This post is a little late…. but you know how it gets when you get back from vacation and just can’t quite get back into the swing of things?
We had a wonderful time in Bucharest, Romania! There were so many things that we had the chance to do and see, it was educational as well, but not in the boring way!!!
We landed pretty late in the evening and only had enough time to check in to our hotel, drop our bags and crash out for the night. The next morning we didn’t have any tours or anything planned so we had time to wander around the area near our hotel. I had done some research and booked a hotel on the edge of Old Town, so we were right in the middle of the historical district! Our hotel, Europa Royale, was perfect. We didn’t have to walk far for food and drinks, museums, churches, or anything! The cost of the hotel restaurant was a little pricey, and there were so many other choices we just ate in Old Town for all of our meals. The only down side to the hotel was the parking lot is about a block and a half away, so the pick ups for our tours were a bit hectic.
Our first full day we took a map from the concierge and went out on an adventure! We were able to walk everywhere we wanted to go from our hotel without getting too winded. Our first stop was the Bucharest History Museum in Palatul Sutu. It was really interesting because the exhibit starts in the present day and works its way backwards through time.
This is the only history museum I have been to where is got back in time instead of starting at the beginning and working forward. Everything was in both Romanian and English so it wasn’t hard to follow the history; there were all kinds of photos, documents, paintings, and clothing from every period! There was a wall describing the legend of how Bucharest got it’s name, and how the city was first settled.
One of the really interesting things we saw was towards the end of the exhibit, it was the document where the very first written account of there being a city called Bucharest. The document was a letter written by Vlad Tepes in 1459. Up until this point in history Romania had mostly and oral history because they were an area of constant turmoil. Being a gateway city, halfway between Istanbul and Budapest, it was under attack quite frequently and having to rebuild parts of the city constantly. Even in the Old Town the buildings are fairly “new”.
As we left the museum we were given a map and if you have ever traveled you know that the map doesn’t cover the entire page, there are advertisements all around the edge. Sometimes there are really neat things you can find, but mostly its the expensive stuff to do. Well we lucked out and there was an advert for a free walking tour of the city! So I am sure you can guess what we did that night….. Walkabout Free Tour! They have tours in a bunch of different cities, so I suggest you check out the website and make sure you don’t miss out on the super informational Free Walking Tour. Our guide, Livia, was really knowledgeable and was able to answer all questions thrown at her from the whole group!
We learned all about the People’s Palace and the communist regime, we then went into Old Town and saw the Old Princely Court and learned about Vlad Tepes (aka Vlad the Impaler) and how Bram Stoker took the stories and turned them into Dracula. We also saw the oldest building that is still in use the Hanu Lui Manuc, it was an inn and market and now hosts a restaurant and will soon be restored to also have a hotel.
There was also a monastery that we stopped at that has one of the only representations of true Romanian architecture, Stavropoleos Monastery. It was beautiful inside and out! This was the first time I had ever been inside of a Romanian Orthodox church, and I was amazed at the intricacy and beauty of the hand painted walls, ceiling, and icon wall. I also learned about the different parts of the church and why the altar is behind the icon wall.
From the center of Old Town and the monastery we walked to Victory Avenue. It was the avenue that the troops marched back into the city on after the Romanian Independence War. The road is wider than most of the others that run through the city and traffic only runs in one direction, the way the troops marched in North to South. We followed the avenue up to Revolution Square and learned all about the revolution in 1989 and the fall of the communist regime. It was interesting to hear some of Livia’s memories from that time and being a little girl. Later in our trip we were able to hear more about what it was like to live in communist Romania from some of our other tour guides who were a little older and able to really tell us about everyday life.
The next day we went on our first “official” tour of the trip, Bites and Sights of the city. Again we saw a ton of the sights and were treated to a super knowledgeable tour guide! The company we booked the tour through is the same on we did the food tour in Athens. The company Urban Adventures have tours all over and I recommend seeing if there is a food tour at your next destination! After we saw all the “Sights” we went to get the “Bites”. We ate at a great place right in the middle of Old Town called Caru’ cu bere. The name of the restaurant Caru’ cu bere translates to Beer Carriage, and the brothers who established the place came to Romania with a beer recipe and were able to build a thriving gathering place where tourist and local all want to spend time. We had traditional Romanian food and beer, the atmosphere is addictive and you won’t want to leave!!! James and I made our way back here later in our trip, and got to enjoy even more of the delicious food and beer!
Since that tour ended earlier than we thought it would, we decided to head back to the hotel to pick up our passports and go do the tour at the Parliament Palace.
First off, this place is absolutely HUGE!! It was built during the communist period, and the man who started building it never had the opportunity to use it. Believe it or not the interior of the building is not completed! The uppermost floors are not finished and used mostly for storage. However, there are plenty of rooms that complete and extremely lavish.
It was meant to be the central headquarters for the communist party in Romania. All of the materials are from all over Romania. It was a bit disorienting because when we started the tour we were down in a basement type room, after making our way up a few flights of stairs to start the actual tour the guide asked us if we knew what floor we were currently on.
There were answers thrown out like 4, 6, and I don’t know. We were actually only on the ground floor! The palace was built on a hill, so it depends on which way you look at it to know which floor you are on. We were able to go up to the terrace level and look out at a great 360 degree view of Bucharest. I could almost see our hotel! It was also a nice time to get a break and get off our feet for a few minutes, you would not believe how much walking was involved in this tour! The crazy part was the tour only shows less than 10 percent of the entire building.
The communist leader who built the palace wanted to have a huge balcony on which he could give grand speeches, again he was never able to actually use the building but there was someone who did…Michael Jackson! The balcony is beautiful and the view is great too! Once we finished the tour we headed back toward Old Town to head to our dinner reservation at Hanu Lui Manuc. The atmosphere in the restaurant was lively and the food was delicious! We got lucky and our hotel was just across the alley so we decided to try some of the local wine with dinner. It was the restaurants label wine and it was wonderful, the homemade fresh bread at every restaurant was good but this place topped them all. There was live music playing and conversations going all around, if there was one place that I felt truly immersed in the culture it was here!
The next two days of our trip were spent following the life of Vlad Tepes and the legend of Dracula! If you have the opportunity to travel to Romania and want a super personalized day trip or tour you need to book with Stefan at Eastern European Experience! They go above and beyond any tour we have ever taken, everything was personalized and the guide we had on the first day was super knowledgeable and on our second day we had Stefan as our guide!
The first day we went up to Targoviste which is where the original capital of the country was located and where the royal court was.
We had the chance to walk around the court, even though they were closed for the day, and got to climb up the tower that was the watchtower for the city. After that we drove out to Poenari Fortress which is where Vlad Tepes would go to protect from the Ottomans. There are tons of legends that surround the fortress. It really is a fortress built at the top of a mountain! It takes 1480 steps to get up to the top, and by steps I mean stair steps. They are smart and you don’t pay to get into the fortress until the very top!
I was wearing my fitbit and boy did it party that day! Up at the top inside the fortress they had mannequins impaled in the style that Vlad would have done to his opponents in battle. I would suggest doing this part of a tour just because it is interesting and the view from the top is breath-taking, however if you have any physical issues climbing stairs you need to skip Poenari Fortress. We spent most of our day climbing up and down the mountain to the fortress, so we had to rush a bit for the end of our day. We drove through the mountains to get to Transylvania so we could make our way to Bran Castle, which is also known as Dracula’s Castle because it was the inspiration for Dracula’s castle in Bram Stoker’s novel. The drive was the most twisted and turny drive I have ever been on! Luckily neither James or I get car sick, if you do I would not recommend this drive at all!
We managed to get to Bran right before they stopped selling entrance tickets, and were able to get inside. The castle sits right on the border of Wallachia and Transylvania, literally on the border, you can see the stone wall that was once the border from the top of the castle. It was used as a home for the royal family, and the rooms are set up the way the queen enjoyed having them decorated. Throughout the castle you can see pictures and read the history of parts of the royal family, but my favorite room was the one dedicated to the legend of Dracula and how he came to be through Stoker’s novel and lives on through modern movies. There was also a secret staircase that was creepy enough when lit and got super spooky when the lights were turned off!
The second day of Dracula tours took us to Snagov Monastery which is the widely accepted burial site of Vlad Tepes. The monastery is located on a small island in the middle of a beautiful lake. At one time the only way to get to the monastery was by boat, lucky for us there is a walking bridge for easy access to the island. There are times when I have walked into a place of worship and have felt the holiness of the location, this was one of those times. The interior of the monastery was absolutely gorgeous! Everything hand painted and well preserved. In the middle of the church was a concrete marker with a vase of flowers; it is believed that the monks of the monastery went out after Vlad Tepes’ last battle, which was not far from the monastery, and retrieved his body to bury, his head had been taken to Constantinople to prove that the Impaler was dead.We walked around the island a bit and got to see that the monastery is still in working order. Afterwards we headed back into Bucharest and made our way over to Mogosoaia Palace, which was a summer home for the royal family. It was a beautiful palace that houses some art exhibits. The palace backs up to a small river that is one of the connectors to all of the lakes near Bucharest. James and I decided to take a walk through the attached park and down the lane where the carriages would drive up to the palace to drop off its occupants. We met back up with Stefan as we finished our walk and he took us back into the city proper. We had him drop us off at the Village Museum, which has a collection of houses from all over the country and from all different points of Romania history.
As we drove back into the city Stefan gave us a delicious bottle of wine (that we enjoyed later that night) and made us reservations for that evening at his favorite table at Caru cu bere! We could not have asked for a more personal two days of tours!!
Our last full day the plans we had made fell through and so we just hung out around the hotel and Old Town until we had our wine tasting that night. We have really enjoyed trying different wines and foods from each country we have traveled to! Our tasting took place at the oldest wine bar in Bucharest, 1000 de Chipuri. We tasted four different wines that are produced all over Romania. We had the place all to ourselves and were able to enjoy more than one glass of each of the wines we liked! The server was very knowledgeable and we found out that the owner has gone around to buy wineries that were not doing well on their own after the fall of communism. 1000 de Chipuri roughly translates to 1000 faces, which represent the faces of the family wineries.
We had a wonderful time in Bucharest! I would recommend taking a step outside of your comfort zone and traveling somewhere new and interesting! If you are looking for that place Romania fits the bill!!!!!!