Bucharest & Transylvania, Romania

Hitching A Ride On A C-17

Recently we snagged another chance to tag along on a mission with the hubby – this time to Romania! We were excited to check out Bucharest, drive through the Carpathian mountains in Transylvania, and get a lay of the land. The trip went off without a hitch and turned out to be way more special than we expected!

Bucharest

Mommy’s little swimmer! So proud of herself!

We landed in Bucharest, got settled into our hotel and took the kids for a swim at the pool. The coolest thing happened on this trip: Willow taught herself to swim! This summer she has been pretty determined to get comfortable under the water, always requesting her goggles and trying out some hand-me-down flippers. Still, she wasn’t able to stay afloat without help or floaties. Well, that all changed in Romania! She just decided to figure it all out and it was beautiful to watch! Nobody had goggles or floaties, so I guess it was just a necessity! Now she’s doing all kinds of funny jumps (that she names), swimming the length of the pool and practicing diving. What is going on? At any rate, we went to Romania with two swimming kids and came home with three! So cool! After a good swim we took a nice walk to the Hard Rock Cafe [cringe] as it was nearby compared to other eateries. It turned out to be fun! The kids had never been, and we talked up all the rock’n roll legends decorating the place. Lately Beau has been sporting my Hard Rock Cafe London hat that I got back in high school (20+ years old…) every single day, so it was kind of cool to finally show him what it’s all about.

Those guitars were heavy!

The kids and I were on our own for a day so we set out exploring Bucharest. Uber is a thing there, and it’s also super cheap, so it was nice to be able to just relax and let the drivers take us where we wanted to go. We headed straight for the Palace of Parliament, with a plan to walk around the long “mall” promenade and into the old town. It was HOT but the kids were excellent sports. We were amazed by how large the Parliament building is – apparently the second largest in the world behind the Pentagon. What also impressed me was the emphasis on aesthetics in the design of Bucharest. There were more fountains than I can ever remember seeing (outside of Las Vegas) and all of the buildings were beautifully detailed.

What an impressive place!
Amazing fountains!

We walked through the old town – which was surprisingly chill and not busy at all for summer time – and found a fun place to eat at Caru’ cu bere. We checked out a beautiful book store (that was so much more!) called Cărturești Carusel, and even got a sneak peak at Vlad Tepes III (Dracula) statue at his former palace that is now in ruins and being renovated for a museum. For reference, 100 Romanian Lei is approximately $23, and that took us a really long way! Finally we walked through the Vilacrosse passage, a popular area of covered streets lined with cafes (and lots of smoking – beware) that was simply beautiful!

Statue still stands from the Reign of Vlad Tepes III (Dracula) in the 15th century
Biserica Sfântul Anton, Orthodox church (R) and Vlad III’s Palace Curtea Veche (L)
Inside Cărturești Carusel Bookstore
Drool.
Caru’ cu bere Romanian food restaurant
It had a great interior and fun atmosphere! Lots of inside and outside seating.
Massive buildings line the stone streets. This “Palace of Deposits” is a banking building
Entering Vilacrosse Passage
Many eateries and shops. A cozy and appealing place!
Vilacrosse

We took an Uber back to the hotel (it was about $3.50 for a 15 minute ride) and noticed a really cool “Arcul de Triumf” on the way back that appeared to have a Banksy exhibit inside, so we added that to our list for later! We swam every single day of this trip, which made the kids extra happy and motivated to follow along with our historic or educational plans.

transylvania

Over the weekend we took a drive up to Sibiu, a beautiful old town on the edge of the Carpathian mountains in Transylvania. On the way there we were hoping to stop at a couple of castles – Bran and Peles – but the traffic was so bad we ended up only being able to see Peles, which was a magical sight! We learned that if you’re going to drive these mountain roads (there really aren’t great highways) then start early and get off before the rush. Situated in the mountains and surrounded by a little Bavarian village, Peles castle was originally built for King Carol of Romania in the late 1800’s. We didn’t go inside the palace this time but instead admired the architecture from afar, bought fresh berries from gypsies (?) and walked the paths of the cute little village. There are plenty of eateries and things to explore and you could certainly spend the better part of the day here, but we did the speedy visit for sure.

Peles Castle, Transylvania
It reminded me of the Beauty & The Beast Castle!
The road to Sibiu, Romania

Transfăgărășan

The stretch of the Transfăgărășan highway that is worth the drive!

Another “must do” we were excited to experience was driving the Transfăgărășan highway. It’s less highway, more narrow, winding mountain road. When I say winding, I mean hundreds of hairpin turns climbing up the mountains, where we needed to take frequent stops to get air – and of course take in the views! After the little road trip on this zig zaggy path we realized we did it right. Start early, preferably from Sibiu rather than Budapest, as the best part of the road is to the north, and drive only the first section, pictured right. There is a beautiful waterfall (Cascada Bâlea) that would be a fun hike but it was already busy there by the time we arrived so we settled for a passing view. The main stopping point is Bâlea Lake, where you can park for super cheap, shop for trinkets, meats and cheeses, and hike around the surrounding sheep-covered hillsides admiring the views. We realized quickly that the way to “do” this road is to stop often – enjoy the little pull-outs along the road – and make time to grab a wire of round pretzels for road snacks! And never, EVER drive it in the afternoon. Get to Bâlea Lake before 10:00! Just past the lake is a long tunnel that leads to another stretch of majestic twists and turns in the road that is worth seeing. Much beyond that is really not worth the gas. Turn around where the photo above stops and head right back to Sibiu!

On the Transfăgărășan highway, looking up at the steps created by the zig-zags!
Looking back down at the highway and the valley below…
What a sight! Transfăgărășan, Transylvania, Romania
A view of Bâlea Lake
On the other side of the tunnel, another beautiful view emerged!

A good place to turn around is at the bottom of the valley pictured above. However, we didn’t know that yet, so we continued to drive another hour south to see Vidraru Dam. The kids have never seen a dam this big, so it was neat to see and compare it to Hoover Dam (which is larger) in the American west. Still, after all those winding roads in a little rental car, this was probably too far and not worth the 2 hour round trip. Nevertheless, we snagged a big bundle of pretzels (which seemed to be a common treat in these parts) and made our way back. By the time we reached the lake again, the road was backed up on the other side for miles. We felt so bad for people waiting to get to the lake…we wanted to tell them “this is the highlight! Just get out of your car and enjoy this view right here!” but alas, we left there, grateful to NOT be stuck in traffic, and ready for another good swim!

Vidraru Dam
Looking out over the bridge.
Traffic picking up as we head back down the road…
Goodbye, Transfăgărășan!

Sibiu

The next day we had a chance to go into the town of Sibiu and explore. We did a lot of walking. We hopped from highlight to highlight, stopped for treats and photo ops, and eventually found a place to have lunch. There’s a whole lot to see in Sibiu, so after a break for a quick swim and dinner, we went back into town to explore the last few things we missed including climbing the Council Tower and seeing the bridge of lies. It was a very full and fun day in this architecturally interesting place! Most importantly, we discovered a new and very delicious pastry called “gogosi” (aka pancove or pampuste) that is simply delicious! It may even rival our beloved burek in Croatia…shhhh don’t tell the Croatians!

Piata Mare, the expansive town square in the Historic part of town

Holy Trinity Orthodox Cathedral

So massive, this place has to be seen in person to be appreciated best…
From ornate doors, ceiling artwork and mosaics to bricked archways, tiled floors and colorful stained glass
The colorful, glittering inside captured
Impossible to get a proper panoramic photo – inside is overwhelming!
Look at the detail…
Incredible dome!
View of Sibiu from the Council Tower
View from Council Tower

The Bridge of Lies

There are many legends as to how this bridge got its name…

Number one: the Lie Detector. It is said that the bridge has the power to tell if somebody is lying at the moment of crossing it and makes strange noises as if it would collapse and punish the liar. I recommend you test this one out for yourself when crossing the bridge.

Number two: the Casanova Myth. The Bridge of Lies supposedly earned its name because it was a meeting place for first dates. Cadets from the military academy would meet girls and make promises which they never intended to keep. So be aware of the promises you hear, when walking on this bridge!

Number three: the Horror Story. Similarly to the previous legend: the young ladies in search of husbands would declare their love and swear to their virginity on the bridge. If, in the wedding night, it turned out that they lied, the brides would be thrown from the bridge as punishment.

Number four: the Honest Trader. Piața Mică (Little Square) was the center of all trade in Sibiu. The Bridge of Lies is situated at the edge of this square and rumors say that the swindling traders were unmasked in front of everybody on the bridge so no trader dared to be dishonest while trading here.

Eva Poteaca, itinari.com
The Bridge of Lies
Looking out over the Bridge of Lies
A few locks of love on there, but its not a great omen to lock your love onto the Bridge of Lies…

Arcul de Triumf, Bucharest

Back in Bucharest, we were determined to go see the Banksy exhibit inside the Arc of Triumph. From what we saw, Bucharest proved to be a clean, beautiful city with lots of great eateries, friendly people, and tons of history. Known as “Little Paris” to many Europeans in the early 1900’s, Romania has a fascinating language that sounds like a combination between French and Italian. There is still evidence of the revolution of 1989, but it is clear the city has worked hard to rebuilt itself. We were able to walk to the Arch from our hotel in the blazing heat, and managed to find our way across the very busy traffic circle to the center where the large Arch sits. Inside was a beautiful and comprehensive display of Banksy works (prints and images of course), all unauthorized but totally inspirational. The message: Hope.

The Arc of Triumph!
The view from the Arc!

Therme Bucharest

The last couple of days I was solo with the kids, so we went to the very large, popular and beautiful Therme Bucharest. It’s nothing like the thermals in Hungary that have a long history and dated architecture. Instead, this modern marvel – only three years old – is one of those places you have to experience to believe. It is massive, with three large areas catering to all ages and interests. All of the technology and facilities are state-of-the-art and we ended up spending over 7 hours here in just ONE the sections (Galaxy, the only one where children are allowed) and the kids didn’t want to leave! It was such a fun experience that I would certainly recommend it to families OR anyone in Bucharest. Its a great way to spend a fun day or relax and unwind.

I think they had fun! (Relaxing on the leather loungers…)
There are nearly 20 slides indoors for kids of all ages! Plus this awesome wave pool…
The outside playground and splash pad is awesome, too!
You can’t beat the pool bar(s) … both indoor and outdoor!

We got in as much exploring and learning as we could, but eventually it was time to go. It was good timing, though, because Didi had come down with a fever just before we left. She was such a good sport, and toughed it out like a champ. When I asked the kids what they noticed about Romania, they said they people were really nice, the money was colorful, the food was yummy, the children (at the thermal) were really strong – I noticed this, too! – and the roads are crazy! Haha I can say that I also noticed people seemed to really enjoy picnics (we saw people having picnics wherever we went) and it’s actually quite a modern place for having been so recently war-torn. The kids want to learn more about “Dracula” but I think I’ll wait on the real “Vlad the Impaler” lessons until they’re a little older…

Thanks for for being terrific hosts, Romania! You stole a piece of our hearts!

Waiting to board daddy’s C17 for the ride home to Hungary…these kids (and we) are so lucky, and we know it. We do our best to keep perspective and have boatloads of gratitude for this opportunity to grow and learn on an international stage!

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