Romania: Who knew?

This past weekend, we packed up the family and flew to Bucharest, Romania. While not a place we would normally choose as a vacation destination, we have good friends from Moscow who are now posted in Bucharest. Therefore, we took advantage of the last bit of Kubran Bayram to visit them.

Bucharest is just an hour’s flight from Istanbul, so the trip was short and sweet. The same was the case for the trip from the airport to our friend’s home. Just twenty minutes after arriving at the Henri Coandă International Airport air, we were lounging on our friend’s patio, enjoying the warm weather and a glass of red wine.

Bucharest, the capital of Romania, is home to 1.7 million people. The population of Romania is 19 million. The country borders Hungary, Moldova, Serbia, Bulgaria, the Black Sea, and the Ukraine. A monarchy existed in Romania until 1847 when the country was occupied by the Soviets. The country enjoyed (not) the dictatorship of Nicolae Ceausescu for a couple of decades until he and his cohorts were overthrown (and executed) in 1989. Romania, now a republic, is a member of NATO and the EU.

That is pretty much what we knew about Romania before we arrived.

What we didn’t know was much more enjoyable.

Like, despite not having shaken off 100% of the hangover effects one often sees in ex-Soviet countries (eg. large, gray, sometimes crumbling building blocks; a general rundown feel to things), the city of Bucharest was a very pleasant surprise. Its old town is lovely with charming, cobblestone streets lined with cafes and restaurants. Beautiful houses and buildings exist all throughout the city.

Downtown Bucharest, there is also the enormous Parliament Palace to visit. Aka the “People’s Palace”, it is a 350,000 square meter fortress that Ceausescu had built (but never had time to enjoy). It is second only to the Pentagon in surface area and third in volume only to Cape Canaveral in the U.S. and the Great Pyramid in Egypt. The place cost 25% of the country’s GDP, thus a good reason for calling it the “people’s” palace.

(One funny side note about this place: One movie that couldn’t get access to the Vatican paid to shoot the movie in the People’s Palace. To make it look like the Vatican, they painted and pasted pictures on the walls of the palace.  The props are still in place.)

In contrast to the historical part of Bucharest are contemporary buildings, most notably the brand spanking new, sprawling mall just outside the city. It houses the best movie cinema I have seen (it has its own VIP lounge with cushy couches and an all-you-can-eat-and-drink snack bar for those who want to watch a movie in high style). The mall even has Cinnabon which makes any city A-OK in my book. And, of course, it has the requisite name brands, etc., etc. Very impressive. And unexpected.

Bucharest was a lovely surprise, to be sure. However, my favorite part – besides enjoying the company and incredible hospitality of our hosts  – was the trip we made to the mountains. Although only a two-hour drive from Bucharest, the mountains gave the sense of being in a different world. The air was fresher, cooler. The nature lush, the mountains densely covered in trees decked out in fall’s finest hues of orange, red and yellow.

(Unfortunately, I forgot my camera at our friends’ house, so, for this blog, I had to borrow some pictures from the internet…the pictures don’t do the place justice, trust me.)

We drove through Sinai toward Brasov, located in the Bucegi Mountains which are part of the Southern Carpathians group of the Carpathian Mountains. We visited the Bavarian-styled palace in Sinai. We then stopped for lunch further up in the mountains, at Tri Bratzi (Three Bears) where we had the most amazing meal. An array of cheeses, salads, and steaming bean soup served in a bread bowl. But the best part? The dessert…a dreamy concoction called Papanasi …basically fried dough with jam inside, served crisp on the outside and soft in the inside and surrounded by a lake of heavy cream.

(Come to think of it, eating was my second favorite thing in Bucharest. In addition to the  Papanasi we indulged ourselves with Saturday and Sunday, we enjoyed homemade Romanian food Friday, our first night in town – a light and tasty vegetable soup, delicious stuffed cabbage rolls served with rich sour cream, a rich most chocolate cake, and homemade apple fritters. On Saturday, in addition to our mountain feast, our hosts treated us to some fabulous pizza in a cozy, Halloween-decorated restaurant, made even cozier when the electricity went out for a few hours, luckily after our food had been cooked. On Sunday, we ate Lebanese and had the best octopus in spiced tomato sauce – and a few 10 other scrumptious dishes – as well as a dessert I have no idea what the name was but was a crispy, flaky pastry tube stuffed with the most delectable creamy substance that had the hint of rose water. Basically, I stuffed my face the entire weekend as the photo below shows. In the picture I am enjoying my first  Papanasi , but you could just cut and paste the image of my open mouth and poised fork into a variety of backgrounds and you would capture my main activity for the weekend.)

But I digress.

After our amazing lunch, we drove to Brasov where we waddled into the Black Church and then around the piazza in old town (where they had an outdoor market selling mouth-watering meats, cheeses, nuts, fruits, baked goods and chocolate…despite being stuffed to the gills from lunch, my mouth actually did water upon seeing such goodies).

And in between sightseeing and stuffing our faces, we had a wonderful time catching up with old friends.

Yes, all in all, a lovely time was had by all.

And this week, I’ll be working hard on the treadmill to work off my excesses.

But it was so worth it.

Especially the  Papanasi .

1 thought on “Romania: Who knew?

  1. Darcy, what a lovely story, am enjoying following your blogs. Glad you had a great time in Bucharest and with mutual friends.

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