A Travellerspoint blog

Day 26: Bucharest to Vienna to Newark to Hellertown

Yes, they'll all come to meet me, arms reaching, smiling sweetly, it's good to touch the green, green grass of home...lyrics from the song "Green, Green Grass of Home" by Tom Jones

sunny 20 °C

Up at 2:00 am, bags out at 3:00 am and then on the bus shortly afterwards, we headed to the Bucharest airport well before the sun shone its face. Airport check-in went surprising smoothly as both bags were somewhat overweight as well as a carry-on that they loaded for free (thank goodness!) We passed through security and Immigration relatively quickly and boarded the plane a short time later for our flight to Vienna.

After landing and getting off the plane, we traveled a number of corridors until we arrived at our gate. We took a seat but were shortly asked to leave the waiting area as they were going through a number of security checks on all of the passengers. As a result, a long line of 150+ people formed a single line to the gate. One-by-one, security personnel checked documents and then stamped approvals on the passenger's tickets (some got pulled away if they didn't answer the questions correctly). However, only those folks who were first, business, or disabled were allowed in the waiting area. There was a mass of people from our flight and a flight to Chicago milling around a very small area outside of the gates. What was even more astounding was when the gate opened up, you had a mosh pit pushing towards a single opening where a person had to recheck all of the documents. We have traveled all over the world but have never experienced such a chaotic and inefficient system for boarding in our lives than in Austria. It was bizarre! I must also say that the service on our flight was not much better, as all of the flight attendants seemed to have a scowl on their face the whole time (and they didn't wait in the same line that we did).

Nevertheless, we arrived on time and passed through Immigration and Customs without a hitch. We were picked up by our daughter Jessica, who scoped us up and took us home to Hellertown, PA. As is customary, we have included a picture of our dog Boo who waited for our arrival as well as the changing leaves in our backyard. We had our usual pizza and wings for our dinner.


We had made plans for this trip several years ago. We have taken a number of ocean cruises and expedition cruises but have never tackled a river cruise. We were told by many travelers that the Viking brand was the way to go for river cruises in Europe. That certainly seemed to be the case as they have an amazing infrastructure in place. What seemed to tarnish the brand a little was the idea that, in my opinion, they knew the water levels on the river were low in several key places beforehand and didn't notify travelers in advance so as to give them the option to reschedule. Apparently, low river levels are a common occurrence in many places along these rivers and their way of tackling the issue is to bus people to the next ship down (or up) river. This creates quite an inconvenience to passengers who have to pack and unpack their belongings as well as spend wasteful time on a long bus ride. For us, it was not once but twice for a total of three ships. Although they followed up with a form letter and Customer Service call option (to complain), and gave each of us credit towards another cruise, it seemed like a standard process of appeasing the customer when river water levels were low.

Notwithstanding the issue with ship changing and low river levels, the trip was fantastic. Having the ability to visit so many countries, capitals, cities, towns and countryside's was well worth the journey, and it appears a river cruise is a great option to do so. We learned the integrated and fractured European and Russian history, saw romantic castles and impregnatable forts, delved deep into religion and culture heritages, took hikes and bike rides and boy did we see churches (inside and out). We even tracked down Dracula. The local guides were attentive and knowledgeable, and the food along the way was amazing. We met a lot of interesting people on the trip ranging from a 3-star general from Texas to the party all night Aussie's from down under. So, when all is said and done, the trip was a great experience and we would do it again in a heartbeat!

Posted by Argenti Travel 15:24 Archived in USA Comments (0)

Day 25: Snagov Monastery & Mogosoaia Place, Romania

Closing time, time for you to go out, to the places you will be from...lyrics from the song "Closing Time" by the band Semisonic

sunny 30 °C

Well, we have come almost full circle today. This is the final day of our journey but not without a final excursion to the outskirts of Bucharest, Romania. In fact, there are rumors that we might still find the elusive Dracula on this final morning. We are to visit two sites today, namely the Mogosoaia Palace and the Snagov Monastery.

After a short drive out of the city on this beautiful, but hot day, we arrived outside of the Mogosoaia Palace. All was very quiet on this Saturday morning for our visit to the grounds, outside gardens and the palace itself.


The palace was built between 1698 and 1702 in the Romanian Renaissance style. The palace has a storied history dating back to 1714 where the owner Constantin Brancoveanu and his family were executed by the Sultan of the Ottoman Empire for not converting faiths. Through the various wars ranging from the Russo-Turkish War through WWI and WWII the palace has suffered pillage and bombings. As such, no original furnishings are a part of the inside displays. Nevertheless, the current furnishings include many tapestries, rugs and original wall displays (the walls were plastered over during refurbishing).


We even had a quick spin in the basement (what kind of a basement has marble floors?


In a short while we were on our way to the Snagov Monastery which sits on an island upon a lake. The monastery dates back to the 14th century and a single monk (who has a satellite dish) takes care of the site.

To access the site, you have to pass over a bridge on this pristine lake.


We came upon the monastery itself and moved into the small section of the church with all of the beautiful frescos.


To our surprise we finally found Dracula (Vlad the Impaler) lying at peace in a church (although there is question if this headless body belongs to Vlad). Some say he was a hero, others not so much. But for us, it was a keeper!


On our way back we had one last picture of the modern-day Orthodox Church that is being built across from the Marriot!


As it was mid-afternoon and relatively hot out we went for some pizza in the hotel and celebrated our last evening in Europe!


Next stop-homeward bound!

Posted by Argenti Travel 15:16 Archived in Romania Comments (0)

Day 24: Bran Castle, Romania (Dracula Stayed Here-Perhaps)

Out of his Coffin', Drac's voice did ring, seems he had trouble with just one thing, he opened the lid and shook one fist, "Whatever happened to my Transylvania Twist?"....lyrics from the song "Monster Mash" by by Bobby "Boris" Pickett & The Crypt Kickers

overcast 22 °C

Today was the day that we set out for Bran Castle (not Bram from the Bram Stocker fame but Bran). However, the castle's appearance and description from Bram Stoker's novel Dracula seems to me to have an eerie resemblance to that detailed in the book (sits atop a large rock that has a precipitous rocky drop to the bottom). Hense, Bran Castle has become the defacto Dracula Castle even though Vlad the Impaler (Dracula) may have only stayed there one or two nights if that (tourism at its finest). By the way, the novel itself is a classic that still resonates today in popular culture and is certainly good business in the Transylvania area, notably the town of Bran.

The drive to the castle from Brasov was relatively quick. We passed through the countryside, some newer suburban communities, and a few small villages until we reached the entrance to the castle.


As a disclaimer, the castle is really a museum that contains a number of rooms, stairwells, furniture and art that were from the time of Queen Marie. In order to get into the castle, one had to pass through a small area that sold food, t-shirts and souvenirs.


So, upon entering the castle the first thing one sees is a timeline of ownership...none of which has anything resembling the Drac. The current owner of the castle is the son (blue jacket in the photo) of Princess Ileana who sold off the original furniture and is trying to sell the castle (on eBay?). Once the government found out what he was up to, they passed some sort of law forbidding the sale of their national heritage (we were told he keeps trying though).


We passed through a number of rooms and creepy stairwells until we reached the top of the castle and rang the bell of success as noted in the pictures below.


The view from the top of the castle landing was quite majestic.


We suppose it being Halloween and this is "Drac's Castle" it was only fitting that a few of the rooms were indeed haunted,


and of course, a good old fashion torture chamber is present as well.


As we descended the stairs into the courtyard, we passed through the giftshop (a lot of clever Dracula t-shirts) and then into the gardens.


Of course, what would a visit to the castle be without the iconic shots of the scary structure?


After our visit to the gardens, we headed back to grab a small bite to eat at one of the local vendors.


We were back on the road in early afternoon passing through the countryside until we reached the Marriot in Bucharest for our final two nights (one of nights is a half night since we have to leave the hotel at 3:00 am for the airport).


On our final day we will be going to the Mogosoaia Palace and the Snagov Monastery in the morning.

Posted by Argenti Travel 17:18 Archived in Romania Comments (0)

Day 23: Brasov, Romania (In search of Dracula)

It's close to midnight, and something evil's lurking in the dark, under the moonlight, you see a sight that almost stops your heart...lyrics from the song "Thriller" by Michael Jackson

sunny 16 °C

It was an early wake-up call for our trip to Transylvania as we had to cover quite a distance over mostly country roads and through the Carpathian Mountains. An overnight bag was placed outside the door at 7:00 am, and we departed shortly after (our other luggage was placed in storage until we returned). We had several places to see today including Peles Castle, the town of Sinaia for lunch and lastly the town of Brasov. Forty-four of us were allocated to two buses (orange and green) so we could spread out for the long drive.

I captured some sights along the way.

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About an hour after our rest stop, we arrived at the top of the hill that leads to Peles Castle. Many of the houses surrounding the castle are castles on to themselves (albeit small).


After a short hike down the hill leading to the entrance, we arrived at the castle.


The castle was built between 1873 and 1914 for King Carol I of Romania. The castle has a long and tumultuous history including the takeover by communists in 1947. The castle was closed between 1975 to 1990 under the direction of Nicolae Ceausescu (who was executed along with his wife) and after the fall of communism in 1989 the castle was declared a heritage site and reopened to the public.


The castle contains over 170 rooms all fully furnished having both regular day-to-day aspects such as offices, libraries, music rooms, etc. as well as themed rooms. We entered into the front hallway and ascended a staircase to a ceiling high room with many statues, staircases, and doors.


We then went on to tour the armory,


as well as other rooms containing period furniture, pictures and artifacts.


As the castle was hosting a royal event in the afternoon, we were ushered out the door by noon and headed for lunch in the town of Sinaia.
Once we disembarked the bus, we headed over to the local pizza and Italian restaurant in town.


We shared a pizza and got a couple of local beers then set out and captured a few photos of the town and its people.


We also knew we were on the track to find the Count when we discovered his very own bank!


We boarded the bus in midafternoon reaching the town of Brasov by 4:30 pm. Brasov is a walled Saxon city that sits within the confines of Transylvania and the Carpathian Mountains. After settling into our hotel for a quick refresh, we headed out to the Piata Sfatului (Main Square),


followed by a brief visit to Biserica Neagra (Black Church), named for the fire damage it suffered,


then over to the Casa Statului with its iconic clock tower,


while also having the time for a quick prayer at the local Christian Orthodox Church.


A few other sites around town were noted as we strolled about,


until we finally found Drac's hiding place!


Although we did not find Dracula inside, we did see his picture on the wall (Vlad the Impaler...aka Dracula) and his clothes hanging by the door.


So, we helped ourselves to his classic Romanian desert and tried on his clothes.


We left disappointed but hopeful that we would track down the Count in the next couple of days (we were so close).

Heading back down the street to the hotel, we had a nightcap at the bar before getting ready to take on Drac's castle tomorrow.


Posted by Argenti Travel 23:42 Archived in Romania Comments (0)

Day 22: Bucharest, Romania

And it's good old country comfort in my bones, just the sweetest sound my ears have ever known...lyrics from the sound "Country Comfort" by Elton John

sunny 19 °C

Overnight, our passports were scanned by the Romanian authorities as we entered into their country. The ship was anchored at Turnu Magurele, Romania in the morning. We said goodbye to the Viking Lofn at 7:30 am for our long drive to Bucharest, the capital and largest city in Romania. The day consisted of a panoramic view of the city, a stop at the "Old Town", lunch, and a visit to the Village Museum.

Some of the views of the countryside as we traveled along the road to the city including a major backup of trucks catching the morning ferry (also, no major expressways leading to the capital this far out).


Once we came into the city proper, we encountered major traffic backups that are legendary (they would make a New York taxi driver shake).


As noted earlier, we did a panoramic drive thru the city passing the Arch of Triumph, Revolution Square, Constitution Square, the Parliament building (second largest administrative building in the world behind the Pentagon) and many beautiful buildings along the way. The local guide also pointed out the devasting effects of communism on Romania under the rule of Nicolae Ceausescu who essentially set out to destroy the history, buildings and ancestry of Romania. Passing through many of these former soviet bloc countries we found that many locals saw good and bad in communism (e.g., Serbia); however, not so in Romania who peoples seem to universally hate it. In the end, after their revolution and the overthrow of the government, they executed Nicolae and his wife (for genocide). Since we did not stop at any of the sites, other than the Parliament building (5-minute photo stop), I have included some pictures along the way.


We then stopped for lunch at the "Old Town" section of the city. This section of the city contains pubs, restaurants, shops, medieval ruins (Vlad the Impaler former court, and the National Museum of Romanian History,


as well as the Church of the "Stavropaleos" Monastery.


Within no time at all, we were off again to the Village Museum located in the King Michael I Park. This open-air museum houses close to 300 authentic Romanian peasant farms, houses and churches brought here from the countryside and reassembled. We strolled through the park taking a few photos.


As 4:30 pm rolled around we headed off to the Marriot for our first night on land (you know I was tired by taking a picture of our hotel)!


After check-in, we headed to "Champions" bar and grill in the hotel. Even in Romania, we are never too far from home.


Following a burger and fries, we went to our room and repacked for our northerly trip to Transylvania in the morning.

Posted by Argenti Travel 16:32 Archived in Romania Comments (0)

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