Friday 21 August 2015

Bucharest and Several Transylvanian Castles

Romania, 14th – 17th August 2015


Our trip into Bucharest didn’t start well due to on the bus ride in getting our tickets checked which we didn’t have at this point due to having nowhere to buy some. Bus tickets here are bought from booths on the street then validated by holding them up to a scanner on the bus, but from where we got on near the campsite there wasn’t anywhere to buy tickets so we thought we’d just get on and buy tickets when we could. Watching other people getting on the bus, very few of them validated tickets so we assumed most people hadn’t got any either so we’d be ok. Near the end of the journey though we got our tickets checked so explained we had nowhere to buy tickets where we got on and thought that we’d be able to get them on the bus. The ticket inspector said there was a ticket booth one stop on after ours, however we didn’t see one, (maybe you’re meant to get on a bus, get off to buy a ticket as
soon as you can and wait for the next bus?) and it was a 50 Lei fine on the spot or would be 150 Lei for a written ticket. We got off the bus and pushed for a while trying to talk our way out of it but didn’t have any luck, so in the end we paid the 50 Lei (about £8) each which also gave us transport for the day.

Taking another bus we went to the Palace of the Parliament which is the world’s largest and most expensive Parliament building, with over 1000 rooms and eight underground levels in addition to the twelve visible floors. We walked around the perimeter which took half an hour until we got to the visitors entrance. We were debating whether to go inside on the tour which Colin had told us about last night, but wound up by the bus incident and unsure if it would be worth 25 Lei each plus 10 Lei to take photos we gave it a miss and just had a quick look around the art exhibition area.

The Palace of the Parliament

Bucharest Old City
From the nearby stop we got onto a Bucharest city tour open top bus which was a reasonable 25 Lei (£4) each for hop-on hop-off use for the day. We travelled up one half of the route looking at the sights and got off by the park and had a walk along the lakeside where there were some snack stalls a boat ride available and rowing boats to hire, before getting a tour bus again to do the other half of the route. This time we got the headphones to listen to the commentary but there were only about three points mentioned as we passed them. Getting off near the old city area we walked around the streets looking for somewhere to eat and settled on a place with average prices that looked nice. Bordello which used to be a brothel now is a restaurant-bar with cabaret and other entertainment at night. The food was nice but nothing special but at 112 Lei (£18) in total it was reasonably priced.

Camping Casa Alba - Area in the trees, there's also a tarmac area
We took an open top bus again up to the park which we had to wait ages for this time and it went more slowly so we got hot and thirsty sat in the sun on the top deck. After getting off we got some slushies from one of the stalls and sat and chilled by the lake for a bit. We were going to get a rowing boat but decided to just walk through the park and catch a bus back to the campsite. In the evening we made use of the WiFi to Skype our parents.

Bucharest didn’t do a lot for us, there wasn’t a great deal to see, and it has a scruffy appearance with graffiti all over and a general dirtyness. The buildings are mainly tall blocks with shops at the bottom and flats above.

There's more pictures of Bucharest at the bottom.

Visit Attempts to Three Castles

Peles Castle
After checking out from the campsite at midday we travelled north via Ploiesti to do a shop at Kaufland, our first in Romania, and ended up being in there an hour and a half! Prices seemed cheaper than Bulgaria with a large fresh baguette being only 0.89 Lei (14p) and pain au chocolats for under 1 Lei each, which were the first we’ve been able to get in ages. Moving out of town to look for somewhere to stop for lunch we got stuck in stop start traffic that was queuing two across in the single road lane. Where the traffic started to build up multiple raspberry and blackberry sellers were wandering amongst the cars trying to sell fruit from their baskets. As it was getting late we pulled into a Penny Market car park to have a very late lunch, with the bread turning out to be the best we’ve had in ages, probably since Italy. We then continued only a further few km to our destination at Peles Castle (GPS: 45.35676 25.55212). There was no sign of anyone taking money for the car park so we parked up and walked past lots of stalls selling tourist tat towards the castle but it had already closed for the day at 4:15 so we headed back to the van.

Bran Castle
In the morning we had an alarm to get up early and decide whether to pay 20 Lei for parking for the day to be able to go up to look inside the castle courtyard, or leave to move on to the next stop. Thinking we wouldn’t miss much we opted for the latter and continued north via Brasov to take the main road south to Bran which is home of Bran Castle, commonly known as Dracula’s Castle, however there is no evidence that Bram Stoker, Dracula’s creator even visited it. We saw the castle as we drove through but it was very busy with people and cars, all the parking areas were near enough full so we couldn’t stop. The street was lined with tourist souvenir huts full of Dracula merchandise and all sorts of other junk. After looping around we headed back up to Rasnov to try visiting the citadel there but it was just as busy and we struggled to get along the road with cars parked along each side making it a very tight fit so we kept driving.

Arriving at Romania’s main ski resort Poiana Brasov it was also busy but there was space at the end of the main car park at the top of the town (GPS: 45.58873 25.55281). Parking was 1.50 Lei per hour or 12 Lei all day so we got an hour to have a walk around and decide whether to stay. After walking down through the resort and back we decided we’d stay here so I went to pay the ticket man again for the day and he took 10 Lei off me, saying no to the further 2 Lei and gave me five half hourly tickets taking us until 4pm. Presumably they were finishing at 4 rather than 8 like the signs said maybe as it was Sunday, and he’d have pocketed the extra money over the cost of these tickets.

After some reading and daily log writing, when the place had gone quiet we went for a walk up the road into the woods next to where we were parked and saw a pack of eleven wild dogs running out from the trees across the road in-front of us and across a field barking as they went. We followed a path that led out onto the grass banked area in the centre of the town where there were go-carts, bikes and three-wheeled electric scooters to hire, a pool with zorb balls for kids to go in and a dry snow slide to go down on inflatable rings.

As the signs said parking charging started at 8am we’d set an alarm and were on the road by 7:45. We stopped a few km out of Poiana Brasov on a grassy area off the side of the road for breakfast, it would be a good overnighting point (GPS: 45.59341 25.52656), there was a German VW camper parked up here. Further down the road in Rasnov it was completely empty now except a team of about a dozen litter pickers collecting up the masses of rubbish strewn along the sides of the road from the weekend visitors. Jo was tired from the early starts we’d been having so I had a walk up to the citadel by myself. Walking around the edge I took some photos and got to a point with a panoramic view over the town but didn’t bother paying to go in after reading on Our Tour that it touristy and not very good. With being in the country a week now our vignette runs out tonight so we called at a fuel station to buy another weeks’ which didn’t require paperwork this time but took a while for the guy to figure out which country we were from. We continued back into Bran which was much quieter than yesterday but was starting to get busy. We weren’t fussed about going inside the castle as it was likely to be touristy too and 25 Lei a ticket, so I dropped Jo off to take a photo from the main street while I turned the camper around down a side road.

The town of Rasnov viewed from the citadel

Onward towards the Transfagarasan

Our next destination was the Vidraru dam and Transfagarasan Pass, made famous after being featured on Top Gear a few years ago as the best road in the world. We continued on our way stopping at a Lidl to get some bits we’d missed at Kaufland and found it to be more expensive than the latter for quite a few items that we looked at. Leaving here the sky turned dark grey and soon turned into torrential rain giving poor visibility even with the wipers on full and driving at 30 km/h so we pulled into a layby for some lunch while it calmed down. Turning onto the western road the quality quickly deteriorated to a concrete road with potholes and patched all over with tarmac which brought our speed down to about 25 km/h. This is the first bad road that we’ve experienced in Bulgaria and Romania. Further along we saw a cute excited puppy that jumped up as we passed and it chased our van down the road.

Our overnight spot before moving onto the Transfagarasan
We passed through scenic countryside and when we arrived at our overnight spot the first of the two camping areas we had noted down was closed off with no access but luckily the other one about 100m further along was open (GPS: 45.34540 24.63458). A sign says for camping there’s a 5 Lei ‘ecological tax’ but nobody’s been to collect it so far (Edit: A man came to collect money the second evening we stayed). It’s a pleasant spot but there’s some rubbish left scattered about despite there being large oil barrel bins. Litter it seems is a common sight in Romania, and the other day Colin said he’d seen someone on the beach on the Black Sea coast change a baby’s nappy then throw it across the beach near to where other people were laying who didn’t bat an eyelid. We went for a look around the area getting followed by one of the large local wild dogs and spent the evening reading, blog writing and watching the dogs rolling around playing on the grass outside.

Next it’ll be the Vidraru dam and Transfagarasan pass.

- Matt

Ps. Posting of this was delayed due to no internet

More pictures of Bucharest:
The Palace of the Parliament was a lot less impressive up
close, with gardens left uncared for and walkways with
gravel thin enough you could see the membrane below
The Arcul de Triumph - covered!  It's like being back in Italy
all over again.
The lakeside park in Bucharest

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