Romania – “a land full of amazing surprises”
November 30 – Toronto – Amsterdam – Bucharest
At 11am I was on a shuttle to Toronto Pearson. The shuttle was at capacity but I met a very interesting chap. He is young to be retired but had a successful career in commercial real estate. He now calls himself a hobo. For the time being he has no residence in Canada because he travels the world. He was on his way to Dublin, Ireland where he plans to live for at least a month. Thailand is on his radar too. He is not sure when he will return to Canada. He said he can live more reasonable abroad than in Toronto so he is not rushing to get back. We both share a love for travel so we could have talked for hours but soon we arrived at Pearson.
I like to arrive at Toronto Pearson long ahead of my passengers so I can chat with the airline reps to arrange our group check in. Mystery Tour passengers are anxious to find out where they are going so many of them beat me to the airport this time thinking they’d be the first ones to learn our destination.
At 3pm I passed out airline ticket envelopes to my passengers and they all opened them at the same time. Everyone was excited to learn that we were soon going to be on the way to Bucharest, Romania.
The KLM check-in process is now fully automated at Toronto Pearson (sign of the times) but they provided us with representatives to assist my passengers.
We then relaxed in the Plaza Premium Lounge (a Travel With Bradley perk). This Terminal 3 lounge has just re-opened after a renovation so the experience is better than ever.
It was a 7.5 hour flight to Amsterdam. My seat mate is Canadian but his home for many years is Hague, Netherlands. We had a bit of time in Amsterdam to grab a coffee or shop in some of the stores that were offering “Black Friday” sales. Our connecting flight was 2.5 hours in length. Service on KLM is excellent – we were all very pleased.
December 1 – Exciting Bucharest
Our host and coach driver were anxiously waiting for us. They warmly welcomed us to their home country, Romania.
The locals were celebrating Independence Day – a national holiday, so many streets were closed. Our driver negotiated the many detours but soon we were enjoying a scrumptious luncheon in a beautiful, packed restaurant – ornate design surrounded with windows overlooking gardens.
Afterwards we settled into the beautiful 5 star, Radisson Blu hotel. A shower felt great after our travel day.
Dinner was in the most famous restaurant in Bucharest, which many refer to as the “Beer Monastery”. The chicken, vegetable and cheese crepe appetizer was a highlight.
Most of us walked back to the hotel via the Old Town – beautiful. The many restaurants, coffee shops, bakeries and lounges were filled to capacity with younger locals celebrating the holiday with friends.
December 2 – Bucharest to Sibiu
What a beautiful, sunny day – perfect touring weather.
The breakfast buffet at the Radisson Blu was top notch.
Romania offers a rich culture along with important European history.
We admired the architecture at Independence Square – so much history to absorb here – history that is tragic but the country has its Independence now.
We then visited the 2nd largest building in the world (after the Pentagon). It’s also the heaviest building in the world. It was an overwhelming experience. This building was constructed to be the headquarters of the Communist party.
Our hour visit showed us 3% of this monstrosity that was constructed by a semi-forced labor force of 20,000. If you had a skill (architect, woodworker etc) and your skills were needed you had no choice but to work on this massive project. These experts were paid similarly to what their home jobs paid but there was no extra money given to find accommodations etc in Bucharest. Soldiers that helped build the project were given no compensation. Construction was around the clock for 5 years from 1984 to 1989. Three thousand lives were lost during the building.
The interior is mind boggling – stunningly beautiful. The guided tour is arranged so that the interiors continue to get even more impressive as you go along. It really is an incredible building.
Our private luncheon was held at stunning location – a castle that overlooked a lake. Very impressive.
We then continued to Sibiu where we had a 3 night stay at the 5 star Hilton Hotel. It’s the only 5 star property in the city. Many of my passengers said they felt as though they are staying in a castle – the interior is very ornate with many chandeliers – beautiful.
A delicious dinner was served in a private banquet space that was decked out for Christmas.
December 3 – Sibiu
Today we toured the best sights in Sibiu – pop 160,000.
There has been a great deal of investment in this community which has been named the “European Cultural Centre” – a major honor for Romania. It continually makes the list of “Best Places To Live In Europe”.
One of the largest theatre festivals in the world is held here – now attracts 700,000 visitors and over 100 theatre shows. Every possible venue including factory spaces are used to house the many theatrical productions.
Germans settled here so many locals speak Romanian and German – many do not speak English.
The Old Town is beautiful – one of my passengers remarked that it is very Harry Potter like and I agree.
We all commented how innovative the town bakeries are – all the freshly baked goods are displayed in the front window and if you wish to buy something there is a little opening in the window where you pay and pick up the goodies – there is no public door entrance to the shop.
When I picked Romania as the destination for this Mystery Journey one of the main reasons was to visit their famous Christmas Markets and the one here in Sibiu is highly regarded throughout the world. We visited it during the day and came back at dusk to admire the spectacular light display. A new attraction at the Christmas Market is a modern, Ferris wheel. Some of us took the ride that gave us bird eye view, 4 stories above the market – perfect opportunity for picture taking. We of course all bought handmade souvenirs – perfect memories of our visit.
The cuisine in Romania has been excellent. We’ve been dining at the best restaurants so the quality is superb. Our luncheon was in a cave and dinner in a previous concert hall. Soups are hearty and the homemade desserts are decadent. Although a bit more challenging – the main courses have been varied.
When ordering wine/beer in the 5 star hotels you can expect prices similar to home but in the local restaurants its a bargain.
December 4 – Countryside Day Trip
This morning we visited an incredible medieval castle – rated one of the 6 top castles in the world – and the best preserved in this part of Eastern Europe.
We enjoyed a Hungarian luncheon in a family owned restaurant.
In the afternoon we visited the Citadel – one of the most important attractions in the country. This is where the President of Romania spent Independence Day on Dec 1st. I noticed an upcoming Christmas event is being televised from the Citadel. As our guide said you would need many days to thoroughly see the Citadel – we just hit the surface.
The highlight of the day was dining in a small village at a farmers home. Although often not easy to co-ordinate, its always a goal of mine to include something like this on many of my tours.
Platters of appetizers were on our tables when we arrived. We were welcomed with a shot of plum brandy (the local favourite) and homemade wines followed. The non-English speaking hostess served cabbage rolls, along with pork roast and accompaniments as the delicious main course. Blueberry buckle cake was the perfect dessert after such a delicious, hearty, homemade feast.
As a wonderful bonus a group of traditionally dressed neighbours arrived and sang Romanian Christmas carols for us. On Christmas Eve its a custom to sing carols from house to house – and often the singers will often be invited into the home for a nightcap. Families gather for Christmas but after dinner the young generation leaves to go clubbing all night. Our 27 year old coach driver heads from his town to Bucharest to the largest club in the country. These night clubs stay open all night.
Another amazing day! Romania is full of so many amazing surprises. Our wonderful adventure continues for a few more days.