Countries Visited

Svalbard Spain United States of America Antarctica South Georgia Falkland Islands Bolivia Peru Ecuador Colombia Venezuela Guyana Suriname French Guiana Brazil Paraguay Uruguay Argentina Chile Greenland Canada United States of America United States of America Israel Jordan Cyprus Qatar United Arab Emirates Oman Yemen Saudia Arabia Iraq Afghanistan Turkmenistan Iran Syria Singapore China Mongolia Papua New Guinea Brunei Indonesia Malaysia Malaysia Tiawan Philippines Vietnam Cambodia Laos Thailand Myanmar Bangladesh Sri Lanka India Bhutan Nepal Pakistan Afghanistan Turkmenistan Tajikistan Kyrgyzstan Uzbekistan Japan North Korea South Korea Russia Kazakhstan Russia Montenegro Portugal Azerbaijan Armenia Georgia Ukraine Moldova Belarus Romania Bulgaria Macedonia Serbia Bosonia & Herzegovina Turkey Greece Albania Croatia Hungary Slovakia Slovenia Malta Spain Portugal Spain France Italy Italy Austria Switzerland Belgium France Ireland United Kingdom Norway Sweden Finland Estonia Latvia Lithuania Russia Poland Czech Republic Germany Denmark The Netherlands Iceland El Salvador Guatemala Panama Costa Rica Nicaragua Honduras Belize Mexico Trinidad & Tobago Puerto Rico Dominican Republic Haiti Jamaica The Bahamas Cuba Vanuatu Australia Solomon Islands Fiji New Caledonia New Zealand Eritrea Ethiopia Djibouti Somalia Kenya Uganda Tanzania Rwanda Burundi Madagascar Namibia Botswana South Africa Lesotho Swaziland Zimbabwe Mozambique Malawi Zambia Angola Democratic Repbulic of Congo Republic of Congo Gabon Equatorial Guinea Central African Republic Cameroon Nigeria Togo Ghana Burkina Fasso Cote d'Ivoire Liberia Sierra Leone Guinea Guinea Bissau The Gambia Senegal Mali Mauritania Niger Western Sahara Sudan Chad Egypt Libya Tunisia Morocco Algeria
Map Legend: 28%, 75 of 263 Territories

Monday, June 6, 2011

Romania Mania! (And the Moldblog)

If you look at a map, it looks like you should be able to get from southern Ukraine to coastal Romania directly, no problem. Wrong! All roads (well, all legitimate ones with public transit and border-crossing facilities, at least) lead through Moldova.

If you're wondering who, what, or where is Moldova, you're not the only one. If I made a list of "countries I didn't know existed until this year," well, this former USSR republic would probably have been pretty near the top. Small, landlocked, and the poorest country in Europe in terms of GDP, it's not exactly a big holiday destination. We only knew one person who had ever visited, naturally, we decided to become the second and third tourists in the country's brief history.

Getting a bus ticket from Yalta to the Moldovan capital of Chisinau was easier said than done. Except it wasn't easily said, either. Turns out you pronounce it "Kee-shee-now," which is not even a little bit close to what we were saying, and since we didn't know how to spell it in Cyrillic...well, let's just say it was a challenging purchase to complete.

But we got the tickets and, a 20-hour bus ride later, we were in Moldova and happily reading Roman-alphabet signs again. Moldovan language is the same as Romanian, which itself looks like someone threw Spanish, French, Italian, and one of the Slavic languages into a blender and kind of sounds that way, too.

Speaking of reading signs, these ads for Moldova's main cell phone provider are all over Chisinau. You know, right next to the Moldbank and the Moldmarket. Tee hee hee!
Chisinau's main cathedral had the best religious neon light display we'd seen since the Buddhist temples of Burma.
Here's the cathedral from the outside. I suppose it is one of Chisinau's top sights.
And here is Chisinau's other top sight, a teeny weeny Arc de Triomphe. Not big enough to straddle the main avenue, it has to make do with lording over a sidewalk.
And...that's it for Moldova! We only spent about 10 hours there, which is about 8.5 more hours than we knew what to do with. We sat in a park for a while, we ate a few ice creams. Andy got a Moldhaircut. But the people were very nice (and spoke a lot more English than people did in Ukraine!), and Chisinau was a surprisingly well-developed and pleasant little city. The countryside we passed on the bus and train looked quite nice, too. Perhaps the poorest country in Europe is still a lot better off than the poorest countries of most other continents?

The overnight train to Romania was fun for two reasons. First, thanks to low demand, we got a compartment all to ourselves in the old-school, wood-paneled, lace-curtained train. Second, we got to stop at the border to have the cars jacked up and the undercarriages replaced because the track width in Europe is different from the one used in the former Soviet countries.
Romania! Land of castles, Gypsies, and Dracula! We began our adventures in Bucharest (Bucuresti in Romanian), which is OK for a day, but not where I'd advise you to spend the bulk of your Romanian vacation. There are some nice old buildings around the main square.
And an obelisk stabbing a meteorite or something.
Bucharest is home to the Palace of Parliament, which is, as our friend Andrew put it, "the world's second largest building, built by bonkers dictator Ceaucescu in the 1980s." Though apparently it's not large enough to hold multiple tour groups at once; when we showed up, tours were already sold out until the next afternoon, so we didn't get to go inside.
Vlad Tepes, a.k.a. Vlad the Impaler, was a Romanian prince in the 1400s and the inspiration for Dracula. Statues of him and his fine mustache are found all over Romania.
On to Transylvania! Romania got much more beautiful once we got out of the big city. Our next destination was Brasov, which has a beautiful old town and great mountainous scenery all around.

The St. Nicholas Romanian Orthodox church, also home of the first school in Romania, dates from the 1400s. It was right down the street from our hostel.
We took a lovely hike from Brasov to the nearby skiing town. Yes, that's right, we hiked alone in the woods of Transylvania and were not attacked by vampires! (Or if we were, they modified our memories and we don't remember it...)
Strada Sforii in Brasov claims to be Europe's narrowest street. What criteria distinguishes an alley from a street, we wonder?
There are lots of castles in Transylvania. Sadly, we only had time to visit one. We chose Peles Castle, which is not so old (it was built in the late 1800s), but is famed for being the most extravagant inside. Sadly, you have to pay $15 to take pictures inside, so you'll just have to settle for the exterior and imagine the lavish, carved-wood ceilings and French-, Italian-, and Turkish-themed rooms within.
Our last stop in Romania was Sighisoara, a small town containing an even smaller medieval walled city. There is not a whole lot to do there, but it's a cute place to spend a day.

The clocktower guards the entrance to the old town. Nice views from the top, too.
What do you do when you have two sides of a building to decorate, but only one deer head? This, apparently.
Mike requested a picture of Andy doing his best Dracula impression, so here you go. We didn't get to Bran Castle (known as "Dracula's Castle" because it is scary-looking, not because Vlad ever lived there), but this actually is outside of Vlad's birthplace (now a restaurant) in Sighisoara.
Romania was a fun country in which to spend five days. I bet it would have been even more fun to spend 10 days! The major tourist towns can feel kind of, well, touristy, but mostly in a cute way. We really wanted to get out to the Danube Delta area around Tulcea and do some birdwatching, but we just ran out of time. Brasov was a good base for taking day trips around Transylvania. If you're traveling through Romania and are pressed for time, I'd recommend focusing on the beautiful countryside and maybe skipping Bucharest.

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