Our time in Romania was coming to an end and there were a few things we really wanted to see before we leave. We originally planned to rent a car and spend a couple days exploring the mountains, but that didn’t happen. Instead, we decided on a day trip from Bucharest. It was a long day, but well worth it.
The tour company we used was Mr Tripp. They had great reviews online and had the itinerary we liked the best. We were picked up at 7:30 am at the hotel behind our Airbnb, which was really convenient. It was a comfortable mini bus that fit 12 other people, plus the tour guide and driver. There were a couple empty seats as well and WiFi on the bus. A really cool thing this tour offered, were mini head sets. Our tour guide, Rodica, would talk through a microphone and everyone in the group could hear up to 200 meters away. This gave us the ability to wander off or stop to take pictures, and still hear the wealth of knowledge Rodica shared about all the things we were seeing.
Once everyone had been picked up at their hotels, we headed out of the city and into the Carpathian mountains. En route, Rodica gave us a brief history lesson on the Romanian royals and leaders who built the castles we were going to see that day. The driver took us up winding roads through little mountain towns with ski resorts in the distance. Although most of the snow was gone where we went, at higher elevation the resorts were still open. Our first stop was at Peles Castle.
Located near the town of Sinaia, Peles Castle is part of a complex that includes Pelișor Castle, and the Foișor Hunting Lodge. The castle was built in the late 1800s and is more modern than most European castles. It felt more like a palace and sections of the castle were still being used by the royal family. When we were there, the castle was decorated to the max for Christmas and being used as a filming location for a movie. We even saw some of the production crew around, carrying ladders, cables, and boxes of more Christmas decorations. The movie, A Princess for Christmas, was being shot for the Hallmark channel. Not really my type of movie, but I imagine it will be out next fall and I’ll try to look for it.
The areas of Peles Castle that were open to the public were pretty amazing. They contained the original furnishings, sculptures, and artwork. Rodica gave us the grand tour and then we had 30 minutes or so to explore the grounds on our own. After that, we were back on the bus and on our way further into the mountains. We crossed over into Transylvania and came out onto a huge mountain valley. Across the valley we ascended back into the mountains and headed to Castle Bran, the home of Vlad the Impaler and the legendary Count Dracula.
Unlike Peles Castle, Dracula’s castle had been stripped of all it’s furniture and decorations. A few rooms were made up to how they could have looked, but most just contained plaques with images and information about the castle and legends. There was a long path and many stairs up to the castle and once inside there were many narrow winding staircases. Although my ankle was reminding me it still wasn’t healed from twisting it a few months ago, this was the best thing about this castle. It is a massive stone fortress on the top of a hill, towering over the small Romanian village below. We were both quite impressed.
This is what we think of when we think of castles. It also looks ominous. Even though Bram Stoker, who wrote Dracula in 1897, had never visited the castle, or even Romania, there is dark feeling there. Romanians do have there own superstitions, even still today, although it’s not vampires. That was Bram Stokers creation. I try to imagine being a Romanian peasant in 1212 living below this castle that looms over me. That could be creepy.
After the tour we were given almost an hour to explore on our own. We took some photos and wandered through the large market set up in the village below the castle. We bought a couple post cards and a refrigerator magnet and even had time for a beer at a cute little restaurant, with in view of the tour bus.
By now it was 2:30 pm and everyone was hungry. We drove about 30 minutes into the town of Brasov for lunch. We were dropped off in the main square, Rodica gave us some restaurant suggestions and 90 minute break. Howard & I could use up that much time just looking at all the menus and trying to decide on a place, so this was a challenge for us. We ended up at a burger place that had really good looking ribs and outdoor seating. It was a beautiful day in the teens (mid 60s F) even up in the mountains. The Mexican ribs were fantastic! The owner/cook even came out to ask us what we thought since they were a new menu item. Old Jack Burger House is the name of the place and I highly recommend it if you are ever Brasov.
After lunch we all met up again for a short walking tour of Brasov. We heard some of the history of the Black Church, and other places in the area. Then it was back on the bus for a long drive back to Bucharest. It was a Friday night and the traffic going the other way was bumper to bumper. Lots of people were heading up to the mountains to ski or snowboard for the weekend. Rodica said their tour on Sunday ends driving back in this traffic as everyone is heading back home. We picked a good day to go. Also, being a weekday in March, we didn’t have to wait in any lines or deal with any huge crowds. Seeing how Dracula’s Castle gets 20 million visitors a year, we were lucky.
This type of organized tour is really not our thing. However, this trip was well worth it. We did feel a bit rushed seeing so many things and wanting to be back at the bus on time so other people didn’t have to wait, but it wasn’t bad. It could just be that we never do organized things like this. Even on the cruise we took on Lan Ha Bay, Vietnam, we just loafed on the boat with the staff and didn’t do any of the off boat excursions. That’s kind of our travel style. By going on this tour, we did get a wealth of information and a great appreciation for Romania. Rodica was a fantastic guide. She stayed lively and cheerful the entire time. We had such a good time we may even do an organized tour again. Around 8:00 pm we were dropped off by our apartment. It was a long, wonderful day!