Trips

There are now 29 Weekend Trips:

I’ve tested Mapillary on Translapina and I was not impressed

Posted by Strainu | Filed under Weekend Trips

Yesterday I decided to give Mapillary a second try (I’ve tested it once before just after launch and it was pretty much unusable). And since I was planning to go over Translapina, I thought: what a great way to see how the app handles various issues one might encounter on mountain road, such as tight curves, changing light and poor GPS cover while discovering a new road (for both me and Mapillary). Southern Romania is pretty well covered in imagery, at least on the main roads, but once you go in the mountains, the coverage drops significantly.

The road in itself was nothing to write home about. I know some of my colleagues are crazy about it, so I’ll probably get some angry looks at work, but the scenery is just not comparable with the Transfăgărășan. There are bends and valleys and mountains in clouds, but the vegetation reminds me more of the desert than the mountain. Plus, as a driver, you always have to look out for rocks and trees falling from the side of the road, as the construction quality is not the best and the earth in the area is very friable as well.

The app was not impressive either. It has come a very long way from the previous version I’ve tested, but it’s still very slow even when it works, which is not always. The app crashed often, especially when the map was on, or simpli freezed for no apparent reason and no warning to the user. I had to pull over, close the app and reopen it. Also, some images are blurred, probably because the app did not wait for the camera to focus. When taking the pics in “distance mode”, no pictures should be taken when the car is stopped. However, the app sometimes failed and continued to take 1 or 2 pictures after the app was completely stopped.

The settings are not uniform (some need to be disabled, but there is no checkbox next to them, instead one simply clicks on them, other need to be enabled) and the different picture modes are insufficiently expained – I had to deduce what each of them does based on many different settings.

Also, a very important problem of the app is that it takes up the screen from nagivation apps. If it is to be used on unknown roads, it should have a “background mode” where it takes pictures while the user is in another app, or, at the very least, allow the map to be configurable in size and position.

Now, I know that some of the issues I mention can be caused by the phone I had, a OnePlus One. It’s not the newest phome you can buy, but if Mappilary developers expect their app to be used only on flagships, they might be in for a nasty surprise.

I will continue to test the Mapillary app for the next few days, but my feeling is it’s not yet ready for prime time.

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Parcări de lungă durată pentru Aeroportul Otopeni

Posted by Strainu | Filed under Weekend Trips

După cum știu unii dintre voi, nu sunt de loc prietenul taximetriștilor. De aceea, acum câțiva ani, când au început să apară parcările de lungă durată pe lângă Otopeni am fost foarte bucuros.

Sigur, pentru bucureștenii care plătesc maxim 100 de lei dus-întors taxiul (cu aparat de taxare corect), ele nu sunt încă o soluție pentru vacanțe, ci doar pentru plecările mai scurte, gen city-break. Eu încerc totuși să le folosesc de câte ori am ocazia și am zis să vi le prezint și vouă pe cele mai cunoscute, împreună cu câteva date și impresii personale. E posibil ca și alte hoteluri din zonă să ofere asemenea servicii dar să nu fi aflat încă de ele.

So, parcările pe care le-am folosit până acum sunt:

Parcarea aeroportului

Parcarea oficială a aeroportului ar trebui să fie cea mai interesantă datorită apropierii de terminal. Din păcate, dezorganizarea și indicatoarele incomplete te fac să pierzi o grămadă de timp, cel puțin prima dată când o folosești.

În primul rând, la intrarea în aeroport dinspre București nu există indicator decât pentru P3 – de P4 trebuie să știi dinainte. Apoi, parcarea respectivă a fost transformată dintr-o parcare normală prin închiderea unor intrări și ieșiri, dar fără a le scoate și indicatoarele. Ai deci toate șansele să te trezești față în față cu niște blocuri de beton când încerci să intri sau să ieși de acolo.

Datorită aglomerației și a sistemului de plată inflexibil (dacă ai intrat, trebuie să plătești 40 de lei ca să mai ieși) mulți ajung să parcheze pe iarbă sau pe drumurile de acces. Un efect secundar este că nu te mai poți baza pe numărul de locuri libere afișat de sistem. Mi s-a întâmplat să văd locuri libere deși sistemul indica că parcarea e plină.

Alte probleme țin de numărul insuficient de jetoane (se termină jetoanele din aparatul de la intrare) și de cât de complicat este să ajungi din terminalul sosiri la parcare (trebuie să folosești pasajul de la etajul 1 al terminalui sosiri, care este semnalizat prin niște indicatoare fără vizibilitate și câteodată chiar neaduse la zi). De asemenea, nu există supraveghere video.

Park&Fly Otopeni

Park&Fly a fost prima parcare pe termen lung apărută la aeroport. Prețurile sunt un pic mai mari decât la aeroport, iar în preț este inclus și transferul la și de la aeroport cu microbuzul. În mod normal drumul nu durează mai mult de 5 minute, dar dacă ai ghinion și tocmai a plecat cu alți clienți, e posibil să ia ceva mai mult.

Impresia generală a fost de profesionalism, dar prețurile mari îl recomandă în special celor veniți de departe sau care își pot deconta cheltuielile.

Rin Airport Hotel

  • Tarife: 20 lei/zi
  • Locație: pe DN1, sensul spre București
  • Timp de transfer: 10-15 min, cu microbuzul (gratuit, merge la fiecare oră)
  • Rezervare: telefonic, doar pentru grupuri

Chiar dacă are un preț scăzut, plasarea pe sensul spre București și transferul doar o dată pe oră fac această locație mai puțin interesantă. Dacă sunteți genul care ajunge cu mai mult de 2 ore înainte la aeroport și eventual vă permiteți să pierdeți un microbuz, ar putea fi o soluție.

Motel Săftica

  • Tarife: variabil, conform listei
  • Locație: pe DN1, sensul spre Ploiești, în Săftica
  • Timp de transfer: 15-45 min, cu mașina (gratuit)
  • Rezervare: online și telefonic

Motelul Săftica oferă cel ma redus preț dintre cele 4 parcări, dar este și cel mai îndepărtat de aeroport, fiind în Săftica, după lac. Datorită locației și a faptului că transferul se face cu 1 singură mașină de 4 locuri, s-ar putea ca transferul să dureze mai mult (dacă mai sunt și alți călători șoferul trebuie să facă mai multe curse). La întoarcere am așteptat aproape jumătate de oră după mașină. Cred că folosirea unui microbuz s-ar impune.

O altă problemă pentru șoferii corecți o reprezintă faptul că primul loc unde se poate întoarce regulamentar spre București este tocmai în Vlădiceasa, la câțiva kilometri buni spre Ploiești. Șoferii de transfer folosesc o trecere pentru pietoni pe post de loc de întoarcere.

Partea bună e că și această parcare este disponibilă 24/24 și la prețul unui transfer cu taxiul poți staționa până la 6 zile.

 

Sper că lista de mai sus vă va ajuta să vă faceți o idee asupra opțiunilor de parcare disponibile în apropierea aeroportului. Voi unde parcați când mergeți cu mașina voastră la Otopeni?

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Am găsit un monument. Ce facem cu el?

Posted by Strainu | Filed under Weekend Trips

Într-o plecare de la sfârșitul lunii trecute, despre care o să scriu mai multe mai târziu, am avut ocazia să constat apariția pe multe din drumurile naționale din Oltenia și Banat a unor indicatoare spre diverse monumente istorice. În principiu, asta este o veste foatre bună. Dar ce faci după ce cotești de pe drumul național (relativ bun) pe un drum comunal plin de gropi sau mai rău, pe o potecă îngustă?

Acum doi ani și ceva, când a apărut prima dată ideea concursului Wiki Loves Monuments România, am plecat într-o plimbare prin Maramureș în căutarea Mocăniței de la Vișeul de Sus și a vestitelor biserici din zonă. Am constatat atunci că dacă monumentele aveau norocul să fie pe drumul principal, dădeai ușor de ele. Dacă nu, îți trebuia musai o hartă sau un ghid.

Morile de la Eftimie Murgu

Indicator de pe DN

Între timp, situația s-a îmbunătățit. Mulțumită proiectelor europene de dezvoltare rurală, multe monumente beneficiază acum de indicatoare, plasate de obicei chiar sub indicatorul spre sat. Pentru unele dintre ele a fost chiar modernizat drumul și eventual au fost refăcute prin aceleași proiecte.

Din păcate, în afară de acel unic indicator, în cele mai multe cazuri nu există nicio altă informație despre sau indicator spre monumentul respectiv.  În cazul monumentelor din sate, singura soluție este să întrebi localnicii pe care din ulițe să o iei. Bineînțeles, ca orășean trebuie să fii foarte atent căci oamenii de la țară au alte referințe în ceea ce privește calitatea drumului și s-ar putea să rămâi suspendat cu mașina pe drumul “bunicel” de acolo.

Pentru orășele, este posibil să mai găsești câte o hartă în fața primăriei sau la gară. Totuși, și aici ai o problemă: să nu care cumva să-ți treacă prin minte a întreba de strada pe care ai aflat de pe net că se află monumentul, căci nimeni nu va ști ce nume poartă fiecare stradă. Este oarecum de înțeles, având în vedere și obiceiul unor primării de a da mai multe nume aceleiași străzi. De exemplu, în Oravița strada principală se numește, pe rând, Andrei Șaguna, Eftimie Murgu, 1 decembrie 1918, precum și “Piața Unirii” și “Piața Ferdinand”, care sunt orice numai piețe nu.

Soluția e să întrebi după numele local al monumentului. Chiar și atunci, s-ar putea ca locuitorii din celălalt capăt al orașului să nu te poată ajuta…

Să zicem că totuși ai răzbit până la monument. Ce ai de făcut acolo, în afară de poze pentru concurs? Dacă nu ești specialist în arhitectură, și majoritatea vizitatorilor nu sunt, nu mare lucru. Cu toată avalanșa de site-uri “specializate” pe monumente apărute recente, puține au informații originale, relevante pentru un număr mare de monumente. De cele mai multe ori trebuie să “sapi” de dinainte în căutarea unor informații.

Această gaură informațională ar trebui, după părerea mea, umplută de cei care întrețin monumentele. Mulți au ca scuză faptul că nu sunt fonduri nici pentru reparațiile de primă necesitate, darmite pentru informații… Și totuși, nici măcar acolo unde au fost bani pentru restaurare, nu s-a investit (aproape) deloc în ceva indicații pentru vizitatori.

Morile de la Eftimie Murgu - indicatorMorile de la Eftimie Murgu - indicator

Indicatoare

Un exemplu relevant mi se par morile de apă de la Eftimie Murgu. Fiind un monument eminamente tehnic, este oarecum logic ca vizitatorii să aibă mai multă nevoie de îndrumări asupra modului de funcționare decât în cazul unei biserici sau al unei case particulare. O parte din aceste mori au fost refăcute de muzeul “Astra” din Sibiu acum câțiva ani într-un proiect european.

Morile de la Eftimie Murgu - plăcuță

Plăcuță cu numele morii

Au fost instalate câteva plăci în imediata apropiere a monumentelor (fără a acoperi zona dintre DN și sat, bineînțeles) și fiecare moară în parte avea numele ei și numele proiectului. Nimic despre modul de funcționare, amenajările necesare sau istoricul acestor mori. Din fericire, două dintre ele sunt încă funcționale, iar proprietarii lor sunt suficient de amabili încât să-ți explice toate detaliile și legendele locului.

Ce-i drept, dacă ne-am fi făcut temele din timp, am fi aflat poate că în școala generală din sat există un mic muzeu cu o moară desfăcută. Din ce-am văzut însă în pozele găsite pe net, și aici trebuie să te bazezi pe bunăvoința ghidului…

În aceste condiții, tot ce vă rămâne de făcut ca turiști “vânători” de monumente este să citiți cât mai multe despre monumentele din zona unde urmează să mergeți (puteți începe cu o hartă a monumentelor din țară [se încarcă greu] și cu Wikipedia) și eventual să vă înarmați cu un telefon mobil și acces la net.  Pentru cei cu smartphone-uri Android sau iPhone vă recomand aplicația “Monumente România” realizată de Asociația Prietenilor Muzeului Național de Istorie a României, care îmbină în mod fericit harta și un modul de realitate alternativă cu paginile de informații ale site-ului lor, paginile de pe Wikipedia și câteva mii de imagini.

Voi ce alte resurse folosiți pentru a profita cât mai mult de vizitele unor monumente istorice?

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Weekend Trip: Vienna

Posted by Strainu | Filed under Weekend Trips

Versiunea română aici.

The road

Map

Many of the Romanians that go to Austria for ski or other forms of tourism choos to go by car. From Budapest to Vienna you only make about 3h on the highway, and from Bucharest to Budapest a maximum of 12 hours. It takes roughly the same ammount of time by bus.

You can also choose the train. The journey takes 20h and you have 3 trains every day: one direct trains and two trains via Budapest.

We chose the third way, the plane. Austrian has 5 daily flights and Tarom 1 or 2. That means you will find decent prices even with a few days before the flight. The flight time is 1h45 – less than the ground checks (as you know, airlines recommend arriving at the airport 2h before the flight).

Even if the trip is a little long by car or train, the diversity is a good thing, earning the route a good score.

Rating: ★★★★½

Accommodation

Vienna has a huge diversity of hotels and even more flats you can rent. In past visits here I chose low-cost hotels near the railway station, but this time, we rented an apartment from govienna.net, one of the two from Quellenstrasse.

The apartment has scores pretty much OK on the Internet, but for us it was a disappointment. The building was in the Turkish neighborhood, but there were no issues except on the New Year’s Eve, when people were still throwing firecrackers at 3 or 4 A.M. when we returned from the city.

The exterior of the building looked decent, but the stairs were in really bad shape and the apartment had a weird smell. There was enough furniture for 4 people, but there were some weird stuff, like the window above the entrance door or the toilet which was separate from the bathroom.

Rating: ★★★½☆

What to see

St. Stephan’s Cathedral

Stephansdom is The Cathedral in Vienna. There are other churched in town, but this is by far the most interesting and probably the biggest.
Viena 2011-2012

Viena 2011-2012

The entrance is free and so is photography (but without flash). The interior seemd a little darker than other cathedrals from Europe, probably due to the fact that we went in winter. Still, this was helping to underline the beauty of the stained-glass windows.
Viena 2011-2012

Viena 2011-2012

Some details from the interior:
Viena 2011-2012

Viena 2011-2012

After finishing with the interior of the cathedral, we decided to pay up 4€ to clinb the south tower. Although the panorama is interesting, the horses from the place look much more interesting 🙂
Viena 2011-2012

Talking about the panorama, let’s look to the Prater…
Viena 2011-2012

…and then to the bells of the cathedral (can anyone translate the inscription?).
Viena 2011-2012

After descending from the tower, we stick around the cathedral waiting for noon. Why? We wanted to see the Anker clock.

The Anker clock

It was built between 1911-1917 and it is both a figurine clock, but also a bridge between the two parts of the Anker building. The 12 figurines move at 1/hour, except at noon, when they all go through the window in 10-15 minutes.
Viena 2011-2012

Viena 2011-2012

We then went on for a stroll downtown, admiring the different monuments of the city.
Viena 2011-2012

Viena 2011-2012

For lunch, we couldn’t miss the famous Wienerschnitzel:
Viena 2011-2012

Haus des Meeres Vivarium

Although recently returned from the Asia trip , where we saw a lot of zoos of all kinds, we thought it couldn’t hurt to compare them with the European zoos.

We weren’t going to visit the actual Vienna zoo untill the last day of our trip. Until then, we went for an evening visit to the Hous of the seas, a huge aquarium spreading on 7 floors.
Viena 2011-2012

As a matter of fact, they were not only hosting marine animals, but also species one would see in the desert or the jungle. Unfortunately the name of most of the species have slipped my mind.
Viena 2011-2012

Viena 2011-2012

They had all kind of turtles, from the small ones like the one below to the huge, 100-kilos and 100-years-living ones.
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The primates had their own artificial jungle spreading on 3 floors on one side of the building. Impressive!
Viena 2011-2012

Big turles…
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The view from the roof.
Viena 2011-2012

The Opera

The Imperial Opera is another one of the buildings that every touristic guide recommends. The size is not really impressive, but the architectural details make up for that.
Viena 2011-2012

Viena 2011-2012

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Viena 2011-2012

Interior

The really interesting part is the visit inside. The guided visits start around noon every dai, take about an hour and cost 6.5€ for the adults. The guide is avalable in multiple language, including, of course, English.

We started with the main hall. Note the 3 rows of loges. The first thing that attracted our attention was the scene: fortunately there were no rehearsals (hard on the 31st of December), so we would have full access to the backstage.
Viena 2011-2012

Detail of the concert hall.
Viena 2011-2012

My mom used to tell me that the really cool part of a theater is the stage, but I didn’t believe her. I changed my mind when I arrived on the Vienna Opera stage.

Imagine 5 floors of scaffolding, pulleys and ropes, all with a precise role in the movement of the stage elements. It was like being in a huge building site, the only thing missing being the workers on scaffolding whistling at the ladies below. 🙂

Viena 2011-2012

The rest of the buildng was not bad either, with ceilings comparable with the most beutiful palaces. Perhaps because the opera was one of the favorite pastimes of nobles from past centuries?

Viena 2011-2012

Viena 2011-2012

The technical museum

As beautiful as old buildings may be, I still prefer technical stuff (professional bias, probably). I was very happy that the group I was with agreed to visit the Technical Museum. Ironically, it was also hosted in a huge Hapsburg palace, but with an entrance made of steel and glass.

Viena 2011-2012

Right after the entrance there was an area dedicated to interactive experiments meant to explain some simple physical fenomena. Unfortunately I was too busy playing so I took no pictures, but I should mention that this section had the same size as the whole Bucharest technical Museum.

We then went to the railway section. Unlike other technical museums I’ve seen, in Vienna the locomotives were not just shown, but they were cut open and illuminated in order to illustrate the various components.

Viena 2011-2012

The image below shows that Romania is much better off than 100 years ago: at the time we barely had a few steam locomotives, while Austria already had electric locomotives in service.
Viena 2011-2012

Viena 2011-2012

One of the “hands-on” exhibits: a miniature solar park fueled by a lamp illustrated the energy you could produce.
Viena 2011-2012

Followed the factory and industrial products’ section.
Viena 2011-2012

Viena 2011-2012

These bulbs are light-years away from LEDs 😀
Viena 2011-2012

Viena 2011-2012

The last floor hosted the plane and car exhibition. Unfortunately, due to the lack of time, we went really fast through that floor.

We still saw some Steyrs…

Viena 2011-2012

Viena 2011-2012

Viena 2011-2012

…a Mercedes racecar (I think it was produces also by Steyr-Daimler)…
Viena 2011-2012

Viena 2011-2012

… and a beetle (I don’t remember the producer, but it seems another Steyr)
Viena 2011-2012

Below we have a Gräf și a few angines, all manufactured in Austria.
Viena 2011-2012

Viena 2011-2012

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Prater

I don’t think the Praterul needs an introduction. In case you haven’t heard of it, you can start exploring from the Wikipedia article.
Viena 2011-2012

Viena 2011-2012

Viena 2011-2012

Viena 2011-2012

The City Hall

For the New Year’s Eve we went to the park in front of the city hall. I’m sorry I haven’t had the chance to visit the interior, but if you’re interested, you can find information about guided tours on the website.
Viena 2011-2012

Viena 2011-2012

Happy new year!
Viena 2011-2012

Schonbrunn

The last day was dedicated to Schonbrunn, including the park and zoo. Although the winter views are much less impressive than the palace in a sunny day, I still liked it better than Versailles, which apparently (I’m not 100% convinced) is the original inspiration for this palace.

Unfortunately, photos were forbidden in the palace, so I only have a few outside shots.
Viena 2011-2012

Viena 2011-2012

The picture below is in fact from the Zoo, but the building was in the same style as all the other buildings from the gardens.
Viena 2011-2012

The Vienna Zoo

The Vienna Zoo is the oldest zoo in the world that is still functional (established in 1752). It hosts over 4600 animals from 480 species, including pandas and other endangered species.

In the late 80s it almost went bankrupt, but it was “privatized” (actually, a company owned by the city was created to administer the zoo) and with a smart private manager, it was saved. Sounds a lot like what is happening to some Romanian companies, expect for the “saved” part…

Viena 2011-2012

Viena 2011-2012

Viena 2011-2012

Viena 2011-2012

Viena 2011-2012

It was the first time we saw a Koala, even if we had hunted it throughout Asia.
Viena 2011-2012

Viena 2011-2012

Apparently not all marine animals were at Haus des Meeres.
Viena 2011-2012

The elephants were a little thin, but not as sad as the one from Bucharest (when it was still alive).
Viena 2011-2012

Viena 2011-2012

Viena 2011-2012

Rating: ★★★★½

Food

You can try pork chops with beer, some ribs or even Chinese food. In this trip we trusted the recommendations found on the Interned ad we did not regret it – even if some restaurants are true food factoreis, with clients coming and going like on the assembly line, they don’t give up quality and keep the prices decent.
Viena 2011-2012

Viena 2011-2012

Viena 2011-2012

Alternatives

Any City Break in Europe will be exiting if you’re going there for the first time – just find a cheap plane ticket and go for it. Closer to Bucharest you have Budapest or Bratislava. If taking a plane, go for Prague, Warsaw or even Lyon and London.

Overall Rating: ★★★★☆

Links

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Weekend Trip: Budapest

Posted by Strainu | Filed under Weekend Trips

Versiunea în română aici.

The road

Map

I thought I should start a series of trip reports from Central Europe with some pictures from a city-break in Budapest on December 1st (which is the Romanian National Day, making the date a bit ironic if you are a Romanian). There aren’t too many pictures because my camera passed away while being there.

Since WizzAir stopped serving the OTP-BUD trip, airline prices went up, so we decided to go by car. The trip takes about 11-12 hours unless you catch some big queue at the border crossing. We left at about 3 a.m. on fog and we arrived in a sunny Budapest, just in time to catch the afternoon rush hour. The queues were bigger that in Bucharest, but everybody (drivers, pedestrians and cyclists) was much more disciplined.


Budapesta 2012 by strainu, on Flickr
Notă: ★★★★½

Accomodation

Usually, when going through Europe I search for hotels based on recommendations or I go with the big hotel chains, which offer virtually the same services no matter what country you’re in. This time, since we were 2 pairs, we thought it was more convenient to go with a 2 room rental apartment. We chose Lord Appartments, right in downtown Pesta, 3 minutes away from the Opera. The price was 120€/2 nights (+30€ for parking). The picture above is from the street we stayed on.

If you think the parking fee is expensive, you should know that throughout downtown Budapest you have to pay for parking, and rpices are quite high (up to 430 HUF – about 1,5 €/h). Once we got there we found out that parking in weekends is free, but given that the Lord parking was covered and guarded, I’d say it was worth paying for it.

Rating: ★★★½☆

What to see (in a day and a half)

After leaving the car at the appartment, we went for a stroll in Pesta.


Troleibuz Budapesta 2012 by strainu, on Flickr


Budapesta 2012 by strainu, on Flickr


Budapesta 2012 by strainu, on Flickr

Having enough of “road food”, we went on to teste some traditional Hungarian food in Liszt Ferenc square.


Gulaș Budapesta 2012 by strainu, on Flickr


Ceva mai puțin tradițional by strainu, on Flickr

Afterward, we went for the Christmas market in front of St. Istvan’s (or John) basilica.


Budapesta 2012 by strainu, on Flickr


Budapesta 2012 by strainu, on Flickr


Budapesta 2012 by strainu, on Flickr


Budapesta 2012 by strainu, on Flickr

From there, you can quickly reach the Danube…


Budapesta 2012 by strainu, on Flickr


Budapesta 2012 by strainu, on Flickr

The next day, due to the cold and the limited time, we decided to take one of the many tourist bus lines. Since we wanted to pay by card, we got a “bonus” walk to the company’s headquarters in the inner court of a beautiful Art Nouveau building.

Budapesta 2012

Budapesta 2012
Opera din Budapesta by strainu, on Flickr

The bus leaves from the center on Andrassy st., the ex-central boulevard of Pesta, then reaches the Millenium square. The audioguide is available in 20 languages, including a very good Romanian, much over other audioguides I’ve used.
Budapesta 2012

Piața Millenium Budapesta 2012

We were feeling courageous, so we went to the (uncovered) top floor – and freezed badly 😀

Budapesta 2012

After half an hour, we crossed one of the bridges to Buda and we were getting near the Fisherman’s Bastion…
Budapesta 2012

Budapesta 2012

The look from below is cool, but the panorama from the Bastion is much more attractive. The curch in the back is called St. Stephen and it deserves the detour, even if it’s not comparable to the churches in other imperial capitals of Europe.

Below you can find some images from around the Castle.

Budapesta 2012

Budapesta 2012

Budapesta 2012

Budapesta 2012

Budapesta 2012

Budapesta 2012

The initial plan was to also visit the inside of the castel, but it was already getting pretty late so we decided to move on. The buses’ course would go on to the Citadel, a fortification used during the Second World War. Today you will find a wax museum inside.

Budapesta 2012

You could get on the cannons from the yard and even look through the optical targeting system. Pretty cool, no?

Budapesta 2012

At the far end of the Citadel there is a huge statue visible from the whole city of Pesta.

Budapesta 2012

Back in Downtown:

Budapesta 2012

An interesting church, build on a street corner:

Budapesta 2012

Budapesta 2012

And a detail:
Budapesta 2012

The last few hours of daylight were dedicate to a small cruise on the Danube. The ticket was a combo with the panoramic bus, and the cruise has several stops from where you could visit various parts of the city. We wanted to see the Margaret Island, but the winter schedule meant that we only caught the last cruise of the day. At least we had the chance to catch some nice puctures at sunset. The camera was beginning to fail, so between pictures I had to warm it up under my jacket.

Budapesta 2012

Budapesta 2012

Budapesta 2012

Budapesta 2012

Budapesta 2012

Budapesta 2012

Budapesta 2012

Budapesta 2012

We had our diner at a medieval restaurant called Sir Lancelor. It looked much like the Excalibur restaurant from Bucharest, except it was bigger and it had much more entertainment (theater, fire eaters etc.). The effect of the entertainment on the slightly drunk tourists was quite funny, but I guess it was also pushing them to more eating and drinking.

The food also felt less medieval than in Bucharest. The menu contained plates such as bananas with meatballs in a doughnut-like shell (no idea what they’re called) which would have been difficult to prepare in the Middle Ages.

Amenajări Sir Lancelot

Budapesta 2012

Budapesta 2012

Sunday morning we went back on Andrassy str. and on the the eastern exist of Budapest. The neighborhoods further from the center have been very much influenced by communism, looking very much like their counterparts from Prague or Bucharest.

Budapesta 2012

Budapesta 2012

On the way to Bucharest we stopped in Deva to eat at the Ceapa Roșie (“Red Onion”) restaurant. The last time we were there we were impressed with the service and the food and we were eager to share this “secret” with the friends that accompanied us. Unfortunately we were bitterly disappointed this time – the food was terrible and the waitress seemed bored to an in inch of her life. If you have other recommendations from the area, please leave a comment – we would love to knon a good restaurant in Hunedoara county.

Budapesta 2012
Rating: ★★★★½

Would I go back?

Definitely! As a former imperial capital,Budapest has those dignified looks of the 19th century that make one want to explore it for much more than an weekend.

Alternatives

Any City Break in Europe will be just as good – find a cheap plane ticket and go for it. Closer to Bucharest you have Vienna or Bratislava. If taking a plane, go for Prague or Warsaw.

Overall Rating: ★★★★☆

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Extended Weekend: Bavaria

Posted by Strainu | Filed under Weekend Trips

Versiunea română aici.

The road

Map

Because we are talking about cities a few thousands kilometers from Bucharest (Munich and Nuremberg mainly), the transport will be made by plane. Of course, if you feel like a road trip, you could go by car, but it will take you at least 2 days to get there.

Both TAROM and Lufthansa have daily flights from Bucharest Otopeni to Munich, both early in the morning and later in the afternoon. Prices are usually around 120-150 EUR per return trip, except in Oktoberfest season. From Munich airport, there is the S-Bahn that can take you downtown or wherever your hotel is in the city.

To get from Munich to Nuremberg, you can take the plane (another 100 euros) or the ICE (high speed train), at about 50 euros the non-refundable promo ticket.

Rating: ★★★★½

Accommodation

The first time I was in Nuremberg, I stayed at a rather shady Mozart Hotel, an experience I don’t want to repeat. Fortunately, at my other trips I decided to use big chain hotels – both Accor and BestWestern have hotels for all budgets throughout Bavaria. This makes Germany compete win France at the number and variety of chain hotels.

You can safely pick a hotel in the suburbs of Munich for example, as S-Bahn service is regular and almost always on time.

Rating: ★★★★☆

What to see

Nuremberg

Nuremberg is a little on the downside when it comes to sightseeing – in fact, except the Castle and a few small museums, there is not much to see. However, if you’re interested in Nazi reminders, you can take the tram to the suburbs for some WWII-related places. In downtown, you will find the famous “Way of Human Rights“.

See the Wikivoyage article for details.

Human rights way
Human rights way
Tramvaiul-metrou
The tram sometimes becomes a metro here…
Nuremberg 2009
Castelul
The Nuremberg castle

Full collection of Nuremberg Photos at Flickr

Munich

Munich, on the other hand is a jewel of old architecture (as with many German cities, some of it was rebuilt after WWII) mixed with amazing 20th century architecture like the Olympic area and the BMW Museum and building.

Downtown

IMG_0157
IMG_0159
IMG_0242
Many bikes on a pedestrian road
IMG_0241
Metro (or U-Bahn)
IMG_0261
The palace (Rezidenz)
IMG_0258
Odeonplatz

Panoramic Views

IMG_0230
TV tower – from the cathedral’s tower
IMG_0228
Panoramic View. To the right of the picture you can see the BMW headquarters.

Museums

IMG_0175
IMG_0182
IMG_0186
Hyperinflation before the War meant stamping the money instead of reprinting.

The BMW Museum

(Almost) Everything in Munich revolves around BMW. So it makes sense for them to have a huge museum, just across the street from the huge factory and headquarters. As a note, the BMW headquarters are registered as a historic monument in Germany.
Sediul BMW
BMW headquarters
IMG_0274
The museum’s building
IMG_0275
The first exhibits: the classic BMW 326
IMG_0278
…next to the future fuel cell…
IMG_0281
…and electric cars.
IMG_0286
IMG_0359
BMW started with planes, the went on to produce motorcycles, cars and now even bikes.
IMG_0323
They also have an impressive F1 tradition, both in the past…
IMG_0325
…and present
And all that because of their great engines:
IMG_0380
IMG_0381

IMG_0404
The car above misses a red button. Can you guess where it should be?
IMG_0406
Well, probably in the gear lever, it’s a Bond car after all, right?

I’m ending the BMW Museum tour with one of the great-looking BMW art-cars. This one from Esther Mahlangu (1991)
IMG_0451

More great photos from the BMW museum and Munich at Flickr

Rating: ★★★★★

Alternatives

Any City Break in Europe will probably do it – just find a cheap plane ticket and go for it. We’ve already covered Prague, London, Lyon among others on this blog.

Overall Rating: ★★★★½

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America 2012

Posted by Strainu | Filed under Weekend Trips

Following closely the Asia 2011 story, here comes another trip-report: Istanbul, Washington and NY during summer 2012 (only in Romanian).

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Asia 2011

Posted by Strainu | Filed under Weekend Trips

At the express request of the public and almost a year late, I decided to publish the story of my trip to Asia last fall. The first part of the story is already available online at my tourist blog (Romanian only).

In all, there are 6 parts that will be published in the next 2 weeks at the same address. Next month we’ll have another article about the US! Stick around, it will be fun.

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Veliko Tarnovo Sound & Light Show

Posted by Strainu | Filed under Weekend Trips

You HAVE to see it if you go through the area…

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Extended Weekend: Băile Tușnad (more stuff)

Posted by Strainu | Filed under Weekend Trips

Versiunea română aici.

I told you last year about the wonderful time we had at Băile Tușnad. This year, we decided to return to that part of the country to run and to do some hiking. You will find the practical information in the older article, so I won’t return to that.

Zona Tusnad - Sf. GheorgheMasivul Puturosu

There are a whole lot of trails in the volcanic mountains around Tușnad (see the maps above), but since we only had a half-day at our disposal, we decided to concentrate on two parts: Tinovul Mohoș (the Mohoș Marsh) and Masivul Puturosu (Puturosu -Smelly- mountain) with its sulfurous caves and its own Marsh, called Buffogo.

Tinovul Mohoș is a “reversed marsh”, as the guide put it: at the last volcanic eruption in the region, a layer of solidified lava landed on a lake. On this layer, small plants began to grow, forming an ever thicker layer of soil. The soil is much like a sponge – if you step on it, a hole appears, wPlanta carnivorăhich quickly fills with water. Depending on its thickness, different plants can grow on it: at the edge of the lake grow real trees, while in the middle only small pines and flowers can survive. What’s interesting is that one of the species of plant here is carnivore (see the photo on the right). The small drops on it are the poison that dissolves the insects it consumes.

The access to this area is only allowed with a guide. The tours leave every hour and cost 3 RON (1,5 for children). Consider another 5 RON/car for parking.

The other area we visited is accessible from the Best Western hotel in Balvanyos. Take the road from Bixad to Sf. Ana, but instead of turning left at the crossroad, turn right and go for another 2 km, then park at the hotel. From there, just follow the track marked with a blue circle (see the second map above). It will take you to all the interest points on that mountain.

Unlike most of the peaks around it, Puturosu Mountain (1143 m) is formed mostly by sedimentation, with some areas, like the 60m wall near the Sulfurous Cave, where magma intruded during the last volcanic eruption.

The gas emanation from the mountain are the southernmost appearance of the volcanic elements in the Carpathians. Unlike other similar emanations, this one does not only contains carbon dioxide, but also hydrogen sulfide, which is responsible for the yellow deposits on the walls of the caves – see the images below. The gas is present to about 1m from the ground (as high as the color on the walls 🙂 ), and it has an almost instantaneous effect if you go below that height.

If you take the trail around the mountain clockwise, the first cave is also the most famous one, called simply “The Sulfurous Cave” (the first image from the left). It’s an old sulfur  mine. When smelling the level of gas, one can’t help wonder how were the miners surviving in that hole?

Peștera sulfuroasă20100606-IMG_3216Tinovul Buffogo

Going forward around the mountain, you will get to a second cave, called Timsós Cave (the image from the middle). This one has a smaller opening, but is much deeper, and it goes down vertically, which means it is filled with poisonous gas.

From there on, the trail becomes very narrow and slippery. People with fear of heights should avoid it. During rainy periods, you should be well prepared if you are going that way. If you’re unsure, it’s better to go back and take the other way around the mountain.

If you continue, you will end up going to a forest so dense it will remind you of all the jungle movies you have ever seen. 🙂

In the end, you will reach a new crossroad. If you go to the left, you return to the hotel. It’s much more interesting to go forward, to the Buffogó Marsh. This is much smaller than Mohoș Marsh, but the water is much closer to the surface, and there is no guide. This means that you will end up full of mud, but it’s also much more fun.

The flowers in the Marsh are the same as in Mohoș, but a striking difference are the gases that escape from the water, making it look like it boils (the picture from the right).

After you’ve had enough of the mud, go back to the crossroad and take the trail back to the hotel. On the way, don’t forget to stop by the Birds’ Cemetery and the Killer Cave.  The cemetery is a valley filled with gas, where many birds, but also mammals have died. The Killer Cave, just next to it, is the biggest of all the caves on the mountain. It’s called Killer because there is no sulfur deposit on the cave walls, which means there is no warning on the gases inside. You can still see dead bats inside if you have a light with you.

From now on, the rest of the road is just going around the mountain and ending at the hotel.

At the end of the trip, you can return and enjoy a panorama of the Sf. Ana lake:

Panoramă Sf. Ana

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Extended Weekend: Prague

Posted by Strainu | Filed under Weekend Trips

Versiunea română aici.

The road
Map

Because we are talking this time about a more distant destination, the transport will be made by plane. The Czech airlines, CSA, has 2 flights daily from Bucharest Otopeni to Prague Ruzyne, one early in the morning and one in the afternoon. Prices are usually pretty high, but you can get a “City break” package from tourist agencies at excellent prices (for details, see the accomodation section below).

From the airport, there is a bus to the nearest metro station, which costs 26 CZK (the usual fare for Prague). From there, the metro should take you anywhere your hotel is.

Rating: ★★★★½

Accommodation

The best price to visit Prague is by choosing a “City Break” offer from tourist agencies. All of them sell the same package, from OK tours, which start from 199 EUR for flight + 3 nights in a hotel + breakfast. Of course, prices vary by the hotel. The hotels in the offer are:

  • Hotel OLYMPIC TRISTAR ***
  • Hotel ORION ***
  • Hotel SIBELIUS ***
  • Hotel U KRIZE ***
  • Hotel CHRISTIE ****

We chose the Olympic tristar, which is a little far from downtown, but with excellent public transport access. The building itself is a “classical” communist block, much like Romanian University dormitories, with small rooms and old furniture.

However, the rooms were clean, there was a TV and shower in the room and the breakfast was decent.

Rating: ★★★★☆

What to see

There is a whole lot to be seen in Prague, except the major tourist attractions. You should go through the more modern neighborhoods, like the 18th century buildings around the television tower with kids climbing on its side. They give you a different perspective on the city than the downtown. Or perhaps you would want to go follow on the footstepts of Kafka, the famous Czech writer, or the infamous soldier Svejk.

Turnul de televiziuneDSC07381

Of course, you shouldn’t miss the Prague Castle, the Jewish quarter (where you will find quite a few different nations actually, perhaps more than in other parts of the city) or Staré Město (the old city), including the astronomical watch.

Castelul PragaCeasul Astronomic

The Carol Bridge is a city on it’s own, with it’s many painters and souvenirs vendors. It is also the place to start if you are looking for a river trip. They’re a bit expensive compared with other European cities, but it’s well worth it. I recommend the small wood boats from Carol’s bridge instead of the large, impersonal metal boats that depart from other places on the river.

DSC09073DSC07536

On the other hand, you should avoid the museums, as they are unusually empty. For instance, the National Museum is a monster building, but the permanent exhibition would probably fit in the Military Museum from Bucharest.

DSC07562DSC07415

Rating: ★★★★★

Alternatives

Wien and Budapest seem likely replacements for those of you who already know Prague. The Hungarian airline, Malev, has an offer much like CSA’s, but the price is a little bit higher.

Overall Rating: ★★★★½

Links

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Extended weekend: Băile Tuşnad

Posted by Strainu | Filed under Weekend Trips

Versiunea română aici.

The road
Map

The quality of the roads are very different. Until Braşov the DN1 or DN1A are pretty good. So is the road from Braşov until Sfântu Gheorghe, although this portion has an unusually noisy overcoat. After that, there are plenty of potholes and the average speed is very low. The trip takes 4-5 hours by car.

By train, the trip takes 4.5-6 hours. There are a few direct trains from Bucharest, but most of the trains getting to Tuşnad leave from Braşov.

Rating: ★★★½☆

Accommodation

There are plenty of private homes that offer accomodation, both in Băile Tuşnad and in neighboring villages. Most of them offer mediocre quality, but there are some good places to stay. There are also a few hotels left from the communist era for the most picky clients.

Rating: ★★½☆☆

What to see

There are a number of tourist trails from Tuşnad and the neighboring villages. You can go to the Sfânta Ana Lake by foot (3.5-4h) or to a sightseeing tower (15-30min.) from where you can see the whole Olt valley. There is also a cross you can visit, but the trail is pretty steep, so make sure you’re fit before going there.

In the city you have the Tuşnad sources, famous for their healing capacity and the Ciucaş Lake, which is little more than a poorly-maintained park with a pond in the middle.

Lacul CiucaşLacul Sf. AnaPe drumul dinspre Lacul Sf. AnaValea oltuluiTurnul

(Pictures made by Cathy and used with permission)

Rating: ★★★☆☆

Alternatives

  • Sighişoara is a little further, but better known than Tuşnad.
  • In the same area, you can visit any number of hungarian towns or Târgu Mureş

Overall Rating: ★★★☆☆

Links

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Weekend Trip: Buzău – Meledic, Muddy Volcanoes, Siriu Dam, Eagles’ Lake

Posted by Strainu | Filed under Weekend Trips

The road
Map

The quality of the roads on our path are very different. Until Buzău there is a European road, with 1.5 lanes. No problems there, most of the slower drivers go on the emergency lane, so you can overtake them without passing the middle of the road. Beware of the fixed and mobile radars.

From Buzău up until 10 km from the Meledic Plateau, the road is narrow, but in pretty good state. The same can be said about the road to the Siriu Dam.

The rest of the way is bad to desastrous. You have everything from country tracks to (theoretically) paved roads, where the asphalt is just a distant memory. If you want to get to the Live Fire (near Meledic), I strongly recommend a 4×4, even if any car will get you there if you hate it hard enough. 😛

Rating: ★★½☆☆

Accommodation

You can find hotels in Buzău and cabans and local homes on the rest of the road. The prices range from affordable to medium, but the quality is poor to none.

Rating: ★☆☆☆☆

What to see

Starting from Buzău, you can go to the Meledic plateau, home to some interesting salt formations, several salt caves (which hold some length records) and the only sweet water lake in the world to be formed on a salt mountain.

MeledicMeledicMeledicMeledicMeledic

From there you can go to the Muddy Volcanoes. It’s perhaps the best known tourist attraction in Buzău County. Beware not to fall in one of them. 😛 They’re not hot, so you’ll probably survive (if there is someone to pull you out), but you’ll have to be hosed before the mud dries.

Vulcanii NoroioşiVulcanii Noroioşi

The Siriu dam is one of the biggest rockfill dams in Romania. It’s placed on the Buzău River, near Siriu. From there, you can escalate the Podu Calului, Siriu and Monteoru mountains. It’s also the starting point to the shortest road to the Eagle’s Lake.

Barajul SiriuBarajul Siriu

Rating: ★★★½☆

Alternatives

A weekend at Horezu, in Oltenia, could be more to your liking.

Overall Rating: ★★½☆☆

Links

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Weekend Trip: Transfăgărăşan and Bâlea

Posted by Strainu | Filed under Weekend Trips

Versiunea română aici.

The road
Map

The fastest way to get to Bâlea from Bucharest is through Piteşti, Curtea de Argeş and Transfăgărăşan (DN67). However, we wanted to go all the length of the Transfăgărăşan, so we went through Braşov, then on DN1 to Sibiu, and we turned left on DN67 near Cârţişoara.

To return from Bâlea, we continued over the mountains to Curtea de Argeş, Piteşti and finally Bucureşti.

The roads are all right, if we ignore the never-ending works on DN1 between Braşov and Sibiu. DN67 is in excellent condition considering the fact that it’s a mountain road closed for 5 month a year.

Rating: ★★★☆☆

Accommodation

If you want to sleep at Bâlea, your best chance is to bring a tent with you and hope it doesn’t rain. If you’re not the nature type, there are 2 cottages at the lake and 1 hotel at the waterfall.

Rating: ★☆☆☆☆

What to see

Some of the trails can be dangerous, and some are closed during winter. You should always have proper equipment and respect the warnings signs. It’s for your own good! If you need help, you can call 0-SALVAMONT (0725826668 – the mountain rescue HQ) or 112 (emergency services).

If you come from DN1 like us, you can leave your car at the Bâlea Cascadă hotel (you can’t miss it, there are lots of cars around). From there you can go to the lake by foot (only if you’re in good shape) or by cable. The ticket is 15 lei. By foot, there are 3 different routes: 2h30, 3h30 and 4h30 long.

Once you get to the top (over 2000m), you can admire the glacial lake and the impressive mountains around it. If you still feel up to it, you can go on another trip, for example to the Capra (Goat) lake.

When you’re done exhausting yourself, you can continue through the tunnels to Muntenia. If there is still time, you can stop in Curtea de Argeş to see the remains of the first capital of Valachia.

BaleaBaleaBaleaBaleaBaleaBaleaBaleaBalea

Rating: ★★★★½

Alternatives

From Râmnicu-Vâlcea you can go left in DN67 to Târgu Jiu and visit some monasteries and some caves.

Overall Rating: ★★★☆☆

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Weekend Trip: Sibiu and the Olt Valley

Posted by Strainu | Filed under Weekend Trips

Versiunea română aici.

The road
Map

To get to Sibiu from Bucharest you need to follow the A1/E81 to Piteşti (115km), pass on the newly built ring road and continue on the E81 to Râmnicu Vâlcea (68km), Cozia (17km) and finally Sibiu (90km), for a total of about 200km. The road is quite good, except for some parts of Dealu Negru where the road has collapsed and is currently being rebuilt. From Cozia to Sibiu there are another 100km of not-so-good roads. There are also some sections where the circulation takes place on 1 lane, controlled by traffic lights.

The trip takes about 4 hours without speeding. You could probably do it in 3h15-3h30 with a radar detector.

If you go by train, the trip takes about 5h30 and costs from 45 to 60 lei.

Rating: ★★★½☆

Accommodation

Accomodation in Sibiu is expensive and quite bad. I can’t really recommend any place, except the Old Town Hostel. It would be much better if you searched for hosting in the villages near Sibiu. You could try getting some hosting from Antrec, the Romanian branch of Eurogites.

Rating: ★★☆☆☆

What to see

The pedestrian area of Sibiu is interesting. You can see numerous old houses from the 16th and 17th centuries. Piaţa Mare and Piaţa Mică (The Big and Small squares) are linked by small streets and stairs. In the same area you can find the famous Podul Minciunilor (The Liars Bridge).

All the city’s museums are there: the Bruckental Museum, the historical museum, the Lutheran Church, etc. The Towers and citadel, which limit the old town are also nice to visit.

If you’re in town for a little longer, you might want to visit the Astra Museum, near Sibiu.

DSC04763DSC04755

DSC04760DSC04754

Rating: ★★★★½

Alternatives

From Râmnicu-Vâlcea you can go left in DN67 to Târgu Jiu and visit some monasteries and some caves.

Overall Rating: ★★★½☆

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Weekend Trip: Lyon

Posted by Strainu | Filed under Weekend Trips

Versiunea română aici.

Transport
Map

There are TGV trains from Paris to Lyon every hour or so. You also have planes and a highway between the two cities.

Rating: ★★★★½

Accommodation

There are many low-cost hotels in the city, including in the city center. Because we were three, we chose one of the low cost hotels (Premiere Classe or Etap). With the city tourism fee, this got as to 22 euros/person for a modern, air-conditioned room in downtown Lyon. This solution has only one disadvantage: one of the three beds is above the other two.

Rating: ★★★½☆

What to see

The first thing to see is the Fourvière hill, part of Unesco’s World Heritage Sites. You can take the funicular to the Roman amphitheater or to the XIXth century cathedral. At the bottom of the hill you have the Old Lyon (Vieux Lyon) – famous for its traboules (small passageways between buildings). A guided tour could be useful here, because you can easily get lost or miss some cool traboules.

Near the old city there is the Presqu’île, home to the shopping quarter, the city hall, opera and some museums.

Another hill worth seeing is the Croix Rousse, home to the world famous painted walls. If you are at the right distance, you might even mistake them for a real street. There is an interesting story about respect between taggers and the painters who made the walls. In one of the walls there was a real postal box that integrated in the painting. After a month from the inauguration, the box was full of graffiti, but the wall was clean – and it still is. It’s a good example of how modern art can prevent degradations in the modern cities.

If you have time, don’t miss the Film Museum – Lyon is the city were the Lumière brothers projected the first movie over 110 years ago.

If you want more info on what to see and where you can find good food, check out the second link below.

Rating: ★★★★☆

Alternatives

Think Bruxelles, Toulouse, Marseille or Strasbourg.

Overall Rating: ★★★★☆

Links

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Extended Weekend: Côte d’Azur

Posted by Strainu | Filed under Weekend Trips

Versiunea română aici.

Transport

Map

The Côte d’Azur is far from Paris (about 1000 km), so if you leave by car, make sure you have 2 drivers. A much easier way is to go by train – 6 hours by TGV or 10 hours by night train. I chose the latter solution as it allowed my to save a day.

Between the resorts you have bus services (slow but cheap – 1 euro) or local trains (more expensive but much quicker). For instance, between Cannes and Antibes you make almost 1h by bus and 12 minutes by train.

Rating: ★★★½☆

Accommodation

You can find accommodation for all budgets on the Côte d’Azur. However, you should consider booking at least 2 to 4 weeks in advance during the summer, as there are many tourists in the area.

If you’re looking for a low budget restaurant, don’t bother looking near the beach. Instead, try near the fishing ports – you might have pleasant surprises. 🙂

Rating: ★★★★☆

What to see

Cannes, Antibes and Nice are all alike, except for the “Croisette”. The “Croisette” is almost the ultimate in showing off. In one end you can also see the famous “Palais des Congres” where the film festival is held. Further down the street, you have the 4* and 5* hotels on one side, the private beaches of those hotels on the other side, and in the middle, 100k+ euro cars. 🙂 However, you can also find some lower-budget restaurants on the beach, but their prices are still above average. The beach is from sand, which is very unusual in France. This is not the case in Nice and Antibes, where you have to stay on rocks.

The rest of Cannes is just an ordinary resort, with shops, hotels and all the rest. There are some museums, like the Musée de la Castre, sitting in the former Castle of Cannes (photo 1) or the Musée de la Mer (Sea Museum). From the tourist port of Cannes you can visit the Lérin Islands, that were protecting the port in the Middle Ages – Saint Marguerite and Saint Honorat. I went to the larger one, Saint Marguerite (photo 3 and 4). It’s covered with a pine forest and hosts a village and the Fort Royal, home to the Sea Museum and a youth hostel. The museum is not very large nor very interesting. The good part is that it’s free for students. If you missed the last morning boat and need to spend some time on the island, you can visit the natural reservation on the eastern side of the island or the WWII bunkers.
Chateau de CannesDSC04613DSC04662DSC04654

Nice is known for the half-moon shape of it’s beach. I can’t really understand the fun in spending the day laying on rocks, but hey…France is a free country 🙂 The main attraction except the beach is the Colline du Château, a mountain top at the end of the Angel’s Bay where the town’s castle and cathedral once stood. From the top, you can see the port, with the ferries to Corsica (photo 5) as well as the whole bay, as far as the airport (photo 6).

The pedestrian district, comprising the Promenade and several inland streets is home to some interesting buildings like the enormous Acropolis convention center/multipurpose hall and the very odd Louis Nucéra Library (photo 8). Another place to visit in Nice is the Garibaldi Place.
NisaNisaNisaNisa

Antibes was once as important as Cannes or Nice. Nowadays it seems a little “sleepy”, the main interest spot being the port.

Even if Monaco is generally considered as a single city, that’s not true – the northern part is called Monte Carlo, while to the south there are other cities. Due to the lack of time, we only made a half-day walk in the country, looked at the Prince’s Palace then left back for Antibes.
Rating: ★★½☆☆

Alternatives

If you don’t have 3 days, you might consider going from Paris to the Atlantic Ocean. Another destination could be the Northern Sea or even the African seaside if you go by plane.

Overall Rating: ★★★½☆

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Extended Weekend: Benelux – Luxembourg, Utrecht, Amsterdam, Bruges

Posted by Strainu | Filed under Weekend Trips

Versiunea română aici.

Transport

Map

There are 3 ways to get around:

  • a car – which we choose; we rented a car from Sixt and left for the “Autoroute du Nord”; the highway is expensive and not as good as you’d expect in France (still better than the ones in Romania, of course) and pretty much “average” in Belgium and Holland.
  • a bus – Eurolines has routes between all this cities; the trip takes forever – count 7 hours between Paris and Amsterdam.
  • Thalys – the high speed train that liks Paris, Bruxelles, Koln and Amsterdam + regional trains from there.

We had some problems with the GPS in Utrecht, due to the road works in progress which were changing the look of the city. The rest of the road was smooth. You should consider about 4 euros/h or 30euros/day for parking in Holland.

Rating: ★★★½☆

Accommodation

The initial idea was to spend 1 night in Liege, 2 nights in Amsterdam and one in Bruges. Due to the lack of time, we gave up on the nights in Liege and Bruges. In Liege we found a Premiere Classe hotel downtown and in Bruges a small hostel, both at about 20 euros/person/night.

Amsterdam was a whole different story. The hostels were both expensive and fully booked 2 weeks ahead. As a back-up solution, we decided to stay in Utrecht, about 35 km from Amsterdam. We chose the Strowis Hostel, which delivered all the promises from the site. We particularely liked the back yard and the hosts. 🙂

Rating: ★★★★☆

The cities

Luxembourg is a mix between a tourist and a business city. It tries to do both roles as good as possible and in my opinion it works. However, not everybody agreed – some of my friends found it too “official”.
Luxemburg in a strange light on deviantart

Amsterdam is of course known for its canals, bikes and drugs. I personally found it to be a dirty city (the only one in western Europe who could be compared with Bucharest) and hard to live in if you have any kind of prejudices – and how many of us can honestly say they have none? On the other hand, I just loved the museums; perhaps was it because I am attracted to Flemish painters because of their choice of colors or because of the nice contrast between the old artworks and the modern layout.
DSC03829DSC03830

Utrecht was much more “quiet” than Amsterdam. Despite the same active night life, the city seemed to always me asleep. I’m sorry we only had a few hours to explore it.

Bruges is the medieval city by excellence. Between the old churches and houses you walk on small stone-paved, car-free (at least in the city center) streets. The downside is that once you see one of those, the rest are pretty much alike.
DSC03833DSC03840
Rating: ★★☆☆☆

Alternatives

Choose 1 city from Holland, 1 medieval city and a very small country (like Lichtenstein, Andorra, San Marino or Vatican) and you’re all set. Pretty cool, huh? 😀

Overall Rating: ★★★☆☆

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One day trip: Atlantic Coast

Posted by Strainu | Filed under Weekend Trips

Versiunea română aici.

Transport
Map

The road from Paris to Rouen and further to Le Havre is on highway. Unfortunately, we went on a holiday so the road was packed. To get to Etretat and Fecamp, two resorts on the Atlantic coast, you need to get off the highway and onto secondary roads. In the resorts there were insufficient parking places compared with the number of cars.

If you want to get to the Atlantic by train, you can get to Le Havre by Corail trains. There are some TGVs to Rennes and Brest, in Bretagne.

Rating: ★★★★☆

Food

Like anywhere in France, you can find good food and excellent wine just about anywhere. However, unlike other cities, the prices were quite high. As we were on a budget, we settled for supermarket food. 😛


Rating: ★★★☆☆

Sightseeing

Rouen, once the capital of Normandy, is a city famous mostly for it’s cathedral. The area around it is full of interesting old houses. What we couldn’t quite understand is why there was a 60s glass-and-concrete building doing just in front of the cathedral?

The city also has some interesting museums and other churches, but we skipped them due to the lack of time.
Oceanul AtlanticOceanul Atlantic

The small roads between Rouen and the seaside are worth the detour by themselves. Old stone houses and windmills are common in the region.

In Fecamp, there isn’t much to do besides sunbathing. Unfortunately, the beach is made of stones, so you should bring a mattress instead of a towel.

Etretat has, besides the rocky beach, some old WW2 defenses now eaten by the ocean when the tide is high. When the water is low, you can visit them and even go through a passage in the rocky cliffs to some “hidden” beaches. You can (if you’re in good shape) then climb up the cliff for a spectacular view of the coast.

Casinos are an important attraction in both cities, although the look a bit “rusty” and can’t be compared to the palaces of the Cote d’Azur.

Oceanul AtlanticOceanul AtlanticOceanul AtlanticOceanul Atlantic

Rating: ★★★★½

Alternatives

The Mediteranean Sea is quite far from Paris compared to the ocean, but it remains nevertheless an important alternative.

Overall Rating: ★★★★☆

Links

No links here, sorry.

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Extended Weekend: Loire Valley

Posted by Strainu | Filed under Weekend Trips

Transport

Map

To visit the Loire Valley, you’re better off to stay in one of the big cities, Tours and Blois.

The road from Paris to Tours is quite good. The downside there are many route changes and the itinerary has some toll portions. It will probably take you about 2 hours to get there. Blois is on this route, about 1h30 from Paris.

We have chosen to stay in Tours and get there by TGV. The trip takes little over an hour from Paris Montparnasse and 59 minutes from Massy. Unfortunately there are only a few trains that go in the Tours main station. Most of them stop in a small station on the outskirts of the city, and from there you have to take a regional train. Besides, the trains are a little old. It’s not particularly pleasant to hear the outer shell strongly vibrate at 300km/h.

To get to Blois, and even to Tours if you would like to save some money, you can take some classic trains from Paris Austerlitz. The trip takes about 2h to Blois and 30 more minutes to Tours.

To get around the valley the best is to have a car. If you don’t, you have to get around with local trains (TER) or with local buses. The trains are fast and quite expensive, while the buses are slow, cheap and few and far apart. Be careful, in the weekends the transport sucks (there are fewer trains and no buses).

Rating: ★★★☆☆

Accommodation

The Loire Valley has accommodations for all the budgets, from campings and the cheapest hostels to 5***** palaces and even reconverted castles. Tours is in the center of the region so it will probably be your first choice, but Blois has its own charm and nothing compares with the experience you will have if you decide to spend some days in one of the villages in the region.

Rating: ★★★★☆

The castles

I grouped the castles by their region. You should be able to visit all the castles in a group during a single day, without running to much.

Chenonceau and Amboise

Chenonceau and Amboise are placed more or less on the route between Tours and Blois. The first castle I visited, Chenonceau remained my favourite. It was built in the 16th century and it is called “Le chateau des Dames” (The Ladies’ Castle) because it was owned by the wife (Catherine de Medicis) and the mistress (Diane de Poitiers) of the French king Henri II. The castle spreads over the Cher River, so the view is guaranteed from the ball room, which is over 60m long. The domain and the gardens are pretty impressive, although not comparable with the ones at Versailles.

Amboise is different. It was built from an old fortress and the successive kings added new buildings or destroyed old ones, so the current castle is formed from 2 very different wings. This castle gave me a very pleasant surprise, as it was the only one which had a brochure in Romanian. Unfortunately, neither the castle nor the domain were impressive.

Entry fees were 10 euros in full, 7,50 euros for students at each castle.

ChenonceauxAmboise

Rating: ★★★★☆

Blois, Chambord et Cheverny

The Blois castle is the most intriguing of them all. It’s made from 3 different wings, of which the most beautiful is unfinished. It has an impressive side on the road and an interesting collection of weapons.

Chambord is arguably the most famous castle of them all. It’s a huge royal palace surrounded by an endless park. The village of Chambord is practically a touristic attraction in itself, being pretty much unchanged from the 17th century. This castle houses the famous double helix staircase, by which 2 people could see each other but never meet.

Tickets for students are 5 euros at Blois and 7,5 at Chambord.

BloisChambord

Rating: ★★★★½

Chinon et Langeais

Chinon is more of a fortress than a castle. It’s made of three distinct parts separated by ditches. It’s currently undergoing a huge restauration which will see the main tower rebuilt from scratch. This decision is unfortunate, in my opinion, as it takes most of the charm of the castle. Chinon also has a museum dedicated to Jeanne d’Arc.

Langeais is a small castle not to far from Chinon. It’s the castles where Charles II and Anne de Bretagne married, making Bretagne a part of France. The most interesting thing here is the drawbridge, which is lowered each morning.

ChinonLangeais

Rating: ★★★½☆

Luynes et Tours

Luynes is a private residence and can only be visited with a guide. Its charm is given by the small histories told by the guide and the many family pictures. It’s placed in a suburb of Tours and you can get there by bus.

The Tours castle is the city’s art museum. I personally found it totally uninteresting.

Luynes

Rating: ★★☆☆☆

Alternatives

Well, there isn’t really an alternative to the many castles in the Loire Valley. Perhaps the English countryside? If you know an area with such a high concentration of castles, please let me know.

Overall Rating: ★★★½☆

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Extended Weekend: London

Posted by Strainu | Filed under Weekend Trips

Transport
Map

There are three ways to get from Paris to London:

  • the plane – there are three companies operating flights between the two cities: Air France, British Airways and Easyjet. The price difference between “normal” and “low-cost” airlines is minimal. This is the method we chose as it is simple and cheaper than the train if you book at the last minute. The flight takes an hour, but you must be at the airport at least an hour before the takeoff. If you have more time, it might be cheaper to go by train to Tours and take a Ryanair flight from there.
  • the train – the Eurostar, that is. The trip takes about 2 and a half hours, you get to see more than from the plane, but it’s incredibly expensive if you don’t book a long time ahead.
  • the ferry – there are several companies with ferry services from Dover to Calais, with prices starting at 13 euros per passenger. You could argue that this is the cheapest way to go to London, but it’s also the longest, as you have to come with commuting times from the ferry terminal to the railway stations.

As an interesting observation, it must be said that a flight from Bucharest to London (which takes almost 4 hours) is just 25% more expensive than a flight from Paris to London (1h).
Rating: ★★★☆☆

Accommodation
London is a huge city, with thousands of hotels and hostels. Nevertheless, if you don’t book in time you might have trouble finding cheap hotels. We stayed at Charlie’s Bed and Breakfast, an interesting little hotel in northern London recommended by our predecessors at Supelec. It was a very comfortable room with old-fashioned bed covers and high colorful windows. It was all very clean and you could find lots of tourist information near the reception. The only problem was the bathroom, because the window wasn’t closing.

Rating: ★★★★☆

Museums
Public museums are free in London, and they’re a lot of them. Near the world famous Harrods shop you have an Art Museum, the Science Museum and the Natural History Museum.

Due to the lack of time we only visited the Science Museum – 6 floors of scientific models, games and exhibitions. You could learn anything from the debris found on the bottom of Tamisa to how the Moon lander looked like. Pretty impressive.

The British Museum was another point of interest we couldn’t miss. I personally wanted to compare it to the Louvre, but I found there is no comparison possible. The Louvre tends to put art from the same period together, while the British gathers art by the geographic area it was created in. I wandered about the whole day in the museum but still missed some rooms and overlooked others. If you have the time, go in at least 2 days at the British Museum.

DSC02569DSC02585
Rating: ★★★★☆

Sightseeing

There is a lot to see in London. You can start with a walk along the Thames river, then get on the London Eye to have a aerial view of the British capital and to decide what you want to see. Due to the lack of time, we limited ourselves to Big Ben, the Buckingham Palace (with the guard change, of course) and some commercial avenues.

DSC02510DSC02683
Rating: ★★★☆☆

Alternatives
Most Western European capitals can be easily reached from Paris: Berlin, Madrid, Luxembourg, Bruxelles, Amsterdam… you only have the problem of choice.

Overall Rating: ★★★½☆

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One Day Trip: Versailles

Posted by Strainu | Filed under Weekend Trips

Versiunea română aici.

Transport
Map

It’s not really worth it to go to Versailles by car from Paris (or from anywhere in Ile-de-France for that matter). The roads are always full and parking spaces near the castle are hard to find.

Your best bet is to leave your car at home/the hotel and take the RER (suburban train) C to Versailles. There are 3 railway stations in the city, but any of them will do, as they’re pretty close to each other. Just choose the one closer to your location.

The RER trains are not renowned for their safety, especially in the evening, so you should try to finish your visit before the night falls.

Rating: ★★★★½

Food

The restaurants from the Versailles domain (there are two of them I believe) are quite expensive. If you don’t want to leave the domain, you should pack some snacks or buy them from the cafeteria.

Outside the Court, like everywhere in France, you can find numerous small restaurants with excellent food and wine. If you are on a budget, you can order the “Menu du jour” (Menu of the day), which can cost you from 9 to 20 Euros (depending on the location). Service is usually included, but if you were particularly impressed, you can leave a 5-10% tip.


Rating: ★★★½☆

Sightseeing

Well, that’s pretty obvious, isn’t it? After all, why would you go to Versailles if not to see the Versailles Castle and gardens? And if you’re wondering how much it will cost you, I can tell you that in march 2008, the prices were 13,5 euros for the main palace, 5 euros for the Trianon castle and gardens. The main gardens were free except in the evenings when there are water shows. Of course, there are reductions for kids and combined tickets (16 euros). Be ready for a 1 to 2 hours of queuing (in the low season).

The main castle is impressive at least. You go through the king’s, the queen’s and the children’s apartments, plus the world famous “Galerie des Glaces” (“The Hall of Mirrors”). Once a day, there is a special visit to see the “Royal suite”. In plus, there are many temporary exhibitions, but you have to buy a separate ticket for those. The order of the rooms is clear, there is no chance of getting lost. However, the constant crowding created by the groups is quite annoying.

In order to truly appreciate the gardens, you should visit them between April and September, while they’re still green. It’s still interesting in winter, but the earth and sand trails combined with rain are not fabulous for your shoes.

DSC02425DSC02454DSC02478DSC02484

Rating: ★★★★★

Alternatives

The only alternative I can think about is the Louvre Museum. If you don’t have the time or the disposition, try any of the Paris Museums + a walk in the city.

Overall Rating: ★★★★½

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One Day Trip: Tours

Posted by Strainu | Filed under Weekend Trips

Versiunea română aici.

Transport
Map
The road from Paris to Tours is quite good. The downside there are many route changes and the itinerary has some toll portions. It will probably take you about 2 hours to get there.

We have chosen to get there by TGV. The trip takes little over an hour from Paris Montparnasse and 59 minutes from Massy. Unfortunately there are only a few trains that go in the Tours main station. Most of them stop in a small station on the outskirts of the city, and from there you have to take a regional train. Besides, the trains are a little old. It’s not particularly pleasant to hear the outer shell strongly vibrate at 300km/h.

Be careful, in the weekends the city transport sucks (the Sunday mornings no bus works).

Rating: ★★★★☆

Food
Like everywhere in France, you can find numerous small restaurants with excellent food and wine. If you are on a budget, you can order the “Menu du jour” (Menu of the day), which can cost you from 9 to 20 Euros (depending on the location). Service is included in most restaurants.

Do keep in mind that on weekends most of them will be closed. In fact, like in all small French cities, most of the shops will be closed on Sunday. We found a small “Brasserie” in Place de la Victoire which had a fabulous service and reasonable food.


Rating: ★★★★☆

Sightseeing
There is not much to see in Tours. Although the city is on the world famous Loire Valley, it’s castle is pretty much disappointing. It’s currently a sort of modern art museum, opened from 2 P.M.

The cathedral is very big (compared with other similar constructions), very well lit and overall quite impressive. It reminded me of the cathedral of Bruges rather than a french cathedral.

Other tourist attractions include the Loire River, the Art Museum and the City Zoo.

LoireCatedralaCatedralaPrimaria

Rating: ★★½☆☆

Alternatives

Other cities within an hour of TGV from Paris are: Lens, Le Mans, Dunkerque, Dijon, Valenciennes and even Bruxelles.

Overall Rating: ★★★½☆

Links

Sorry, no links available. Use google. 🙂

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Reporting live from Paris 🙂

Posted by Strainu | Filed under Weekend Trips

I’m currently living for 4 months in a small town near Paris. The main reason I’m here is to make my diploma project, but I couldn’t miss the chance to visit some of the wonderful places that France has to offer. So the “Weekend trips from Bucharest” category has become “Weekend trips” and there is a new sub-category called “From Paris”, were I will post about my trips in Europe.

I will also start a new type of article: “Extended Weekend” (3 days or more). Enjoy!

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One day Trip: Ploieşti

Posted by Strainu | Filed under Weekend Trips

Versiunea română aici.

The Road
Map

Ploieşti is just 60 km away from Bucureşti on DN1 (E60). The road is excellent. Depending on how crowded the road is, the trip should take between 45 minutes and an hour. If you choose to go by train, there are regular services (about half an hour to an hour apart). The trip takes 35 minutes with Rapid.

Rating: ★★★★★

Food


There are many restaurants in the city, each one has it’s specific food, but none of them stands out with something special.

Rating: ★★★☆☆

Sightseeing

There was one museum in particular that I remembered well – the Clock Museum which I had visited in a field trip with my primary school. My guide (which happened to be one of my colleagues) made me discover The County Museum and Halele (the old market), as well as the North Station, a railway station and historic monument.

I apologize for the quality of the photos, the light was fading and I lack a tripod.
Muzeul CeasuluiHalele PloiestiMuzeul CeasuluiGara de Nord, Ploiesti

Rating: ★★★½☆

Alternatives

If you don’t like Ploieşti or you finished visiting too early, you can try Vălenii de Munte or Târgovişte. They’re very close to each other and to Bucharest, so you don’t have to worry about transportation.

Overall Rating: ★★★★☆

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Two Days Trip: Medieval Castles and Fortified Towns – Braşov, Sighişoara, Râşnov, Bran

Posted by Strainu | Filed under Weekend Trips

Versiunea română aici.

The Road
Map

You can get from Bucharest to Sighişoara on E60 (DN1 until Braşov – 160km, then DN13 to Sighişoara – another 115km). The road is quite perfect, with the exception of the Ploieşti Ring and some parts of Prahova Valley. From Braşov to Râşnov and Bran you have to use DN73 (E574), which is in a pretty bad state.

Alternative route from Bucharest: Ploieşti – Predeal – Pârâul Rece – Râşnov on DN1 and DN73A. Be advised, DN73A will soon be repaired. The work is set to take 2 months, although some say it can’t be finished in less than 1 year.

Unfortunately, you can’t get to Bran or Râşnov by train. However, you can make the Bucureşti – Braşov – Sighişoara trip by train and then rent a car.

Rating: ★★★½☆

Accommodation

There are many villas and hotels in all the cities. The prices (especially in the Bran-Moeciu area) are a little higher than in other parts of the country. My advice would be to choose Braşov for the night, as it is in the middle of our target area, but any other town will work just fine, as you won’t have to drive more than 200 km.

Rating: ★★★☆☆

Castles

Braşov

The city of Braşov began building its fortress in 1395. Each guild built it’s own tower and in times of war, it was responsible for protecting that tower and the surrounding area. Braşov was, for a long time, the most powerful city in Transylvania. Today, only a few towers and parts of the wall remain, like the White tower and the Black Tower. There are also numerous old inns and churches.

The Black Church is the biggest Gothic cathedral east of Vienna and perhaps the best known tourist attraction in the city. You can find the 38m high church next to Tâmpa, the mountain overlooking the city. It’s known as black from 1689, when it was damaged in a big fire.

Sighişoara

Sighişoara is THE fortified town. Home to the Medieval Festival (in the last weekend of July), the city has gained an enormous popularity both in Romania and abroad. The old (fortified) part of Sighişoara is actually made up of two parts: the Upper Town and the Lower Town.

The Clock Tower (currently Sighişoara’s history museum) is the biggest of all the towers of the former fortress. The view from upstairs is impressive. There is a fee if you want to use your camera in the museum, but it doesn’t apply to the upper balcony. Tickets cost 5 RON for adults and 2.5 for students.

There are about 10 smaller towers dating from the 13th to the 17th century. Other museums (there is a common ticket for all of them): The Torture Chamber (where you can see various torture instruments from the Middle Age) and The Weapons Collection.

A remarkable construction, the biggest of its kind in Transylvania is the “Covered Staircase” which gives easier access to the High School and “The Church from the Hill”, especially on winter days. Today, only 175 steps remain. The ocher-colored house named “Casa Vlad Dracula”, where the Vlad the Impaler was born, is now a cozy restaurant. You can find inside Gothic-style furniture and serve good soups and traditional Romanian dishes.

In the Upper Town, you can admire the church with it’s beautiful statues and cemetery.

turnul cu ceasScara acoperita

Râşnov

The Citadel in Râşnov is special because it was built by peasants on a hill next to the village. It had houses for every family, as well as a church and a school. This way, the peasants could live there for a long time in case of a war.

It was recently restored by an Italian investor, but has now returned to the Local Council’s ownership. The entry fee is 10 lei.

In the museum, you can see some interesting things discovered in the fortress, from old weapons and torture instruments to old coins. If you’re lucky, you can have a free tour from one of the supervisors. He will tell you much more about the place than you need to know 🙂 Outside, there are some preserved homes, but unfortunately none has the interior restored.

There are lots of legends about the place. One of them states that the fountain was built by two Turkish prisoners in the 17th century. They were promised freedom if they finished the fountain, but were nevertheless killed after 17 years of hard work. Actually, the digging of the fountain (134 m deep) was decided in 1625, after the fortress was forced to surrender to Gabriel Batory in 1612 due to the lack of water. It was finished in 1640 and abandoned in 1850.

Cetatea Rasnov

Bran

The Bran castle is so well known for it’s link to Dracula that it doesn’t need an introduction. It was built as a customs point for the area by the town of Braşov in the 14th century. In the 20th century, it was owned by the Romanian royal family. During this period it was restored and modified to fit the taste of Queen Maria by the architect Karel Liman. Besides the Castle, you can also visit the Customs House and the Village Museum, both in the castle’s courtyard.

Alternatives

If you have the time, you might want to visit the Feldioara Fortress (21 km north of Braşov on the E60), Făgăraş Fortress (70 km east of Braşov on the E58), the Haller Castle in Horghiz (50 km north of Braşov on the E60) or the Racoş Castle (10 km south of Horghiz).

Cetate

Rating: ★★★★☆

Overall Rating: ★★★½☆

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Two Days trip: Prahova Valley – Sinaia, Buşteni, Predeal, Braşov

Posted by Strainu | Filed under Weekend Trips

Versiunea română aici.

The road
Map

Prahova Valley is on DN1 (E60), between Bucharest (120-140 km) and Braşov (25-45 km). The road is excellent, the only problems are on the Ploieşti ring and in Azuga. The speed limit is 70 km/h in the cities and 100km/h on open road. Beware, there are speed cameras all along the road.

You can also get there by train, from Bucharest Nord station.

Rating: ★★★★☆

Accommodation

There are some hotels in the region, and most of them have 3*, but you can find anything from 1* to 4*. If this is what you are looking for, here are some links for you (some websites are in Romanian): [1], [2], [3].

However, there is a much better way to spend a pleasant weekend on the Valley. For 20-30 € you can get a double room in one of the many villas in the region. Most of them offer a private bathroom and clean sheets, but little more.

Rating: ★★★★½

Hiking

Some of the trails can be dangerous, and some are closed during winter. You should always have proper equipment and respect the warnings signs. It’s for your own good! If you need help, you can call 0-SALVAMONT (0725826668 – the mountain rescue HQ) or 112 (emergency services).

Cascada Urlătoarea (“The Screaming Waterfall”)

You can get to it from Buşteni. The trip takes about an hour from downtown. The first 30 minutes (until you leave the city) are easy, but then you have a steep climb ahead of you. The last 15 minutes are a walk in the park…err, I mean wood 😀

The waterfall is impressive, and if you want to talk, you really have to scream. The sad part is that there are just too many tourists in the area, and the bottom of the waterfall is polluted by the beer cans kept cold by some local sellers, which, by the way, are the same people who should be looking after the waterfall.

Babele (Old ladies) and the Sphinx

Babele and the Sphinx are some rock formations on the Bucegi plateau, at almost 2000 m. You can get there from Buşteni by cable car or by foot (a 4 hour trip, closed during winter). If you go by foot, make sure you have the proper equipment for a (very) steep climb.

babeleSfinxul din bucegi
Images from Wikipedia.

The Caraiman Peak and Cross

The Heroes’ Monument (Crucea Eroilor Neamului) is a 28 m-high cross build on the Caraiman peak (2291m) to honor the Romanian heroes killed in the first World War. It’s an hour away from Babele.

Şapte scări (Seven Ladders)

It’s a beautiful canyon where you can get to the top by climbing seven ladders. You can get there from DN1 in Timişul de Sus. You can find lots of photos here or search google.

Other roads

There are many other interesting things to see. You can find below the maps from Pârâul Rece (near Predeal) and Buşteni.

p8100099.jpg img_7169.JPG

Rating: ★★★★☆

Visits

Peleş and Pelişor Palace, Sinaia

The two palaces are just a few minutes away from downtown Sinaia. They were built for the first Romanian kings, Carol I and Ferdinand, along with a chalet (Foişor), which isn’t open to public. The ticket prices are 15 lei for Peleş and 9 lei for Pelişor, with a 50% reduction for EURO<26 card owners and 2/3 reduction for Romanian students. If you get there by car, there is a 10 lei parking fee, but the parking is almost a km away from the museum.

Hunting Museum, Posada

The museum is placed on DN1, between the city of Comarnic and Sinaia. It holds many different collections, from stuffed animals to hunting trophies, most of them belonging to the Ceauşescu family.

Black Church, Braşov

The Black Church is the biggest Gothic cathedral east of Vienna. You can find the 38m high church in the city of Braşov. It’s known as black from 1689, when it was damaged in a big fire.

Ialomiţa Cave and Monastery

The Ialomiţa Cave is on the other side of Bucegi from Buşteni. The is a cable car line from Babele to the cave. If you prefer walking, you can make the descent by foot. The monastery, which is just at the entry of the cave, dates from 1818, when it replaced a previous wooden church.

You can also get there by car, from sinaia to Cota 1000, the Cuibu Dorului chalet then on a forest road to Ialomiţa valley. A longer but better road is through Moroieni – Cabana Padina – the cave.

Other Monasteries and churches

If you like churches, you might want to visit: Sinaia Monastery, Caraiman Monastery (from Buşteni, near the cable car), the Holy Trinity church in Azuga, dating from the early 20th century, the chapel built on the Sorica mountain in Azuga, the 16th century Lespezi Monastery in Posada, or one of the many gothic churches in Braşov.

Other points of interest

There are many more things to see on the valley, from the memorial houses of George Enescu and Cezar Petrescu to the Sinaia Casino or the monuments dedicated to Romanian heroes in each city. Just search a little on the internet to find all you need to know.

Rating: ★★★½☆

Overall Rating: ★★★★☆

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One day trip: Mogoşoaia and Târgovişte

Posted by Strainu | Filed under Weekend Trips

Versiunea română aici.

The road
Map

Mogoşoaia is just a few kilometers away from Bucharest on the DN1B. Until you exit from Bucharest the road is not so good, but then everything is perfect. The shortest way from Mogoşoaia to Târgovişte is by returning a few hundred meters, then taking the DJ100A to the DN7, then DN71 to the destination. The trip should take about 1h-1h15.
Rating: ★★★★½

Food

We ate at a small restaurant in downtown Târgovişte, called Pizza C&C. The food wasn’t fabulous, but the place was clean and the service was more than OK. Unfortunately I have no pictures with the food.
Rating: ★★★☆☆

Sightseeing

The main (and only) tourist attraction in Mogoşoaia is the Brâncoveanu Palace. When we went there, the first floor was hosting the museum itself, while the ground floor and the underground had some modern art exhibitions. The most interesting exhibit was a note left by one of the visitors: “If you kid ever wants to go to an art school, beat the s**t out of him”. This says it all on the quality of the art.

The first floor was quite interesting, with lots of paintings, prints, clothes and carpets from the last 4 centuries. However, like in all museums from Romania, there were very few informations on what you were seeing so history lessons from school came in handy.

The garden is amazing and very well maintained. It’s worth making the trip for itself.

Palatul MogosoaiaDSC01888

In Târgovişte, we only had time to visit the court and Chindia Tower. Unfortunately you have to pay for the pictures here, another bad habit of Romanian museums. The ruins of the palace are not very interesting if you’re not an historian, but the view from the top of the tower is quite impressive.

If you have the time, it would be a pity to miss the Dealu Monastery, just 5 km north of the city.

Cetatea domneascaCetatea domneascaTurnul Chindiei

Rating: ★★½☆☆

Alternatives

You can choose to visit Ploieşti instead of Târgovişte (continue from Mogoşoaia on DN1B). If you’re fast enough, you can see both cities in one day, but I wouldn’t recommend it.

Overall Rating: ★★★½☆

Links

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One day trip: Cozia Monastery

Posted by Strainu | Filed under Weekend Trips

Versiunea română aici.

The road
Map

To get to Cozia from Bucharest you need to follow the A1/E81 to Piteşti (115km), pass through the city and continue on the E81 to Râmnicu Vâlcea (68km), Călimăneşti (14km) and finally Căciulata (3km), for a total of about 200km. The road is quite good, except for the streets of Piteşti and some parts of Dealu Negru where the road has collapsed. Also, be aware of the never-ending works on the A1.

The trip takes about 3 hours without speeding. You could probably do it in 2h15-2h30 with a radar detector.

Rating: ★★★★☆

Food

To sum it up: the food SUCKED. Big time. We ate at the Cozia Motel, but I’ve heard from some of my friends that the other restaurants in the area aren’t any better. You can see in the picture on the right the only thing from the menu they actually had, called Tocăniţă Cozia. It had no taste and it wasn’t enough for anyone.

But perhaps we were unlucky, so if you now any good restaurant in the area, leave a comment. You could help the future visitors to better appreciate the area. 🙂

Rating: ½☆☆☆☆

Sightseeing
The area is the second in the country by the number of monasteries, after Bucovina, so your only problem is choice. Mănăstirea Cozia, Mănăstirea Turnu, Mănăstirea Stănişoara or Schitul Ostrov are only a few kilometers apart.
You can also admire the Olt strait or the Lotrişor waterfall. To get to it, go another 5 km from Cozia on E81 then 2 km on a narrow path. Be aware that most cars won’t make it to the waterfall, so unless you own a 4×4, it’s better to leave the car on the E81.

The church in the Cozia monastery is quite modest, but the paintings are very well preserved. Even if nobody tells you, you might consider making the photos without the flash. There is also a museum/shop where you can see icons and books as old as the 14th century.
Biserica CoziaUmbra lui Mircea....DodecaedronMormantul lui MirceaDSC01924Oala

Rating: ★★★½☆

Alternatives

You can continue on the E81 to Sibiu, the 2007 European Capital of Culture. The city is about 90km from Cozia, so count another hour and a half to get there. If you are a bit of an adrenaline junkie (or a mountain lover), you may want to return to Piteşti by DN1, then DN7C (Transfăgărăşan).

Overall Rating: ★★½☆☆

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