Dracula has Left the Building

1 06 2008

Bucharest, Romania

Our arrival in Bucharest marked a day of firsts; first time in Romania, first day abroad, first time in a hostel, first time getting ripped of by a taxi driver. That may sound bad, but I think getting ripped off because you’re a tourist is a rite of passage. It says, welcome to my country, let me take advantage of your before you know too much. And to be quite honest, we were only ripped off a little bit, and when I pointed out to the driver that I wouldn’t be able to pay him if the meter climbed much higher, he kindly turned it off. So I think we both got what we wanted in the end. Now if I could do it all over again, I would have arrived before 6pm so that I could have purchased a bus ticket for all of $1.50, but we arrived at 10pm and there were no other options besides the Fly Taxi’s. Note to self, arrive at your destination during the day so that you have time to do some tourist-floundering.

Now it may seem a little harsh to get ripped off when you first arrive in a country, but I am happy to say that we have not been taken advantage of since. Quite to the contrary, the generosity of the Romania people is unmatched. We were warmly welcomed by Eugene at The Lucky House Hostel, who would soon become my favorite person after he gladly did a load of our laundry, which we had sealed in a bag so as to keep away the flies. Lucky House is not the least expensive hostel, and it was a bit difficult for the taxi driver to find, but the beds were comfy, the area was quiet, and that angel named Eugene did my laundry! Staying in a quiet area of Bucharest is pretty important considering it is definitely a hopping city. We arrived late at night and there were plenty of people out walking around the city center. We spent the next day walking around ourselves and we barely covered a quarter of the city in six hours. Bucharest is big. The three areas we did get to were Piata Unirii, which is just south of the city center, but has a great mall and grocery store (Carrefour), the historic center, and the Cismigiu Gardens. Now I would vote the gardens as the best spot in the city as it was very quiet and they had great cafes by the water as well as boats you could rent out, but I would have to say that the best discovery of all was at the grocery store. You want a reason to visit Romania? Three words: two, liter, beers.

Piata Unirii cismigui-gardens 2-liter-beer

OK, confession time. Bucharest is a big, hopping city, but I don’t think one could call it a destination location. Even the Romanians that we have talked to would kind of roll their eyes at Bucharest. In comparison to the rest of Romania, it just isn’t very pretty or inviting. So after two days and many suggestions from other travelers, we decided to move on to Brasov in Transylvania. Now before everyone starts getting giddy about us visiting Dracula country, I would like to direct you to the title of this post. Dracula is a creepy story about a possibly bisexual vampire who needed a better social life. Vlad the Impaler was a tortured little boy prince who invented a nifty way to kill someone over the course of 48 hours. Brasov, Romania is a gorgeous town with a city square made for postcards. Spooky is the last thing you think about when you see this place.

piata-sfataului

We arrived in Brasov via an incredibly clean train and took the bus the Piata Sfataului, the city center. We popped into the tourist office to ask for some help in finding a hotel and, by chance, met a nice woman named Terezia Gosler who owned a pension very close by. We decided to check it out since the price was reasonable. She led us to a building that had no sign outside and was surrounded by various businesses, but inside was a breakfast area surrounded by flowering plants and topped with a glass ceiling. Each room has its own bathroom, a steady stream of hot water, fans, and skylights. After seeing it, I would have to say that Casa Terezia is a total bargain. After staying in a hostel, I’d have to say that it was heaven. Not only is Terry one of the nicest women we met in Romania, she maintains an amenity-filled pension that is very safe, and is only a five minute walk to the center. She only has three rooms, so if you want to visit Brasov, email her in advance.

OK, so now I will attempt to describe the coolness that is Brasov. Gage and I lucked out with Casa Terezia for two reasons, not only was it a great place to stay, but we made two new friends. In the room next to us was Oren, a resident of the UK, and he had hired a great tour guide named Julian, who owns a company called Brasov Traveller. We spent a good portion of the night chatting with Oren and the three of us went to breakfast the next morning. He invited us to come along on a castle tour with Julian as he had hired out a private car. You don’t say no to an offer like that, so the next thing we know we were off to the Rasnov Fortress and Peles Palace in Sinaia. Most people who visit Brasov go to the castle in Bran which is the “Dracula Castle”, but we skipped it because we didn’t have much time and because tourists are often disappointed to find that the castle is empty and that the only time Vlad spent there was in the underground prison when he was a boy. Rasnov Fortress and the Peles Palace, on the other hand, did not disappoint at all. The mountains next to Rasnov Fortress were the setting for the film “Cold Mountain” and Peles Palace is one of the few old-school castles you’ll find with a central heat and air, elevators, and retractable glass roof. We were so excited to visit the castles surrounding Brasov and it was even more fun doing so with Oren and Julian.

rasnov-fortress peles-palace oren

We dropped Oren at the train station to head back home and drove back to Brasov with Julian. Before dropping us off at home he offered to hook us up with some bikes and then took the time to point out some great sites to visit around Brasov. We never realized how much of a difference mobility could make. Suddenly the entire town was accessible. We took full advantage of the bikes and Julian’s great advice. On the southwestern side of town is the gorgeous Solomon’s Rock which is a great picnic spot completely with tables, benches and a waterfall. We made sandwiches and hiked into the mountain a bit before remembering that little tidbit about the large bear population of Brasov and quickly made our way back down the mountain.

solomons-rock-picnic solomons-rock gage-bike

We took the bikes to a little restaurant next to Autogara II that Julian suggested and had some amazing Romanian soups and desserts. It was a trek to get out there, but getting out of the city center and away from the tourist areas ensured better food and a nicer wait staff. Having the bikes not only allowed us to get to locations on the outskirts of the city, it also gave us ample opportunity to see how nice Romanians are. I needed some air in my tires and asked a kid passing me by on a bike if he knew where I could blow it up. In broken Romanian he told me to wait there as he raced off to a nearby bike shop to see if it was open before giving me directions. Another time Gage’s chain fell off after he went off a big bump and some guy, without a word, flipped Gage’s bike over, fixed the chain, then smiled and went on his way. It’s amazing how people who give you something and expect money in return make you feel like you’ve been had, but those people who give and expect nothing make you want to give them something, anything, in return.

Many thanks to Oren, Julian, Terezia, and every resident of Brasov who put up with our broken Romanian. For more pictures of Brasov, click here.

Bucharest Recommendations:
– Legendary breakfast and highly recommended place to stay, Butterfly Villa Hostel. Not to mention it’s a good price. It fills up fast though, so The Lucky House Hostel is a good backup.
– Carrefour is the best grocery store in the city, with two floors of goodies. Getting inside is a bit tricky though. The entrance is in an ally behind the big mall/department store off of Piata Unirii.
– The only decent map of Bucharest can be found at http://www.romaniatourism.com/maps.html.

Brasov Recommendations:
– Skip Bran Castle and Poiana Brasov. Vlad’s only “stay” at Bran was when he was raped by the dungeon guards (and we wonder why he was so messed up). Poiana Brasov costs 3.50 Lei/$1.50 for a one-way ticket and is only cool if you’ve never seen a ski resort town before.
Casa Terezia will give you a 10% discount if you book ten days in advance. It’s the most clean an comfortable you can get at this price, but if you’re looking for cheaper, Hotel Aro Sport is reasonable and very close to the center. All of the hostels in town are in Piata Unirii which is a (pleasant) ten minute walk to city center.
– Hike Mt Tampa if you have the energy. It’s an easy hike with the exception of some necessary tree hopping in the beginning and it allows you to scoff at the people at the top who took the tram. 6 Lei to get back down if you get too tired.
– Solomon’s rock (Pietrele lui Solomon) is off of most maps, but if you take Republicii Street southwest to Piata Unirii and then take either of the main roads southwest for about 20-30 minutes (by bike), you’ll hit it.
– If you see a stand that says Fornetti, stop there are ask for one of each. They have these awesome little pastries in about 12 different flavors and they are delicious, cheap and addictive!
– If you decide to hire a tour guide when you are here, you can contact Julian from the kiosk in the center of town, next to the tourist office. Just make sure you select Brasov -> Serivices -> Tourism -> Brasov Traveller. He’s also happy to give you suggestions and info for free.

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6 responses

1 06 2008
dad

You should submit this read-out to the Romanian Tourist Bureau. As great as you make the place and the people sound (which I’m sure they really are), the Bureau would probably pay you to continue to travel around the country and write about it.

The pictures were great too. And not one impaled person to be seen!

2 06 2008
Shannon Bone

Love the blog and the personality it has. We are thinking of you all and appreciate the dedication of keeping your extended family in the loop.

Hugs!

The bones

2 06 2008
Sarah

Paul was looking at the pictures and remembers some of the places you have been to on your trip. It looks fun. I want to go real bad! one day I will go. I can’ twait to see more of your trip. Have fun!

2 06 2008
colonna

Romania looks beautiful. Thanks for keeping us updated… all your favorite Charlotteans are always wondering what adventures your wanderlust is bringing you! So be safe, experience everything and keep telling us all about it!

5 06 2008
Joseph Schlosser

Romania looks AWESOME – and I bet that “Schloss”gold beer was tasty! (it just sounds good from the name alone!) It’s nice to hear you guys are having a good time. Looking forward to hearing and seeing a new city in your next post!

Cheers!

10 06 2008
Rose

What a coincidence to see you in Brasov!
It was nice to see you again
i hope you enjoyed your time in Romania
i finally left Romania on the 4th, because i had to continue my trip, be back in Paris June 20th…
but it was against heart
brasov, just to read the name of this city makes me dream 🙂
i just fell in love with that place
where are you now?
Hungary?
i am currently in Martin, Slovakia
yesterday, i went to Praha
and i think that in the following days i will move to Germany
it feels weird to gradually come back to West…
i am not sure if i really want to … :S
well, write some news
i want to know about your dreamy trip
i ll keep reading you even home
take care and enjoy every second of this experience!!!
lucky 🙂

Rose xxx

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