This is a summary of our trip to Romania. It was a very spontaneous and fun decision. We decided on renting a car and travelling mainly around the Carpatians for some mountain sightseeing and hiking.
We booked a flight with El-Al, which went really smooth. The food served was pretty good, with a gourmet sandwich from the famous chef Segev Moshe. We landed on time, Monday 09:40, and in complete fog in Otopeni airport, Bucharest.
We rented a car using economycarrentals.com, which is a search engine and booking service for rented cars. Agencies there are picked automatically. Ours was Touring. The reception clerk was very slow handling our reservation, and after about an hour he took our reservation and processed it. We then took a ride to a parking lot of rented cars outside the airport. The car was a Renault Symbol 2012. It was in perfect condition and worked very well. At about 11:30, we entered our car and began our adventure.
Since this was not only my first time driving a car in a foreign country, but also using my phone’s GPS, I tried to prepare myself with some apps: I downloaded offline Google maps for the Navigation app and Sygic. Unfortunately, we weren’t equipped with paper maps, relying solely on my GPS capable phone and the offline capabilities of the GPS apps I downloaded. First lesson learned: the new offline feature of Google Maps sucks. It’s impossible to make any kind of search, even for street addresses, making those maps completely useless for navigation. Second lesson learned: Offline Google maps do not work with Navigation. It requires online activity only. So I used Sygic, which has offline maps, but had a poorer interface.
Getting to Dorina Residence, our first hotel, was a difficult task. We were practically driving blind. We tried asking around but Romanians know very little English. They are all very nice people and everyone we asked was very eager to help us, but they couldn’t communicate even the most basic directions. Eventually we asked a clerk in some sort of a garage store. She had basic English, she even called the hotel and gave us accurate directions. Apparently we were driving in circles around the hotel the entire time without even knowing it! It was almost invisible from the road. It was a small building and had a very small sign.
At last we arrived at Dorina Residence. This was the cleanest hotel, no, the cleanest PLACE I have ever seen in my life. Everything was spotless. The room was nice, but cold. The A/C and heaters waren’t working.
We caught a couple of hours sleep and went to the local shopping center, Băneasa. This place was huge, at least by Israeli standards. We subscribed to a cellular data plan for 10 euros, which included 70 minutes of local and remote phone calls and, most importantly, a 1GB data plan. On our way back we turned on Google Navigation and tested it with online data connection. It was awesome.
On the next day, Teusday, the Breakfast at Dorina Residence was pretty terrible. A few slices of tomatoes and cheese, a white dry bread and disguisting coffee. After that, we drove to Sinaia, a quiet town up in the Carpatian mountains. We got there during the off-season, so the place was pretty much empty. The town was beautiful, surrounded by slopes and forests and foggy peaks. Since it was autumn, the mountainside had beautiful shades of green and yellow.
We parked our car next to our hotel, Vila Sinaia. The owner, Gobi, spoke fluent English (which surprised us much, in a good way), and showed us to a beautiful room. This place was awesome, and I recommend it to anyone travelling to Sinaia. It’s clean, warm and comfortable.
After settling down, we went downtown to explore. We found the information office, which was occupied by a clerk speaking Romanian only and was no help. She tried conveying to us that this was not the information office at all, and that it was outside. The “outside” she was refering to was a commercial for a tourist information app, which we downloaded. This app was awesome. It had attractions and hotels search based on your location. Using this app we found out about the cable-car that goes up the mountain from Sinaia. We spent there the rest of the day. The top of the mountain was beautiful. The visibility was excellent that day. There’s also a nice restaurant at the top with Romanian food.
Night life in Sinaia, especially when we were staying there, was very poor. It encompasses only about one major street with mediocre restaurants and a couple of bars. That evening we had dinner in one of the restaurants and returned home, having nothing else to do in that sleepy town.
The next day we dedicated to do Castles. We went first to Peleș Castle, which was built as a summer resort for King Carol I, the first king of Romania. The outside garden was beautiful. It was located between the mountains, so the view was amazing. Entering the castle itself is possible only by signing up to a tour. There were three kinds of tours available. We took the Optional tour Ι, which cost us 12,5 Lei per person, with a student discount, and takes about one hour and 15 minutes. It contained, in addition to the Standard Tour, a visit to the private chambers of the residents and guests. Prices dropped greatly if you were a student. For example, the Standard tour cost 20 lei per person, or 5 Lei if you’re a student. The castle itself is very large and beautiful and also well preserved, with all the furniture, rugs and decorations still intact and many of the facilitiesstill working! (like an early 20th century central vacuum cleaning system). Inside, the guide showed us where the residents of the house lived, where they dined, worked and entertained themselves. Every room was filled with decorations, wood carvings, rugs, exotic marbles, paintings and stained glasses. There was a treat to the eye in every corner you looked.
After Peleș, we went to see Cantacuzino Castle. It was 20 minutes ride from Sinaia, in a town called Buşteni. Expecting something similar to the first castle, we were terribly disappointed. The castle looked very interesting on the outside, but the inside was very poor. It was built in the early 20th century, but in the 1940s it turned into a sanitarium, so all the decorations and furniture were gone. Even the walls were painted to a sickly hospital turquoise, covering the original paint. The guide talked about some minor details, like door knobs and marble, which survived the days of the castle being a hospital, and about the history of the family who ordered the castle. It wasn’t very interesting and wasn’t worth the price of 20 lei per person. They didn’t even have a student discount option. After the castle, we went to have some lunch and then returned to Sinaia. That evening we went to an Italian restaurant.
On Wednesday we left Sinaia, wanting to explore the mountaintops near Buşteni a bit more. Unfortunately, the cable-car was down for maintenance. Although it was closed, there were some locals advertising jeep rides to the mountain-top, through a road which passes all the major attractions. The people of the jeep tours looked a bit dodgy, but Gobi, the hotel manager back in Sinaia told us that it’s safe and they’ve been doing it for quite some time. The price was 100 lei per person, and the tour was about five hours long. Since we wanted to hike and not ride in a jeep, and also because Rinat feared to be car sick, we decided to pass. We decided, instead, to go to another cable-car in Poiana Braşov, the most popular ski resort in Romania. The road there was very beautiful. At one point a thick fog covered the entire valley, making all the farms and villages around look mysterious. After about an hour drive, the road winding up the mountain, we reached Poiana Braşov and went up the cable-car called Capra Neagră. The cable-car there passes between the peaks, over narrow valleys and a great view. Everything was covered with trees. Many of the trees disfoliaged, giving a yellow hue to the mountain. The top was amazing. We could see the entire valley, including Braşov, and all the fog in which we drove not long ago. We traveled along the ridge for a couple of hours. After we went down, we drove to our next destination: Braşov.
Braşov was a pretty city, down mount Tampa. Braşov looked like a real metropolitan after spending the last couple of days in rural towns. Our hotel was right next to the old town and on a beautiful boulevard. We went to see the Biserica Neagră, a beautiful big gothic church in the middle of the medieval part of the city. That evening we spent at a fantastic karaoke bar in Strada Republicii.
The next day we went hiking up Tampa mountain. It was an easy climb, ascending in a serpentine trail. There are two main trails for this mountain: one marked with red triangles and another with yellow. Both of them start from Aleea Tiberiu Brediceanu, a beautiful road that surrounds the city gates from the south of the city. The trails were pretty easy and took about an hour. We climbed the red trail up, which was the easier one. We spent some time on top enjoying the view. On our way down, we took the yellow trail. There was also another trail that surrounds the mountain from the other side. Next time I’m there I will check it out.
The next day, on Friday, we left Braşov and drove south, back to Bucharest. We parked our car before the hotel and went to explore the old town. We went inside the Palace of the Parliament. That’s a huge building, built by the tyrant Nicolae Ceaușescu (who was murdered before he had a chance to use it), and now used as the country’s parliament building. When we got back to the hotel, we found our car, parking nearby, was scratched by other vehicle. The next day we spent filling a police report, as requested by the rental agency in cases like this. The Romanian law is very complicated and is not friendly to tourists. The police officers know little English, but they were all very nice and wanted to help us as much as they could. Filing a report can be done only in Romanian, and not by a police officer. Luckily we found two very friendly local people, a father and a daughter, who knew English and were kind enough to fill the report for us. This is why we did not get to see much of the city, but we saw enough to love it.
After spending almost the entire day hunting down the police station and filing the report, we left Bucharest. We spent the afternoon in the mall from the first day and eventually returned to the airport.We enjoyed these 6 days very much. Romania is a beautiful country. I think that it tries to become more tourist friendly, because young people know more English than the old. Also, there is more awareness for marked trails in the mountains. Driving around is not as bad as I heard from other people – the roads are pretty safe and some of them have been renewed, even in rural areas. In short, if you want to see great nature and scenery and also make a budget trip, Romania is a great option to consider.