With my degree done and proper adult life on the horizon, I went in search of adventure. And like all good adventurers I needed a companion. Enter Maddie stage right. Long time readers will recognise Maddie as my frequent partner in crime from posts such as Prague, Berlin and London. This time we were off to Romania. Land of Dracula and… Well, that’s pretty much all I knew before I went.
On Wednesday night, we flew into Bucharest and went straight to the hostel we were staying at. Before we went out we’d been warned by various sources from our guidebooks to the hostel not to get ripped off by the taxi driver. Guess what. We got ripped off by the taxi driver. A journey that should have cost us between 30 and 40 lei (£5-6) cost us 190 lei (£30). Which for a half hour journey in a capital city still doesn’t feel ridiculously priced. But, I can’t lie, it wasn’t the best introduction to Romania.
Still, the hostel was great. The Umbrella Hostel was pretty awesome, from the staff who were always excellent help to the rooms, which were not only clean and comfortable but also had air conditioning. My only slight quibble is that the spiral staircase upstairs isn’t exactly the easiest to traverse, but I mean, that is the only thing I would change.
Our first day in Bucharest, we headed out into the city with a map and a vague sense of purpose. Our first stop was the National Museum of Art of Romania. In the former royal palace, located on Revolution Square, it’s seen a good deal of history. Now the palace houses a collection of medieval, modern and European art. We went into the medieval collection first, which was very impressive and then wandered round the European collection which was less impressive. Some of the medieval pieces were incredible, including fragments of a church that was once considered a place of huge historical importance. Not that that stopped the communist leader tearing it down.
The entrance was all metal work and cool.
From the art museum, we wandered on to the Old Town. I always forget that Old Towns are essentially there for you to wander round and go, ooh how pretty. I always expect there to be something else there. Thankfully, Bucharest Old Town is quite pretty in a crumbly sort of way. It also has Caru’ Cu Bere, which our guidebooks and the staff at the hostel recommended. Our waiter was excellent, and kept making Dad jokes. The best one was definitely when we asked for the bill and he went ‘Oh I’m sorry. Bill’s not working today. You’ll have to make do with me.’
Traditional meat platter that included sausages with cheese in them.
Afterwards we walked down to the Palace of Parliament. Built by Ceaușescu (that communist leader I mentioned), it’s a sprawling testament to an attempt to impose dominance on a landscape via architecture. Aside from the Pentagon, it’s the largest administrative building in the world and only half of it is in use today simply because it is so big. It also now houses an art museum as well as being where the Romanian parliament sits. We did not go round it, mostly because something that huge is definitely going to kill your feet. So instead we took photos from a distance and then headed back up to explore the rest of the Old Town.
That’s up a hill. I don’t think photos can really show just how imposing and impressive a building it is.
The rest of Old Town was mostly bars and clubs. You could go around the world in 80 bars, with the ubiquitous Irish pubs, Finnish cocktail bars and even a German bar called Oktoberfest. We didn’t end up sampling the delights of Old Town, because we went back to the hostel exhausted by the heat and how much we’d walked. There was a nautical-esque restaurant called The Harbour which did great food and had the added benefit of being five minutes from our hostel. And again, the waiters did a great line in Dad jokes.
The second day we had learnt our lesson about trying to walk everywhere and we used the metro instead. You can buy a 10 ride ticket which we did, which ended up being super useful later in the week as we ended up using the metro a few more times. We went to the Museum of the Romanian Peasant, which turned out to be super interesting despite the lack of English signage. Filled with objects from peasant’s everyday life, it had everything from crosses to clothing to a fully built house.
A full house. In a museum room. What.
Behind the peasant museum was a market that I think was aimed at tourists considering how many souvenirs they sold. Particularly peasant blouses. Peasant blouses are definitely one of the traditional souvenirs to buy, and we even saw actual Romanians wearing them, rather than just tourists. After we’d perused the market fully, we headed back to the hostel to pick up our bags and head to the railway station. After paying way too much for a taxi on our first night, we were wiser and paid the right amount this time.
Getting train tickets was a bit of a mission, given that every rail company has its own ticket office and we didn’t know which rail company we needed. We eventually found the right booth and made our train, with only the most minor of hoo-has. The train was fine, and seeing as I was sat next to a group of British boys fresh from their first year of university, it could have been much worse. By which I mean, they weren’t lads and banter was kept to a minimum.
Hollywood letters were not what I was expecting from Transylvania.
Our final destination was Brasov – a medieval fortified town that is relatively near quite a lot of places of interest in Transylvania. Getting a taxi to our hostel was super easy and did not involve us getting ripped off. Yay! It might seem like we got a lot of taxis. That’s because a) we did, and b) when you’re paying proper prices for them, they’re really cheap in pounds. And it’s so much easier than trying to figure out public transport in a foreign language.
The Black Church is right next to the main square and was therefore right next to a our hostel.
We stayed at the Boemia Hostel in Brasov, and it was nice. Really close to the centre of town – it was a three minute walk to the town square. And Alex, the guy who worked there, was really helpful when it came to figuring out how to use the public transport. Though pretty much everyone else there was doing a round the world trip and thought we were very odd for just coming to Romania. And for having emergency biscuits. But everyone needs emergency biscuits right?
Our first night in Brasov had us walking the ramparts and wall that still remain in parts around the town and wandering through the main square. Brasov is very pretty. Very medieval. We had tea at Gustari where I tried polenta for the first time. It wasn’t awful. But I’m not sure I can say it was good either.
The next day we were up at 6am because we were going to Bran Castle. Or more famously, the castle that Bram Stoker based Dracula’s castle on. Yes, we were going on a search for vampires. We took two buses to get there, but we made it before the castle even opened. It was a misty morning and it definitely felt like Dracula was a possibility. Because we were so early and it was so cold, we went for a drink and in the twenty minutes that took, two coach tours went up to the castle. So we thought we’d better get our skates on before it was completely overrun.
Bran is nothing like what I’d expected from Dracula’s castle. It’s quite a small castle, not overly high in the mountains and inside it’s very plain. Not gothic in the slightest. The inner courtyard and loggia that surrounds it is beautiful, especially when the sun comes out. It is also full of tourists. When we came out, we had to fight our way through a mob of people waiting to be allowed in. If you’re going to go, you’re going to have to get up early.
Look how pretty.
Surrounding the foot of the hill that the castle is set on, is a huge souvenir market, filled with peasant blouses and tacky t-shirts as far as the eye can see. Of course, we went all round it. When Maddie had bought an excellent peasant blouse, we headed back to Brasov to get lunch, before we then went on to Sinaia.
We were headed for Peles Castle, the castle of the first monarchs of Romania. A castle which no less than two people had told me I should go and see rather than Bran. Because it was a little late in the day when our train arrived in Sinaia, we jumped in a taxi (yes, another one) and he sped us far into the hills to the castle. Thankfully we made the last tour.
This is one small section of the outside.
You can only go round Peles on guided tour, and I’m not a guided tour fan. But this one was definitely worth it. Completely over the top, Peles is a joy to discover and I only wish I was allowed to show you my photos of it, because from Murano glass chandeliers to a ceiling made of 24 carat gold to a cinema decorated by Gustav Klimt, it’s incredible. Unfortunately, you have to have permission to put photos of Peles on the internet, and I don’t…
Peles was beautiful and next door is another castle called Pelisor. There was also a classic car exhibition the day we went and the weather was glorious. I can see why I was told to go to Peles not Bran. I am glad I went to Bran though. You can’t go to Transylvania and not go to Dracula’s castle. Even if it looks nothing like what you expected.
Pelisor was rather smaller than Peles.
We probably could have spent more time in Sinaia, especially considering they have a monastery that is simply gorgeous. But with everything closing, we headed back to the railway station and back to Brasov, for a relatively reasonable night. Because in the morning we were going bear hunting.
The monastery was gorgeous but we didn’t go in.
Before you leave an angry comment and vow never to read my blog again, we weren’t actually hunting bears. We were metaphorically hunting. Figure of speech hunting. We were headed to the Libearty Bear Sanctuary near Zarnesti to see bears without harming them in any fashion. We actually started the day in Rasnov, because that was as close as we could get by public transport and then we had to take a taxi. Bless that taxi driver for taking us up a very bumpy farm type road.
The bear sanctuary was incredible. They take in mistreated bears and look after them. They’re still wild animals and I wouldn’t like to end up on the wrong side of the enclosure fences but the bears are also happy to come up to the fence to say hello. You can only go round by guided tour which they do in English and Romanian, and our guide was so lovely.
It was a really great experience. Our only problem was then getting back to Rasnov or Brasnov. The sanctuary didn’t have a taxi number and neither did we. Thankfully, a helpful gentleman there with his family rang a taxi for us, haggled on our behalf and then waited to make sure the taxi turned up. He was outstanding, and we were very grateful for his help.
Once we’d got back to Brasnov, we went to pick up our bags as we were headed back to Bucharest for one final night. We stayed at the Umbrella Hostel again, this time in their super duper private room. It was nice and had a private bathroom. Luxury. We headed out to try and go to the Dimitrie Gustie National Village Museum, but alas, when we reached it, it was closed. But we had a lovely wander through a park and got ice cream. What could be better?
We went back to Ceru’ cu Bere for our final meal in Bucharest, and it was delicious. Although the service wasn’t as good, but that could maybe because it was now the weekend and the evening. Who knows. I’d still recommend it. And that was the end of the Romanian adventure.
We packed an awful lot into four days and it was great. I don’t know if I’d hurry back to Bucharest. It’s lovely but I much preferred Brasov and the surrounding area, even if Transylvania doesn’t feel very Transylvania-y in brilliant sunshine. There’s still a lot of Romania left to explore, but that’s an adventure for another time.
Great hair, cool bears, don’t care.