Romania May & June 2017 – Castles & Churches around Brasov & Bucharest
A week away at half term, where we hoped there’d be a lack of other people doing the same thing. It was more a trip based on where we could go from Doncaster Airport, that was cheap, had reasonable flights and fitted with our plans. A with most Wizz Air flights from Doncaster they don’t operate every day so we eventually settled for Romania; out to Cluj Napoca and back from Bucharest. Even though it was only a week away our plans changed quite a bit but we settled on spending most of our time in Brasov, from where we could explore the surrounding area quite easily. Even the 4 nights we had planned there didn’t seem to be enough to do everything in the area either!
Booked through Wizz Air direct
W6-3314 1300 Doncaster – Cluj Napoca
W6-3015 0625 Bucharest – Doncaster
Cluj Napoca – Grand Hotel Napoca – its 2km from Cluj Napoca to the Grand Hotel Napoca. It’s a simple walk, out of the station, straight down the main road where the trams go, until you reach the river, then turn right and follow the river until the rather imposing Grand Hotel Napoca comes into view. T looks imposing in its surroundings, which is mainly a residential area, and was very busy outside when we approached; it looked like a wedding party. The receptionist was on the phone when we got to the front desk but calmly passed me the arrival form to fill out and by the time I’d finished she’d presented us with our room key, having finished he call. It was all very polite, in fluent English, and quick. Our room was on the 6th floor and while not a big room, it was well appointed, clean, had air-conditioning, lots of toiletries, a small flat-screen TV and even a bathrobe & slippers. WiFi was free, a decent strength and needed no faffing about with passwords either. Food selection in the large breakfast hall is ok but typically Romanian.
Brasov – Hotel Citrin – 2km from Brasov station and pretty much a straight line from the station front, straight up the main road opposite, under a couple of underpasses to negotiate the main roads and straight up the side street that the Hotel Citrin is located on. It took about 20 minutes to get there and we were pleasantly surprised by the size of the place, its quiet side street location and the pleasant-ish English speaking guy at reception. Check in took as long as it took to fill out the registration forms and we immediately got the impression that there were very few people staying in the hotel; even as we walked to our room there wasn’t a sound in the building and we saw nobody else in the hotel building, other than at breakfast, during our whole stay. Our comfort double room was just that, spacious, with a large bed covered by a duvet that unfortunately didn’t cover it all (common in these parts), bath robes, slippers and toiletries were provided. There was AC but we never used it and decent WiFi was provided throughout the hotel and free of charge. Breakfast was included in the room rate and while on a small scale and with not much choice, there was plenty that suited us.
Bucharest – Bucharest Comfort Suites Hotel – just outside the Universitate Metro station, the Bucharest Comfort Suites has a money changing facility at its entrance and check-in was quick, although we did end up changing our room immediately due to the balcony door not locking and it being quite noisy in the room with the seal not sealing properly as a result. The second room was ok though but there was still road noise from the main road right below us. The rooms had originally been apartments and part of the block had been converted to the hotel. The bedroom was big and the living room bigger, with the bathroom being quite sizeable too; complete with a massive bath. Randomly the AC was only in the living area and not the bedroom, WiFi was free and quite strong, loads of toiletries were provided in the bathroom and all-in-all it was a decent sized apartment type room to relax in. Breakfast was included in the room rate and served in the tiniest of rooms on the ground floor.
One Country (Romania) Interrail Pass – 4 days in 1 month 1st Class
Booked online through the Interrail Website
Reservations were made for a couple of train while in Romania – these cost 4 Lei each and were done at any general ticket window.
Saturday 27th May 2017 (A journey to Cluj)
Straight off a week of nights shifts, I got home at 0830 Saturday morning and had to finish packing, get my crap in order and take my car to the garage before we set off at 1030 for the airport. It was a bit of a rush after the night I’d had at work, coupled with the wedged train home from Peterborough that morning, I was more than ready for some sleep when we set off!
Doncaster Airport wasn’t busy and in my opinion, is one of the more stringent when it comes to getting through security anyway so the “heightened” security after the Manchester bombing wasn’t noticed. There was hardly anyone about either as our flight was the only one until later that afternoon, so nothing was busy; and breakfast at Wetherspoons was delivered minutes after it was ordered.
Priority boarding on Wizz Air, especially if you have yearly membership, is only £3.50 per person and is cheaper than paying £11 each for the bigger sized cabin bag each as well. It allows you to take a 2nd cabin bag on board as well; and the fact that you’re priority boarded at the same time always means there’s room for your crap when you get on. It’s a win, win situation really. As I was tired I was sock on before departure and don’t remember much about the flight at all. What I do recall though is that it was noisy every time I woke up and some kid kept running up and down the aisle. It paid to be tired on that flight and I was so glad my earplugs kept most of the noise out.
Arrival into Cluj Napoca was a few minutes ahead of the scheduled 1800 arrival time but as our plane stabled at the furthest point on the runway from the terminal building, it took a while for everyone to get off and then it was wacky races time as the three buses hammered down the runway to drop us at the terminal building.
Luckily, we were in the first batch into the immigration queue, where there was a full set of 8 staff on just to deal with one flight! You don’t get that many at international airports dealing with constant arrivals! The result of the efficient transfer from the plane, the quick breeze through immigration and the fact there wasn’t much going on airside, meant I had cash in my pocket from an ATM and we were ready to go by 1820, less than 25 minutes after landing. Buses run regularly from outside the airport, out of the exit, across the car park, turn right and the bus stop is about 100m. However, I was aware that there was an 1849 train from Cluj Napoca Est into Cluj Napoca and with almost 30 minutes to walk the 1.2km that ME Maps said it was, off we set.
It’s an easy walk, out of the airport, across the car park, turn right and along the road, past the bus stops. After about ½ km there a left turn into a dead end, which ME Maps routed us into, and there’s a well-trodden footpath that takes you straight over the tracks. Once on the other side of the railway it’s a simple case of following the road, in the same direction we were walking, until you get to Cluj Napoca Est station. We didn’t rush and made it there with 5 minutes to spare. I’d say it can be done in 10 minutes at a fast pace but as Danielle’s new shoes were conducive to walking in full, stop, let alone walking long distance, the pace was more of an amble than anything else. Her shoes were left behind in the hotel the following morning after her feet ended up in tatters and blistered!
There was nothing else going on at all and nobody else about. The station building is a CFR Marfa depot and no tickets can be bought at the station. When departure time came and went, with no sign of a train in the distance, my mind began to wonder if the bus option might have been the sensible one after all; especially with the fact it was a walk back to the airport and the fact Danielle’s feet were broken! I was grateful when I spotted the sun glinting off a red-fronted train in the distance, although I was quite wary when I realised it was a loco and not a unit like I’d been expecting. R2039 1425 Diva – Cluj Napoca was soon with us; with two coaches in tow. We were the only people that got on at Cluj Napoca Est but quite a few got off. En-route to Cluj Napoca the conductor in the coach we’d got into came down eventually, but only seemed to be intrigued why we’d got on at Cluj Napoca Est. He was satisfied when we told him we’d just landed but had no interest in asking for tickets or even selling us one! Needless to say, our short journey into Cluj Napoca was FOC; that’s free of charge for those not being able to work it out!
It took us 30 minutes to walk the 2km from Cluj Napoca to the Grand Hotel Napoca. It’s a simple walk, out of the station, straight down the main road where the trams go, until you reach the river, then turn right and follow the river until the rather imposing Grand Hotel Napoca comes into view. T looks imposing in its surroundings, which is mainly a residential area, and was very busy outside when we approached; it looked like a wedding party. The receptionist was on the phone when we got to the front desk but calmly passed me the arrival form to fill out and by the time I’d finished she’d presented us with our room key, having finished he call. It was all very polite, in fluent English, and quick. Our room was on the 6th floor and while not a big room, it was well appointed, clean, had air-conditioning, lots of toiletries, a small flat-screen TV and even a bathrobe & slippers. WiFi was free, a decent strength and needed no faffing about with passwords either.
As it had been a while, food was at the forefront of our mind and we used Lonely Planet, which was no help at all, Trip Advisor and ME Maps to find some Italian places nearby. The closest, Pizza Pratta, turned out to be hosting a private party and the place was carnage. We did manage to get through the semi-closed gate and into the restaurant before we realised this; and yet nobody challenged us. We then walked through the busy central park, on the opposite side of the river to the hotel, , turned left and found the Club Italia Restaurant on the right; just after Colin’s Gastropub and adjacent to the Euphoria Biergarten. The way into the Club Italia is through a very bizarre entrance arch in the front garden, which leads you down a path, through the overgrown garden, and to the side door. It’s a big enough place and it was busy but with plenty of space too. Our waitress spoke half decent English, the pizzas we ordered we good and our bill for two pizzas, a Staropramen and a Sprite was 49 Lei; and we were given two complimentary Limonchello for our trouble! Of note is the fact the 500ml draught Staropramen was only 1 Lei more than the 330ml bottle of Sprite; so more for less basically!
As with the flight earlier, I remember very little about getting into bed at the hotel as I was so tired. It had been a pleasant day though, despite the travelling; and we’d have another day of it the following day.
Sunday 28th May 2017 (Travelling from Cluj Napoca to Brasov)
I was still away with the fairies when I noticed a face inches from mine, telling me it was time to get up. I’d clearly not heard anything and my brand-new earplugs were doing their job. Breakfast at the Grand Hotel Napoca had plenty on offer, but not, if that makes sense? There were two sets of scrambled eggs, one with ham mixed in and the other was plain but had eggshell mixed in; as I found out when dishing some onto my plate. The bread selection had a fine selection of rolls that had probably been fresh, at some point in their existence. The meat and cheese selection was ok but the cereal was apparently stale! The small sliced bread that I toasted was ok and I managed to get some scrambled egg onto it that didn’t have eggshell in it. Strangely, the cake on offer was far from dry and was quite nice. The orange juice wasn’t freshly squeezed but was ok, even if the lid of the vat did come off and make a bid for it while I was trying to pour some. Tea was the simplest affair, get teabag, add water and pour in milk; simples! Despite its setbacks we did manage to make some sarnies for later and get them into our bags without one of the many breakfast-room gestapo spotting us.
Checkout at the hotel was simple enough and it was a pleasant 20-minute walk to the station, through the deserted streets of Cluj Napoca on a Sunday morning. Snacks for our day’s journey, to complement what we’d accumulated at breakfast, were sought from a minimarket opposite Cluj Napoca station and once in the station building I attempted to get a ticket for the Bucharest – Chisinau on 30th June from Roman to Chisinau; having failed the night before, I thought the issue might have been when trying to get the outbound from Moldova. However, 20 minutes later, after the woman at the counter had made two phone calls, she told me there was no availability. And again, that was that; which left me wondering what the advance booking period for the trains to Moldova were?
Our train to Brasov was IR1746 0347 Satu Mare – Bucuresti Nord. By the time we’d got ourselves sorted in what turned out to be a 1st class compo, something had shunted three more 2nd class coaches onto the opposite end of the train. Once the brake test was done, the whistle was blown, the loco blew its “clown” horn and we were on the move; and passing through Cluj Napoca Est, where it all began the previous evening, moments later.
We had the pleasure of a bert & ada in our compo for a while, until they seemingly got fed up with the window being open. Whether it was the noise or the draft it made no odds, and we had a compo to ourselves. We had a good journey to Brasov, where the station is a way from the old town and as we’d be using the train to get around the locality I’d picked a hotel that wasn’t far from the station, albeit about 2km! Thankfully it was pretty much a straight line from the station front, straight up the main road opposite, under a couple of underpasses to negotiate the main roads and straight up the side street that the Hotel Citrin is located on. It took about 20 minutes to get there and we were pleasantly surprised by the size of the place, its quiet side street location and the pleasant-ish English speaking guy at reception. Check in took as long as it took to fill out the registration forms and we immediately got the impression that there were very few people staying in the hotel; even as we walked to our room there wasn’t a sound in the building and we saw nobody else in the hotel building, other than at breakfast, during our whole stay. Our comfort double room was just that, spacious, with a large bed covered by a duvet that unfortunately didn’t cover it all (common in these parts), bath robes, slippers and toiletries were provided. There was AC but we never used it and decent WiFi was provided throughout the hotel and free of charge. Breakfast was included in the room rate.
After an initial unpacking session, as we were staying for 4 nights, I headed back to the station to see what was going off and to attempt to get the reservations I needed for my Chisinau moves at the end of June. I changed my tactics when I attempted to get my tickets this time and only tried to get the Roman to Chisinau ticket. This didn’t work either and it only took the woman at the International ticket counter 30 seconds to tell me this; not 20 minutes as it had done in Cluj Napoca, twice!
Danielle is always in charge of finding decent places to eat and by the time I’d got back she’d found a decent Italian not far from the hotel so off to L’Altra Idea Pizza & Bistro we went. It was wedged outside and everything inside was reserved but for a small table by the doors; which we declined due to the fact we could smell the smoke from those stood at the door smoking. We didn’t have a plan B so we resorted to frantically looking at our apps for ideas. We ended up at Restaurant Pizzeria 4 Amici, the opposite direction from the hotel, which was nice and empty and served up a decent Rigatoni Al Forno; which actually turned out to be Penne Al Forno.
It had been a long day of travelling and by the time we went to be, we were prepared for our jaunt by bus to Rasnov and Bran the following day.
Monday 29th May 2017 (Rasnov Fortress & Bran Castle)
Our suspicions were confirmed at breakfast when we were the only ones eating in the breakfast room. When we walked in the woman serving went to put out the selection of meats and cheese and eggs were freshly made to order. It wasn’t a massive selection to choose from but it sufficed nonetheless and was fresh and filling.
As bus stations go, Brasov has two, the rather handy Autogare No.1 which is right at the side of the railway station and the rather unhandy Autogare No.2 which is about 500m from Batrolomeu railway station and a 3.5km walk from either Brasov station or our Hotel Citrin! The walk took about 40 minutes and was straightforward when following ME Maps’ guidance.
Buses to Bran run via Rasnov, as do buses to Zarnesti. I’d originally planned to get the train to Rasnov and then the bus forward to Bran but finding bus stops and more to the point the correct one wasn’t always easy out in the sticks; so the sensible option was to get a Bran bound bus to Rasnov and then we’d know where the stop was when we wanted to go forward to Bran. All the postings online I’ve seen have said that buses for bran are marked Moieciu de Jos and that’s about it, other than that they depart from the Autogare No.2. Well here’s the full gen:
There are numerous buses for Rasnov, those terminating in Rasnov go into the small town centre, which is nearer to Rasnov Fort. Those going beyond Rasnov to Zarnesti and Moieciu stop on the main road that runs by Rasnov, near to Rasnov Railway Station.
The buses that go to Bran are marked on the front as Brasov, Rasnov, Bran, Moieciu de Jos. They depart from stand No.2 at the Autogare No.2 and tickets are purchased from the driver as you board. Tickets cost us the following:
4 Lei Brasov – Rasnov
4 Lei Rasnov – Bran
7 Lei Bran – Brasov
Note that drivers will not accept notes above 10 Lei – as advertised by a big sign at the front of the bus.
In Rasnov the bus stop going towards Bran is on the main Brasov – Bran road, 50m or so beyond the road that leads over the railway line at the Bran/Zarnesti end of Rasnov Railway Station. The bus stop going towards Brasov is on the corner of Strada Republicii and the main Brasov – Bran road. In Bran, the bus stops are virtually opposite each other but the one for buses towards Brasov isn’t well signposted at all; its right next to a fast food place with a big sunken waiting area and even bus timetables posted on the walls. One of which seems to be the old one thought! Needless to say, departure times are only posted from the originating points but journey times are as follows:
Brasov – Rasnov 20 minutes
Rasnov – Bran 20 minutes
Bran – Moieciu de Jos 10 minutes
Bus timetables were posted at Brasov Autogare No.2 at the information window, at the front of both buses we travelled on and in the waiting shelter on the Brasov bound side at Bran. There are considerably less buses at a weekend according to the timetables.
Back to business. Having asked at the information window we were told to buy tickets on the bus. As the bus station isn’t very big at all it was easy to locate the bus we needed, to take us to Rasnov, and there was already one waiting at stand No.2. Each stand has details above it as to which buses depart from it. Our bus was a Brasov – Rasnov – Bran – Moieciu de Jos bus, as we’d expected to catch and the bus tickets were easily purchased from the driver; who won’t accept notes bigger than 10 Lei. There was a sign in the front window saying so and also a timetable of departures from both ends of the route, showing that there are considerably less buses at a weekend. The bus was comfortable enough, not wedged and didn’t hang about. It took the most direct route it could to Rasnov and only stopped at a few stops en-route. Our 0900 departure had us in Rasnov by 0920 and the kind bus driver dropped us at the end of Strada Republicii, rather than at the bus stop about 100m further along the road; which saved us a short walk.
It was a hot morning and we weren’t relishing the walk up to Rasnov Fortress, which stood out way above the town. But fear not, there are two ways to save the walk, other than by doing it as part of a crammed tourist tour. One is the newly installed lift, located on Piata Unirii, which was only opened in 2015. This cost 12 Lei for a return, 6 Lei for children, and is basically a lift that goes diagonally up the outside of the hill, instead of vertically up the inside of it; but has glass paneling so you can see in every direction. The damn thing even has lift buttons inside for floor 1 & 2 and a max number of persons limit! The lift attendant looked pleased to see us when we turned up and was keen to take us up; we must have been the first customers of the day. The lift drops you at a viewing platform at the front side of the fortress. The entrance is at the rear so you have to follow a very badly signed, actually not signed at all, pathway round to the entrance and make a bit up as you go along. When we got there the second option to get you to the top was just coming up the hill; it’s a toy train but pulled by a tractor instead of a train engine! A second was soon following behind it. No idea where they pick-up from though.
Entrance to Rasnov Fortress cost 12 Lei, 6 Lei for students & children; which was nice as Danielle has a student card! Free toilets are provided by the ticket desk and we headed in just before a big group got to the ticket window. As it was early a group of kids were just heading out but other than that we had the run of the place but for a few other random folks. The fortress itself is very impressive and the views from it are spectacular on a clear day, such as the one we visited on. Unfortunately, though inside the Fortress walls some of the intact buildings have been turned into tat shops, which for me spoil the experience and the photographic opportunities. At least they weren’t on the hard sell though and you’re left to your own devices as you walk by. Most signage in the Fortress is displayed in Romanian & English but not all, so you don’t get the full historical background as you walk round; which is puzzling to say the least. All in all, though, a good experience and we were pleased we went. I wish I could have said the same about Bran Castle, which was next on the agenda; and the only reason we did Rasnov first was because Bran Castle didn’t open until 1200 on a Monday!
As we left Rasnov Fortress, we did so just in time when a rather large party of teens was turning up and we managed to use the free toilets by the ticket kiosk before it became carnage! Our trip back down the hillside in the lift was on our own and thankfully it was at the top waiting when we needed it. The same guy, equally as enthusiastic about the fact he had custom, escorted us back down. At the bottom, we ambled back through the pleasant Rasnov town towards the bus stop; knowing there wasn’t one for another hour based on the timetable on the previous bus. At the bus stop however, we came across another tourist who’d been racing round the fortress and by the time the next bus towards Bran turned up she’d been waiting just over an hour; meanwhile we’d been taking it steady in the fortress and were fully aware of the bus times, so it pays to take notice.
The single fare from Rasnov to Bran. Payable to the bus driver, was 4 Lei each and despite there not having been a bus for an hour, it wasn’t wedged and there were plenty of seats. The air conditioning on board was welcome as it was a scorching afternoon outside. The journey was over all too soon, in about 20 minutes, as the bus hammered down the main road to Bran, stopping only a couple of times for locals en-route. Bran Castle is visible through the front windows of the bus on the approach to Bran and as we ran into the town Bran gave a definite tourist vibe as it was busy with people and the streets were lined with tat shops. The bus stop, coming from Brasov/Rasnov is right opposite Bran Castle and evident from the waiting shelter at it. The bus stop t head back from Bran towards Rasnov/Brasov is a little further up the road, in the Brasov direction, and isn’t immediately evident as its bus stop sign is hidden among the street but once you find the waiting shelter, that has plenty of seating and bus timetables on the walls, it’s evident it’s a bus stop. Beware though that it seems the old timetables have been left on the walls after the new ones have been put up; distinguishable by the fact they look old and the new ones were pristine, and matched the ones on the buses.
The entrance to Bran Castle is signposted on the main road, once you get off at either bus stop, head towards Bran, follow the side street on the right and you’re guided down a touristy tat shop heaven, or hell depending on your perspective. The entrance to both Bran Castle and the museum were immediately evident; more so to us on that day due to the amount of people waiting outside the gates to get in as it wasn’t quite 1200 and they’d not started selling tickets yet. It was only a matter of minutes before the gates opened though and then it was a free for all, with no real queue forming; it being more like a fan with people trying to spill in at the sides. It wasn’t quite as bad as the queue I had to endure while trying to get into the cinema to see Rocky 4 when I was a kid; but it was immediately evident that it was going to take a while to disperse and the 35 Lei price tag we’d have to pay to endure it, each, wasn’t something we were willing to go through to be potentially disappointed anyway. Our enjoyment of castles and the likes is what they have to offer on the outside, not wondering round a load of rooms on the inside, which are just filled with restored tat that looks as old as the day is new. So, we decided to take a walk round the base of the castle instead and try and find a vantage point to get some photos and failed miserably. Literally, the only place where you can get photos of Bran Castle is through the fence, right opposite the Moieciu de Jos bound bus stop. The whole place is shrouded in trees on all side so unless you’ve got a drone your photos of the castle as a whole will be limited.
Pleased that at least we got something, photo wise, we almost headed straight back to Brasov on the next bus but instead spotted signs for the Trattoria Al Gallo restaurant while we were waiting. Danielle had noticed in Trip Advisor that it was one of the top restaurants in Bran, so as time was on our side we headed over for a spot of lunch and as the castle had just opened nobody else seemed to be doing lunch so we shared the large restaurant with another English-speaking family; who were equally as pleased as us that the menus were in English as well as Romanian. Service was prompt, the food cooked quickly and it was tasty too. The price tag, while more than local restaurants in Brasov, wasn’t breaking the bank either and we were quite pleased we’d stayed for lunch; thankful that we’d done it when everyone else was at play.
We were headed back to Brasov on the bus in the early afternoon. It turned up when the timetable said it would, wasn’t full and cost 7 Lei each for the journey back. It took 40 minutes and one thing I did notice was that the few tourists using the bus clearly had no clue where they were, or where they needed to get off, especially at Rasnov. Other than the fact the bus stops aren’t marked on at Rasnov, ME Maps did a sterling job, yet again, of getting us around for the day; from walking hotel to Autogare No.2, knowing where the bus stops were and where we needed to head after we got off them, it made our lives a lot easier and I’m always grateful for it; get it downloaded, its free now too!
The 3.5km walk back from Autogare No.2 seemed to go quicker than the walk to it had done that morning and we were back with plenty of time to spare for me to head out and do a few trains of an afternoon. Food that evening was at a place called The Bank, which was a short walk from the Hotel Citrin and as it was a nice evening we even sat outside. The food was decent enough and quite cheap but for me not quite as good as the food the previous night. One thing I did realise at this point was that every restaurant we’d been in had charged extra for side dishes; even chips. So, if for example you order chicken schnitzel, that is all you will get on your plate, so be sure to order something on the side if you want something with it. In all my travels, I’ve not come across this anywhere else.
It was back to the hotel afterwards for a spot of frustrating internet ticket booking for an upcoming trip involving Armenia & Georgia; or not as the case turned out! Despite both having online ticket booking facilities both failed on the payment page and that was that. Which probably explains why online payment for train tickets in Armenia & Georgia isn’t mentioned anywhere else on’t tinterweb?
Photos for Monday 29th May 2017
Tuesday 30th May 2017 (A day trip to Sinaia – Peles & Pelisor Castles)
There were more folk at breakfast on this morning but only half a dozen or so. We were at the station with plenty of time to spare, the idea being we’d have a day in Sinaia. The journey from Brasov towards Sinaia is quite slow but also quite scenic and it reminds me of Alpine train journeys in Switzerland, with the way the railway twists and turns through the valley, offering views of high mountains in most directions. The cable cars at both Busteni & Sinaia are visible from the train and would have made for a good trip on this crystal clear, sunny day. Upon arrival into Sinaia we soon figured out we’d need to gain some height to get to where we were going; which is something that ME Maps doesn’t show. There are steps leading everywhere you need to go in Sinaia and its pretty easy to get around. From the station, it’s about a 25-minute walk to get to Peles Castle itself and the route to it takes you by the very grand old Sinaia Casino and the Sinaia Monastery, which we stopped at on the way. Entry to the Monastery was 7 Lei for adults and 2 Lei for students. Thankfully a group were just leaving when we entered and is was pretty quiet the whole time we were there. It’s not a large complex but one worth taking a walk round, especially taking a peek inside the small church, where it seems confessions take place. Both I and another guy in there were asked by the lady in charge not to take photos of the confession booths or the doors that led into them but there was no problem photographing the very intricate paintings on the walls and ceiling. It was a couple of quid worth spending on the way to the main attraction.
It was less than 10 minutes’ walk from the Monastery until we got our first glimpses of Peles Castle and joined the rat-race on the main drag up towards the castle. Coaches pull up near the monastery and tour groups march up the drag towards the two castles, generally dithering about and getting in each other’s way as they go; especially the younger generation! I can’t believe I used to be like that once, where has the time gone? Of course, we joined in with the dithering but generally tried to keep ahead of the bigger groups as they encroached on our space. Very unlike Bran Castle, Peles Castle sits in a very pretty spot, surrounded by trees behind and with a steep grassy hill in front. Photo opportunities are plentiful and you could be forgiven if you forgot you were in Romania as you ambled along.
Where the main drag bears round to lead you right to the front doors of Peles Castle there’s a very pleasant cobbled area, surrounded by a few nice restaurants and bars and behind those is Pelisor Castle; which isn’t open on a Tuesday so was very quiet out front but for the security guard shouting at someone to get off the grass. Even though there was a sign right in front of her, she seemed to think that standing on the well-trodden walking route across the grassy area was acceptable and was remonstrating with the guard, despite her friends beckoning her off it to keep the peace. While Peles Castle warrants its name, Pelisor is more like an old Tudor style house and is nothing like a castle at all; but it’s a very nice-looking house nonetheless. To kill our curiosity more than anything else, we walked over to Peles Castle itself, where the grounds out front were wedged with people, most of which seemed to be on guided tours and all were waiting for their turn to be guided round the inside of the castle. It was a typical tour group situation, where everyone waits to be herded round the next attraction on their day trip, before being moved on to the next place, having not really seen anything of it or been able to enjoy it for the sheer amount of people and the fact you’re whizzed round by someone who doesn’t really give a toss anyway. Having read plenty of reviews on Peles Castle the way I’ve explained it is pretty much how everyone that’s taken the time to write a review explains it so there was no way we were wasting our time and having to endure a guided tour inside when we could walk back to the restaurants and relax while everyone else was being whizzed round.
We chose a sheltered spot at the rear of the Le Tunuri restaurant, in the quiet square and relax for a while. Our waiter spoke good English but when two bowls of soup initially turned up it was clear he wasn’t good at hearing and having ordered chicken with creamy mushroom sauce I initially got mushroom soup and then once he realised his error I was served grilled chicken, without the creamy mushroom sauce and the chicken wasn’t that warm either so had clearly been waiting for Danielle’s dish to be finished before being served. So, based on first impressions the location is nice but the service wasn’t so great yet despite the non-piping hot food, it was half decent food.
It was a hot afternoon and we were grateful of the shade as we walked back to the station through the tree shaded pathways and as we passed back through the gardens, in front of the casino, the sun had gone around far enough to be shining on the front of the bright white building. We didn’t have to too long to wait for IR1645 1215 Bucuresti Nord – Targu Mures and while waiting I got a few shots of Vest Trans Rail’s 40-0006 running through with a tank train; the driver of which was apparently knocking on his cab window at me as he passed through. Quite what he was expecting to achieve by that, I don’t know!
For a second night food was sought at The Bank and it was a better meal than the previous night; and a bit more relaxed too. A bit like the rest of the evening. I spent some of it trying to book my online tickets for Armenia & Georgia but to no avail again so I kicked the computer into touch and drop kicked it out of the window; in my mind anyway! In the meantime, we tried to figure out what to do the following day as there was so much we’d not done in the surrounding area of Brasov, that we even toyed with staying an extra night and only having one night in Bucharest instead. The choices were Ialomitei Monastery & Cave, which involved riding up to it on the Busteni cable car, Libearty Bear Sanctuary, near Zarnesti, and a look round Brasov itself once we realised there was an old part of town to have a walk round. The weather swayed us in the end and as thunderstorms were forecast the following day we didn’t want to be caught in the woods and muddy surroundings or riding on cable cars in the middle of a storm either. We decided on a very down to earth, leisurely walk around Brasov itself and then an afternoon in Fagaras to see what the fortress was all about.
Photos for Tuesday 30th May 2017
Peles & Pelisor Castles
Wednesday 31st May 2017 (A morning in Brasov & afternoon at Fagaras Fortress)
From the Hotel Citrin it was a 2.5km walk to the old town in Brasov, which is almost another 2km from Brasov station itself; which is right on the outskirts of town. We initially headed towards the Brasov Citadel, with a view to walking up to it, but when we realised how high up the hill it was we settled for admiring it from a distance as we continued towards the old town.
As we turned into the old town it was like walking into a different world and was very pleasant to look at. Our stroll took us by the Church of the Holy Apostles Peter & Paul and into Council Square, the centre of which is dominated by the History Museum and the Black Church stands out behind the square. As we headed through the old town and towards the opposite side we passed through Strada Sforii, which is a very narrow old passage that was originally a street made for the firemen to access the old town; back in the day. It’s a decent walk from Council Square to St Nicholas Church but it’s worth the walk. Once we’d made it that far though we’d covered the old town and had no intention of going for a ride on the Brasov cable car so we had a leisurely lunch at one of the restaurants in Council Square, before it got busy. Pizza Roma wasn’t busy at all and the food was good, for a main strip tourist hot-spot type restaurant.
We were at Brasov station with plenty of time to spare for our train to Fagaras that afternoon. The train was nice and empty in 1st class and at Codlea we waited for a late running EN347 1939 Wien Hbf – Bucuresti Nord to run through, before we could continue on our journey.
It was still a nice sunny day when we got to Fagaras and the predicted storms hadn’t materialized, thankfully. It only took us 20 minutes to walk from Fagaras station to the Fortress and the golden dome of the St John the Baptist Cathedral is clearly visible the whole way down the main road. If you’re lost in Fagaras, just head towards it and you’ll find the Fortress next to it, or behind it if you’re walking from the station. There is only one entry point to Fagaras Fortress due to the full moat that surrounds it. Entry fees were 15 Lei for adults and 7 Lei for students and other than a school party right at the start, we had almost free reign of the place for the 45 minutes it took us to amble round. Inside the Fortress itself you have to wear nice blue shoe condoms to protect the surfaces and carpets from muddy shoes; and as most people spent most of their time inside the fortress we spent most of ours outside, keeping away from the groups. While we weren’t there for long, the trip out to Fagaras was well worth the effort and I was glad we went. Not bad for something that wasn’t even on our radar until late the previous night.
Back at Fagaras station people began gathering for the two trains that were due, one was R2103 1435 Brasov – Sibiu which turned up with a nicely graffiti’d Desiro DMU, the other was our train back to Brasov, IR1622 0745 Timisoara Nord – Bucuresti Nord, which was bang on time. Again, there was plenty of space in the 1st class back to Brasov and at Bartolomeu we sat waiting for IR1527 1510 Bucuresti Nord – Sibiu to arrive before we could continue round to Brasov. Before heading back to the hotel, I attempted to get a couple of 1st class reservations to Bucuresti the following morning on the opposing working of the train we’d just got off, EN473 1910 Budapest Keleti – Bucuresti Nord. It was a public holiday on the Friday in Romania and we didn’t want to take any chances with not getting a seat. I was quite surprised when the woman at the ticket window told us she couldn’t do any reservations as the train was full and we’d need to come back at 0900 the following morning! This left me pondering our move to Bucuresti for the following day, to the point that we might have to do one of the stoppers, which are unreserved but at least some have 1st class.
For our last night in Brasov we returned to the Italian restaurant we’d tried on our first night there. This time the L’Altra Idea wasn’t wedged and there was plenty of space inside, away from those smoking outside. The service and food was good but the fact children were allowed to run around as they saw fit inside wasn’t. My request for Tiramisu, yet again in an Italian restaurant, returned a blank look, followed by the waited explaining what they did have in an attempt to put my mind off the fact that it wanted Tiramisu. I was beginning to think that there was some sort of conspiracy or even a world shortage of Tiramisu makers, based on the amount of times I’d been denied this iconic Italian desert over the course of the year thus far! It was beginning to concern me greatly and we had a lengthy discussion about how I was going to start a petition to save the great tiramisu from extinction, on the way back to the hotel. Where, unfortunately, we had to pack for our following morning departure to Bucuresti. We’d enjoyed our time in Brasov and the surrounding area but equally, we were looking forward to heading to the Romanian capital for our brief stay.
Photos for Wednesday 31st May 2017
Thursday 1st June 2017 (Brasov to Bucharest)
It wasn’t an early start but the fact we’d not been able to get a reservation for our planned train to Bucuresti the previous night, was playing on my mind. So much so, that before breakfast I decided to take a brisk walk to the station to attempt to get some and if we couldn’t we’d just stay in Brasov for the morning and do a later, unreserved local train, to Bucuresti instead. Surprisingly the booking office at Brasov was almost empty and I was straight in, without any queuing at all. Unfortunately for me though, the computer still said no and the woman behind the counter told me to come back an hour later; which I wasn’t willing to do. When she saw the look of disbelief on my face though, she beckoned me to pass our Interrail tickets to her and moments later I was in possession of two 1st class reservations for EN473 0941 ex Brasov to Bucuresti. She clearly knew what she was doing as she looked at the back of the Interrail tickets for their ticket numbers, which she then added to the reservations before issuing our tickets. I’ve no idea what the fuss is about as regards making reservations and I headed back to the hotel suspecting that it might possibly be an unwritten rule to only issue reservations for some trains shortly before departure, so they can sell as many tickets as possible? Other than that, I’m at a loss as there was clearly no issue making the reservations in the end.
After a brisk walk in the morning sunshine, I was ready for a leisurely breakfast when I got back. Our stay in Brasov was soon coming to an end though and we were waiting for a late EN473 1910 (P) Budapest Keleti – Bucuresti Nord at Brasov station; on a very busy platform, thankful of the fact we’d managed to get some reservations.
It was a little busy on the platform when EN473 arrived but not so much getting into 1st class. There were a few seats free but with people getting on and off throughout the journey to Bucuresti I couldn’t have been sure there would have been seats available throughout had I left it until shortly before departure to get our reservations. The air-con in the coach was a bit crap and with the sun glaring through the windows it was soon quite warm and the AC was then nothing more than a token gesture. It didn’t help that the vestibule ends were full and standing and people kept opening the doors at the ends of the coach. The journey to Ploiesti is quite a nice one and I took in more of the scenery than I had when we’d visited Sinaia. The one surprising moment on the journey was when the old woman sat opposite pulled a CFR timetable out of her bag and started thumbing through it to work her move out! Mine was already out on the table at that point, so I wonder what she was thinking in return?
EN473 never recovered time to Bucuresti and was about 30’ late arriving. We didn’t hang around and were straight down to the Metro to head to our Bucharest Comfort Suites Hotel, which wasn’t far from the Universitate stop on line M2. Tickets were very simple to buy from an automated machine, which accepted cash and cards. A 1-day ticket costs 8 Lei and a 2-trips one costs 5 Lei as an example of prices. Entry to platforms is by using the automated ticket gates and the relevant lines are well signed and colour-coded, so as long as you know which direction you’re heading it’s simple to get about. Our journey from Bucuresti Gara Nord to Universitate involved a change from line M1 to M2 at Plata Victoriei, which was straightforward and the metro trains were about every 6 minutes on each line; with screens advertising when the next one will be along. At Universitate we got to the Comfort Suites more by luck than judgement, having been at the right end of the metro for the exit we used. There was then a choice of exits but as we knew our hotel was next to the Intercontinental Hotel, which was signposted in a fashion, we followed that. When we basically picked a set of stairs at random, we magically emerged right in front of the Bucharest Comfort Suites Hotel and on the right side of the main road. Of note is the fact that there is another Comfort Suites Hotel further along the main road, call Relax Comfort Suites, so don’t confuse the two.
The Bucharest Comfort Suites Hotel has a money changing facility at its entrance and check-in was quick, although we did end up changing our room immediately due to the balcony door not locking and it being quite noisy in the room with the seal not sealing properly as a result. The second room was ok though but there was still road noise from the main road right below us. The rooms had originally been apartments and part of the block had been converted to the hotel. The bedroom was big and the living room bigger, with the bathroom being quite sizeable too; complete with a massive bath. Randomly the AC was only in the living area and not the bedroom, WiFi was free and quite strong, loads of toiletries were provided in the bathroom and all-in-all it was a decent sized apartment type room to relax in. Breakfast was included in the room rate as well.
Quite pleased with the hotel, we were soon heading out for a bit to eat. Not wanting to walk too far in the afternoon scorching sunshine, and to give our legs a rest after the walking they’d done over the previous few days, we stopped at the first half decent place we found on the way towards the old town. It was InFusion Bistro & Sports Bar and had a nice sized outside area, on a quiet street. The staff spoke good English, the menu was in English and the food was good. The Tiramisu conspiracy continued though and for the third time, on this trip alone I was denied it, despite it being on the menu. While that was becoming more of a comical issue by this point, the fact that waiters thought they needed to tell me that the receipt didn’t include service was becoming a bit of a pain. If only they realised that was my cue not to leave a tip! It hadn’t put me off returning to places that had done it in Brasov but it did seem to be a thing in Romania, whereby saying it would possibly guilt trip people into tipping?
After a late lunch, it was an afternoon/evening of spinning about in the Bucharest suburbs for me. Thankfully the rains passed and it had brightened up a bit. It was a lot fresher than it had been but the pollen count hadn’t got any less as my eyes were itching and my nose was running quite nicely, even though I’d taken tablets and squirted nasal spray up a couple of times during the day!
We did food that night at the Restaurant Bellini, which is next door to the InFusion Bistro that we’d eaten at earlier. The pizzas we had were good, as was the service but they too thought it was a good idea to tell me that service wasn’t included in the bill. On the plus side, they did have Tiramisu; at fucking last! The withdrawal symptoms were starting to get to me. Despite a good meal I’d say the Bistro would get my vote for a return visit as the outer area had a nicer feel and the main difference between the two places was the cost, with Bellini trying to be more up market and its price tag reflecting it.
Thankfully my earplugs kept the road noise and pedestrian crossing beeping out of my ears when I put them in and sleep was soon upon me when I got into my single bed that night.
Friday 2nd June 2017 (A day in Bucharest)
Breakfast was interesting at the Comfort Suites and not for the food selection; that was a bit boring really. The breakfast room was down on the ground floor and was no bigger than the bedroom wed slept in overnight. Thus, there wasn’t much room to maneuver with the tables and chairs crammed in and there wasn’t much space for people to sit and eat either. We’d obviously picked the busy period to have ours and we left the room empty as we exited. It was ok for teat and toast but that was about it
As we were ideally situated for a day of sightseeing in Bucharest it was easy enough to plan a route on ME Maps, plot everything we wanted to see and just follow our way round. Half of what we wanted to see was a short walk north of the hotel and the rest, in the old town south of the hotel. Our circuitous route had us ambling towards Revolution Square, where the Rebirth Monument, representing a memorial to the struggles of the victims of the Romanian Revolution in 1989. While the big white spike stands high above the ground, the small memorial to the side of it has been damaged and graffiti’d, representing how much some people respect things!
As we headed towards the old town we noticed it was very quiet for a Friday morning and we were hoping that the public holiday would keep it that way. Opposite the CEC palace we came across a group of Japanese tourists taking photos of each other, with the palace in the background. It was comical to watch and I had to laugh when most of their photos were taken while there was a big white bus behind them, right in front of the palace. I was going to get a photo of them getting their photos and was waiting for the bus to go, so it didn’t spoil it. They got theirs but I didn’t get mine.
Moving into the old town, which was still very quiet, we stumbled upon the small Stavropoleos Monastery and had a quick look inside. This gave us our first taste of how intricately the insides of the churches in Bucharest were painted. While I’m not a religious person at all, I do appreciate the spectacular decorating skills that have gone into presenting the historical tales of the religion that the church represents. Not only were all the walls and ceiling depicting the tales of the past but what seemed to be a confession booth was very intricately carved and each section painted with another part of the historical story. There literally wasn’t a bare piece of wall or ceiling inside it at all. I had no problem taking photos either, until I pointed my camera at the wooden booths; but I politely stopped and pointed it elsewhere.
Moving on we headed towards the Curtea Veche, or Old Ruins, which were closed for the public holiday. This made absolutely no difference as you can see everything as you walk by and can point your camera, either through the fence, or use the elevated walkway adjacent to get better photos. Unless you really want a close-up of something, there is no reason whatsoever to pay to go into the ruins. Nearby is the very well-presented Church of St Anthony and once over the river we were staring down Unirii Boulevard at the very impressive Palace of Parliament. The boulevard itself is very plush, with fountains stretching along it from one end to the other; which complemented it well in the glorious sunshine. Until you get to the car park in front of the Palace though, you can’t appreciate its sheer size. According to the internet it’s the second largest administrative building in the world, behind the Pentagon! At this stage, we were quite thankful for the public holiday as the car park in front of the Palace was almost empty, which offered a lot better photos than a normal day would.
Accessed through a back-street near the Palace of Parliament, the Antim Monastery is worth dropping in on; even if the entrance isn’t immediately evident. Due to the public holiday, services were ongoing inside the church so we didn’t venture inside out of respect. The courtyard its set in is quite pleasant though and the short tunnel you enter through is very neatly decorated on both the walls and ceiling. There are also free toilets available at this monastery, which came in very handy.
Walking from the Antim Monastery we headed to the Patriarchal Cathedral of Saints Constantine & Helena, which shares common grounds with the Patriarchal Palace, the latter not being a photographable as the former. Again’ there was a service going on inside the Cathedral when we got to the ground, which can be accessed from two points, so we never went inside. Luckily, when we arrived there weren’t any tour groups about either so we could photograph in the grounds as we pleased. In the sheltered foyer type area, outside the front doors to the cathedral, locals were receiving bread and water and again paintings on the walls, this time quite faded though, depicted the religion’s story. Looking through the doors I could see it was busy inside and also very bright, with a lot of gold colours being visible.
As we’d been constantly on the go and breakfast had been a bit rubbish, we opted to use on of the many restaurants in the old town for lunch while they weren’t busy. The usual city hard sell was rife throughout the old town with people solely employed to get people through the door. We’d already decided we’d use the Belviso Restaurant when the young girl approached us to try and get us through the door. The main menus weren’t in English but there was a separate printed menu, on A4 paper, which didn’t include drinks. Despite it not being busy, customer service wasn’t high up in the agenda and moving people on was. The food was ok though and there was midweek lunchtime offer available so pizza & pasta dishes were discounted. The strange thing about the restaurant, which most other restaurants had in the old town, was a bizarre high-pressure cool air jet/spray system it had. This system sprays a very fine, cool mist into the outside area at regular intervals, which was quite pleasant in the hot afternoon with temperatures reaching about 28 degrees! It was just strange and I’d not seen it anywhere else in the world. One thing to say here is that if we’d read the reviews for the Belviso before we went in, we would almost certainly have gone elsewhere; even the tone of the replies from the restaurant manager on Trip Advisor are way too condescending and he needs to get back in his box!
On the way back to the hotel we stopped off at St George’s Church, where for me, we found the best paintings any of the churches we’d seen had to offer. The images were vivid, the colours bright and in your face and while the story it was telling was a variation of a theme, it seemed to tell a more horrific one. There were winged devils that had slaves on a leash, headless bodies being dragged through streets by horses, a bright red river with people in it and animals beside it, all with different body parts in their mouths; including feet, hands and heads. It was a nice end to the afternoon as we hugged the shade on our way back up the road to the Bucharest Comfort Suites and we soon had the AC on full and turned down to 16 degrees to cool the room down.
A very successful evening out wasn’t reflected in my metro journey back to the hotel and I managed to just miss metros both times I got towards the platforms and the journey back took 30 minutes, 20 of which was waiting for trains on platforms! It would probably have been as quick to walk. Not wanting to mess about food that evening was at the InFusion Bistro and was good too. The staff still took it upon themselves to remind me that the bill didn’t have service charge included but I wouldn’t hold it against them. The service was good, the staff were friendly and the menu’s had plenty of choice and were in English.
As our flight home the following morning was at 0625 we were packed and ready by 2200 and enjoying a relaxing evening in the coolness of the main room in our apartment. The hot day had resulted in a stuffy evening and it was quite noisy in the street when we headed off to bed. Even my earplugs didn’t keep noise made by the boy-racing antics out of my ears.
Photos for Friday 2nd June 2017 – Bucharest
Old Ruins (Cutre Veche)
Palace of Parliament
St George’s Church
Saturday 3rd June 2017 (Home to Doncaster)
We had an 0330-alarm call and were down in the hotel reception by 0400. The staff ordered us a taxi while our room was checked and it was sat waiting by the time I’d had my receipt printed. Beware that all rooms have an inventory on each wall, listing the rooms contents, so you won’t get away with stealing anything; even the 1 x carpet!
The taxi was on the meter and cost just under 30 Lei for the 15-minute journey down the empty main roads of Bucharest. I had to pay by cash as the driver didn’t have a card-reader; which I thought was standard in taxis the world over nowadays? Once air-side at Bucharest Airport there isn’t much in the way of food and it was quite busy. The food on offer is limited to sarnies and pastries but be sure to find the cheapest place for whatever you want as prices differ by a couple of Lei for even pastries.
Boarding the plane was prompt enough and those with Priority Boarding had their own place cordoned off at the front of the bus and once priority had finished the bus driver closed the doors and directed everyone else to the back of the bus. After holding on the runway for a while the priority section of the bus was allowed to decant and board the plane first, before the other doors were opened. I had been wondering how priority boarding would work when I figured it was buses onto the tarmac; and now I know of course.
I don’t remember much about the flight home, other than the fact I had to pay for a cup of tea and yet Danielle managed to get a cup of hot water for free and had her own cup of tea! One to remember that. For those that may decide to order duty free before they head out and collect it after they get back, the collection point is the small desk after you walk out of the baggage hall. This isn’t advertised at all and the security girl sat at the desk initially looked a little confused!
Our lift home had been waiting in the lay-by down the road and they were just coming into the car park by the time we walked over. Of note is the fact that inside Doncaster Airport’s terminal there is next to no phone reception so I recommend ringing when you’re still on the tarmac, before you get into it, if you have someone waiting! We were back home by 0830, having landed 20 minutes early into Doncaster at 0740! It was going to be a very long day for us with the time difference. It had been a very enjoyable short trip away too and I would like to go back to Romania, on a normal trip, again in the future.