2012 Trip #2.5 - Romania

11:48 Alyson Tart 0 Comments

I would like to call this trip from last weekend trip 2.5. Yes, only a half trip because only I went, no Paul. So while I won't necessarily count it as number 3 (unless we get all the way to 9 and this trip puts me over the edge), I still wanted to share it with you all.

In case anyone was thinking that I was an adventurous traveler, heading out into the great unknown alone, do not fret, or think me more courageous than I am. My friend from college Katy came and spent a week with me in Istanbul before heading to Prague, so we decided Bucharest was a perfect middle point between the two. Plus it was one of the few places that was cheap and easy to get to and neither of us had visited before.

Week before we leave, we check the weather - rainy forecast. Great.

Day before we leave, Katy researches things to do. Bucharest pops up on Rick Steve's list of worst places in Europe. Even greater.

Needless to say, we went into the whole thing with pretty low expectations.

Perhaps it was these low expectations that made the trip so pleasantly surprising. Or perhaps it was that we acted like Europeans and besides a walking tour and day excursion, we mostly randomly wandered side streets, ate and drank at little cafes and caught up on old times.

Bucharest probably gets a bad wrap because of its architecture.  After being part of a communist nation, you have lots of grey, block concrete buildings to look at.  But, despite that, there are tons of lovely things to see too.  Somewhere I read that Bucharest was a mini-Paris (although maybe that was actually Budapest), and you can see that in some places.  Narrow streets, steeped roofs, little cafes can be found interspersed throughout the not so lovely block buildings.

People's House (Romanian Parliament) - this building is the second largest building by surface area, after the Pentagon. It is so large that some of the people from Top Gear raced in the basement during an episode 

 St. Nicholas Russian Church - we attended a midnight Easter service here. Or rather stood outside. It gets so crowded that everyone lines up outside to have their candles lit just after midnight.  The service can run for several hours.  Seeing that it was raining and in Romanian, we lasted 30 minutes.

While my hands were full with a candle and an umbrella, I missed a photo op. Luckily I found this one on the Bucharest Life blog. And yes, as mostly Orthodox Christians, Romania celebrates Easter a week later later using the Julian calendar.

After exploring Bucharest, we wanted to visit the mysterious Transylvania region of Romania. This is the supposed home of Dracula according to Bram Stoker. The character Dracula is based off the Romanian leader Vlad the Impaler (known as such because of his cruel treatment of the Turks). Common myth however, and tourist trap, because Vlad lived in the Wallachia region which is to the south of Transylvania and includes Bucharest.

Our first stop on the Transylvania tour was Peleș Castle in Sinai, the summer residence of the royals of Romania. This is their version of Dolmabahçe Palace, built between 1873 and 1914 by Carol I, the president from Germany.  It is almost so over the top that you can't believe it was really used.  A sliding ceiling? Vacuum sockets throughout the palace? Or maybe we just had a tour guide who enjoys tall tales.

 Exterior of Peleș Castle

Next stop, Dracula's Castle or more appropriately Bran's Castle. This was a medieval castle that was a stop on the Silk Road and housed traders and government tax collectors. Once Romania became unified, the people of Brad gifted the castle to Queen Marie. It is most famous though for its associations with Dracula.  While it isn't really Dracula's Castle (see above, and yes really even though the guide may deny this and says vampires are real), it could have perhaps been what inspired Stoker's description of Dracula's castle in the books.
 Dracula's Castle - ooooh, creepy!

 View of the castle from the watch tower. 

 View of the town of Bran from the watch tower.

Last stop was the nearby town of Braşov. After a great lunch, including some goulash which show the Hungarian influence in the area, we wandered around the quaint city. It was such a cute little town, but impending storms took us home.


Moral of the story - don't judge a book by it's (communist) cover. 

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