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Romania Road Trip


The beginning of a great Romanian summer road trip adventure

When we received an invitation to our friends’ wedding in Romania (the groom is from Romania), I wasn’t even in doubt for one second that this would be the beginning of a great Romanian summer road trip adventure. Our first trip to Romania was back in 2018 on our Interrail through Eastern Europe with both Brasov and Timisoara on our bucket list. However, this time we'd have three whole weeks to drive around the country and see the most beautiful corners. The wedding was hosted in Suceava which made the choice much easier of where to start our journey. Some days after the wedding we took the train to Iasi from where our Romanian adventure began. After enjoying Iasi to its fullest for three whole days, we rented a car and drove to our second destination, Sighisoara. Sighisoara is a historical dream destination and one of the most picturesque towns in whole Transylvania. The city is first and foremost known for its well-preserved walled old town which is even listed by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site. From Sighisoara our adventure brought us further on to Sibiu, another beautiful town in Transylvania with medieval squares, a historical fortress and so much culture and history to dive into. Evidence of the German influence throughout history is to be found every in Sibiu – from signs to the naming and even the language is still spoken and taught. The last city on our bucket list obviously had to be the capital, Bucharest. After driving through the Carpathian Mountains from Sibiu to Bucharest, with some must-see stops along the way, we arrived on the evening just in time to head out for dinner. The buzzle and liveliness of the city elucidated the fact that we now were in a big city. Romania surprised me to the fullest with its beauty in both cities and nature which made me wonder why a country which has so much to offer in both culture, history and food isn’t on more people’s bucket list.





 In another time, Iasi was the capital of the region

1. Iasi

After we had spent enjoyable four days with our friends in a small city called Suceava, celebrating them at their wedding and making new friendships, too, we commenced our vacation the minute we boarded the train which was to take us to our first stop, Iasi. In another time, when Moldova wasn’t its own country yet, but part of a united Romania, Iasi was the capital of the region, Moldova. When considering the history of the country and the size of the city as the fourth largest city in Romania, it might not come as a surprise that Iasi holds the title as Romania’s cultural capital. We had three full days to spend in Iasi, where the Palace of Culture alone took us one day to explore fully. Even though we travelled during the hottest month of the year, July, we found the city to be very much alive filled with young and lively students, beautiful churches and stunning architecture.





Sighisoara is a historical dream destination and one of the most picturesque towns in whole Transylvania

2. Sighisoara

After spending some hassling hours at the car rental company on a Sunday where barely anyone is working in Romania, we finally managed to pick up our car, ready to take us to our next stop, Sighisoara. Transylvania hosts too many beautiful cities, fortresses and castles that we decided to spend most of our time in this region, Sighisoara being the first stop. Sighisoara is a historical dream destination and one of the most picturesque towns in whole Transylvania. The city is first and foremost known for its well-preserved walled old town which is even listed by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site. Adding with the fact that it is equally one of the few remaining citadels in the world still inhabited. The city is rather small and besides the citadel itself there is little to see in Sighisoara. However, it makes for a great base to explore the surroundings which host plenty of castles and fortresses.





he Rupea Fortress is standing on one of the oldest archaeological sites in Romania

3. Rupea Fortress

After we had explored Sighisoara till its fullest it was time for us to get to know the surroundings. In case you are planning a trip to Romania, I can highly recommend renting a car as this will make it so much easier for you to get around and explore whatever you want. The Rupea Fortress is quite unique since the fortress is standing on one of the oldest archaeological sites in Romania with signs of human settlements dating back all the way to 5500-3500 B.C. The fortress was firstly mentioned in 1324 which is the oldest traceable date for the existing building structure. However, it is said that the castle was built on the ruins of a former Dacian defence fort giving a hint about an even older building structure. The site is an astonishing 11 ha large and due to several modifications and additions over many centuries is divided into three parts; the Upper, Middle and Lower fortress. Each are marked by the architecture and advancement of weapons from the respective time period. If you do yourself the favour of climbing to the highest point, you will get deeply rewarded with a stunning view of the surroundings.





Fagaras Fortress is in excellent shape

4. Fagaras Fortress

The Fagaras Fortess made for another great day trip from Sighisoara. Compared to Rupea Fortress which is as much ruin as it is a fortress, Fagaras Fortress is in excellent shape. A lot of hard work and effort has been put into the conservation of the fortress which stands splendidly as one of the best conserved monuments in Romania. The fortress was built in 1310 on the ruins of a wooden castle which was destroyed by Tartars in a fire in 1241. With two sets of thick walls and a surrounding moat the fortress was considered as one of the strongest fortifications in Transylvania. With many sieges during the centuries, the strong fortification has made it impossible to ever be conquered. The fortress has served as a residence for various princes and their families. Today, you step inside a museum exhibiting a range of various objects dating from the Roman to medieval times.





Carta Monastery, partly ruins, partly shells of buildings still indicating its former grandeur

5. Carta Monastery

The next stop on our trip was the city of Sibiu, another medieval town boasting with culture and history. The distance between Sighisoara and Sibiu is a short 2-hours' drive at most which gave us plenty of time to throw in some stops along the way. One of these stops was the Carta Monastery, partly ruins, partly shells of buildings still indicating its former grandeur. The construction of the monastery began sometime around 1205 and even though one can still guess the breathtaking structure it once has been the advanced state of decay is obvious. However, the old gothic church is still standing remarkably well compared to the rest of the site and is equally considered the oldest gothic, fortified church in Eastern Europe. The monastery is built on a peaceful stretch of land with a small creek running through it. Luckily, the monastery isn’t a site cramped with tourists which gives it a tranquil atmosphere when wandering the grounds.





Sibiu is a beautiful town in Transylvania with medieval squares, a historical fortress and so much culture and history to dive into

6. Sibiu

Sibiu is yet another beautiful town in Transylvania with medieval squares, a historical fortress and so much culture and history to dive into. Sibiu has everything of an old European city you could imagine, though without the massive number of tourists which can be found elsewhere, especially in capital cities. Evidence of the German influence throughout history is to be found every in Sibiu – from signs to the naming and even the language is still spoken and taught here. The town was founded in the 12th century by German settlers, the Saxons. Only two centuries later the city had risen as an important trading centre. With its location being in the central part of Transylvania, the city has been part of several different kingdoms throughout the centuries; the Austrian, Hungarian, Austro-Hungarian and now Romanian.





This is one of Europe’s largest medieval castles

7. Corvin Castle

Centuries ago, when Romania, and especially the Transylvanian part, was still part of a prosperous Empire, the country was overflowing in abundance. During these centuries the palaces, castles and all the other astonishing buildings were erected, resulting in a country which can boast with some of the most outstanding castles; Corvin Castle is one of those. In fact, this is one of Europe’s largest medieval castles, even surpassing Bran Castle, also known as Dracula’s Castle, and the royal Peles Castle. The construction of the castle began around 1440 and was intentionally designed as a defence fortress against the Ottoman Empire from the East. Sitting atop a rocky cliff with nothing but a thin bridge allowing access, surrounded by an enormously deep moat-looking belt. With its pointed turrets rising high above, you will be struck by this spellbinding fortress the moment you start walking over the drawbridge.





A quick stop by the Balea Lake

8. Balea Lake

When it was time to leave Sibiu, heading to our final stop in Bucharest, we absolutely had to take the beautiful road, the Transfagarasan, leading through the Carpathian Mountains and stopping by the Balea Lake especially. With so much culture and history to catch up in the cities, castles and fortresses it was exceptionally refreshing to visit one of Romania’s natural wonders. The Balea Lake is a glacial lake in the Fagaras Mountains at an altitude of 2.034 metres where the air was crisp and clean. This was in fact the first time on our road trip which had already lasted a couple of weeks where we met the largest number of tourists. Don’t be worried about a crowded space though, the ground is vast with so much space to explore in solitude.





The Transfagarasan is a paved mountain road crossing the southern section of the Carpathian Mountains

9. Transfagarasan

The Transfagarasan is a paved mountain road crossing the southern section of the Carpathian Mountains, stretching over a whole of 150 km. I openly admit not being a fan of most things built during the communist era, the Transfagarasan however may very well be the best result of all communist creations. The road was built between 1970-1974 under the then Romanian communist politician and dictator, Nicolai Ceausescu, who seeked to create a strategic route through the mountain area in case of an invasion by the USSR. Apart from being a road, the Transfagarasan offers so much more than transporting you from A to B; we chose to this route merely for the spectacular views and the adventure. I recommend you stopping at the Balea Lake, the highest point on the road, and the dam at the bottom of the lake Vidaru.





Bucharest is a laid-back city

10. Bucharest

This was already our second time traveling to Romania, which made me feel more than obliged to visit the capital this time. It’s odd, how often times it is the capital being visited first. In Romania however, we seem to have visited all of the other small towns (6 in total) before finally coming to Bucharest. Despite being the capital of Romania, Bucharest is a rather laid-back city without any of the large crowds to be found. But then again, Bucharest isn’t like any other capital anyway. This pulsating city has some rough edges here and there and still bears clear marks of the communist era. However, something good resulted from that era, too, like the Parliament building, which is a jaw-dropping, gigantic building construction initiated by their former ruler Nicolai Ceausescu, and the private residence of the former which is nothing less than equally staggering, except from being at a smaller scale than the Parliament. The city got its nickname “Little Paris” for a reason. Ther city has an abundance of elegant early 20th century Belle Epoque buildings, showing clear French influences. However, it is a pity, that the city hosts more of these beautiful buildings than the maintenance can keep up with, resulting in many of these historical buildings falling for decay. Nonetheless, our time in Bucharest was magnificent and with the rapid development of the city, I am looking quite forward to returning one day.





Tips:

1. If you want to rent a car to explore Romania more independently, which I can highly recommend, I advise you to neither pick it up nor handing it in on a Sunday. This may sound ridiculous to some, but a Sunday in Romania is holy and supposed to be a resting day. We had big issues when picking it up on a Sunday where we waited for several hours, and many phone calls later a person finally arrived who was a stand-in for his colleague who had left work just like that. In the process of handing out the keys we had even more issues with absolutely no sense of customer service to be found. Therefore, by no means would I recommend renting a car the car rental company called Sixt. The experience (except from the car itself) was poor from beginning to end.


2. Should it happen that you’re driving on more quiet and rather abandoned roads, don’t stop for anyone along the road, not even the person waving at you, especially not the person waving at you. This might be a trick for making you stop the car and beg for money or in worst case even rob you. We had an experience where a person was trying to make us stop, waving from afar at the edge of a forest where there were more people hiding in the bushes. That person was at a long distance to the car and we never felt unsafe at all, so we just kept on driving. By no means, did we feel being in danger nor was the person doing anything more than just waving at us, so there is no more danger to this if you just keep on driving and remember to just smile and wave.


3. When in Bucharest I highly advice you to keep an eye on the taximeter. Taxi drivers in Bucharest have a reputation of charging more than the usual price if they assume you to have enough money. In an inattentive moment they will raise the taxi meter and before you know of it, you have paid three times the price of what it actually would have cost.


4. The last advice for you is to try the Romanian red wine made from the grapes called “Feteasca Neagra”. This is an insaaaanely delicious red wine and so hard to find outside Romania. Therefore, enjoy it whenever you get the chance and do try several brands. Pssst, the best brand is from “Primordial”.

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