Saturday, November 16, 2013

Top Ten Countries: Number 9 - Romania

Not so far from the tenth country on my list, number nine is the incredible Romania. At present Romania is going through hard times, being very badly hit by the economic crisis, so why not journey there and pump some money into the economy? You’ll find it one of the most beautiful places in all the world, there’s no doubt. It had breath taking mountains, castles galore, a mind-blowing capital, warm-hearted people oh and you know, Transylvania, a place too many people associate with vampires, but in fact as beautiful as any region in Europe that there is!
Bucharest street near the station.

Start with the capital. Look, it certainly isn’t the highlight of Romania, Bucharest, but it’s at the very least an interesting place. Parts of it still echo the name ‘Ceausescu’, the somewhat heavy-handed brutal communist dictator, and in some ways the communist past of the city is what is interesting. The streets are wide and leafy, the buildings often grey and foreboding. The Peoples’ Palace is for certain one of the most impressive buildings in the world, the cost of building to the Romanian people though suggests it was not worth it.
The Palace of the People.
There’s even a few museums, including a nice outdoors one, and a replica Arc De Triumph, as the dictator dreamed to make Bucharest the ‘Paris of Eastern Europe’. What he did create was certainly an impressive and unique city.
Bran Castle

After Bucharest I visited Transylvania, simply a beautiful, green part of the world full of mountains and castles and wonderful medieval cities such as Brasov. Not too far from Brasov is Bran, a small town up a mountain with beautiful Bran Castle, fabled to be ‘Dracula’s Castle’, although this is not actually true. The castle though is worth visiting, perched sort of on a rock above the town.
Just down the road from Bran I found a place called Sinai, where you can find a really beautiful palace.  Peles Castle, which to me was more of a palace according to the images of what is what in my mind, is stunning, a little bit gothic, and provides the visitor with a wonderful tour where you can see much of the inside of the castle. It was one of the many highlights for me in Romania.

Peles Castle

Sigisoara is a truly beautiful, again slightly gothic, medieval town in Transylvania. A place with arch ways over cobblestone streets, beautifully creepy graveyards, a couple of small museums and history with Vlad the Impaler, from whom the Dracula legend was born. I adored this small city/town. It has a wonderfully romantic (in a scary way :D) atmosphere and should not be left out of any trip to Romania.
Outside Transylvania to the north-west of the country is Cluj-Napoca, also just known as ‘Cluj’. The second biggest city in Romania, it’s big but beautiful in a way Bucharest
isn’t. An old city with a young soul, it’s a university city. Not so far away are many places for day trips, including the Turda Gorge which is a wonderful place for a day hike. That in turn is close to the Turda Salt Mine, an incredibly expansive mine which these days you can take a tour into. When I was there, we basically had the run of the place which was unbelievable, the sort of place as a child you long to run around inside with no-one telling you where you can and can’t go (although there was a clear course laid out). Those were the days. But it’s really impressive without or with a guide.
Turda Gorge
Finally the mountains not so far from Cluj offer more fantastic hiking. There are small villages to be discovered and there was a wonderful ice cave as well. Romania will always have a special place in my heart. Like Slovakia, you won’t find it as expensive as Western Europe. Today it’s a little more on the tourist trail than when I visited in 2004, but it doesn’t make it any less beautiful or stunning. Most people don’t need a visa like I did nine years ago either.
Transport is good to the main centres, trains connect a lot of Romania, and indeed to neighbouring countries – I came in from Bulgaria and left to Serbia. Trams and trolley buses are popular in the cities, and of course there are always buses to the harder to reach places.
Salt Mine at Turda.

Two words that sum up Romania: Gorgeous and Stunning.

10: Slovakia
9: Romania
What will be number 8? Stay tuned.

Kindle writings on Romania:

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