Day by Day

During our trip, we (myself and my partner) designated half of our time to Bucharest, and the other half further up north. We spent a few days in Bucharest at the beginning and end of our trip, and had a few long days of driving and tracking Dracula sandwiched between. We weren’t able to see some of what we’d hoped, such as the Danube Delta in the southeast, and the painted monasteries of Moldovita and Bucovina far north, but we covered some serious ground and below is a more detailed account of our travels. And please, feel free to contact with any questions!

Day 1 (Tuesday, August 22, 2017)

  • After twelve hours of travel between Boston and Bucharest (including a brief, sleepy layover in Amsterdam), we arrived at Henri Coandă International Airport. We flew Delta, which fortunately meant decent food and comfortable flights. We’d lost seven hours in the air, meaning that when we stumbled off the plane it felt more like 6am than 1pm. I am a lousy plane sleeper and suffered the consequences
  • The process of securing a taxi is a little strange at the airport, but not too complicated. I am including the instructions provided by an Airbnb host below. We were able to get a taxi without too much trouble, with a driver who spoke limited English but was able to determine exactly where to go as soon as we showed him the address of our Airbnb on my phone
  • We arrived about an hour later at our downtown Airbnb on Bulevardul Nicolae Bălcescu, which was central to much of what we hope to see during our stay (a short walk from Old Town and within walking distance of museums concentrated in Kiseleff Park). What’s more, we paid the equivalent of ~$35 a night for an apartment that in Boston would easily be rented out for four times that amount
  • We were greeted by a friend of our host who was timely, carefully described the apartment features, helped us figure out the key situation, and giggled about our fascination with the tiny elevator in the complex (which she described as high tech for Bucharest)
  • Of course, we then napped for two hours (anticlimactic start to an international trip, but mama needs her sleep)
  • We wandered slightly southwest toward Old Town for dinner, and stumbled tiredly into one of the first restaurants we encountered. Restaurant Lacrimi și Sfinți turned out to be an excellent spot for authentic Romanian cuisine, the waitress was fantastic, and we split the Sheppard’s platter (a selection of local cheese and veggies), some incredible meatballs, and a hearty tomato soup seasoned with sunflower seeds. I celebrated our arrival with an Ursus Romanian beer
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Directions from Airport to Downtown Bucharest

Day 2 (Wednesday, August 23, 2017)

  • Waking up with a greater sense of purpose than we’d managed to muster the day before, we set out up the street to find Cărturești Verona, a quirky and expansive book/tea/music store I’d discovered in my planning. Because of my poor navigational sense, and despite having secured directions, finding the store occurred through trial and error. We walked too far, we walked back, we stopped into Le Grenier à Pain and activated my partner’s data roaming and soon realized the spot we were searching for was immediately next door. The search was worth the time. We spent about an hour browsing the store, in awe of its seemingly endless rooms and eclectic charm
  • Next stop – Acuarela Bistro, an arts-oriented, umbrella-covered outdoor café with watercolors and a cup of water at every table, and a sizeable drink menu. I ordered a kiwi lemonade after seeing the funky green potion at a table near ours, and my partner, some sort of thick red smoothie. We split a veggie pizza that was the perfect size for the two of us
  • Continuing further north, we made an attempt to visit the Museum of the Romanian Peasant in Kiseleff Park, thwarted by construction that meant temporary closure. We then wandered across the street to the National Geology Museum (I couldn’t resist, my father studied geology and my favorite section in any natural history museum always ends up being the rocks and mineral display)
  • The National Geology Museum – We loved it. Many of the exhibits had exclusively Romanian signage, but the collection was extensive and the layout, easily navigable. Additionally, the person working the front desk was one of the friendliest people we met during our adventures
  • We followed our trip to Kiseleff Park with Gradina EDEN, a secret-garden bar and café veiled by trees and tucked behind Palatul Știrbei. It was tough to find, with little to no signage, but the challenge was worth every moment. Confused as to how to enter, we stopped and watched some hip looking passerby sneak through the gate of Palatul Știrbei, and follow a rocky pathway to its right before disappearing into the trees. We followed suit, and found ourselves on a terrace made private by trees and shrubs strewn with fairy lights and scattered with seats, tables, bean bags chairs and more open space than one would expect in the center of a city. We grabbed a few drinks and seized the opportunity to lounge and read
  • Before tucking in for the night, we stopped in for a pleasant dinner at an Italian restaurant called Roberto’s. Consistent with most of our dining experiences in Romania, we were shocked by the affordability of what felt like a very decadent meal (especially as I’m a student and my diet consists primarily of canned soup and frozen blueberries)

The National Geology Museum, Bucharest

Day 3 (Thursday, August 24, 2017)

  • We slept in, and then began our day later than intended with a quest to find KANE World Food Studio. We wandered north from our apartment through winding side streets, admiring colorful graffiti and ornate old buildings. Arriving hungry, we indulged in a delicious meal of international fare including falafel and mint sauce, a Hawaiian poke bowl, goat cheese ravioli, and a dangerous lemon pie and meringue dessert. My partner ordered a specialty coffee drink called affogado, a shot of espresso topped with a scoop of vanilla ice cream, and he hasn’t stopped talking about it
  • Next, we hit the George Enescu Museum located in a palace once home to the late composer. The building itself was breathtaking, and the small entrance fee is worth the opportunity to explore the palace regardless of interest in classical composition
  • Creatures of habit, we couldn’t resist the temptation to visit the Starbucks next door to the museum before heading back over to Gradina EDEN for another evening of drinks and reading
  • We turned in for an early night in anticipation of picking up our rental car and traveling to Poienari Fortress, and eventually, Brașov, the next day

Kane World Food Studio, Bucharest

Day 4 (Friday, August 25, 2017)

  • The day began with a confusing Uber trip to the airport car-rental lot. Uber is easy enough to use in Bucharest if you engage data roaming, and our driver was fantastic, but we hadn’t received clear instructions for picking up our Alamo Enterprise rental at Henri Coandă International Airport. Thanks to the patience of our driver, we ended up cruising around the airport for a while trying to figure out where to plant ourselves before getting off at a rental lot (without any Alamo signage) a short distance from the airport entrance. This ended up being a poor decision, as we then had to take a shuttle back to the main entrance to visit the car rental kiosk to sign paperwork before shuttling back to the lot. Oh well. The rental was affordable and ultimately, reliable. We grabbed some food to-go from the airport (some drinks, a sandwich, and salad for the road) before we departed at around 11am
  • Our first stop was Poienari Fortress. About an hour outside of Bucharest, we hit the mountains and our jaws dropped. Instead of through tunnels blasted through the mountains, roads climb mountains, making for some white-knuckle driving justified by spectacular views
  • After driving to Poienari (the town) and being redirected by some animated locals, we ventured towards Curtea de Argeș, a small city that we learned was closer to Poienari Fortress. Although visitors intending to visit Dracula’s castle (an invention of Stoker’s imagination in Dracula) tend to visit the more popular Bran Castle, one of multiple buildings in Romania linked to Vlad the Impaler, the ruins of Poienari Fortress have more direct links to his history. Legend has it that, to avenge the mistreatment of his brother, Vlad Dracul crashed the Easter festivities one year in Targoviste, killing seniors and children and making capable adults his slaves. He threatened to kill those whose lives he’d spared unless they were able to construct Poeinari Fortress within a certain number of years. Legend has it that they met his demand. I prioritized a visit to Poienari Fortress as it seemed to have more solid historical ties to the soulless villain than Bran Castle, although Bran more closely resembles the castle imagined by Stoker. The ride from Curtea de Argeș to Poienari was brief, although we drove slightly too far at first and got a preview of the Transfăgărășan Highway. I’m not a racecar driver, so a preview was sufficient
  • The hike to the ruins requires a long walk up the steep incline of a mountain made easier by a set of 1000+ stairs. This bucket-list friendly experience was worth the exercise and the small entrance fee (which is charged at the end of the climb, so be sure you have $ available!). That being said, I felt the burn for a couple days post-climb and would not recommend the trip to seniors or small children. Despite the garlic we found lodged between bricks in the ruins, I was able to find Dracula and shoot a photo
  • The drive from Poienari Fortress to Brașov, where we stayed for the night, was incredible, and provided a satisfying view of Bran Castle. The view was enough for me, although I have heard taking a tour of the interior is a worthwhile experience if you make time to do so. We drove through small villages, mountains, cities, and diverse landscapes en route to Brașov, and arrived in the midst of an unexpected food festival
  • Although we didn’t arrive until 8pm, the eager and accommodating concierge at Antler Boutique Hotel offered us espresso upon check in, and made sure we were comfortable in our room before ducking out for the night. The hotel was new, charming, and uber cozy. It’s worth noting out of courtesy to its staff that there’s no round-the-clock concierge, so if you plan to stay there and are running late, notice is appreciated
  • We meandered into town, first trying for La Ceaun, discovering it was mobbed for the festival, then venturing across the cobblestone street to a spot called Pilvax. We were very hungry by the time we sat down, and enjoyed a comforting meal of pasta and mushroom stuffed zucchini

Poienari Fortress, Curtea de Argeș

Day 5 (Saturday, August 26, 2017)

  • After what may have been the best sleep of my month, if not my year (the pillows at the hotel were heaven and I have every intention of asking what they were and buying them), we walked down the street for breakfast. I can’t say enough about how much I loved walking around Brașov, just as much in the morning as at night. Between live music in the streets, colorful store fronts, families out-and-about together, and more coffee shops and hole-in-the-wall gelato than I could have ever imagined, I regretted having planned only one night in this beautiful city. We ate breakfast outdoors at the Luther Brasserie & Lounge (I ordered eggs benedict and my partner, the traditional Romanian breakfast, and both were scrumptious)
  • Alas, all good things must come to an end, and we hit the road at 11:30am for a long drive (~4hrs) to visit an amusement park in an underground salt mine, Salina Turda and ultimately Cluj-Napoca, Romania’s second largest city
  • The drive was easy and just as scenic as the day before. We grabbed snacks at convenient stores attached to gas stations (of which there are many) during our drive, and made it to our first destination of the day without any trouble thanks to conveniences afforded by smart phones including GPS and google
  • Salina Turda – I don’t think I’ll be doing justice to this experience by describing it, but to summarize… A visit to Salina Turda is like walking on the moon (without the epic journey to get there), or the set of The Dark Crystal. It requires a bit of a hike down a long set of stairs, followed by either another long set of stairs, or a long wait to take a seven-person elevator, but once you hit the bottom, the experience is magical. The ferris wheel, skee ball, bowling, and boating opportunities enhance the experience, but the mine itself is the true wonder of the visit
  • The ride from Salina Turda to Cluj-Napoca was short and sweet, taking less than an hour and concluded with an easier time parking near our Airbnb than anticipated
  • Our Airbnb was immaculate and very stylish, the pièce de résistance being a bed set back in a nook overseen by a vegan 3D puzzle wooden moose head. Our host was totally helpful and accommodating in response to our late arrival time
  • In keeping with our knack for finding pasta wherever we go, we stopped into an Italian restaurant, Piazzeta Terasa, in Old Town Cluj-Napoca around the corner from our apartment before tucking in for the night

Salina Turda, Turda

Day 6 (Sunday, August 27, 2017)

  • We started our day with a search for breakfast that resulted in a visit to the world’s first kinetic steampunk bar, Enigma. Although I got the impression Enigma has a more vibrant nightlife than midday scene, it has a beautiful outdoor courtyard and serves food all day. Even more exciting than the food and robot peddling a bike near the entrance were the inventive drink and cocktail options. We got some fancy coffee concoctions and enjoyed the sites and sounds of the restaurant
  • Next came a trip to the National Art Museum located in Banffy Palace. We were very impressed with its collection and our glimpse into the halls of the palace, and found it easy to navigate as English-speakers
  • We split ways for the next adventure. I opted for a trip to the Botanical Garden and the Házsongárd Cemetery, and my partner returning to our apartment to read and relax
  • The Cluj-Napoca Botanical Garden – The garden was relaxing, and a nice break from the excitement of the city. I had hoped to walk through the museum portion, but unfortunately it was closed during my time there
  • Házsongárd Cemetery – The Házsongárd Cemetery, among the oldest in Cluj-Napoca, is incredibly peaceful and seems to be home to a large population of the city’s crows. Unlike in most cemeteries in the US, each grave seems to be unique to the person buried, or at least to their family’s tastes. Some have benches attached for visitors to use when paying respects, some have pieces of music engraved beneath names, many have fresh flowers left by visitors
  • We reunited for dinner at Olivo Caffe & Bistro, an excellent spot for what turned out to be more pasta for the two of us. Following a fantastic mojito, I had a mouth-watering meal of home-made pasta topped with mushrooms, asparagus, garlic, and some summery seeds and spices

Botanical Garden, Cluj-Napoca

Day 7 (Monday, August 28, 2017)

  • We got an early start, grabbing coffee and croissants to-go for our three-hour drive to Sighișoara, Vlad the Impaler’s place of birth
  • Stopping only for gas, we made it to Sighișoara by noon and covered as much ground as possible with the hour-or-so we could afford to spend there before needing to get back on the road
  • Vlad Dracul is said to have been born in a building across the street from an intricate clock tower overlooking the city. We had just enough time to walk up to the clock tower, visit his home (marked by abundant signage), and to enjoy the spooky experience of entering the room in which he was born. Side note: it is likely that the original structure of Vlad Dracul’s home has been entirely replaced with new materials since his birth in 1431
  • Sorry to leave so soon, we grabbed a loaf of bread and drove another four hours to Peleș Castle, our afternoon excursion
  • Peleș Castle, a much newer structure than Poienari Fortress and much better intact, had nothing to do with Vlad the Impaler but was absolutely worth the trip nonetheless. The castle is a spectacular display of Neo-Renaissance architecture accessible by a short walk up a foresty road in the Carpathian Mountains winding alongside a beautiful stream. We lucked out with weather during our visit, and got the perfect combination of sun and curly mountain mist. We weren’t able to tour the inside of the castle (it was closed for tours by the time we arrived), but thoroughly enjoyed our walk around the castle grounds
  • We hopped back in the car and arrived back to Bucharest around 7pm, meeting a friend of the host of our third Airbnb for the keys and a brief tour. This last spot was one I had coveted online for months before booking. It was apparently home to an actress mid-nineteenth century, and the high ceilings and large living space were conducive to entertaining guests and hosting large parties. The new owner made stunning design choices, maintaining the apartment’s vintage charm, and the apartment was just as lovely in person as in photos
  • Tired and hungry, we stopped into a sports bar a few blocks away from our place for dinner before hunkering down for the night.

Peleș Castle

Day 8 (Tuesday, August 29, 2017)

  • Thanks to my dear partner, who volunteered to drop the rental car off the next morning, I slept like a baby for half of the next day. Once he returned, we made our way to Caru’ cu Bere, Romania’s most famous restaurant. Caru’ cu Bere is among Bucharest’s biggest tourist attractions and operates like a well-oiled machine. A host brought us to a table indoors near the entrance of an extravagant, gilded dining hall, where we sat and enjoyed a group of violinists nearby performing contemporary covers of songs including Beat It and On the Floor during our meal. We ordered pork and bean stew, smoked sausage and polenta, apple strudel and a Romanian cheese-donut dessert, Papanași. Why Papanași are served in sets of two, I can’t be sure, because one alone certainly does the trick
  • To expand our Cărturești horizons, and to follow up our lovely visit to Cărturești Verona, we visited Cărturești Carusel after lunch. While no less picturesque, Cărturești Carusel has a completely unique layout and ambiance. Bucharest’s bookstores alone are reason enough to visit
  • Inspired by our afternoon among books, we walked down the street to Origo Coffee, a café I’d read about with excellent coffee and an amazing default black tea… I should have asked what it was. My partner was just as excited about his cold-brew tonic, which appears to be a bigger thing in Romania than in the States. We liked Origo so much that we returned the next day
  • Yes, yes, alright, I admit it. We had pasta for dinner. Again. We love it, and I should really just be maintaining a blog about pasta. We literally ate at a restaurant near our apartment call Pasta Restaurant, in with tables are literally filled with dried pasta. And we ate here the next night as well, I kid you not. In my defense, eating black truffle pasta may have been a life-changing experience. It was super good. Needless to say, we then needed to sleep

Caru’ cu Bere, Bucharest

Day 9 (Tuesday, August 30, 2017)

  • On our last day in Buchrarest (and in Romania), we basically did a combination of things we’d previously enjoyed with added trips to coffee shops and to the very beautiful Cișmigiu Park. While my partner took a run in the park, I returned to Cărturești Verona for a few souvenirs for family, stopping on the way at a Sephora with the hope that makeup would be cheaper in Bucharest. It was not. Apparently makeup is expensive everywhere
  • We reconvened at Origo, an excuse for another cup of tea, and then headed to the nearby Cișmigiu Park. There we walked along shady, tree-lined paths and spent some time in a row boat floating around Lake Cișmigiu. The park has a gothic charm and a calming vibe, I wish I’d had more time to spend there
  • We spent the remainder of the afternoon in Old Town searching for little gifts to bring home and drinking yet more coffee. I was excited to happen upon The Urbanist, a coffee shop/clothing store I’d heard about prior to our visit with a hanging chair I couldn’t resist cuddling into with a tea
  • You know what we ate for dinner. No use harping on it. I loved every moment of the meal and hated any thought of having to leave the next morning

Cișmigiu Park, Bucharest

If you ever visit,

Don’t Forget:

  • A map or GPS. Navigation isn’t intuitive, but data roaming is smooth even in the mountains
  • Utensils (plastic utensils are not always available on-the-move)
  • A power adapter
  • Shoes w/o white soles (Bucharest and the country are tough on slip-on Vans)
  • The hours/schedules of museums/destinations you intend to visit
  • A travel fan for the summer
  • Rain gear
  • Boots or sneakers for hiking
  • Portable charger
  • Bug spray
  • Cash (Lei, as cards aren’t accepted everywhere)

Leave Behind:

  • Weather seasonally dependent, check the weather and plan for your season! In winter, leave behind warm-weather clothing, in summer, cool-