Bucharest is the capital of Romania and was the first city that we visited during our trip to Romania before heading to Brasov. We were there in winter and the streets were covered with snow, but we still found it interesting. Bucharest became the capital of Romania in 1862 and was, at one time, considered to be “little Paris” because of its architecture and culture, but due to the wars, much of the architecture was destroyed. Although many of buildings have been restored, the city has evolved over time.
Like most historic cities, walking the streets of the old town area is certainly a worthwhile experience. You will find many restaurants, some old churches and buildings, as well as some modern shops and adult stores. Although there is a definite mix of utilitarian buildings as well as historic buildings, we definitely saw several very interesting buildings. It is certainly worth visiting the Galeria de Arta Romaneasca and the Central de la Universidad de Bucharest, with its statue of Carol I on horseback, has wonderful architectural features. The area is also known as Revolution Square and there is an interesting obelisk that is a monument for the anti-communist revolution of 1989.
There are several old churches that you can visit as well that are very interesting. One of the most interesting is the Church of Stavropoleos Monastery in old town Bucharest. With interesting murals inside on the walls and ceilings, its architecture is done in the Byzantine tradition. It is certainly quite a contrast to the buildings that surround it. We went to a couple of restaurants and found the people to be very friendly, but be sure to always have small change with you as the waiters are likely to tell you that they don’t have change in hopes of getting you to pay more than the actual price. We were fortunate enough to have musicians playing local, folk music at one of the restaurants that we visited.
In general, we found Bucharest to be a city of contrasts. It was our first experience in an Eastern European country and it was very fascinating. Bucharest is the sixth larges city in the European Union with almost 2.5 million residents, so it can certainly be busy. After leaving Bucharest, we went to Transylvania and the city of Brasov, which was quite different than the capital city and something that we would highly recommend. We will be visiting the neighboring country of Hungary and the city of Budapest in a couple of months and are anxious to compare our different experiences.
When visiting Transylvania in Romania, Brasov is the perfect city to stay while touring the surrounding area. It is only a few hours by train from the capital of Bucharest and the people are friendly, there are plenty of local restaurants, and the town has a few wonderful sightseeing options. Although we visited in the winter, it is perfect place to go during the summer when you can go hiking in the surrounding mountains. One of our favorite things about Brasov is the unique architecture that you can find throughout the historic city. Whether it is the town hall, the Black Church, the White Tower, or Saint Nicholas Church, it is almost as if you can find a different architectural style around every corner.
The hotel that we stayed at during our visit was located right in the central square where the town hall is located. We arrived just shortly after Christmas and the market had just ended, but the large tree in the square was still lit at night creating an almost magical atmosphere. The Biserica Neagră, or Black Church, dominates the skyline of the town and is definitely not your typical gothic cathedral. Built in the 14th century by the German community that lived in the area at the time, it is one of the largest churches in the country. Most striking is the bell tower with colorful clocks on two of its sides.
To see some truly interesting architecture, you should definitely go to Catherine’s Gate and Saint Nicholas Church. Catherine’s Gate was built as part of the town’s fortification in 1559 after the original gate was destroyed by a flood in 1529. It is named after a monastery that existed in the area and is one of the many medieval structures that still exist in Brasov today. Although not as large as the Black Church, Saint Nicholas Church is truly fascinating to see. Built in the 15th century and then later decorated in the Baroque style, it looks as if it could have come directly out of a fairy tale.
In addition to enjoying the charm of Brasov, there are plenty of things to do in the surrounding area. From Bran Castle, which is reportedly associated with Vlad the Impaler, to the Church Fortifications, and the mountain resorts with skiing and hiking, Brasov is the perfect location to use to explore Transylvania. Be sure to go to a local restaurant and enjoy some of the cabbage rolls that the region is known for. Our time in Brasov was definitely the highlight of our trip to Romania.
If you get the opportunity to visit Transylvania in Romania, there is much more to see than the supposed castle of Dracula. Set in the hills of the Carpathian mountains, there are several peasant church fortifications as well as the Fortress in Rasnov. We took a day tour out of Brasov and were able to visit these locations, although we weren’t able to get inside of the fortress in Rasnov. Seeing the churches that are surrounded by walls with rooms for the villagers to live in during a seige was truly quite fascinating and different than anything else that we saw in other parts of Europe.
The first location that we visited was the fortified church in Prejmer, which is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and the strongest church fortification in Transylvania. Apparently it was attacked about 50 times during its history, but only ever conquered a single time in 1611. Not only has it withstood the ravages of battle, it has also withstood the ravages of time as it is still looks the same today as it did hundreds of years ago dating back to when it was first built back in the early 13th century. If you are willing to walk the old wooden stairs and walkways, there are rooms showing what life would have been like for the peasants who took refuge there.
Our second stop was to the fortified church of Harman, which also dates back to the 13th century. It was, however, reinforced over the centuries, making it another resilient stronghold. Although time has taken its toll on the frescos of the church, enough remains to allow you to imagine what it must have been like during the days of its usage. There are also seven towers around the fortress walls, making it quite striking to see from the outside. We were there in the heart of winter and it was extremely cold, but that didn’t keep us from enjoying our time in the fortifications and churches. You can also climb to the top of the bell tower if you would like, but be sure to pay attention to the time as the bells still ring at the top of the hour.
The final stop on our tour was the Rasnov Fortress. This was meant to be the highlight of the day as it is a large fortress on top the hillside that remains in excellent condition. We should have known something was up when we arrived and the area where tourists had to park was mostly empty. We were told that we could take a little trolley up the steep hillside, but we decided to go ahead and walk. When we arrived at the top, we found that the ticket office was closed, but there was a security guard nearby, so we asked where we could get tickets. We were told that the fortress was closed as they were filming an “American movie” on the grounds and we weren’t even allowed to go any further than the entrance gate. We took a couple of photos and began walking down the hillside. As we walked the road, several large black SUV’s with tinted windows passed us as well as trucks filled with scaffolding and filming materials. We never did find out what movie was being shot or whether there might have been movie stars in those vehicles, but perhaps we will see the movie one day.
Despite the cold and the disappointment of not seeing Rasnov Fortress, it really was a very interesting day. The countryside of Transylvania has many different things to see, including the town of Brasov, which have a more tangible connection with real history rather than the myth of a vampire.