From Bucharest

Weekend Trip: Transfăgărăşan and Bâlea

Posted by Strainu on October 04, 2008
From Bucharest / No Comments

Versiunea română aici.

The road
Map

The fastest way to get to Bâlea from Bucharest is through Piteşti, Curtea de Argeş and Transfăgărăşan (DN67). However, we wanted to go all the length of the Transfăgărăşan, so we went through Braşov, then on DN1 to Sibiu, and we turned left on DN67 near Cârţişoara.

To return from Bâlea, we continued over the mountains to Curtea de Argeş, Piteşti and finally Bucureşti.

The roads are all right, if we ignore the never-ending works on DN1 between Braşov and Sibiu. DN67 is in excellent condition considering the fact that it’s a mountain road closed for 5 month a year.

Rating: ★★★☆☆

Accommodation

If you want to sleep at Bâlea, your best chance is to bring a tent with you and hope it doesn’t rain. If you’re not the nature type, there are 2 cottages at the lake and 1 hotel at the waterfall.

Rating: ★☆☆☆☆

What to see

Some of the trails can be dangerous, and some are closed during winter. You should always have proper equipment and respect the warnings signs. It’s for your own good! If you need help, you can call 0-SALVAMONT (0725826668 – the mountain rescue HQ) or 112 (emergency services).

If you come from DN1 like us, you can leave your car at the Bâlea Cascadă hotel (you can’t miss it, there are lots of cars around). From there you can go to the lake by foot (only if you’re in good shape) or by cable. The ticket is 15 lei. By foot, there are 3 different routes: 2h30, 3h30 and 4h30 long.

Once you get to the top (over 2000m), you can admire the glacial lake and the impressive mountains around it. If you still feel up to it, you can go on another trip, for example to the Capra (Goat) lake.

When you’re done exhausting yourself, you can continue through the tunnels to Muntenia. If there is still time, you can stop in Curtea de Argeş to see the remains of the first capital of Valachia.

BaleaBaleaBaleaBaleaBaleaBaleaBaleaBalea

Rating: ★★★★½

Alternatives

From Râmnicu-Vâlcea you can go left in DN67 to Târgu Jiu and visit some monasteries and some caves.

Overall Rating: ★★★☆☆

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Weekend Trip: Sibiu and the Olt Valley

Posted by Strainu on September 23, 2008
From Bucharest / No Comments

Versiunea română aici.

The road
Map

To get to Sibiu from Bucharest you need to follow the A1/E81 to Piteşti (115km), pass on the newly built ring road and continue on the E81 to Râmnicu Vâlcea (68km), Cozia (17km) and finally Sibiu (90km), for a total of about 200km. The road is quite good, except for some parts of Dealu Negru where the road has collapsed and is currently being rebuilt. From Cozia to Sibiu there are another 100km of not-so-good roads. There are also some sections where the circulation takes place on 1 lane, controlled by traffic lights.

The trip takes about 4 hours without speeding. You could probably do it in 3h15-3h30 with a radar detector.

If you go by train, the trip takes about 5h30 and costs from 45 to 60 lei.

Rating: ★★★½☆

Accommodation

Accomodation in Sibiu is expensive and quite bad. I can’t really recommend any place, except the Old Town Hostel. It would be much better if you searched for hosting in the villages near Sibiu. You could try getting some hosting from Antrec, the Romanian branch of Eurogites.

Rating: ★★☆☆☆

What to see

The pedestrian area of Sibiu is interesting. You can see numerous old houses from the 16th and 17th centuries. Piaţa Mare and Piaţa Mică (The Big and Small squares) are linked by small streets and stairs. In the same area you can find the famous Podul Minciunilor (The Liars Bridge).

All the city’s museums are there: the Bruckental Museum, the historical museum, the Lutheran Church, etc. The Towers and citadel, which limit the old town are also nice to visit.

If you’re in town for a little longer, you might want to visit the Astra Museum, near Sibiu.

DSC04763DSC04755

DSC04760DSC04754

Rating: ★★★★½

Alternatives

From Râmnicu-Vâlcea you can go left in DN67 to Târgu Jiu and visit some monasteries and some caves.

Overall Rating: ★★★½☆

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One day Trip: Ploieşti

Posted by Strainu on February 05, 2008
From Bucharest / No Comments

Versiunea română aici.

The Road
Map

Ploieşti is just 60 km away from Bucureşti on DN1 (E60). The road is excellent. Depending on how crowded the road is, the trip should take between 45 minutes and an hour. If you choose to go by train, there are regular services (about half an hour to an hour apart). The trip takes 35 minutes with Rapid.

Rating: ★★★★★

Food


There are many restaurants in the city, each one has it’s specific food, but none of them stands out with something special.

Rating: ★★★☆☆

Sightseeing

There was one museum in particular that I remembered well – the Clock Museum which I had visited in a field trip with my primary school. My guide (which happened to be one of my colleagues) made me discover The County Museum and Halele (the old market), as well as the North Station, a railway station and historic monument.

I apologize for the quality of the photos, the light was fading and I lack a tripod.
Muzeul CeasuluiHalele PloiestiMuzeul CeasuluiGara de Nord, Ploiesti

Rating: ★★★½☆

Alternatives

If you don’t like Ploieşti or you finished visiting too early, you can try Vălenii de Munte or Târgovişte. They’re very close to each other and to Bucharest, so you don’t have to worry about transportation.

Overall Rating: ★★★★☆

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Two Days Trip: Medieval Castles and Fortified Towns – Braşov, Sighişoara, Râşnov, Bran

Posted by Strainu on August 23, 2007
From Bucharest / 1 Comment

Versiunea română aici.

The Road
Map

You can get from Bucharest to Sighişoara on E60 (DN1 until Braşov – 160km, then DN13 to Sighişoara – another 115km). The road is quite perfect, with the exception of the Ploieşti Ring and some parts of Prahova Valley. From Braşov to Râşnov and Bran you have to use DN73 (E574), which is in a pretty bad state.

Alternative route from Bucharest: Ploieşti – Predeal – Pârâul Rece – Râşnov on DN1 and DN73A. Be advised, DN73A will soon be repaired. The work is set to take 2 months, although some say it can’t be finished in less than 1 year.

Unfortunately, you can’t get to Bran or Râşnov by train. However, you can make the Bucureşti – Braşov – Sighişoara trip by train and then rent a car.

Rating: ★★★½☆

Accommodation

There are many villas and hotels in all the cities. The prices (especially in the Bran-Moeciu area) are a little higher than in other parts of the country. My advice would be to choose Braşov for the night, as it is in the middle of our target area, but any other town will work just fine, as you won’t have to drive more than 200 km.

Rating: ★★★☆☆

Castles

Braşov

The city of Braşov began building its fortress in 1395. Each guild built it’s own tower and in times of war, it was responsible for protecting that tower and the surrounding area. Braşov was, for a long time, the most powerful city in Transylvania. Today, only a few towers and parts of the wall remain, like the White tower and the Black Tower. There are also numerous old inns and churches.

The Black Church is the biggest Gothic cathedral east of Vienna and perhaps the best known tourist attraction in the city. You can find the 38m high church next to Tâmpa, the mountain overlooking the city. It’s known as black from 1689, when it was damaged in a big fire.

Sighişoara

Sighişoara is THE fortified town. Home to the Medieval Festival (in the last weekend of July), the city has gained an enormous popularity both in Romania and abroad. The old (fortified) part of Sighişoara is actually made up of two parts: the Upper Town and the Lower Town.

The Clock Tower (currently Sighişoara’s history museum) is the biggest of all the towers of the former fortress. The view from upstairs is impressive. There is a fee if you want to use your camera in the museum, but it doesn’t apply to the upper balcony. Tickets cost 5 RON for adults and 2.5 for students.

There are about 10 smaller towers dating from the 13th to the 17th century. Other museums (there is a common ticket for all of them): The Torture Chamber (where you can see various torture instruments from the Middle Age) and The Weapons Collection.

A remarkable construction, the biggest of its kind in Transylvania is the “Covered Staircase” which gives easier access to the High School and “The Church from the Hill”, especially on winter days. Today, only 175 steps remain. The ocher-colored house named “Casa Vlad Dracula”, where the Vlad the Impaler was born, is now a cozy restaurant. You can find inside Gothic-style furniture and serve good soups and traditional Romanian dishes.

In the Upper Town, you can admire the church with it’s beautiful statues and cemetery.

turnul cu ceasScara acoperita

Râşnov

The Citadel in Râşnov is special because it was built by peasants on a hill next to the village. It had houses for every family, as well as a church and a school. This way, the peasants could live there for a long time in case of a war.

It was recently restored by an Italian investor, but has now returned to the Local Council’s ownership. The entry fee is 10 lei.

In the museum, you can see some interesting things discovered in the fortress, from old weapons and torture instruments to old coins. If you’re lucky, you can have a free tour from one of the supervisors. He will tell you much more about the place than you need to know 🙂 Outside, there are some preserved homes, but unfortunately none has the interior restored.

There are lots of legends about the place. One of them states that the fountain was built by two Turkish prisoners in the 17th century. They were promised freedom if they finished the fountain, but were nevertheless killed after 17 years of hard work. Actually, the digging of the fountain (134 m deep) was decided in 1625, after the fortress was forced to surrender to Gabriel Batory in 1612 due to the lack of water. It was finished in 1640 and abandoned in 1850.

Cetatea Rasnov

Bran

The Bran castle is so well known for it’s link to Dracula that it doesn’t need an introduction. It was built as a customs point for the area by the town of Braşov in the 14th century. In the 20th century, it was owned by the Romanian royal family. During this period it was restored and modified to fit the taste of Queen Maria by the architect Karel Liman. Besides the Castle, you can also visit the Customs House and the Village Museum, both in the castle’s courtyard.

Alternatives

If you have the time, you might want to visit the Feldioara Fortress (21 km north of Braşov on the E60), Făgăraş Fortress (70 km east of Braşov on the E58), the Haller Castle in Horghiz (50 km north of Braşov on the E60) or the Racoş Castle (10 km south of Horghiz).

Cetate

Rating: ★★★★☆

Overall Rating: ★★★½☆

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Two Days trip: Prahova Valley – Sinaia, Buşteni, Predeal, Braşov

Posted by Strainu on August 21, 2007
From Bucharest / 1 Comment

Versiunea română aici.

The road
Map

Prahova Valley is on DN1 (E60), between Bucharest (120-140 km) and Braşov (25-45 km). The road is excellent, the only problems are on the Ploieşti ring and in Azuga. The speed limit is 70 km/h in the cities and 100km/h on open road. Beware, there are speed cameras all along the road.

You can also get there by train, from Bucharest Nord station.

Rating: ★★★★☆

Accommodation

There are some hotels in the region, and most of them have 3*, but you can find anything from 1* to 4*. If this is what you are looking for, here are some links for you (some websites are in Romanian): [1], [2], [3].

However, there is a much better way to spend a pleasant weekend on the Valley. For 20-30 € you can get a double room in one of the many villas in the region. Most of them offer a private bathroom and clean sheets, but little more.

Rating: ★★★★½

Hiking

Some of the trails can be dangerous, and some are closed during winter. You should always have proper equipment and respect the warnings signs. It’s for your own good! If you need help, you can call 0-SALVAMONT (0725826668 – the mountain rescue HQ) or 112 (emergency services).

Cascada Urlătoarea (“The Screaming Waterfall”)

You can get to it from Buşteni. The trip takes about an hour from downtown. The first 30 minutes (until you leave the city) are easy, but then you have a steep climb ahead of you. The last 15 minutes are a walk in the park…err, I mean wood 😀

The waterfall is impressive, and if you want to talk, you really have to scream. The sad part is that there are just too many tourists in the area, and the bottom of the waterfall is polluted by the beer cans kept cold by some local sellers, which, by the way, are the same people who should be looking after the waterfall.

Babele (Old ladies) and the Sphinx

Babele and the Sphinx are some rock formations on the Bucegi plateau, at almost 2000 m. You can get there from Buşteni by cable car or by foot (a 4 hour trip, closed during winter). If you go by foot, make sure you have the proper equipment for a (very) steep climb.

babeleSfinxul din bucegi
Images from Wikipedia.

The Caraiman Peak and Cross

The Heroes’ Monument (Crucea Eroilor Neamului) is a 28 m-high cross build on the Caraiman peak (2291m) to honor the Romanian heroes killed in the first World War. It’s an hour away from Babele.

Şapte scări (Seven Ladders)

It’s a beautiful canyon where you can get to the top by climbing seven ladders. You can get there from DN1 in Timişul de Sus. You can find lots of photos here or search google.

Other roads

There are many other interesting things to see. You can find below the maps from Pârâul Rece (near Predeal) and Buşteni.

p8100099.jpg img_7169.JPG

Rating: ★★★★☆

Visits

Peleş and Pelişor Palace, Sinaia

The two palaces are just a few minutes away from downtown Sinaia. They were built for the first Romanian kings, Carol I and Ferdinand, along with a chalet (Foişor), which isn’t open to public. The ticket prices are 15 lei for Peleş and 9 lei for Pelişor, with a 50% reduction for EURO<26 card owners and 2/3 reduction for Romanian students. If you get there by car, there is a 10 lei parking fee, but the parking is almost a km away from the museum.

Hunting Museum, Posada

The museum is placed on DN1, between the city of Comarnic and Sinaia. It holds many different collections, from stuffed animals to hunting trophies, most of them belonging to the Ceauşescu family.

Black Church, Braşov

The Black Church is the biggest Gothic cathedral east of Vienna. You can find the 38m high church in the city of Braşov. It’s known as black from 1689, when it was damaged in a big fire.

Ialomiţa Cave and Monastery

The Ialomiţa Cave is on the other side of Bucegi from Buşteni. The is a cable car line from Babele to the cave. If you prefer walking, you can make the descent by foot. The monastery, which is just at the entry of the cave, dates from 1818, when it replaced a previous wooden church.

You can also get there by car, from sinaia to Cota 1000, the Cuibu Dorului chalet then on a forest road to Ialomiţa valley. A longer but better road is through Moroieni – Cabana Padina – the cave.

Other Monasteries and churches

If you like churches, you might want to visit: Sinaia Monastery, Caraiman Monastery (from Buşteni, near the cable car), the Holy Trinity church in Azuga, dating from the early 20th century, the chapel built on the Sorica mountain in Azuga, the 16th century Lespezi Monastery in Posada, or one of the many gothic churches in Braşov.

Other points of interest

There are many more things to see on the valley, from the memorial houses of George Enescu and Cezar Petrescu to the Sinaia Casino or the monuments dedicated to Romanian heroes in each city. Just search a little on the internet to find all you need to know.

Rating: ★★★½☆

Overall Rating: ★★★★☆

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One day trip: Mogoşoaia and Târgovişte

Posted by Strainu on July 30, 2007
From Bucharest / No Comments

Versiunea română aici.

The road
Map

Mogoşoaia is just a few kilometers away from Bucharest on the DN1B. Until you exit from Bucharest the road is not so good, but then everything is perfect. The shortest way from Mogoşoaia to Târgovişte is by returning a few hundred meters, then taking the DJ100A to the DN7, then DN71 to the destination. The trip should take about 1h-1h15.
Rating: ★★★★½

Food

We ate at a small restaurant in downtown Târgovişte, called Pizza C&C. The food wasn’t fabulous, but the place was clean and the service was more than OK. Unfortunately I have no pictures with the food.
Rating: ★★★☆☆

Sightseeing

The main (and only) tourist attraction in Mogoşoaia is the Brâncoveanu Palace. When we went there, the first floor was hosting the museum itself, while the ground floor and the underground had some modern art exhibitions. The most interesting exhibit was a note left by one of the visitors: “If you kid ever wants to go to an art school, beat the s**t out of him”. This says it all on the quality of the art.

The first floor was quite interesting, with lots of paintings, prints, clothes and carpets from the last 4 centuries. However, like in all museums from Romania, there were very few informations on what you were seeing so history lessons from school came in handy.

The garden is amazing and very well maintained. It’s worth making the trip for itself.

Palatul MogosoaiaDSC01888

In Târgovişte, we only had time to visit the court and Chindia Tower. Unfortunately you have to pay for the pictures here, another bad habit of Romanian museums. The ruins of the palace are not very interesting if you’re not an historian, but the view from the top of the tower is quite impressive.

If you have the time, it would be a pity to miss the Dealu Monastery, just 5 km north of the city.

Cetatea domneascaCetatea domneascaTurnul Chindiei

Rating: ★★½☆☆

Alternatives

You can choose to visit Ploieşti instead of Târgovişte (continue from Mogoşoaia on DN1B). If you’re fast enough, you can see both cities in one day, but I wouldn’t recommend it.

Overall Rating: ★★★½☆

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One day trip: Cozia Monastery

Posted by Strainu on July 29, 2007
From Bucharest / No Comments

Versiunea română aici.

The road
Map

To get to Cozia from Bucharest you need to follow the A1/E81 to Piteşti (115km), pass through the city and continue on the E81 to Râmnicu Vâlcea (68km), Călimăneşti (14km) and finally Căciulata (3km), for a total of about 200km. The road is quite good, except for the streets of Piteşti and some parts of Dealu Negru where the road has collapsed. Also, be aware of the never-ending works on the A1.

The trip takes about 3 hours without speeding. You could probably do it in 2h15-2h30 with a radar detector.

Rating: ★★★★☆

Food

To sum it up: the food SUCKED. Big time. We ate at the Cozia Motel, but I’ve heard from some of my friends that the other restaurants in the area aren’t any better. You can see in the picture on the right the only thing from the menu they actually had, called Tocăniţă Cozia. It had no taste and it wasn’t enough for anyone.

But perhaps we were unlucky, so if you now any good restaurant in the area, leave a comment. You could help the future visitors to better appreciate the area. 🙂

Rating: ½☆☆☆☆

Sightseeing
The area is the second in the country by the number of monasteries, after Bucovina, so your only problem is choice. Mănăstirea Cozia, Mănăstirea Turnu, Mănăstirea Stănişoara or Schitul Ostrov are only a few kilometers apart.
You can also admire the Olt strait or the Lotrişor waterfall. To get to it, go another 5 km from Cozia on E81 then 2 km on a narrow path. Be aware that most cars won’t make it to the waterfall, so unless you own a 4×4, it’s better to leave the car on the E81.

The church in the Cozia monastery is quite modest, but the paintings are very well preserved. Even if nobody tells you, you might consider making the photos without the flash. There is also a museum/shop where you can see icons and books as old as the 14th century.
Biserica CoziaUmbra lui Mircea....DodecaedronMormantul lui MirceaDSC01924Oala

Rating: ★★★½☆

Alternatives

You can continue on the E81 to Sibiu, the 2007 European Capital of Culture. The city is about 90km from Cozia, so count another hour and a half to get there. If you are a bit of an adrenaline junkie (or a mountain lover), you may want to return to Piteşti by DN1, then DN7C (Transfăgărăşan).

Overall Rating: ★★½☆☆

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