Romania

Bucharest, Romania

Stop #20

Visiting Bucharest makes you realize what a tyrant can do to destroy what was once a beautiful city.  Remanants of old mansions and nice looking buildings are hidden behind graffiti and lots of wear.  Many historically significant buildings were destroyed by Caucescu and replaced with ridiculous looking Soviet concrete buildings.  He tried to create his own style, which is just plain ugly.

In the 1930s and 1940s, people referred to Bucharest as “Little Paris”.  Visiting there today, all you can do is wonder how anyone could think such a foolish thing!  About 2 million people live in Bucharest today and the city is where most activity takes place in Romania.  But you can’t help but wish that the city will have some resurgence or rebirth that will allow it to become beautiful again.  We didn’t stay there long, and I don’t feel that we missed much by leaving!

Sinaia, Romania

Stop #19

Wow! Wow! Wow!  This place makes you feel like royalty!  I’ve never been this intimate with such gorgeous woodwork (all walnut, which is by far my favorite), Murano glass, marbles, expensive artwork and tapestries.  If you visit one thing in Transylvania, this is your stop!

Highlights:

  • The beautiful Bucegi Mountains are in the background.
  • Sinaia is full of colored wooden houses that contrast with wgrander 19th century buildings.
  • The town was a summer retreat for Romania’s first king, Carol 1.
  • Pele’s Castle / palace has everything you would expect to see in a palace – hidden passages, fairy tale turets, galleries all over the place, and classical statues. It is by far the best castle I saw in Transylvania.
  • The Grand Reception Halls of the palace borrow from Moorish, Florentine, and French styles.
  • The only grander palaces I’ve seen are now the Hermitage and the Royal Palace in Madrid.

Bran Castle, Romania

Stop #18

Bran Castle is the one everyone talks about when they mention Transylvania.  My vote would be to skip it and go instead to Pele’s Castle in Sinaia.  It was the true highlight or Transylvania.

I managed to get some pictures of Bran Castle that look as though nobody is anywhere near the place, but in all honesty, the place was mobbed more than any other stop on our itinerary.  It was both frustrating and disappointing.  The owners have marketed the place as Dracula’s castle, but as far as I could tell there is nobody that relevant that ever lived here.

Highlights:

  • Bran’s Castle – Muzeul Bran was built by Saxons from from Brasov in 1382 to defend the Bran pass against the Turks.
  • Bran the town is a “carnivalesque gauntlet of stalls hawking vampiric Tshirts and a myriad of day trippers. Somewhat Tacky!”  I couldn’t agree more.  Thank goodness we packed in other stops on this day!

Brasov, Romania

Stop #17

I had really high hopes for Brasov.  I saw great pictures of this place and expected it to be spectacular like Sibiu.  But when we arrived, we saw a spectacular mountain in the background with the word BRASOV in huge letters (like Hollywood) on the side facing town.  It was a turnoff.  But the town was nice, just not the nicest in Romania.

When I read up on the place, one of the sources said that the city is notable for being the birthplace of the national anthem of Romania and for hosting the Golden Stag International Music Festival.  They need to work on their sales pitch!

Highlights:

  • Brasov is a Medieval town surrounded by a 12m high and 3 km 15th century wall built to defend from Turkish attacks.
  • If you like cobbled streets and fairy tale turrets, there are plenty to see.
  • The streets are pretty much a maze.
  • There are loads of “Bohemian” cafes
  • Architecture is pretty interesting with Austro-Hungarian gingerbread roofs, baroque gods, medieval spires and Soviet flat-tops.
  • Piata Sfatului is a really nice square
  • This is a good launching point for the Transfagarasan Road, although we went the other direction

Transfagarasan Road, Romania

Stop #16

The Transfagarasan Road is Romania’s highest asphalted road.  Everything you read about the road tells you that Top Gear rates it as the “world’s best road”.  We made a last minute decision to start driving this road around 3:00 p.m.  We ended up getting to our hotel at 11:30 p.m.  Mind you, Google Maps brought us to a road that even a Land Rover or a Jeep wouldn’t be able to navigate.  I guess it was made for horse drawn carriages.  That added about two hours of extra driving after an exhausting day.  Romania’s roads have come a long way from what I’ve heard, but they still have a long way to go.

The road is a Ceausescu project built in the 1970s over 4 and a half years.  It has literally hundreds of switchbacks and few guardrails or barriers.

I even got some great shots of three foxes that we came across on the drive.

Another highlight is Vlad the Impaler’s actual castle, which we saw at the end of the Transfarasan Road.

 

Sibiu, Romania

Stop #15

We will some day go back to Sibiu because we loved it and didn’t have enough time there. Sibiu is one of the cultural centers of Romania and was European Capital of Culture for the year 2007. It is an important Transylvanian town with lots of interesting architecture, beautiful buildings, and a great amount of activity.

After World War I, Sibiu, formerly a city in Austria-Hungary, became part of Romania.

I took most of the panorama views from the towers of the Sibiu Lutheran Cathedral.  I especially loved all the deep dark colors in the Sibiu Orthodox Cathedral (pictured in the cover photo).

I especially loved the market where I grabbed some photos and a whole bunch of fresh berries and nuts before we left.

Corvin Castle, Romania

Stop #14

Corvin Castle is one of the largest castles in Europe, and definitely Randy’s favorite visit of the trip. The castle was was laid out in 1446.

The castle is Renaissance-Gothic style. The castle also has a double wall for fortification and has both rectangular and circular towers, typical for Transylvanian architecture. Some of the towers were used as prisons.

We visited the Knight’s Hall, the Diet Hall and the circular stairway.

While we were in Budapest, we came across a painting of the Castle, which I’ve posted below with the information about the painting.

 


Sighisoara, Romania

Stop #13

As one guide book stated, the Medieval town is so pretty it should be arrested! Sighisoara looks like the buildings that Disney tries to emulate when drawing backgrounds for its fairy tales. Largely built in the 16th century, the homes have colored tile roofs.  I didn’t get much sleep this night because I wanted twilight, night, and dawn photos…and it was definitely worth it!

The city is also the birthplace of Vlad Tepes the Impaler (his statue is in one of the photos).

Sighisoara is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Maramures, Romania

Stop #12

Maramures is the most traditional region of Romania. With many Gothic wooden churches with steeples that rise to the sky, you feel like you stepped back in history as you ride through this region. Carriages pulled by oxen and horses pass by on the other side of the street. Farmers are dressed in clothes full of patterns you might never imagine worn together. People are hanging out by the street sharing the latest news of the village. It was fascinating to me.

It was said that Ceausescu encouraged the people of Maramures to maintain their traditional culture, contrary to the policies in place for the rest of Romania.

As for the story of the unique wooden churches, here is how it goes.  In the 14th century, Orthodox Romanians were forbidden by Hungarian rules from building churches in stone. So the carpenters of the region used wood to express spirituality. The churches have interiors have walls painted in biblical frescoes (which look like folk art quite honestly).  But the churches are quite unique.

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