Day 11: Bookarest

Today was our last day in Bucharest and our last full day in Romania, so we decided to spend the day tying up loose traveller ends in the city – the Palace of Parliament, and the Carturesti Carusel Book Shop.

We had seen many photos of the book shop on Pinterest and other websites.  Opened in 2016, the beautiful shining white beacon of book heaven boasts 6 floors including music in the basement and a bistro on the top floor.  We love books and book related things, so we were more than a little excited to check it out, and it did not disappoint.


There were plenty of books in English, not just Romanian for us to drool over, as well as a whole wall devoted to one of my favourite things, stationery.  The shop was everything I wanted it to be and more.  I probably could have spent a whole day there, and if there was a shop like this in the Lower Mainland, I would go there at least once a week.


After getting dragged out of the shop, we headed across town to a concrete Communist colossus – the Palace of Parliament.  One thing I haven’t really talked about on here was Romania’s years behind the Iron Curtain under the brutal rule of dictator Nicolae Ceaušescu.  Under his thumb the country went broke and starved, all the while he was emptying Romania’s coffers into his selfish passion project, the Palace of Parliament.


Ceaušescu ordered that 7 square kilometres of old town be demolished, including the national archives, several churches and synagogues and 40,000 people had to be relocated.  He insisted that only Romanian materials were used – tapestries, marble, wood, crystal.  Between 20,000 to 100,000 people worked on the building with several thousand dying in the process, some under mysterious circumstances.  The Palace is now considered the 2nd largest administrative building in the world at 3,930,000 square feet  (1st is the Pentagon) and the heaviest building in the world (I don’t know), weighing about 4,098,500,000 kilograms, causing it to sink about 6mm every year.  Because it’s only actually 65% complete, civilians are only able to view a small part of it.  We tried to get in for a tour, but were unsuccessful.


We decided to walk back to the old town and admired some of the faded glory of the city along the way.  Bucharest used to be known as the Paris of the East, but due to the extreme poverty that the city was subjected to, it is a mere shadow of its former self.


We found a delightful little ice cream shop called Emilia Cremerie and indulged (I had vanilla and pistachio and almond).


Our last activity before dinner and then locking ourselves in for the night was to check on the Stavropoleos Monastery.  It’s a tiny little Eastern Orthodox church with a little courtyard and monastery building.  It was built in 1724 and houses many sacred manuscripts and texts, as well as stonework, art and icons that were almost destroyed when the Communist government started knocking down churches.


After a delicious dinner of kebab where I caught sight of my future husband (he is unaware at this point), watched an English bachelor party slowly descend into drunken tomfoolery and listened to an American blowhard wearing a shirt that said “I’m jealous of me too” talk NON STOP about women, girls he’s slept with, how to properly aerate red wine because “no one else knows how to do it”, what he would say to Bucharest to better their tourism scene, etc etc etc, we headed back to Casa DeCaigny to pack for our travels tomorrow, destination Bulgaria.

Day 10: If I Should Stay, I Would Only Be In Your Way

With heavy hearts, this morning we packed our things and spent as much time as we could in our awesome loft at Drachenhaus in fantastic Brašov before having to catch the train to our final destination in Romania, the capital city of Bucharest.  Seriously, if you’re looking for a place to travel that has natural and architectural beauty, lovely people, delicious food, good climate and VERY low cost, Brašov is the place to go.  I can’t say enough good things about it.

We headed to the train station and after dodging the gaze of some rather unsavoury looking adolescent males, we climbed aboard yet another train, pushing further east.  The train ride was mostly scenic – cut through the Carpathian Mountains with its green fields and babbling brooks.  Beethoven’s Symphony 6 – the pastoral comes to mind.  Clear of the mountains, the landscape is again flat, mostly farmer’s fields.  At 1600hrs our train pulled into Gara de Nord in Bucharest, only slightly less sketchy than the Gard du Nord in Paris.  Climbing off of the train we noticed a few regular police, some ERT looking guys as well as Gendarmerie escorting an older man and his wife off in handcuffs.  I really wish I knew what this guy did.

Anyhow, we got a taxi (apparently you’re better off using Uber in Bucharest, but we found that out later) and were dropped off at the pedestrian only old town, clacked our rolling luggage over the cobblestones and found our apartment for the next two nights, RedLotus Accommodation.  Our contact there, Andrei, was a wealth of info and led us up the 87 flights of stairs to our 2nd storey apartment, which is enormous.  We dumped our bags and headed out for some photos and dinner.


A restaurant that both Pa and I had read a lot about is a place 4 minutes from our apartment called Caru’ cu Bere – “The Beer Wagon”.  Caru’ cu Bere is an old Belle époque beer hall with wood and stained glass décor and a beer recipe dating back to 1879.


We grabbed a table outside and ordered beers from our charming waiter who advised that there was only 2 minutes left on their happy hour deal of buy one beer, get the second free, so Pa and I both ordered 2 beers.  Pa and I dined on huge, juicy t-bone steak while Ma had grilled vegetables and mashed potatoes.  Ma ended with apple strudel and Pa and I had some ice cream.


We went inside to check out the amazing interior, and ended up getting blocked in by traditional dancers.


Once we made our escape, we headed out into the cool evening and wandered the street for a few minutes before tucking in for the night.


Day 9: Once Again…Welcome to My House

Today we were up pretty early and out the door to catch a tour.  We signed up with Viator to see Bran Castle, Râšnov Fortress and Peleš Castle.  After a bit of a kerfuffle, we met our tour guide and driver Manuella (Manu) and the four others on our tour.  We loaded up the mini bus and were on our way to the town of Bran, where Bran Castle lies.


Bran Castle was built by the Teutonic Knights in 1212 and belonged to various Saxon and Hungarian kings until the 20th century when Transylvania, Wallachia and Moldavia finally united to become the country of Romania.  The castle became a favourite residence of Queen Maria who spent a lot of her time there.

The castle is probably more famously known as Dracula’s Castle.  There is no evidence that Bram Stoker spent any time there whatsoever, but in the 1970s the Romanian Communist government discovered what a big money maker vampire-related things were, so they funded a bunch of research to see which castle beloved Wallachian monarch Vlad Dracula probably spent the most time in, and their findings (???) were that he probably spent the most time at Bran Castle.


The weather was appropriate for the castle – some blue sky, by mostly rainy and misty.  Our tour guide Manu talked to us about the history of the castle on our drive there and how the Romanian people LOVE Vlad Dracula as he had the courage to stand up to the aggressive and ever-expanding Ottoman Empire.  She also explained his name, as he is known as Vlad Dracul, Vlad Dracula, Vlad the Impaler and Vlad Tepeš.  It turns out that his dad was Vlad Dracul (the Dragon) and as our Vlad was the first born son, his was known at the time as Vlad Dracula (son of the Dragon).  He wasn’t called Vlad the Impaler until 200 years after his death, and Tepeš is Romanian for Impaler.

We parked the bus, walked a gauntlet of cheesy chachki, trinkets and trash and climbed the steep, slick stone path up to the castle.

The interior of Bran Castle is not spooky or gloomy at all.  The decor was pretty tasteful and walls were all painted white.  We filed through a sunny courtyard, secret passageway (claustrophobics BEWARE), library and bedrooms.


Manu advised us that the best time to visit the castle is in November as crowds are the most thinned out and that in July and August it’s an absolute nightmare – people shuffle through so slowly the halls and passages become unbearably hot and stuffy.


After about 30 minutes inside we headed back down the hill to a trail crossroads where Manu said is the best vantage point to take photos.  By that point the sky had really opened up and we were caught in the downpour.


We all loaded back in the bus and sped off to our second visit, Râšnov Fortress.  The fortress is about halfway between Brašov and Bran Castle, perched high on a hill and, like Brašov, boasts its own Hollywood-style sign.


Râšnov was again built by Teutonic Knights in the 1200s and Romanians boast that it is the only undefeated heavyweight champion of fortresses (they don’t count the time in the 1600s when an Austrian ruler heard that fact, decided to conquer it out of pride, almost gave up, but then found the fortress’ water source and blocked it, effectively making the fortress surrender.  They say that it wasn’t technically conquered in “battle”.  Semantics…)

Anyway, we parked the bus again and climbed aboard a tractor headed for the top of the mountain.  On the way up we passed by a Dino World.  There have not been any dinosaurs dug up in Romania, it was just another money-making idea.


Most of the fortress is in ruins or in various stages of deterioration, but we climbed all the way to the top over some jagged and precarious rocks for a pretty stunning view of the forested mountains around and green valley below.


After we had had our fill of the fortress, we hopped back on the tractor for the ride down the mountain.  Then we were back on the road, stopping at a gas station for a coffee and a snack.  Turns out gas station food in Romanian is really fresh and tasty and a popular place to get snacks, unlike the Russian roulette of “meat” and “sandwiches” and “sushi” that Canadian gas stations offer.

We then headed to our final stop, Peleš Castle, which was a 40 minute drive.  On the way, Manu told us about Romania’s relationship with their favourite animal, the European Brown Bear.  Romania is one of the only countries left in Europe where you can find a lot of wildlife, including bears, and they are very proud of that.  She told stories of how there used to be so many bears on Mount Tampa in Brašov that people were routinely getting attacked and that the bears would often wander into town looking for food.  They also joke about the “Brašov Friendship Test”, stemming from a bear attack a few years ago (two American students went hiking on Mount Tampa after 1800hrs, which is advised against, when they startled a bear and started running.  The bear chased them, and one of the students tripped and fell and the bear attacked him.  The other student came back for his friend, kicked the bear and got his friend to safety), as well as their bear sanctuary that rescues bears from circuses and zoos the world over.

We entered the town of Sinaia, a beautiful resort town, popular in the summer for the cool and refreshing air and popular in the winter for the mountains and skiing.  Like a Romanian Whistler.  There were stunning hotels and guests houses lining the streets, and at the end of a cobbled road arose the exquisite Peleš Castle.


Construction on this Neo-Renaissance masterpiece was started in 1873 after King Carol the First fell in love with the alluring surroundings and fertile hunting grounds.  It took just over 40 years to complete and sadly King Carol could only enjoy the castle for a short time as he died a few months after construction was completed.  Eventually in 1947 the monarch of the time King Michael was forced to abdicate the throne and the castle was seized by the Communist government and used for government meetings and functions. After the Romanian revolution in 1989, the castle was deemed a heritage site and re-opened to the public.


The castle boasts a lovely manicured gardens, complete with statues and fountains.


We gawked at the pretty exterior until it was time to start the guided tour.  We don’t often do guided tours when we travel, and today was another reminder why we made that decision – although the castle was beautiful and well worth seeing, we hate getting corralled through, everyone together, most people rude or pushing or not following the rules.  Nonetheless we put on our blue protective booties, paid our photography tax and started shuffling through with the rest of the group.


Although I haven’t been to many castles, Peleš is definitely the stand out – sumptuous woodwork and elegant glass and mirrors highlight the rooms.


There is even a beautiful two storey library with a spiral staircase and a secret passage (it’s the cabinet on the right, where the books look flush with the glass).



After 40 minutes in the castle, our tour of not only Peleš was done, but so was our grand tour for the day.  Manu dropped us off right in front of Drachenhaus and recommended a restaurant in the old town called Bistro de l’Arte for dinner.  We said our goodbyes and headed for dinner, enjoying our meals while watching the clouds roll in.  We got back to our hotel just in time to enjoy another thunder and lightning storm for our final night in Brašov.