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  • Writer's pictureSarah

Romania Road Trip Part 1:Two nights in Bucharest; a whistle-stop dip into the city.

We've created a little travel bucket list, working on the premise that anything long-haul once we've hit around 75 is going to be hard. That gives us 15 years to do it. The only rules are 1) neither of us has been there before 2) we both want to go there.

The people palace
The People Palace, Bucharest

We'd visited Whitby 2 years ago and loved its gothic horror association with Bram Stokers' Dracula, so visiting Transylvania to see the inspiration for Draculas' Castle made it a candidate for the travel bucket list.

We like to travel independently, and with the great help from Caroline at Not Just Travel, we put together a 10 day itinerary to see some of the highlights of Romania.

Luton Airport

In order to be able to fly into Bucharest but out of Cluj we had to go from Luton Airport on Wizz Air. Which was marginally frustrating when we live so near to Gatwick. That said, it only took about an hour and twenty minutes to drive there and leave the car in the long stay carpark (£90 for 10 nights). The flight is an easy 3 hours from London. Wizz Air is a budget airline, so bring your own entertainment.

For people of our generation, flying from Luton brings back memories of the 1977 Campari advert where the suave Jeremy Clyde romantically asks model and actress Lorraine Chase, “Were you truly wafted here from paradise?” and she replies in a strong Cockney accent, “Nahh, Luton Airport!”

Impressions of Bucharest

We were met at the airport in Bucharest and given a potted history of modern Romania by our driver, who also pointed out sights of interest along the way.

It was easy to see why the city had gained the moniker of 'Little Paris' as we drove down a tree-lined wide Boulevard towards the Romanian Arc d'Triumph. The large mansions to either side of the road were very French in style and the whole impression was one of grandeur.

Hotel bedroom in calm neutral colours
Our comfortable bedroom at the Europa Royale in calm neutral colours

We stayed at the Europa Royale Hotel which was right on the edge of the Old City. This was modern and comfortable, with the helpful staff giving us a city map. The Old City is pretty lively at night, so it's probably best not to be in the thick of it if you want to sleep.

Evening meals

I'd pre-booked a table for our first evening meal at historic Caru' cu Bere (meaning beer waggon), which was about a 10 minute walk from our hotel through part of the Old City. It was very busy on a Wednesday night in September, so we were glad that we had reserved a table ahead of time.

We were seated on a first floor gallery where we could survey the whole of the restaurant. Built in 1899 in the German Romantic style of architecture it really was an impressive interior.

Caru cu Bere interior
Caru cu Bere interior

A couple of times during the evening we we treated to a dance display, which was a lovely surprise.

The food was traditional, and we enjoyed a range of dishes between the 3 of us.

Exterior of Hanul lui Manuc large stone building with tiled roof
Exterior of Hanul lui Manuc

Wandering around the Old City the following day, we spotted Hanul lui Manuc and booked a table for the evening - again, it was very busy, so booking is advisable. This is the oldest restaurant in town having opened in 1808, and is the place where the Treaty of Bucharest was signed.

We sat in the large garden where a live band engaged with the diners leading to some spontaneous traditional Romanian dancing. Again, we chose a selection of traditional dishes to try.

Stuffed cabbage with polenta, Lamb stew, Old Style stew

Between these two restaurants, we probably ate at both the most obviously touristy places and the most historic.

Lunchtime we just had a few Turkish meze dishes with some amazing fresh pitta between us at Saray.

Exterior of the People's Palace, a huge building built with a nod to Rome using classical pillars along the facade
Exterior of the People's Palace

The Palace of Parliament also known as the People's Palace was high on our list. This enormous building was built by Nicolae Ceausescu, in an astonishing display of the power of the communist regime. It's the second largest building in the world after the Pentagon. It goes as deep as it goes high, there are bunkers and 20 kilometres of tunnels running underneath it. It's also slowly sinking under it's own weight. Unfortunately the interior was closed during our stay, so we were only able to admire the grandeur and scale of the exterior.

From here we hopped into an Uber and went to the National Village Museum, established in the 1930s in around 70 acres of parkland it contains some 70 houses, churches, boat houses and wind mills. These have come from every region in Romania, dis-assembled and reassembled on the shores of Herastrau Lake. This was excellent and we were really pleased that we'd taken the time to visit this museum.

There are many vendors at the museum selling top quality traditional clothing, home décor, food and drink. But there was no hard sell to mar the experience.

Umbrella Street in Bucharest Old Town - rainbow coloured umbrellas suspended across a narrow street
Umbrella Street in Bucharest Old Town

We also spent time wandering in the Old Town taking in the atmosphere, the many churches and historic buildings. And saw the first of many umbrella streets in Romania!

Dilapidated stone building
There are still many dilapidated buildings in the Old Town

Not all of the Old Town has been restored. As we sipped a craft beer, we saw numerous people come and go from this building, presumably a squat.

Other buildings have been re-purposed, this rather nice looking hotel with it's flashy cars (the Mercedes is a fake kit car) was obviously a bank at some point.

Some of the bars in the Old Town were a bit sleazy, with pole dancers in the windows etc, but it's easy enough to avoid those.

Our first couple of days were a great introduction to old and new Romania. Our hire car was delivered to the hotel and we set off for our second leg of the trip to Brasov in Transylvania where we would be staying for the next 4 nights.



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