While we enjoyed Bucharest, we really went to Romania to hike and experience the mountains. So, after three days in Bucharest, it was time to get out of town! On Thursday morning, we headed back to the airport (45 minutes north of the city) to rent a 9 seater car and go north.
Our first stop was Therme. We hadn’t heard about Therme in the research that we did before the trip, but boy did we hear about it once we arrived in Romania. Every cab driver told us that we had to get to Therme – and they were definitely right. This is a gorgeous, unbelievable indoor pool and spa facility near the airport. It includes sections so that you can pay to go to the 16 indoor water slides and pool area if you have kids (or you’re a kid at heart) or you can go to the more luxurious 16-year-old and up areas if you want to be pampered. The facilities are absolutely gorgeous – we could have stayed there all day. We paid something like 50 lei (close to 50 shekel) for three hours and the kids had the time of their lives.
From Therme, we headed north towards our mountain adventure. We stopped in Sinaia just to walk around and to enjoy the quaint atmosphere and then drove on to our Airbnb in Bran. We stayed in an old house walking distance from the Bran Castle. It was a very cute town and a great place to stay as a springboard for all of the mountain activities we hoped to accomplish.
Friday, we started off by going to the ropes course which is right outside of Brasov, but apparently every Israeli in the country got the same message and the lines were insane. Throwing that plan out the window, we spent the day exploring the incredibly beautiful old town of Brasov. Brasov has a charming old section where we found a gorgeous shul, many old buildings and beautiful cobblestone streets. It was a real pleasure to walk around. Moving from ancient to modern, we then had a shopping spree at Decathalon, an amazingly discounted sporting good store. Wow, we spent a lot of time and money there. After this, we picked up food in the mountains at a beautiful kosher hotel and got to our house in time to shower and get ready for Shabbat.
Sunday, we drove into the Piatra Craiului Mountains near Bran for a hike. We parked in Magura which was storybook beautiful and then hiked down through the Gorge and back up to Magura.
When we got back from hiking, we made the mistake of going to the Bran Castle. There is a tremendous hype around the castle and the entire town of Bran clearly makes its money off of the castle. While it’s a beautiful location and it could be really interesting to take a guided tour, the way that it is currently set up is horrible. I read many reviews that begged me not to go to the Bran Castle and to save my money for something else, but when you’re staying a five minute walk away from a major tourist attraction – it’s hard to avoid it. So, we got there at the very end of the day, thinking that maybe it wouldn’t be too crowded. We actually had a very funny encounter when we went up to the ticket window. I asked the woman working there how the tickets worked for kids and she said, “Tickets are 10 Lei each for 7-18 year olds.”
I said, “Amazing! I’ve got six of those!”
“Six? Six what?”
I replied, “Six people between 7 and 18. See,” I said, turning around and pointing at Yakir and then at Matan, “7 to 18!”
“Six???” she said. “Are you sure?”
The castle doesn’t offer any guided tours and doesn’t put ANY limit on how many people are allowed in at one time. They also have this huge hype about it being Dracula’s Castle – but it’s simply not. Nope. Nothing to do with Dracula at all. We literally shuffled our way through the castle foot to foot in line with those in front of us. It was like going to see the Mona Lisa, but for room after room after room. We couldn’t wait to get out of there and actually tried to find some escape routes along the way. These pictures allow you to pretend that you’ve been to Bran Castle – so that if you ever come to Romania, you will NOT stop here!
Having survived the castle, we awoke Monday morning to big plans. Apparently, as a paranoid Communist dictator, Nicolae Ceaușescu created the Transfăgărășan highway in case he ever needed a quick getaway. (He did need that quick getaway in 1989, but alas the highway did not help him at that point.) I wasn’t sure that the 2.5 hour journey just to go on a highway was really worth it, but Matan was convinced that it was worthwhile and friends had told us not to miss it. Boy were they right! This highway experience was one of the most unique and utterly insane things I’ve ever seen. The topography was absolutely gorgeous and the journey was mind-blowing.
It ended at Lake Balea, which is a beautiful (although jam packed) location to sit and admire.
Of course sit and admire isn’t exactly what we do….and Matan had planned an amazing hike up and over one of the mountain tops to a small lake. It had the added bonus of having some snow, so the kids “went sledding” and played. Each kid, when asked what his favorite part of the trip was, replied that he liked this hike the best.
And then the fun began at the top…
And while it was cold enough up there for snow not to melt, they still felt compelled to go into the freezing lake because, well, you know…they are teenage boys (and some not-yet teenage boys).
On Tuesday, we went back into Brasov hoping to go to the ropes course called Parc Aventura that Matan said was amazing. When we got there at 10:15, there was already quite a line, but we decided to stick it out, and soon realized that almost everyone in line was Israeli. The place was amazing with five different levels of challenge courses, and a number of courses within each level. Each kid was fitted with proper equipment and set out to challenge himself for three hours of absolute fun. It was done at a really professional level and we were impressed with the entire place.
Of course, I had to laugh a few times when the kids got themselves stuck and needed help. I yelled up a number of times to an adult who was near them on the course and asked, in Hebrew, if they could help out. And 9 times out of 10, they responded in Hebrew and jumped to the rescue. At one point, I started communicating with a Romanian man who explained that he didn’t know a word of English. But Hebrew, oh sure he knew a few words in Hebrew, no problem.
When we finished the ropes course, it started pouring and we headed back to Bran to see if the tiny six lane bowling alley was packed. At home, on a rainy day, it would be filled to the brim. But we were thrilled to see that only one lane was taken, and we bowled three games for a shockingly cheap amount.
On our final full day, we headed down to Sinaia for a hike that Matan wanted to show us. We were hoping to take the cable car in Busteni up to the top of the mountain and then hike around the top. Little did we know that the wait, first thing in the morning, for the cable car was four hours long! The mountain area around Sinaia is far more crowded than you expect. So, we had to quickly change our plans. Matan remembered that there was a way to drive ourselves up instead, and we headed for the summit.
We hiked for about 3 hours around Sinaia and saw some of the locations where Matan had camped and hiked with his friends a few weeks before. It was beautiful, once again.
It was an amazing trip!
Romania, it’s the time of your life!