Archive for the ‘Romania’ Category

Ceausescu’s Road

Wednesday, August 8th, 2012

One of the prime attractions of this holiday was to go through Transfagarasan, a famous mountain road here in Romania. Although it is not the highest road in the Carpathians, it is one of the best known (now also internationally due to a dedicated appearance in Top Gear).
We traversed this piece of asphalt from north to south, going from Brasov county to Arges county. The road itself begins with a village right at the bottom of the mountains, at this point without anything dramatic. As one goes more towards the mountains and enters the forest, the road starts to twist… some easy left and right turns and then moving on to the hairpins with not many places to stop at. After the first semi-tunnel, however, the first major parking lot appears. Packed with small souvenir boutiques and a hotel, this is also the bottom of the cable car which takes you to the Balea Waterfall. We did not try this, because the cable car was moving EXTREMELY slow and there was still so much to see on the road ahead :).

After this point the road gets tougher. As the indicator says, it is forbidden to stop in the upcoming portion of the road. From this point on, the trees get smaller and smaller and give way to the breathtaking view down to… well down to a large distance as far as the eye can see. For some it is beautiful, for others it can cause nausea 🙂 . I have seen, however, no reason why one could not stop at this portion: there are lots of places where the car can be parked completely off the road, not blocking others. And yes, we did stop to take pictures :).

The entire climb culminates at Balea Lake, just after climbing the most spectacular set of curves on the entire road. At that point even the car had problems “breathing” and it was not so jumpy as in normal conditions. The Lake, however, is worth the climb. I must say, I think I have never seen such a clean lake in my life. The view is also astonishing… and the locals are using it wisely: 5 RON(~€1.10) just to park you car for any time period from 0-12 hours (end there is no other place to stop at except the parking lots). Even here, the place is filled with boutiques selling all kinds of things that tourist might buy.

But again, there is still a lot to see, so we entered the tunnel (the longest in Romania) at the top of the mountain, passing into Arges county. At the other side, the road starts spiraling downwards and it is pretty much the same as on the other side, only this time it is the other way around: trees get bigger, the view-distance gets smaller, the nausea goes away 🙂 … oh yes, and some friendly donkeys greet you on the other side 😀 .

Next stop: Lake Vidraru, a huge artificial lake on the banks of which the road twists and turns without allowing a proper view of the lake. After about half an hour of twisting and turning around the lake, however, one gets to the dam which holds back this great mass of water. Here all the twisting and turning pays off: the view is, again, breathtaking and the place is, again, filled with boutiques 🙂 .

After all that twisting and turning the road between Lake Vidraru and Curtea de Arges (our destination) gets straighter and houses will re-emerge, forming a never ending village chain (frustrating) until one gets into Curtea de Arges and ends the drive through this great piece of road…

Pictures have been uploaded here.


A Scary Castle

Monday, August 6th, 2012

Next to the city of Brasov in the centre of Romania there is a location called Bran. This location is a small village with nothing special in it, except… the castle which resembles most with the castle of Count Dracula: the Castle of Bran.
Bran Castle
Although the Castle from Stoker’s book is nowhere near that area (it takes place in Bistrita, the northern part of Romania), due to it’s looks the Castle got the name of Count Dracula’s Castle. And here, the myth is really put to use: there are thousands of tourists visiting the castle with a lot of tourists from abroad. I think the entire village makes a living out of this one single revenue. Granted, the castle is a looker and it is in great shape for tourists.

The entry price into the castle is 25 RON (~€5.5) with the price for the audio-guide for 10 RON (~€2.2). The audio-guides and all information in the castle is available in 4 languages (Romania, English, German and French). We did not rent an audio-guide, the information provided on the inscriptions in the rooms provided to be useful enough (although the audio-guide might provide much more information). The actual visit took around 1 hour, which is much less than I expected and payed for in the parking lot: yes, there is a guarded parking lot with the price of 4 RON (~€0.85) per hour.

The actual visit consist of walk through most of the rooms and terraces of the castle, visiting all 4 floors and the interior court. The tour can be done easily without a guide, because there is a clear path for visitors to follow (one way only). During the visit one can stay in each room as much as one wants to, provided that other visitors are not blocked. Some of the rooms are quite small, so blockages can easily occur.

Anyway, I think the visit to this castle was one of the best visits I did in Romania. The castle is very tourist friendly, people are nice and one can have a great time there. At last I saw there are some places which are not let to waste and their true value is used well.

Pictures of the castle can be found here.


What a Waste…

Sunday, August 5th, 2012

When I was at home visiting my parents, we made a short trip to a neighboring town, called Kovászna (Rom: Covasna). This town is famous (at least in the country) for it’s mineral water and it’s beneficial mineral baths. In the neighborhood there is also a splendid valley, called the Fairies Valley, which offered a great location for one of our ‘great leaders’ Nicolae Ceausescu to build one of it’s villas.
The dictator used to visit this area to spend some time hunting and generally enjoying the beauty of the valley as well as the beneficial waters of the town. After the revolution (or even before?…) the villa has been open for the public for a while for the general public and people could get a glimpse of the dictator’s life through some videos presented in the lobby area of the building. Entry was prohibited in most areas of the villa, but even so it was a great tourist attraction I think.

Nowadays the gates of the villa are closed to the general public and people can only make paparazzi-like photos from behind the fences. Don’t get me wrong, the villa is not deserted. It is in a good condition, the grass and the alleys are in relatively good shape and the helipad is also functional. And who is using it? Well, it is actually being used by our current (suspended) president. It looks like the charm of the location still has some juice in it.

Having seen that even so (with no signs anywhere whatsoever) there were some tourists there (2-3 cars) with people making photos of the villa, I started thinking (… yes, I do that also from time to time 🙂 ): why is this great touristic opportunity not exploited? I think a great museum could be opened with even more access to the rest of the villa than before, showing items from the Ceausescu era for visitors. Even if the current president is using it: he should use 1-2 rooms at most and leave the rest of the villa open for tourists. It would certainly attract a lot of tourists even from foreign countries… I mean who has not heard of Ceausescu?


Another Salt Mine

Wednesday, August 1st, 2012

Two years ago I have written about a salt mine next to Cluj. This year we have visited another salt mine a bit further. The salt mine of Parajd (rom:Praid) lies just next to the salty lakes of Sovata (described in my previous post). It took us around 15-20 minutes to get there (including parking 🙂 ).
Parajd Salt Mine
The mines of Parajd are not as spectacular and tourist oriented as the one from Turda, but they are much bigger and they have been used for medical reasons for a long time. The salt from these mines is much more evident on the walls and the halls of the mine (if you take away all “decoration”) are even more spectacular than the one in Turda. The mines are usually filled by a lot (and I mean it) of people enjoying the fresh, clean and more importantly: healthy air inside.

Getting there is easy: the entrance is visible while passing through the main road of the village. One can leave the car in a specially arranged parking lot (or in the shades next to the salt pools if you get there in time). The tickets can be bought on site (just look for the parked blue buses). An adult ticket price is 20 RON (€4.35), which is a fair price, I think, for the 1-2 minute bus ride into the heart of the mountain + the actual eligibility to enjoy the mine facilities.

It is recommended to stay at least on hour (it is best to stay two) so the interior is filled with playgrounds for children, free internet connection, a chapel and even a library (which we could not find though…). We have easily stayed one hour reading a lot of information about the mine, admiring the exhibition about the mine, taking photos and enjoying a cup of coffee.

After considering the visit finished one can just proceed to the exit gates, which can only be opened from the outside to protect the visitors from the outside traffic (buses and mining vehicles) and wait for the buses to arrive. This is the point where I have realized that this mine is an actual working mine: we have met some workers who were also waiting for the bus. It is only at this point (and probably the restaurant area) where one can spot the miners, the actual mining being done in some parallel chambers inaccessible for the public.

The buses have arrived in no time (although they have a fixed schedule, they came down more frequently to suite the visitors needs), but getting out to the sunlight was a bit of a disappointment from the cool (~15 °C) mine to the burning and dusty outside area…

I have uploaded some pictures here.


Salty Lakes

Tuesday, July 31st, 2012

As one of our first destinations in the two weeks of our holiday period we have chosen to visit the salty area in the Eastern Carpathians here in Romania. We have focused on the salty Bear Lake from Sovata for starters.
Sovata is easily accessible from Cluj-Napoca via the E60 road until the town of Balauseri, where one needs to take road 13A towards Sovata (marked on most indicators). Of course the easiest way is to just type the destination into your GPS and follow the lady’s voice until you get there 😛 . The actual resort area is up in the mountains, so make sure you make the correct turn when you get to Sovata 😉 .

There are a lot of accommodation possibilities at the resort, however, booking in advance will help get away cheaply (one of the hotels dominating the area is a 4* hotel which has far superior prices compared to the rest of the accomodation possibilities in the area…). We actually booked ahead to Casa Romantic, which is outside the resort area, but provided decent accommodation for a great price.

As I mentioned at the beginning of the post, the main target was the Bear Lake which is by far the biggest lakes of several ones in the area. The entry fee is 20 RON(~€4.35) which does not include any deck-chairs, so you need to pay extra for that. Also it is good to know that this is a one-time only entry fee (once you’re in you cannot go out and back on the same day).
The actual access to the water is prohibited between 13:00 and 15:00, so in that period everyone is called out from the water. In this period you can stay in the premises of the lake: there are restaurants to spend your time at or you can just enjoy some hardcore sunbathing in the peak-hours of sun-strength.

A couple of words about the other salty lakes: mostly you can visit them via great access-paths. All of them have short description-tables so you can learn what makes each of them special. A lot of tourists actually visit the other lakes, because they can access the sludge which they can put all over their bodies. They look very scary with that on them, but it is very healthy and it is entirely free 😉 .

So how are the restaurants in the area? Well we have tried one just on the terrace looking over the lake: it was great, just make sure you are really hungry: they serve a quite large portion/person, even I had problems eating my portion (and I generally do not have such problems).

Some pictures are uploaded here.