunning lunch at a restaurant close by. Then we walked straight int
what could have been a fairy tail. As much as I looked the outside, it
could not have prepared my for what I saw as soon as we entered the
by impressions I could not help it but become very emotional. Peles
castle was more than just a castle, it was a castle on steroids. The
interior was overwhelmingly impressive, such a surplus of details of
decorations it was almost to much to take in. Each room was entirely
different and was decorated in its own unique way.
stunned, flabbergasted. I cannot describe my feelings better than this
as I had never seen anything like this before. It is only three days
right now but I must admit Romania keeps surprising me in the most
positive way possible.
the drive to Brasov I fell asleep, overwhelmed by what I had seen and
experienced. I woke up when we arrived at the outskirts which had this
typical feel of dull communist housing. Fortunately the centre was far
more interesting and my hotel very nice. Instead of exploring the place I
went directly to a restaurant recommended by Diana and spent a lovely
evening enjoying local cuisine whilst I took my time to catch up on my
diary. That evening I went to bed early…
to bed early was not enough, the next morning I overslept terribly and
even 12 hours of sleep did not make me feel refreshed. A rushed shower
and an even more rushed breakfast later I was on he road again. Diana
and Christian were not bothered I was late but I felt a bit embarrassed.
first stop of today was the (in)famous Bran Castle that became better
known as the Castle of Dracula. Although most stories known are
historically incorrect the myth remains. I was extremely happy to have
Diana around who turned out to be thoroughly informed about the castle,
it’s interior and it’s true history.
turned, it was cloudy, mist covered the pine tree forest and a little
drizzle fell upon us. I could not have imagined better circumstances
than this as the visiting Dracula’s castle in bright sunshine simply
would not have felt right. It’s unavoidable that crowds flogged the
castle but according to Diana today was not to bad.
to Peles castle the interior of Bran Castle was basic. Lots of German
influences with heavy dark wood furniture was to be seen in the Kings
quarters but the queen added a more feminine and English touch to her
rooms. I completely loved the atmosphere. Being built on the highest
point there was no space so the rooms were smaller and connected through
a true labyrinth. Hidden staircases led to different rooms, each of
them having a very intimate and different atmosphere.
did not take much of my imagination to come up with vampire stories and
that imagination was fed even more in the torture room which exposed a
collection of torturous equipment used centuries ago in all over Europe.
Some of them really caused a shiver down my spine thinking of the pain
they must have caused.
I loved the place, the atmosphere, and all the myths surrounding it. The weather just made my visit perfect.
a coffee and a piece of apple cake we continued our way to the next
point of interest, Rasnov Fort. It was located high up the hills and
although time had taken its toll still a lot was preserved from the
was surrounded by huge pine forests at one side and a town in the
valley under it. Strategically I was perfectly located. It was wonderful
strolling through the narrow streets while Diana explained me a lot
about it’s history. Again it was rather crowded but not to the point it
became disturbing. On could easily imagine how life was at those days
the Turks from the Ottamanian empire tried to conquer the area.
a perfect day it had been so far. Time was flying by and I did not
realize it was already past two until my stomach told me it was time to
eat again, I was getting hungry. Time to find a traditional Romanian
restaurant for lunch.
lunch was perfect, Spare ribs with a Romanian potatoes dish,
accompanied by a garlic sauce so strong I will be safe for the rest of
my journey through Transylvania.
final stop was a short walk through the medieval town of Brasov. The
black church looked impressive from the outside and even though the
original frescos and icons were destroyed the interior was still very
impressive. Unfortunately for whatever vague reason photography was not
made a short walk over the remaining walls that surrounded Brasov and
from there we have a good view over the town. Back at the square it was
time to say goodbye to Diana and Christian for the day but instead of
going back to my hotel I went for another stroll and visited another
at the hotel I left my gear behind and returned to the centre. As I had
enjoyed a late lunch I was not hungry at all so I just went to an Irish
pub for a local beer, updated my diary and called it a day. But what a
day it had been…
slept Well that night, very well. Next morning I felt completely
refreshed and was ready for another day. We would be leaving Brasov and a
long drive was on the program. The scenery became much more rural,
small villages, lot of agriculture, farmers driving their horses and
wagons were common sight and after a while I was under the impression
Romania was growing Europe’s complete stock of corn as that could not
first stop was the Harman fortified church. Over here the German
influence was strongly present. It was a simple but very nice church
surrounded by a strong wall to protect it from ancient enemies (The
Turks from the Ottoman Empire), what was most interesting over her was
that the inside of the wall was completely covered up with storage
rooms, something that was nowhere to be found in Romania. Diana and I
climbed the tower and just when she told me to cover my ears when the
bells rang it went off with one extremely loud ring, as if to
demonstrate her words. I was glad we did not happen to visit at noon.
far away we visited a 2nd fortified church, the Prejmer fortified
church, which was much smaller but still very picturesque and worth
visiting. Also over here the German influence was heavily present and I
was amazed most signs were in German, then to be followed by Romanian.
the way t our next sighting I fell asleep and had to be woken up by the
time we arrived. Placed high on a hill to get a good overview of the
area Rupea Fortress was another stronghold to protect the country from
conquering Turks. By now it was only a ruin, in spite of some restored
areas but one could get a good impression of how things looked like in
then it was time to continue to our final destination for the day;
Sighisoara. Over there we had a belated lunch and checked in at the
Hilton hotel (Not my usual standard but this was included in the tour,
no complaints). I left my suitcase in my room, quickly enjoyed the view
over the citadel from my balcony and then returned to the car for my
is well known for the biggest group of wild brown bears in Europe so
how could I travel hear and not enjoy a bear experience… It was an
hour and a half drive from Sighisoara and then we still had to wait for
the ranger. We were joined by a group of Hungarians and drove in a Land
Rover into the forest. There we were told to be totally quiet no follow
the ranger into a safe house, one could feel the excitement.
in the safe house two assistants placed food at an open area in front
of us and once they were done it did not take long for two bears to
arrive and feast on the treats that were left behind for them. It was a
wonderful experience to see these wild animals from so nearby, clearly
at easy und unaware of our presence.
the two mature females were satisfied they left the scene which. Was
then taken by a younger mother and her two pubs. They were adorable and I
could not count myself luckier than when she was attracted by some food
on a rock, no further than two meters away from me. Perhaps it was good
we were separated by a glass window so she could not smell us, that
might not have been appreciated by their protective mother.
the sun set it it was time to leave the safe house, a bit awkward to
walk in the forest knowing there were wild bears around but apparently
we were protected by numbers.
at Sighisoara we enjoyed a late dinner after which I was brought back
to the hotel. By now I was so tired I could not write my journal anymore
so I decided to set my alarm a bit earlier and leave that for the
morning. Time to sleep!
the alarm went of at 7:00 am the next morning I dozed for another 15
minutes, had a refreshing shower and headed to the restaurant for
breakfast. Then it was time to update my journal which I just finished
before my meeting with Diana and Christian. Another exiting day lay
ahead of me.
was about an hour drive to Viscri, our first visit for the day.
Visiting is a rather isolated village so we had to leave the main road
to reach it. It seemed like a complete time warp to me. Although very
picturesque one could see the people over here were living a much
simpler life than what I had seen before. Shepherds were herding their
sheep, horse and wagon were a common way of transport over here and
villagers were spending time sitting at the benches in front of their
colorful houses and chat together.
main goal to come here was the fortified church which I did love a lot.
Much simpler than the ones I visited before but it had this earl
village feel to it. Also there was a good view over the village.
decided to walk through the village for a while and encountered goats
and geese during my walk. Diana told me Prince Charles had bought some
properties over here and started some foundations to help the people. He
visits every year in March.
walk was thoroughly enjoyable but unfortunately it started to rain a
bit. Fortunately Christian picked us up so I could enjoy the stunning
environment from the comfort of the car. We passed a colorful beehive
and appear entry the colors were not just for decoration but helped the
bees to find their proper beehive.
in Sighisoara we returned to Concordia for lunch and a local beer. I
enjoyed a traditional bean dish served in a loaf of bread and as usual
the portion was not disappointing (Although I am afraid I will have to
go on a strict diet when back home).
we were close to the city centre we went for a walk in the citadel. It
was a relatively small town located on a hill so it would provide the
perfect protection in former years. Some beautiful watchtowers were
located on strategic places and as usual in this area the houses were
extremely colorful which made walking through the centre a joyful
experience. One of the houses was the birthplace of Count Dracula but I
did not see any added value to visit his room so we visited the church
was to be reached through a long tunnel with what seemed an endless
amount of steps that lead towards the top of the hill where also the old
school was located. Once again Diana and I climbed the tower so we
could enjoy the breathtaking view over the citadel.
of returning through the tunnel we took a path over at the backside of
the hill that led through an extensive cemetery. I was still actively in
use and exciting graves were used again and again for family members
that passed a way. Although not as impressive as the one I visited in
Zagreb years ago the location was very peaceful and simply breathtaking.
returned at the citadel and continued our walk. We headed towards the
main watchtower and started our ascend. The tower also was used as a
museum and there were several rooms with exhibitions to be admired but I
felt I was getting tired so skipped those. Fortunately the climb was
not too bad but I must admit I felt rather uncertain and dizzy walking
over the balustrade on top. The views were to die for but I was not
ready for that just yet.
We made it safely to street level where we made another short stroll to
Theo’s wine cellar for a wine and Palinka (traditional Romanian brandy)
tasting. I did notice however my energy for the day was consumed so
skipped the wine and asked for really small portions of Palinka. Each of
them were completely different and unique and I did like them a lot.
the tasting it was time to call it a day though so I was dropped of at
he hotel for a well deserved nap. I slept for a good 2 hours and felt
much better after that. As I did like Concordia so much I returned over
there for a glass of Romanian red, and worked on my journal whilst
watching the world go by and another great dinner. By 9:30 I was back at
the hotel and did not keep my eyes open for long. What a day it had
morning Diana and Christian like usual were already waiting for me in
the lobby, even though I arrived early. We packed my suitcase in the car
and were on our way to Biertan, a small village which was rather
isolated. In spite of originally only having. Community of 700 people
the fortified church was enormous. As usual we had to climb a hill to
reach to the church but by now I got used to that so did not have any
issues. The church itself was rather simple but I did enjoy it’s
interior. It was a mixture of evangelical and Lutherian decorations and
also here a lot of German influence was to be seen.
safe room was locked by a door which had a lock that closed at 19
different points and in the beginning of last century was brought to
Paris to be exhibited.
Biertan being such a traditional village we could not miss out on
exploring it on foot. Horse cars were a much used way of transport in
this region so it came at no surprise that on one occasion I placed my
food in some of the droppings. It simply had to happen at one moment.
ran free in the streets, pigs were kept in cages and I even saw some
goats. It was clear the lifestyle was so much simpler over here than
what I had seen before. This was more like the rural Romania I had
expected to see.
of taking the highway to Sibiu, our next stop, Christian had promised
me the day before to take a more rural, scenic route and so we did. The
villages were really remote and although extremely picturesque it would
drive me crazy to live here.
sat outside or were working in the fields, I noticed some men already
started drinking beer quite early in the morning, not strange if I
considered the surroundings where simply nothing exiting was happening.
It was village life in it’s most simple form.
we arrived at the outskirts of Sibiu I recognized the terrible
communist style housing again. Blocks of uninspired flats which must not
be very nice to live. Fortunately the old city centre had a much nicer
felt like arriving in a complete different country. The architecture,
the atmosphere at the streets, I liked it a lot. Before going on our
walk we had a bite to eat at one of the many restaurants. I opted for a
selection of meats that was presented in a very special way. Fortunately
Christian had offered to share this dish as it was simply too much for
was a buzz in the city as the Sibiu Music Festival took place at the
main square. Terraces were full and people were enjoying their Saturday.
We strolled through the upper and lower part of the city and everywhere
there were special activities going on. Some food was being prepared,
small stalls with gifts were to be seen everywhere and a beer festival
as well. Diana and I decided to try a pear cider as neither of us had
tried that before.
We visited the Catholic Church first and then continued our walk through the picturesque streets.
highlight for me though was the Orthodox cathedral. It had beautiful
frescos and glass in lead Windows. A priest was performing a wedding
which added to the alive feeling in the Cathedral. I did enjoy the
atmosphere a lot and watched the believers performing their rituals.
now I was getting extremely tired and although it was only just past
three I returned to the hotel and enjoyed a long but much needed
afternoon na. I did not wake up until after six when I returned to the
big square was really busy now and from the streets leading to it many
people arrived for the event to happen. At the many terraces there was
not a single unreserved table left so I headed for Strada Nicolae
Balsescu, the Main Street, and found a nice place over there to enjoy a
local drink and work on my journal.
the time I was ready for dinner the big square (Piata Mare) was packed
so I decided to walk on a bit and Lund a nice place or a drink and to
update my journal. Not much later I was tapped on my shoulder by
Christian who saw me from a neighboring terrace where he and Diana were
sitting. I joined them for dinner and once again their choice of
restaurant did not disappoint.
evening I was glad I had a room at the back of the hotel. As it was
pretty close to the main square it could have been a noisy occasion but
in spite of the concert that went on until very late at night I slept
morning we had a long drive ahead of us. We left Sibiu and headed for
the mountains. I loved the small villages and the atmosphere around it
but could not avoid dozing away a couple of times.
soon as we arrived at the mountains my attention was focused again. The
roads were steep and curvy and slowly we were going up. We were now
approaching the famous Transfagarasan Road, and not only is this
Romania’s most famous road but it has been named the most beautiful road
by the original Top Gear team. Needles to say my expectations were
first stop was at the Balea Glacier Lake from where we had a stunning
view over the meandering road below us. Whilst we were there I had to
ask Christian several times to stop in order to enjoy the panorama below
me and to make some pictures. The lake itself was nice and lots of
stalls were selling local products. We could not resist a donut filled
with cheese and a crepe with blueberry sauce.
continued our drive through magnificent scenery and made another stop
at a dam with an enormous artificial lake behind it. Looking down from
the other side made me realize how deep the lake must be. Another stop
worth spending some time.
final stop for the day was Poienari Fortress, but in order to get there
I first had to conquer 1480 steps through the forest. A trying climb
but well worth it. Although Bran castle is also called Dracula’s castle
this fortress has much more ties to Vlad.It was still in use for a
number of years after his death but was abandoned thereafter. By now it
was nothing more than a ruin but the breathtaking views were worth the
at street level we enjoyed lunch after which we continued our drive to
Bucharest. Traffic was heavy and we ended up in a traffic jam due to two
accidents. But not much later I was back at the Capitol Hotel where my
Romanian adventure began one week ago.
our week together Diana had noticed my passion for food and she had
told me about The Artist, Romania’s best restaurant. Needles to say I
did not need to be encouraged any more so I had booked a table for my
last dinner in Romania.
a wise decision it was. Although only a three course menu was served
each of them was preceded by a greeting from the kitchen. Some excellent
wines were served with it and I can only say that style, presentation
and flavors were absolutely Michelin worthy. It was absolute magic and
the prefect way to finish off a more than perfect week. I had a short
chat with the chef who turned out to be Dutch and passed on my
compliments for the efforts of himself and his team.
decided for one more drink in the old city to chill and relax and let
he experiences of the past week pass by. That night I slept very well.
Romanian adventure had come to an end and later that afternoon I flew
to Sofia, the capital of Bulgaria, for the 2nd part of my holiday. When I
started my trip I had no idea on what to expect, as not a lot of people
travel to Romania and its reputation is not highly rated.
I do not understand. Everyday Romania kept on surprising me in the best
way possible. It’s diversity, it’s rich, but not always nice history,
the people and the food. The countless castles, fortresses and churches.
Oh, did I mention the food?
can only say that most opinions on Romania I have heard before are
misconceptions based on stories which are now long time history. Things
are happening in Romania and it was a pleasure to see with my own eyes
how this country is developing. I have only seen a small part of it as
my journey mainly focused on Bucharest and Transylvania.
I was lucky as I could not have thought of better people to show me
their country then Diana and Christian from Unzip Romania, the company I
choose to arrange my tour. From the moment we met there was a match and
I thoroughly enjoyed their company. It was a wise decision and thanks
to the both of them I now have a better understanding and impression of
one of the oldest civilizations in Europe. I loved my experience!!!
Conyinue the journey in Bulgaria