Bucharest – and our tour ends!

The final part of our journey, the wonderful ‘Tour of the Balkans’, and we arrive in Bucharest, the capital and largest city of Romania. We spend some time wandering around the places of interest within walking distance of the Hotel, followed by a trip by bus to the extremely large Government buildings! My job was to do the videoing on this day and Robin was the photographer. Judy took lots of photos as well. As the next morning was our last day in Romania, actually the last day in Europe, we had other things on our mind other than to load up all the days photos onto my computer. I was leaving early to start my new adventure in London, and the others were catching the plane in the afternoon to start their journey back to New Zealand! So today is the first day that I only have a very few photos.

Following our local Tour guide around the streets of Bucharest
Following our local Tour guide around the streets of Bucharest
Me posing in front of a horse statue :-)
Me posing in front of a horse statue πŸ™‚
This is a new modern building built inside the shell of an old building
This is a new modern building built inside the shell of an old building. It is actually the headquarters of the Union of Romanian Architects.
Great building! A concert Hall built in 1865.
Great building! A concert Hall built in 1865.
Passing by on the bus...
Passing by on the bus…
Another photo from the bus!
Another photo from the bus!
Statue of Bucharest
Statue of Bucharest

I don’t think anyone can go to Bucharest and not visit the Palace of Parliament. Going into this place was like going through customs at the airport only even more official. We weren’t allowed to take photos inside but it was okay while we were outside on the Balcony.

Robin and I on the Balcony
Robin and I on the Balcony
Us three girls :-)
Us three girls πŸ™‚
The road to the city in the background
The road to the city in the background
A better photo of the view from the Balcony
A better photo of the view from the Balcony

You have no idea how huge this parliament building is! It was massive! The details…

Palace of Parliament is 270m by 240 m, 86 m high, 92 m underground, 1,100 rooms, 12 stories tall, with four additional underground levels currently available and in use. The floor area is 340,000 m2. The Architect was 28 year old Anca Petrescu (a woman) who also led a group of 700 other architects. It took 25,000 people, 3 shifts, 24 hours day to construct it. Building started in 1984, it cost €3-billion and was completed in 1997.

The Palace of Parliament. Photo from 'Wikipedia'
The Palace of Parliament. Photo from ‘Wikipedia’

According to the World Records Academy, the Palace is the world’s largest civilian building with an administrative function,Β  and it is the heaviest building! We were shown through a very small portion, but were still amazed by the number of enormous rooms inside. Most were available to be rented for Weddings or other occasions where Ballrooms were needed. Hugely extravagant and so very expensive to have built and no doubt to maintain!

So all the other photos of Bucharest are at home in New Zealand, but I guess you have seen and heard enough about this tour of the Balkans already. I know I have found it hard to stay enthusiastic to get this STORY completed, so can imagine it has been a bit of a trial for you, the reader, to see it through as well. Life has moved on and I have so many new events happening that I want to ‘tell’ you about…Β  Hehe…Β  aren’t you lucky πŸ™‚ But I have loved the Balkans and will treasure the memories forever!

We finished the tour with a celebration dinner together. It didn’t feel like a celebration as we knew the next day we would be saying our goodbyes to our travel buddies. I am pleased that I can stay connected to the ones that have facebook accounts, and I can see what is going on in their lives even today (well a little portion anyway). They see a lot of me! I still have contact with friends from our last tour through facebook and it is really nice. You never know we may just meet again one day πŸ™‚

Bran Castle – Romania

Officially called Bran Castle, and definitely not Draculas Castle.

Bram Stoker’s character, Dracula, is a Transylvanian Count with a castle located high above a valley perched on a rock with a flowing river below in the Principality of Transylvania. This character is often confused with Vlad Tepes (Vlad the Impaler), sometimes known as Vlad Dracul, who was a Walachian Prince with a castle, now in ruins, located in the Principality of Wallachia. Because Bran Castle is the only castle in all of Transylvania that actually fits Bram Stoker’s description of Dracula’s Castle, it is known throughout the world as Dracula’s Castle. In fact Bram Stoker never visited Romania. He depicted the imaginary Dracula’s castle based upon a description of Bran Castle that was available to him in turn-of-the-century Britain.

Have a look at their website! They have a wonderful movie of the castle to show you where it is situated and how big it is. And the above information is from that website!

Bran Castle

If you read the info from the first photo you will get the history of the castle. It was built in the 13th century!

The history of the Castle
The history of the Castle
Looking up at the Castle
Looking up at the Castle
Our tour group and some extras going up the stairs into the Castle
Our tour group and some extras going up the stairs into the Castle
Judy going up the steps! It is actually quite high!
Judy going up the steps! It is actually quite high!
Inside the Castle in one of the many rooms
Inside the Castle in one of the many rooms
The amazing furniture
The amazing furniture
One of the bedrooms
One of the bedrooms
Another room with the dark wood floors
Another room with the dark wood floors
The heating system!
The heating system!
The dining room
The dining room
The roof from the balcony with me posing :-)
The roof from the balcony with me posing πŸ™‚
Look how far away the road is! Shows how high the Castle is :-)
Look how far away the road is! Shows how high the Castle is πŸ™‚
The windows on the balcony
The windows on the balcony
Looking over the roof to the distance
Looking over the roof to the distance
Walking along the balconies in the inner courtyard area
Walking along the balconies in the inner courtyard area
Looking up at the inner walls
Looking up at the inner walls
Robin in the Armour room
Robin in the Armour room
Some of the tour group down in the inner courtyard
Some of the tour group down in the inner courtyard
Looking back up at the balconies
Looking back up at the balconies
Len going up the secret staircase
Len going up the secret staircase
Spiral stairs out of the house
Spiral stairs out of the house
Showing how high the outside wall is!
Showing how high the outside wall is!

It was surprising just how many people were actually visiting the Castle. I think there was probably about four tour groups, plus individuals visiting. We all meandered through the little passages inside the Castle, and had a look inside each room. Then it was out onto the balcony and walking around to the stairs to the inner courtyard and then out again. The pressure was on to get through as fast as possible! I was kind of disappointed. I guess I had imagined the Castle would be a lot more spooky and maybe with cobwebs and bats everywhere. I also thought I would see people dressed up as Dracula running around the place. It was actually quite normal! Nothing like the movies giving me a false impression huh! There were some markets in the area at the bottom of the castle and they did have Dracula paraphernalia for sale, amongst some other touristy stuff.

This man was walking around the market
This man was walking around the market with a couple of animals used for entertainment!

So for those of you who are planning a trip to Romania, especially to visit Draculas Castle, and have thoughts that it’s going to be a real Dracula experience, it won’t be! But it is a very interesting Castle and well worth a look through πŸ™‚

Brasov – Romania

And we arrive in Brasov to a Hotel full of young people. The foyer even though huge, was full of them. We immediately knew that there must have been some big event happening in this Romanian city 103 miles North of Bucharest. (Yes we have passed our final city of our tour, but heading back after two nights stay). After getting our Hotel room numbers and passing heaps of young adults in the corridors as we locate our room, I decided to ask at the front desk why so many people were staying at the Hotel. Not only one but two big events! The Romanian Music Awards for 2014 were being held in the old town square this very night (our first night) and up the road a little further was a huge tent set up for Octoberfest. The town was buzzing and so were all the young people that had come here to attend either or both of the festivals. We were left wondering just how much sleep we were going to get? The town square was just behind the hotel!

The sign for Oktoberfest
The sign for Oktoberfest
The huge tent for Octoberfest
The huge tent for Oktoberfest
The tent was set up in an outdoor arena
The tent was set up in an outdoor arena
Romanian Music Awards Banner
Romanian Music Awards Banner
The water fountain in the town square with the Stage behind it
The water fountain in the town square with the Stage behind it
Look at those speakers! Facing in the direction of our Hotel :-)
Look at those speakers! Facing in the direction of our Hotel πŸ™‚

And we did hear the music but it was actually okay. Apparently the top bands of all of Romania were at our hotel, and we saw them wander through the foyer when their turn to sing was getting closer. The girls were dressed up like it was not only the music awards but the fashion awards as well. We even had fans sitting in the foyer trying to get as many signatures as they possibly could. Later on in the evening as we were going up to bed we met one band member wandering from his room to another room in his boxers. I did get a little worried that the entertainment in the rooms late at night might be louder than the actual singing, but by 1.30am all seemed very quiet and we had a great sleep.

The next morning it was an early start to discover Brasov with our local guide. The whole town was sleeping except for the street cleaners. It was quite eerie, but we got some good photos of the old town without all the usual tourists.

Usually it would be so hard to get such an empty street
Usually it would be so hard to get such an empty street
Another empty street with fabulous buildings each side
Another empty street with fabulous buildings each side
Our tour group wandering through the old town square after the local guide
Our tour group wandering through the old town square after the local guide
I love taking photos of these fabulous  buildings
I love taking photos of these fabulous buildings
A side of the town square
A side of the town square
Look at the little windows on the roof
Look at the little windows on the roof
I really liked this pink building
I really liked this pink building
This is a great building as well
This is a great building as well
Can you find Robin?
Can you find Robin?
The Church beside the Town Square
The Church beside the Town Square
The lovely clock on the church
The lovely clock on the church
The Jewish church between the buildings
The Jewish church between the buildings
I think Brasov has seen too many Hollywood movies. They have their own sign way up on the hillside
I think Brasov has seen too many Hollywood movies. They have their own sign way up on the hillside

After our wander through the town, we all boarded the bus and went out to visit Bran Castle. I will do a separate post for the Castle as there are so many photos to share πŸ™‚

The optional tour for the afternoon was to a place called Sighisoara. We had heard that the trip was worth it as the place was known as an enchanting medieval gem of a town. We looked up photos on the internet and although it did look a lovely place to see, we were bused out, and it was a three hour round trip. Our afternoon was spent by having a lovely leisurely lunch first…

Enjoyiny the lovely sunny day while we wait for our lunch
Enjoying the lovely sunny day while we wait for our lunch

And then we decided to walk to the Gondola and go to the top of the hill. We wanted to get to the Brasov sign!

Looking back to the Old town
Looking back to the Old town
Yes... We walked up that steep hill... and more!
Yes… We walked up that steep hill… and more!
Looking down on the city from the Gondola
Looking down on the city from the Gondola
The view from the top of the hill
The view from the top of the hill
Another direction! Fabulous view huh!
Another direction! Fabulous view huh!
And there is the sign!!!
And there is the sign!!!
The walkway behind the sign!
The walkway behind the sign!
And we are at the viewing platform
And we are at the viewing platform
And Judy too :-)
And Judy too πŸ™‚

It was worth the walk both up to the Gondola and then from the Gondola station around to the sign.

That evening we all went to visit a traditional Transylvanian restaurant for an evening of delicious Romanian delicacies with music, dancing and wine. Our second to last evening together as a tour group.

The venue for our dinner
The venue for our dinner
The wonderful view of Brasov city
The wonderful view of Brasov city
Waiting to be welcomed into the Castle
Waiting to be welcomed into the Castle
Inside now and gathering in the courtyard :-)
Inside now and gathering in the courtyard πŸ™‚
Seated and enjoying our entertainment, meal and time together relaxing
Seated and enjoying our entertainment, meal and time together relaxing
A fun photo of Judy and me :-)
A fun photo of Judy and me πŸ™‚

Altogether another lovely day filled with wonderful memories! I love holidays πŸ™‚

And we cross the Border to Romania!

The border is actually at the Danube River. One side is Bulgaria and the other Romania. At each border, either our Tour director gathers all our 40 passports and takes them to the border control, or a border control officer comes onto the bus and gathers passports each one of us. The officers that came onto the bus take their job very seriously! I was always worried that there was going to be some sort of problem and that they would actually find something to stop us crossing the border! I can’t remember which country it was that we went into, but they held onto the South Africans passports for ages! David (our tour director) wasn’t sure if they would be allowed in at all. That had happened on a previous tour! But luckily we eventually were all accepted into each new country.

Bulgaria one side and Romania the other
Bulgaria one side and Romania the other
The Bulgarian toll charges for crossing the Danube River
The Bulgarian toll charges for crossing the Danube River
With our passports, waiting for collection :-)
With our passports, waiting for collection πŸ™‚

Our final destination for the day was to get to Brasov, but part of our tour was to visit the town of Sinai and also the Peles Castle. This castle cost approx US$120 million to build finishing in 1883. Although major improvements were made until 1914. The Castle was built for Monarchy, and owned by the crown. Now it is a heritage site and opened to the public, with an entry fee! To be able to take photos inside there is another cost and a label must be worn to prove that you have paid the fee. We all decided that I would buy a ticket and use my camera as it always takes fabulous indoor photos without need of a flash, and as you weren’t allowed to use the flash, it was perfect. Now I always take photos on fully automatic and people are always commenting on my great photos. So now you know my secret! It’s not because of my skill at all that I take good photos. It’s the fabulous camera that I have. A Canon EOS M. Have a look at the specs! It really is an excellent camera to use. Just copy and paste the link below in your internet browser πŸ™‚

http://www.canon.co.uk/For_Home/Product_Finder/Cameras/Digital_SLR/EOS_M/

This isn't actually the castle but the souvenier shop and facilities. Still looks pretty good though
This isn’t actually the castle but the souvenier shop and facilities. Still looks pretty good though
Walking along the path to the Castle
Walking along the path to the Castle
The Peles Castle!
The Peles Castle!
The fabulous Castle from another angle
The fabulous Castle from another angle
Closer up to the Castle and you can see the different shaped windows and outside materials
Closer up to the Castle and you can see the different shaped windows and outside materials
Another view of the outside
Another view of the outside
I loved this view of the roof and little turrets
I loved this view of the roof and little turrets
The inner courtyard and the amazing Frescos
The inner courtyard and the amazing Frescos
Another wall in the inner courtyard
Another wall in the inner courtyard
One of the Frescos in the inner courtyard
One of the Frescos in the inner courtyard
I love these iron decorations or scrolls. I have so many photos of them.
I love these iron decorations or scrolls. I have so many photos of them.

So after having a good look at the outside of the Castle and admiring all the Frescos in the courtyard, David finally got our tickets to enter the Castle. I was so happy to have a pass to take as many photos as I wanted!

The stairs we walked up into the first room that we looked at
The stairs we walked up into the first room that we looked at
The room had so much woodwork it was hard to take it all in!
The room had so much woodwork it was hard to take it all in!
Every wall was decorated
Every wall was decorated
And even upstairs balconies
And even upstairs balconies
Even the furniture was elegantly designed
Even the furniture was elegantly designed
The ceiling was high and the wood carved all the way up
The ceiling was high and the wood carved all the way up
And look at this amazing spiral staircase. Judy saw a photo of this on Facebook and asked if we saw it on our travels. This is it Judy :-)
And look at this amazing spiral staircase. Judy saw a photo of this on Facebook and asked if we saw it on our travels. This is it Judy πŸ™‚
Another wall :-)
Another wall πŸ™‚
A similar photo to a previous one, but it all is so very amazing!
A similar photo to a previous one, but it all is so very amazing!
And this is the next room
And this is the next room
Even the ceiling is a work of art
Even the ceiling is a work of art
It was full of spears and armour and weapons
It was full of spears and armour and weapons
Look at this carved wood!
Look at this carved wood!
a small part of the weapons on the wall
a small part of the weapons on the wall
Looking up we saw this
Looking up we saw this
And there was even a full sized Horse with rider, both with armour on!
And there was even a full sized Horse with rider, both with armour on!
Going through to another room
Going through to another room
Our guide told us about every room, but there were actually so many and they were all very elaborate
Our guide told us about every room, but there were actually so many and they were all very elaborate
More carved walls!
More carved walls!
A very large dining room!
A very large dining room!
I loved these windows/doors
I loved these windows/doors
They even had a theatre!
They even had a theatre!

Now I have put up a lot of photos, but believe me I could have put up heaps more! Sadly I have to confess that for the first time I touched something on my camera and changed the settings from automatic to manual. Now if I had time I would have fiddled around and managed to change the setting back but the tour guide kept moving on from room to room, and I was already at the end of the group, and panicking about keeping up, and trying to see everything and also trying to get the best photos I could get with minimal light and no idea how to focus the camera in these conditions! It was awful! I was angry with myself and sad that I wasn’t getting the best photos that I could get. And I nearly got lost! The group had moved out from the last room and I had no idea which way they went! The Castle was so big and had rooms going off in all directions. Luckily there were a couple of others from our tour still with me and taking photos, and we managed to get advise from another group leader! Phew!

So we wandered on back to the bus with me still being mad at myself for messing up the camera. One day I AM going to learn all about how to really use a camera on manual settings! One day I will!

Wandering through the street stalls on our way back to the bus :-)
Wandering through the street stalls on our way back to the bus πŸ™‚

Peles Castle was certainly a wonder to see. It was great to get the extra photos inside and well worth the seven Euros fifty for that pleasure! But we still had more to do and that was to travel on to Brasov. So once again we load onto the bus and think about what we will see next. Our minds are already full of wonderful memories of this Balkans Tour. Just as well we are nearing the end as I am thinking that I am getting quite overwhelmed with all the information I have heard and the wonderful sights that I have seen.

We do live in a wonderful world and I am feeling very thankful. What an amazing experience πŸ™‚