Bucharest and a journey into the heart of Romania
By Isabel Conway –
Travel Times can never resist a flight bargain and there are plenty of them around right now. The latest new services include Air Baltic from Dublin to Riga four times weekly, operating with an Airbus A220-300. TAP Air Portugal is another new kid on the block offering twice daily flights from Dublin to Lisbon with convenient connections to the airline’s worldwide destinations, including exotic many sided Brazil.
Cork airport has launched its 2019 summer schedule with eight great new holiday routes which includes twice weekly flights to Dubrovnik and Nice. Air Lingus also extended its service from Cork to Lisbon to operate all year. Ryanair is giving Munster based travellers new routes out of Cork which include holiday favourites of Naples Italy, Poznan, Poland and Malta.
Travel Times took advantage of the Ryan Air sales bonanza snapping up a €60 return flight to Romania’s capital Bucharest in early spring for a look at a city which is fast emerging as one of the best value short break destinations, renowned for nightlife.
Once called “The Paris of the East” Bucharest has survived economic ruin and political turbulence emerging as an energetic off beat metropolis of nearly 2 million citizens. Many of the city’s 19th century French grand buildings were destroyed in an earthquake in 1940, coupled with bombing by the Allies during WW11 which wiped out much of Bucharest’s pre-war beauty.
Bucharest’s hotel accommodation is much more affordable than other European capitals. Online booking sites offer comfortable 4hotels averaging €70 for doubles and a 3, some with breakfast for as little as €45. A trawl of the internet showed that a de-luxe double room at one of the city’s leading 5* hotels, the JW Marriott Grand cost an off season bargain €105 when booked on line.
A word of warning: beware illegal taxis and those yellow ones which display higher tariffs than similar vehicles. If you agree a fare in advance or use an Uber it’s a reliable reasonably priced way of getting around.
Romania joined the EU in 2007 but it is not in the Eurozone so remains a great value destination for tourists. A three course dinner, a couple of lagers, a good bottle of Romanian Wine, plus fiery plum brandy afterwards sets us back €45 for two at Hermania, a nice traditional restaurant in Transylvania’s delightful small city of Sibiu.
Romanian food turns out to be wholesome, tasty, good and cheap, influenced by past periods of occupation by the Turks, Greeks, Austrians and Russians. A typical speciality served everywhere ‘Sarmale’ is a minced meat beef sausage wrapped in pickled cabbage leaves, surrounded by a kind of maize semolina.
Romania has always been the land of wine and you will even notice vines growing on the walls of tenement blocks A decent bottle of robust red wine in restaurants is priced at around €10-€12. They are also passionate coffee lovers and you come across great little coffee hangouts everywhere.
The Marriott’s near neighbour is the world’s second largest building after the Pentagon, the Palace of Parliament. Ceausescu’s most infamous creation which has over 3,000 rooms and a maze of underground bunkers was built at a cost of €3,3 billion in 1984.
Old Town (Lipscani) south of University and Revolution square – where bullet holes in the walls remind us of pivotal events leading to the toppling of Ceausescu – is a favourite tourist hang out. Lipscani’s warren of cobbled streets and laneways house numerous restaurants, great live music cafes and clubs with something for everyone.
No trip to Romania is complete without driving a stake into the heart of all those Dracula stereotypes. The legend of Dracula is inexorably linked to Transylvania.
Welcome to Dracula Tours, Dracula city breaks, Dracula wine and chocolates, vampire capes, blood spattered fangs and plastic stakes and crosses from China on display wherever tourists congregate.
Brasov is on the threshold of Dracula territory, yet is a unspoilt enchanting town of fairy tale turrets, Medieval spires and fine buildings that reflect its Austro-Hungarian past.
According to legend the Pied Piper re-emerged from Hamelin in Brasov. You can well imagine him in the shadow of snow- capped Mt Tampa (where the award winning movie Cold Mountain was filmed) wandering through the ancient Schei Gate into the walled city.
A Hammer Horror studios flashback, turreted Bran Castle, or as its better known Dracula Castle (though its links with the Prince of Darkness are spurious to say the least) guards a mountain pass, at times suitably swirling with mist, framed by thick forest. Plans for a Transylvanian Dracula theme park in the area were put on ice.
The Dracula circuit also takes us to the impressive citadel of Sighisoara, birthplace of Vlad Tepes Dracul, the psychopathic 15th century vicious despot on whom the Dracula myth is loosely based.
Better known as Vlad ‘the Impaler’ he inspired Irish born creator of Dracula Bram Stoker with his gruesome penchant for killing tens of thousands of his enemies by ramming a spike through them.
A 1,000 km long stretch of Carpathian mountain terrain across Romania is home to wolves, lynx and an estimated 6,000 bears. Adrian, a forestry graduate who drives and guides me for some of the journey explains” you can hike up in our magnificent empty Carpathian Mountains for days and not meet another human being.”
We drive to and overnight in yet another perfect Game of Thrones location, 12th century Sibiu. a former European Cultural Capital and upcoming European Region of Gastronomy 2019.
The charming medieval town, built by German Saxon settlers, is coming under the international spotlight again, hosting a special ‘Brexit’ Summit under Romania’s current EU Presidency within its fortified ancient walls and baroque squares. Whatever the outcome, locals believe the name Sibiu will become almost as famous as Brexit.
Factfile: Getting there: Ryan Air (www.ryanair.com) flies to Bucharest five days a week ex Dublin. In Bucharest Isabel stayed at the JW Marriott Grand hotel (www.jwmarriottbucharest.com) She took a guided three day tour by car of Transylvanian highlights, visiting Sibiu’s medieval treasures, world heritage site Biertan, UNESCO World Heritage site Sighisoara, a magnificent citadel founded by Saxon Guilds and beautiful laid back Brasov, with B & B in 3* guesthouses. Price €350 pp. with Romanian tour operator Carpathian Travel Center. See www.carpathian-travel-center.com or contact email@example.com They also offer hiking in the Carpathian Mountains, day long guided private tours of Brasov and the famous Dracula Castle in Bran for €85 pp and other adventure and cultural tours.