My trip began on flying into Bucharest, the capital of Romania. Originally I had planned on taking a sleeper train to Istanbul (my main destination on this trip) from Bucharest. However, after research I found the length of time for the ride to be too much. I did decide to continue investigate the capital. While Bucharest has much to offer it does not present itself as a tourist town. While a very large city it does not have the infrastructure set up to allow foreign tourists an easy time. Street signs are often not present and I did not get a feeling of being particularly welcome. Many times when attempting to shop or visit a restaurant I felt as I was more a burden than a source of income. I only speak English and Spanish and had I spoke French and/or German I believe the experience would have been much better as I heard many people speaking those languages. Even when purchasing train tickets I felt sorry for the woman at the help window having to deal with me! Bucharest also suffers from termendous traffic especially during rush hours but also for much of the daylight house. I tended to walk most of the time rather than taking taxis. In regards to taxis, the warnings I heard about drivers conning additional money from fares was true. Strangely it seemed to happen more when I had a taxi called for me from my hotel than when picking one up from a street corner which was opposite from what I had been told. My warning is to always ask the driver how much it will cost and be sure the meter is running. Also, the tails of street dogs is true. Do not approach them to feed or pet. While I was not attacked I did have one fresh from an altercation with another dog growl and lunge toward me as I walked past. Best to keep as much distance as possible.
On the plus side, Bucharest has invested heavily in museums and presenting its history. There are numerous museums throughout the city and all I visited were excellent! Bucharest also has a well deserved reputation for culture. Opera, theater, music are all represented and while I did not take time to enjoy them, if you are a fan of these venues Bucharest will not disappoint.
After my stay in Bucharest I boarded a train to visit the area in Transylvania called the "Saxon triangle". This includes Brasov, Sighisoara an Sibiu as the outer points. While I met some nice people on the train and had a great opportunity to see the landscape from the train, the trip ended up taking about 7 hours from Bucharest to Sibiu. A flight would have been less than two hours and not been that expensive. Also had I visited Brasov directly (rather than as a day-trip from Bucharest) it would have worked out much better. Once I arrived at my destination I was greatly rewarded. These cities are jewels in the crown of Romania. Clean, friendly and offering food and sightseeing in abundance. As stated I visited Brasov and area (Black Church, Peles Castle, local monestary and Bran Castle) which was not a bright move considering the 3 hour trip each way. Taking these trips from Brasov proper would have allowed much more time to enjoy. I arrived in Sibiu late in the afternoon and had enough time to visit the Old Town section which is a beautiful and well preserved section of the original medieval section of town and defensive wall. The next day was a train ride to Sighisoara, the hometown of Vlad Dracul. Another beautiful medieval town, I spent a whole day wandering the cobbled streets, shopping and enjoying the local food. The trip was about 2 hours from Sibiu and an enjoyable ride though my train back was about 45 minutes late in arriving. My biggest disappointment was not in being able to visit some of the outlying villages. These are best seen on the weekend and I arrive in Sibiu on Saturday which conflicted. Mostly my error though I lost a great deal of time due to the EuroRail website listing incorrect schedules. So I had to alter my plans to fit. So be sure to validate your travel if depending on trains. I much more enjoyed my visit in this area as it reflected what I imagined I would find. I only scratched the surface of Romania but would put forward this area as a great introduction and gateway to the rural areas which I hope to visit on my next trip.
Flying out of Sibiu I arrived in Istanbul in the early afternoon. Again, as in Bucharest, the traffic in Istanbul is a force to deal with. My trip from the airport to about two miles from my hotel took about 30 minutes. The last two miles in the area south of the Bosphorus took about the same amount. I would later walk that distance in about 10 minutes when heading out on my sightseeing. If you are able, avoid traveling via car/taxi and walk instead. If you plan on staying for more than several days then invest in a tram pass as it will provide great transportation.
To me Istanbul was a dream. Clean, friendly, great food and safe from crime. The only irritant is the constant calls from vendors to view their goods and eat in their restaurants. But this is Istanbul and why else are you there?! Besides eating and shopping I visited all the major sights, Hagia Sophia, Blue Mosque, Tokapi Palace, etc. The history is deep and wide. I would suggest if possible that one use a private guide rather than a group. I found it much more enjoyable and flexible and allowed me to tailor my tour to my personal interests. The Grand Bazaar and Spice Markets were just as I read and I enjoyed every minute of my trip there. I will end in saying that if Istanbul is on your list of places to visit, then put it at the top of your list and don't delay!
In closing I will say that while Istanbul provided great flexibility in travel, if one decides to visit Romania that you take extra care in your planning or extra time. My investigation fell well short of what I needed which caused me to lose out on seeing additional sights. Be sure to review train and bus schedule upon arrival and don't take what you find on the internet as definitive. Beyond that both destinations gave me enjoyment and I look foward to visiting each of them again in the future. If I can answer any questions please respond and I am happy to provide details. Also, if anyone has things to add, or corrections to make please feel free to do so. I would love people to gain additional insight into these historical places.
Romanian and Istanbul East meets West
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