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Trip Report Bucovina and Transylvania

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We recently returned from our trip to Romania. Thanks to everyone who helped us plan by answering my many questions. We had a few bumps along the way, but overall we enjoyed the trip. My husband, who enjoys landscape photography, was not particularly inspired, but we expected that going in to the trip. For most trips, we base in one location and take day trips, so we moved around much more on this trip than usual. Our main goals on this trip were to see the painted monasteries and to explore Translyvania, making sure to see Poenari Fortress and Vlad Tepes' birth place in Sighisoara for our son (age 11). Our daughter (age 10) was also with us. I'm happy to answer any questions or go into more detail if people are interested.

15 June - early morning flight from London Luton to Tirgu Mures, Romania. We flew on the budget airline Wizz Air. This was our first time flying with them and we had no problems at all. There wasn't a lot of room in the seats, but it was not a long flight. Carry-on baggage is very restricted but if you pay to check a bag it can weight up to 32 kg. We paid for 2 bags so we all just had backpacks for carry-ons. Our flight arrived early, but it took a while to make it through passport control since there was only 2 agents for the entire plane. Tirgu Mures is a very small airport.

We had arranged to rent an SUV with and they were great. On the advice of people on fodors we paid the extra amount to be fully covered with no excess. The agent met us at the airport and went over everything with us in detail, showing us where everything was, reminding us to use headlights at all times, and warning us that the police were picky on speed so to be careful. We then set out toward Vama in Bucovina where we had a place booked. We were happy that we rented an SUV because it gave us a little more room and complete confidence on the less than stellar roads. I believe we could have gone almost anywhere we did in a normal car, but it would have taken even longer. Plus, we had plenty of room for luggage and for my daughter to stretch out after an injury which I'll get to later.

This first drive was the worst of the trip. We expected lots of potholes and knew we wouldn't be traveling on highways, but it seemed like the first 2/3rds of our drive between the airport and Bucovina was through areas with one lane traffic due to road works. There were many areas where the side of the road was completely dug away (4-5 foot drop) with just a sign warning of danger, and nothing more. So this drive took longer than expected. It wasn't just that we were moving slow, but we often had to stop completely. It took us over 5 hours to go the 234km between the airport and Vama. There were many horse drawn carts filled to the brim with straw and lots of women in traditional dress along the roads. We liked that the houses were very decorative and often brightly colored. We arrived at Casa Elvira just after 6pm. It was nice, but since we were the only people there it felt a bit strange. It was very clean and spacious. We drove back to the previous town for dinner.

16 June (Saturday) - breakfast was good and it was ready at 7:30am as we had requested. After breakfast we got on the road to visit the painted monasteries. Our first stop was Moldovita Monastery and it was very impressive. The detailed paitings were amazing and told so many bible stories. I'm really glad we came to this area to see the monasteries. Next we went to Sucevita which was larger. The driving today was not bad at all so we ended up going to all 5 monasteries we planned to see in one day. Next was Arbore Monastery which was much smaller. We then had lunch and continued to Humor and Voronet. The weather was beautiful so I was able to get lots of great photos. We had originally planned to stay 3 nights in Vama, but decided to leave after 2 since we'd seen the monasteries we wanted to see.

17 June - Sunday - today we made the long drive between Vama and Brasov. We made better time than on the first day and arrived around 4pm after a quick stop for sandwiches and a picnic lunch along the way. We routed our drive through Bicaz Gorge which was nice but which would not have been worth the drive if we weren't already heading south. We showed up at Hotel Natural a day early and luckily they were able to fit us in for 4 nights instead of 3. This hotel was in a great location. There is parking in the front of the building but it is only saved with a sign that says 'no parking'. They simply moved their sign for us and we parked there every day (moving the sign back whenever we left). We walked around Brasov a bit the first night just to get a feel for the town. We knew that many places were closed on Mondays (which is why we originally planned our driving day for Monday), but we thought the Black Church was open Monday so we didn't worry about visiting on this first night. Unfortunately, we realized around 6:50pm when we wandered by that it closed at 7pm on Sunday and was not open on Monday so it would have to wait. We also thought there would be more souvenir shops (especially for my son who is very interested in the Dracula story and the real Vlad Tepes), but there were not as many as expected.

18 June - Monday - As expected, today was a slow day because not much is open on Mondays. We originally planned to visit Bran Castle on our last day after checking out so even though that was open we did not go there today. Breakfast was available from 7-9 and we were down at breakfast at 7am simply because we naturally wake early. We then headed out around 8am to wander around the town. Shops didn't open til 9 or 10 so we just walked around. We walked around the outside of the walls and went up to the White Tower and the Black Tower. They weren't open but it was a nice view. We then walked down to St. Nicholas Church before turning around and coming back to the main town. We then looked at some more shops and had lunch in one of the restaurants on the main strip. I don't remember the name but it was quite good. It was about 90 degrees Farenheit and sunny during our entire trip, so we came back for a bit to cool off. My daughter and I headed back out to get photos of St. Catherine's gate. We also went back to the Black Tower to get photos in better light. For dinner we just had desserts since we were still quite full from lunch. My husband had papanasi which is a Romanian dessert of fresh donuts covered in strawberry and cream sauce.

19 June Tuesday - Today did not start great because my son was sick to his stomach 5 times during the night between 11pm and 2:45am. He fell asleep in between each episode so he actually got more sleep than my husband and I. In all of our travels this is the first time anyone in our family has been sick to their stomach on a trip. We originally planned to visit Peles Palace and Rasnov Fortress today, but we switched our plans because we wanted to wait to see how our son was feeling. Surprisingly he was just a little tired and was able to eat. We still thought we should stick closer to town just in case so we decided to visit Prejmer Fortified Church and Harman Fortified Church. They are just a little north of town.

We went to Prejmer first and really enjoyed it. We've been to many churches and castles with walls around them, but we were actually able to go inside the walls and walk between the huge 10 foot thick outer walls and the inside rooms. Harman was also nice, but you couldn't walk in the walls as much so we liked Prejmer much better. Visiting these two places only took us a few hours, but we wanted to take it easy for my son. We went back to Brasov and went to lunch at La Sueta. My daughter and I had found this place the day before and thought the menu looked good. It is on the main driving street just after the Black Church. They don't have outside tables, but the inside is nice. After lunch we went to the Black Church which was just ok. The outside is very nice, but the inside was not as impressive. As we were walking around the church they were doing a dig on one side and were in the process of cleaning off a skeleton they had recently found buried outside the church. They hadn't posted any information on the background but it was interesting to see that first hand.

We then stopped back at the hotel for a bit because of the heat. I soon decided to go back out to see if the White and Black Towers were now open because I did not want to sit around at the hotel. Both my kids joined me. The White Tower was now open and there was a museum inside. It was ok, but nothing special. We did get more photos though. Unfortunately walking around in the afternoon heat was a bit too much for my son and he started feeling a bit queazy. We went back to the hotel so he could cool off again and rest. At dinner, my son did not feel like going anywhere so my daughter and I went out and just picked up some food to bring back and we had dinner at the hotel.

20 June - Wednesday - After some family discussion we decided that we did not want to save Bran til our driving day. We decided to completely skip Peles Palace and see Bran Castle and Rasnov Fortress today. Based on reviews I'm sure many people will think that was a crazy decision, but after visiting many manor houses and castles while living in England we know that we don't really care much for visiting palaces or castles where you must go on a guided tour at a certain pace. We also don't particularly enjoy castles or houses where people are currently living or have very recently lived and that mainly show the extensive furniture and decoration. We enjoy older ruins and castles so we think this was the right decision for us. We might have been wrong, but so far none of us regret the decision.

We arrived at Bran a bit before 9am and parked. Nobody was there to pay for parking so we asked a nearby policeman and he said just to park and pay the attendant when we returned (more on this later). We then went to Bran Castle which we really enjoyed. We paid the extra for the Torture Museum which was well worth it. We've been to other torture museums but this one was probably the most extensive. Our kids both enjoyed to room about the Dracula story. We then visited the many souvenir shops and had lunch at a very slow restaurant. When we got back to our car it was about 1pm. The attendant ran over and told us we owed 40 Lei (even though the posted price was 3.50 Lei an hour). We told him we hadn't been there that long. He started talking about the police and we told him to go ahead and call. We said we had talked to the police before parking so we had no problem if they wanted to call. In the end we paid him the 14 Lei for 4 hours and left.

Next we headed to Rasnov Fortess on our way back to Brasov. When we parked the photo in the parking lot made it look like the walk up the hill was very long so we paid for the tractor tram ride since it was another hot day. However, the ride wasn't worth it in my opinion since the path up to the Fortress wasn't nearly as far as it looked. I think our entire family was disappointed in Rasnov Fortress. I thought that there would be more remaining buildings based on the descriptions I'd read. Instead it seemed like the only thing there was the view and a bunch of souvenir shops based out of the old buildings. We did not spend much time at Rasnov Fortess at all. We then drove back to Brasov and went back to La Sueta for dinner.

21 June - Thursday - Today we checked out of hotel and drove to Poenari Fortress - the castle of Vlad Tepes. The drive past Bran was quite pretty and my husband commented that if we had stayed in Bran he probably would have been out with his camera more. We arrived around 11am. We had a quick snack and drink before climbing the 1480 steps to the castle. We thought this climb was going to take a while and be tiring but it was actually very easy. All but the last hundred steps or so are in the shade of the forest. The steps are quite small and there are some sections that are just flat so the climb only took about 25 minutes. There was a small souvenir stand at the top where the guy was selling tickets. We were the only people at the top while we were there. We spent about 40-45 minutes at the top. The castle isn't large but we just enjoyed the view and our kids did some vampire hunting while we were there. This was the number one location from the trip for me and both our kids. Our son has been asking to go to Romania for a few years. He has read the book Dracula and has also read the history of Vlad Tepes. He was most excited to visit Poenari Fortress, Bran Castle, and Sighisoara so this was really a highlight of the trip. Plus it was not touristy so it was very quiet.

After coming back down the steps we drove a bit around the left side of Lake Vidraru - that was not much of a road and the SUV came in handy. This is the one road we might not have chanced driving in a regular car. The potholes on this dirt road were over a foot deep and the road was just one continual huge dip after another. After driving for a bit down this road and taking photos, we went back to the town of Curtea de Arges (about 15 miles back) to get gas and have lunch. We then checked into our hotel called Pension Dracula which was only about 1 km from the base of Poenari Fortress. We had a huge room. There was no A/C but there was a fan and the kids each had their own large queen size bed.

After a while we went back out for a dessert dinner at a hotel right near the start of the climb to Poenari Fortress. We then went back to Lake Vidraru for sunset photos since this was the first time my husband had seen an area where he wanted to take photos that we could be at sunset or sunrise. We parked on the left side of the lake and my husband started setting up his tripod and camera. I took some photos and the kids started playing tag. We hadn't been there 5 minutes when my daughter fell and cut her knee badly on the loose rocks in the road. She scraped up a lot of her shin and knee but one section was torn quite deep and looked like it would need stitches because it was hanging loose. We got in the car and drove back to the restaurant where we'd had desserts since the waiter spoke very good English to ask where we could go for possible stitches at 7:30pm at night. He told us the nearest hospital was back in Curtea de Arges where we'd had lunch. We drove back to that town and stopped when we saw some policemen to ask for directions to the hospital. The policemen got in their car and had us follow them to the hospital which was helpful since it was not on the main road.
Once at the hospital we were seen within about 5 minutes in the emergency room. The doctor spoke enough English to understand the problem and it was fairly plain to see the injury. The doctor cleaned my daughter's knee thoroughly, then gave her anesthesia in the knee followed by stitches. They bandaged the knee, told her not to bend it and told us we needed to go back to a hospital the next day to have the bandage changed. They also started her on antibiotics and gave her a prescription for more. We then headed back to our hotel, thankful that we'd already climbed the 1480 steps that morning before the injury!

22 June - Friday - My daughter did not sleep well that night and I didn't either because I was worried about her. When she woke up the next morning she was sick to her stomach. I don't know if she was sick with the same thing my son had earlier in the week or if the injury or antibiotics were causing problems, but she was much sicker than my son had been . Although she was only physically sick twice, she felt very ill. We were supposed to set out driving the Transfagarasan Road today so having a child sick to their stomach was not great timing. She managed to get back to sleep after keeping down some motion sickness medicine so we let her sleep a while. We finally checked out and got on the road around 9:30am. We had asked at the desk and knew the Transfagarasan Road was open so we headed on our way. My daughter felt especially bad whenever the sun was hitting her so we hung a shirt in her window to shade her. She also had to sit with her leg out straight on the seat since she couldn't bend the knee and it kept going numb. Whenever I stopped to take photos, she would get out and stretch the leg a bit even though she wasn't feeling well. We enjoyed the drive but it would have been much better if everyone was feeling well.

After we crossed the Transfagarason Road, we had a quick stop for lunch at a gas station shop. Our daughter wasn't eating anything and could barely stand outside the car so that is the best we could do. We then drove on smaller roads to Sighisoara. Although listed as secondary roads these roads were smaller than expected, not in good shape, and went through some tiny towns that seemed almost deserted. It was pretty scenery here though.

We reached Sighisoara and checked into the Hotel Cavaler. We had two adjoining rooms and we were so happy with this hotel. It was wonderful to have the separate rooms with air conditioning because all my daughter wanted to do was lie lie down with a cold compress on her head. Our first stop after checking in was the hospital to get my daughter's bandage changed. She hardly made it between the car and the hospital without collapsing so once we got back to the hotel she just went to sleep. My husband stayed with her while my son and I went out to explore the citadel of Sighisoara. Hotel Cavaler was in a great location so close to the citadel but with modern rooms and parking. My son and I walked over to the old town and I took photos of him by the statue of Vlad Tepes and at the birthplace of Vlad Tepes which is now a restaurant. We walked all the way around the walls, taking photos at the towers and just wandering around town. I picked up some take-out pizza for us on the way back to the hotel since my daughter was in no condition to go out to eat and the dining room at the hotel was reserved for the night. My husband then headed out to the old town so he could get some photos. Sighisoara was his favorite town of our trip. That evening while he was out my daughter started feeling a little better so it seemed the worst of her stomach sickness was over.

23 June - Saturday - We had breakfast at the hotel and packed all of our luggage in the car before heading out to explore Sighisoara. Our daughter was feeling much better although she still was not back to normal. Her leg was very painful so my husband carried her up the path into the old town. It was hard for her to walk on the cobblestones and she was still very weak but she did her best. We explored the town, taking lots of rests, and then had an early lunch at the restaurant that is now in the house where Vlad Tepes was born. Both kids absolutely loved this. We took lots of photos. We then looked around the town a bit more and just as we were about to leave we saw a shop with traditionally carved bowls, spoons, crosses, and other items. These were by far the best souvenirs we saw on our trip. They had only recently set up a shop in the basement of one of the buildings. We then stopped for some ice cream before getting in the car and driving to Targu Mures where we were spending our last night.

The drive was easy and we found our hotel (the Hotel Concordia) with no problems. We had an apartment room which had a huge bedroom and a huge living room with a sofa bed. We called the rental car company and the agent came by to pick up our SUV. After grabbing some dinner we packed our luggage since we had arranged an early morning taxi ride to the airport at 3:50am and headed to bed early. Unfortunately there was tremendously loud music playing in the club underneath us which was keeping us all awake even with ear plugs. I finally went down and asked if we could move rooms. They agreed to move us to the next floor up which was fine and much quieter. Unfortunately, the room was very hot. We assumed it would cool down after having the A/C on for a while but it didn't so I went down to tell them the A/C was not working and it was very hot. The guy at the desk realized that the A/C was shut off for the entire floor. Once he turned it on, the room started to cool down, but it meant we got to sleep much later than originally planned.

24 June - Sunday - we got up early and the taxi was waiting for us as arranged. We checked in with Wizz Air for our flight at 6:10am. Since Wizz Air is a budget airline we did not have assigned seats and the flight was quite full. Since our daughter could not bend her leg or even walk very fast, my husband asked if he could carry her on at the same time as those with young children or people needing assistance. They had no problem with that and so he was able to get a seat near the front so she was able to sit with her leg up for the flight. Again, the flight was on time and uneventful. We picked up our car and drove home.

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