I’ve been traveling to Romania periodically for a long time (here are all the posts tagged with Romania). Until now, it’s never been for personal travel — it’s always been business trips to towns where our company has R&D or factories.
But finally, after about 7 years, we planned some personal travel over the Tag der Deutschen Einheit holiday. We flew in to Bucharest, drove to Brașov and back, and met up with an old pal (and ex-colleague) and his wife for the last bit. It was an eye-opener, for both of us, in a number of ways.
We landed in Bucharest’s snazztastic airport and collected our lone piece checked luggage on the way to the rental car counter. It was a more challenging drive than we expected the north and west up to Brașov — it’s not expressway! Our GPS was mostly reliable, but we realized too late that towards the end of the trip it was guiding us to a similarly named street in a suburb of Brașov. We just followed the directional signs to downtown Brașov and tried our luck again with the GPS. Success! Well, mostly. It still didn’t recognize the house number. Unfortunately, it’s on a one-way 4-lane boulevard, so we had to learn the cross-streets pretty quickly on the fly.
Our B-n-B was about a 10 minute walk from the outskirts of Downtown Brașov. It reminded us of a German city — after all, it’s the last of seven “Saxon” settlements in Transylvania from around the twelfth century. We ate well in this town, thanks to a few recommendations from friends and online guidebooks. Just don’t forget that indoor smoking is still allowed in Romania and you might not have a(n effective) non-smoking section at your disposal.
We got in the car the next morning and drove out to Bran Castle. Higher up in the mountains, it still had snow on the ground from the week before our arrival. The castle had been restored quite nicely and was surprisingly accessible — even the secret staircase skipping the second floor was open to visitors. On the way back, we stopped off for a cheap-but-tasty lunch in Râșnov. We were thinking about visiting the cetetea there, but in the end were still too tired from the big arrival the day before.
It seems everyone knows about this important Romanian cultural heritage site — we got plenty of recommendations to visit it. We packed up our stuff in Brașov and drove out of town following signs to Poiana Brașov. The route got snowy quickly, with the trees weighed down to road level in many places. It was pretty odd for the 5th of October, but it looked pretty.
We almost gave up looking for this castle and just drove on to Bucharest for the next leg of our trip. Lots of people recommended we visit it, and they all know that it’s in Sinaia, but good luck finding the castle once you arrive in Sinaia. We thought for sure that the GPS coordinates would be useful, but alas…the roads supposedly leading to that point were not real, or not really leading where the GPS thought they would. We thought “hey, it’s a castle, it’ll be perched on the side of a mountain somewhere, like Neuschwanstein, so all we’ve got to do is get close and we’ll be fine.” We did make it to Sinaia just fine, but couldn’t find any trace of the castle from the main road. On a hunch we started heading west for an hour on another sizable road and had a very pretty drive through the hills — mountains, really, at 1000 m of elevation — until we got to some very ramshackle villages. We decided that THAT couldn’t be correct either and backtracked. Somehow Sarah spotted one homely little hand-written sign indicating the direction to the castle amid a bunch of other professional-looking signs for inns, restaurants, tours, etc. and we followed it another 10 minutes up the hill in Sinaia, where ample parking amid tour busses awaited us.
Once we got there, though…man. Nice place. Nice day for it, too. We would have had time for the extended tour inside the castle, which was lovely, if we hadn’t wasted all that time trying to find it. But we needed to press on to visit our friends in Bucharest before flying home the next day.
Arriving from Sinaia via Ploești was supposed to be quite uneventful, being the reverse of the route on the way out towards Brașov. We weren’t sure how much further we had to go, but at some point the DN1A expressway presented itself to us as an option. Our GPS had no idea where we were. The road was brand new. It had plenty of exit signs along the way south towards the Bucharest centură, but no real exits. You’d be among the sheep if you tried to exit. It’s a good idea to tank up before getting on that route, because you’re absolutely stuck if run dry. I don’t recall even a chance to exit the expressway and get back on in the other direction. So let’s call it a work in progress.
We arrived at our friends’ house and unpacked a bit. We drove together in their car toward a Metro stop, where we parked and took the subway in the rest of the way to downtown Bucharest for a great dinner. There was a wedding happening (seems to happen to me a lot in Romania!) and I managed to snag a little video:
The next morning we did the same thing again on the way into Bucharest in order to take an open-top-bus tour of the city, since the weather was so sunny. There was a marathon happening that day (seems to happen to us a lot when we’re discovering new cities!), which meant a lot of the usual routes for car/bus traffic were closed off, and we did some exploring on foot.
Bucharest struck me as a particularly interesting mix of old and new, because of the French dimension in there: Bucharest was known as “Micul Paris” and has copied a number of design elements from Paris.
After our sight-seeing tour, we had a lovely barbecue lunch with our friends’ very friendly neighbors back on the outskirts, packed up the rental car, and returned to airport. Or at least we tried. We got close. But merely a few kilometers from the airport, our GPS led us onto a dirt road with 10-inch deep muddy ruts. We thought we’d surely find a picture of a plane and an arrow mounted on a sign post, indicating the way to the aeroport, but alas. It’s still a work in progress.