Probably, Romania is one of few countries where any weather is reasonable and has its advantages. Take the rain and fog and imagine how authentic the Transylvanian castles will look like in this ambience close to that you depict after watching all those Dracula movies… Take the snowfall and envision the cozy small Brasov all covered in white… The weather when the sun is shining does not need a separate presentation.
From Berlin it’s perfectly easy to fly there: Ryanair flies to Bucharest everyday twice a day (price starts from 10 € both ways) and to Timişoara twice a week (from 10 €); Wizz Air has two flights to Cluj-Napoca weekly (from 40€). If you are flexible in time, you can fly very cheap during the week. If you are working 40 hours a week, you can fly Friday after work and come back on Sunday evening: no extra days-off needed. However, I would say that 2 days are absolutely not enough for Romania. You will need about two weeks to explore all its corners: the country is much bigger than you imagine and has a diverse choice of suggestions.
I liked Romanian money a lot –it is literally beautiful and quite convenient. Local currency is called lei or RON – the colorful and waterproof notes are of different (medium) size and suit perfectly in your wallet. At the time we were in Romania, 1 Euro cost 4,5 Romanian Lei.
From Otopeni Airport in Bucharest you need about 30 minutes to reach the city center with a car. If you didn’t rent a car, take a bus. The bus 780 to main railway station runs between 5:30 and 23:00 every 20-30 minutes; the number 783 bus to city center runs round the clock every 25-40 minutes. You can check the timetable here: http://www.ratb.ro/v_bus_expres.php. The bus stop is in front of the Arrivals Terminal and Departures Terminal. The bust ticket costs 3,5 lei for one trip, the magnetic card valid for two travels costs 7 lei.
The roads in Romania in general are okayish: quite good in the cities and mediocre in the countryside. Gasoline costs about the same price as in Germany. By the way, the gas stations are mostly manned and you can pay with a credit card.
You should be driving carefully as the locals do not always turn the blinkers and usually drive pretty fast. As the driving speed road signs are sometimes not frequent, consult the speed limits in advance: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Speed_limits_in_Romania. Frankly speaking, we didn’t care to enlighten ourselves before the trip and were constantly questioning the allowed speed. We learned the rules of parking while already being in Romania as well. We very lucky to find a very central place to park on the evening of arrival (on the side street next to Bucharest Financial Plaza).
There was a shield stating something in Romanian about 1,5 RON an hour – we didn’t spot a ticket machine in the close proximity though. Suddenly two men dressed completely in black approached us and said that we had to pay them. “How much?” – “10 Lei” – “But it’s written 1,5 Lei” – “It’s incorrect” – “Will you provide us with a receipt?” – “Yes”, – and they directed us to the ATM for cash withdrawal. “Something stinks”, we though and asked random people on the street. They told us that this was a scam and we shall not let them trick us. We didn’t pay and returned to the car an hour later – as expected, there was no fine. In fact, it is for free to park at such lots outside the hours stated on the shield. During the toll time, there is usually a parking officer wearing official uniform. If you see a blue P without any additional information, park there without any second thoughts: this is a free public parking. Additionally, don’t be confused by the people “helping” you to park – in fact, they only wave their hands couple of time and then ask for money. More about tips and tricks about parking in Bucharest you can read on this page: http://www.parkingbucharest.com/tips-about-parking-in-bucharest. Generally, we felt confident on the streets. People normally speak or understand English. If they don’t speak, they will write the price on a sheet of paper.
Before heading to Romania, I prepared an approximate route to be able to see and to do as much as possible during two days. But the above mentioned variety of weather conditions inserted its corrections. Our final route looked like that:
Day 1: Bucharest -> Peles Castle -> Castle Bran -> Braşov Tâmpa Mountain (cable car to the mountain + walking downhill) -> Braşov downtown.
Day 2: Braşov sightseeing -> Bucharest sightseeing (and eating)
In total, we were driving about 3-3,5 hours every day.
Unfortunately, we had to skip the Sinaia and Busteni cable cars. Telecabina Busteni was closed and no one could tell us the reason. Sinaia cable car we had to skip because of the unfavorable for this activity weather conditions (it was rainy).
Both cable cars are on my list for the next trip to Romania. I would also go hiking in the Bucegi mountains in order to see the Carpathian Sphinx and the “Babele” rock formation. This hike was on our plan for this trip, but the Busteni cable car was closed. According to the blog entries of other travelers, this round route would take about 6 hours. For the timetable consult http://muntii-bucegi.ro/en/cable-cars/, though the information was not 100% correct – you better call in advance and confirm the opening hours at the day of your arrival.
So on the day, after the fail with a cable car, we drove directly to the Peles Castle in Sinaia. This castle is one of the most beautiful castles I’ve ever seen: it definitely deserves to be called a great masterpiece of German new-Renaissance architecture. Not only the castle but the whole surroundings are beautiful and picturesque. Leave your car on the parking for 10 Lei and explore this incredible place by foot. The inner yard and the garden are free of charge. The entrance fee which includes both Peles and Pelisor castles is 30 RON. Check the opening hours on the website: http://peles.ro/ (it’s in Romania only, but you can grasp the essential information).
On the way from Peles to Bran we enjoyed amazing scenery in Rasnov: small bright-colored houses with the breathtaking mountain background.
As it turned out, we were lucky with the queuing time for the tickets to Bran Castle.
It took us less than 5 minutes to get them (an adult entrance fee is 35 lei). When we left the castle around 2 pm, the crowd was enormous and we barely had some space to go back to the street. Indeed, the Dracula mystery (which is in fact not substantiated) surrounding the Bran Castle attracts visitors from all around the world.
For the opening hours of the castle (which is, by the way, open 365 days a year) visit the website: http://www.bran-castle.com/. There is enough space on the parking spot on the street below the castle, and parking costs 4 lei/ hour.
Two hours were enough to visit the castle, wonder around and eat delicious pastrami with baked and fried potatoes and pickles (25 lei for a huge portion one will never finish alone). By the way, pay attention to the time the parking officer writes on your ticket (ours wrote 1 hour less than we paid but immediately corrected on demand).
The first thing we did in Braşov after checking in to the hotel was Telecabina Tâmpa (http://todoinbrasov.blogspot.de/2012/07/telecabina-tampa-brasov.html). As in the autumn it gets dark pretty early, we had to hurry up. During the winter time, the cable car opens at 9:30 and the last trip down is at 17:00. A single ticket costs 10 lei, return – 16 lei. On the top of the mountain you can hang out by the Hollywood-esque Brasov sign or enjoy a view to the mountains.
We decided to return by foot and this got us to a great challenge – to walk half-a-way downhill in complete darkness. The path is not steep but winding and slippery. If you decide to repeat our adventure, take a torch (and stable and unslippery shoes) with you. By the way, we met some people who were walking uphill (!!!) without any lights. The way down took us about 40-50 minutes.
When we arrived in Braşov downtown, we rewarded ourselves with mulled wine (here it is called “vin fiert”) for 4 lei a cup. We don’t have to say that we drank more than one;). For the dinner we checked out Sergiana. As we were still full with the pastrami, we couldn’t eat much. But the German guy whom we met on the top of the Tâmpa mountain said that sarmale, stuffed cabbage rolls, was delicious. We can confirm that the homemade cheesecake and vin fiert are yummy here as well. The service and the ambiance is excellent!
We can definitely recommend the place we stayed at in Braşov: Pension Casa Timar (http://www.casatimar.ro/en-gb/). It is very clean, cozy and the beds are more than comfortable – I really didn’t want to get out from under the blanket. The staff is very helpful and friendly speaking very good English. High level of security, good Wi-Fi signal, and 24-hours reception desk is in the complex as well. Next to the pension you can park for free. The touristic fee you have to pay in addition to the room price is 2 lei/pp.
In the morning we bought some stuff to eat in the car from the nearby bakery: polonez vanili, dobrogene bran, cremsnit – everything was delicious and rather cheap. The initial plan was to have a breakfast in an open café, but the sudden severe snowfall made us change our plans.
The Black Church or Biserica Neagră is one of the touristic highlights in Braşov. The main Gothic monument of the country is hidden behind the Museum of Urban Civilization on the main square called Piața Sfatului – Braşov Council Square. Around the square you can find a pedestrian-only Republicii street which hosts many indoor and outdoor cafés and restaurants. I can only imagine hove lively and lovely the main square looks like during the summer season…
We went to the Bibliotheque Pub at the parallel street (Strada Republicii 6, Brașov, Romania) and were impressed by the choice and quality of the cocktails. This place has indeed a very pleasant atmosphere, the ground floor has a big wall full of different colorful bottles, the first and the second floors are furnished like a library with a lot of bookshelves and cozy chairs. The music was delightful as well!
On our way to Bucharest we were pondering how dramatically the weather changes when you cross the mountains. Braşov and Bucharest are divided only by a 3-hours-drive and Bucegi mountains. However, the weather difference is impressive. On the first day it was rainy in Bucharest and sunny in Braşov. The next day Braşov was covered in snow and in Bucharest the sun was shining. The closer we were to Bucharest, the bluer the sky was.
I have to admit that in Bucharest we were more eating that sightseeing… In the area of the local cuisine I have two recommendations:
Caru’ cu Bere (Strada Stavropoleos 5, București 030081, Romania, carucubere.ro) – beautifully furnished, old stylish building where traditional dishes and beer are served. If you like soups, try the one in bread, ciorba in paine, or the famous Romanian sour cream soup called ciorba radautean. By the way, the restaurant is usually full inside, you either have to book in advance or sit outside (which is an acceptable option even in winter if you seat next to the heater).
In Hanu’ lui Manuc (Strada Franceză 62-64, București 030106, Romania, hanumanuc.ro) try the traditional sarmalute or a lamb leg. Be aware, the waiters sometimes speak poor English, so you better repeat your order twice. We made a mistake of ordering twice – once a main dish to share and after a pause a starter. We got a starter only and after waiting for about an hour and watching other people eating delicious meal, we asked about our order: if was forgotten. This hour cost us some sightseeing. This is a pity, but it could be easily caught up during the next trip. We had the following on our list and I will put it here in order not to forget about these places next time:
- The Xenofon stairway street painted painted like Bucharest’s famous monuments or a massive waterfall;
- The floor of the Politehnica subway station hosts millions of marine creatures fossils – seashells, snails, corals and algae.
- A Belle Époque yellow glass covered passage Macca Vilacrosse passage.
By the way, next to Hanu’ lui Manuc we found a pretty gifts shop: Str. Franceza Nr. 58, sector 3.