Romantic Romania

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For many years foreign tourism in Romania was limited to resorts on the coast of the Black Sea, with the occasional intrepid traveller back-packing through the virgin forests and mountain ranges.

Now these areas, long known and enjoyed by Romanians are being discovered by the more adventurous international traveller. And what a treasure-trove they are discovering. Miles and miles of unspoilt terrain for walking or ski-ing. Castles, churches and medieval fortresses with architecture and artefacts rivalling the best Europe has to offer.

One area of Romania well worth exploring is the Prahova Valley. Located 135 km north of Bucharest, the Prahova Valley is easily accessible by fast train or by car on well maintained major roads. The Valley is a wide, deep cleft carved into the granite of the southern Carpathian mountains by the fast moving Prahova River. As a centre for your explorations, try the small, picturesque town of Busteni. Nestled in the base of the Caraiman Mountain, it is an ideal base for daily excursions.

Directly behind the main hotel, the hotel Silva, the year-round cable car whisks you to the top of the mountain to the chalet Babele where you can explore the Bucegi plateau. The cable car continues down the other side of the mountain to Pestera where there is a local hotel, an old monastery and a small cave with stalagmites and stalactites There are many walking and hiking trails and highly qualified, English, French and German speaking guides are available to assist you at a small charge.

On the top of the mountain is a cross built between 1926-1927 to the memory of dead heroes of the first world. The metal part of the cross is 32 metres high and the whole cross is over 50 metres high It can be seen for miles, particularly at night. When it is lit up it looks as though it is floating in the sky.

Just behind the Hotel Silva is a large indoor sports facility with space for soccer, tennis, handball, volleyball, badminton, boxing, wrestling and martial arts. Available for rent at a very reasonable price, professional teams often come here to practice before a big match. Demonstrations and tournaments are open to the public, often at no charge. In the summer there are tennis schools with enthusiastic and talented pro. services at a very reasonable cost. Winter offers ski-ing, both downhill and cross country and plenty of expert teachers.

The town of Busteni has a pleasant main street with a number of privately owned small shops and side-walk cafes. Small roots of capitalism being put down by enterprising Romanians! The post office is also the telephone centre for the town. Calls overseas may be cheaper from the post office than from your hotel room but the waiting period can be quite long.

The main, government owned department store Costila has little to offer the tourist but is worth a visit as it gives a fascinating glimpse into the average Romanian home. Stock in this store is meagre but there is something of nearly everything the average home owner might need, from sports equipment to coloured TV.
Most shops close Saturday afternoons but are open Sunday mornings until about noon. Credit cards are not accepted in the stores but money can be changed at the local bank. Remember to take your passport with you and only change what you need as the rate of exchange floats and can vary from day to day. Also it is almost impossible to change money back into your own currency when you leave the country.

Busteni has many pretty old houses, including that of the famous writer Cezar Petrescu, which is preserved as a museum and is well worth a visit. It contains the personal library of he writer with 10,304 volumes of which 3/4 are in French. In the hall there are sculptures by Oscar Han and on the walls paintings by Aure Jiquidi, H. Dimitriu Iser and G.E. Ewendwel.

The Orthodox church on the main street was built in 1889 at the request of King Carol the first and Queen Elizabeth. Their life- size portraits are painted by the entrance inside the church.
The church, built in the form of a cross with two towers, was built by Italians lead by Poetrp Dreossi. The pulpit was made in Vienna and is considered to be the most beautiful in Romania.
The original paintings representing saints and angels were painted by the famous artist Gheorghe Tatarascu or by his assistants. Another original painting is by a Danish artist Agnes Exner.

The Romanian people are very friendly and anxious to make foreign tourists feel welcome. None more so than the Mayor of Busteni, who has introduced a "Meet The People" program in the area. Tourists can register at the town Tourist Office in the main street and be matched with a resident of similar interests who will speak their language and who will invite you into their home for tea or coffee and an interesting discussion on all manner of subjects. No payment is asked for or expected. To arrive bearing a bunch of flowers, easily purchased on the main street, would be a much appreciated gesture.

Nearby, the bustling town of Sinaia, a short ride by taxi, local bus, or train has a couple of large older hotels, a one-hour Kodak photo developing lab and a number of specialty shops. There are a variety of sporting and entertainment facilities, including a swimming pool, a bowling alley, a casino with gambling machines and bingo. The hotel Montana offers evening entertainment including a weekly folk-lore show and an evening of gypsy music. 
The main attraction of Sinaia is the Summer Palace of King Michael of Romania, Peles Castle. Built by King Carol the first, who was an avid collector and a connoisseur of fine objects, the palace is now a museum, open to the public Wednesday to Sunday. The palace was built over two main historic periods and is part baroque and part renaissance, on the style of German castles of the period with over 160 rooms, many furnished in different styles. Due to family connections many of the furnishings are of German and Italian origin. Gifts from all over the world were showered on King Carol and all are displayed with loving care. 

There is a special entrance for foreign tourists where multi-lingual guides wait to escort you through the main public rooms. The palace was restored at great expense in 1974 by the dictator Ceausescu who planned to live there himself. Legend has it that his plan was foiled by a clever carpenter who told him that the wood was decaying with a fungus very harmful to the health. True or not it makes a good story and the castle is in immaculate condition, currently financed by entrance fees and the state.

A day trip to Brasov, by coach or train, is not to be missed. Busy Brasov is the second largest city in Romania but in the heart of the city, it medieval origins are being preserved and renovated.

The cobblestoned town square has many fine buildings which have outdoor cafes or fine shops at the street level. In the centre of the square is the Black Church. Converted by the Muslims into a mosque during the Ottoman period, it is now a Presbyterian Church. Amongst its many interesting artefacts is an incredible collection of Turkish prayer mats, reputed to be some of the most valuable in the world. 

End your visit to Brasov with dinner at the Citadel. This old, beautifully renovated fortress is a first class restaurant where members of the Brasov Symphony Orchestra perform most nights, accompanying talented opera singers and ballet dancers. Their performances elevate Dinner Theatre to its highest level.

A few miles away, Poiana Brasov is a purpose built ski resort, often featured in tour operators ski packages. The hotels offer all the comforts one expects in a major ski resort. During the summer there is walking and hiking, horseback riding and boating on a small lake. Several small restaurants offer music and entertainment during the lunch and dinner periods. Food is mostly traditional Romanian with soups or meats and potatoes. dominating the menu. 

Almost running into Busteni is the small industrial town of Azuga, renowned for its beer factory. The pure mountain water contributes considerably to the high quality of the Azuga beer. A tour of the factory (with ample free samples in the party room), is an interesting experience, although the climb up five tall stories is not for the faint hearted. While in Azuga don't miss a visit to Postav Azuga woollen spinning and weaving factory. Their factory outlet shop has a variety of high quality wool and wool blend fabrics, pure wool blankets and wool garments at true bargain prices. 

If art is your passion, a visit to the small village of Breaza is a must. Summer home of many wealthy Romanian whose chalets and villas dot the country-side, the town is rich in folk art traditions. Visit the embroidery co-operative and see the ladies sitting companionably in groups of four doing cross stitch and drawn thread work on the traditional blouses and table linens.
Their small retail store has the best prices in the country. 
The Hotel Parc, once the home of Prince Gheorghe Bibescu has clean double rooms with en-suite bathroom for under $20. Is genuine Italian Restaurant offers dinner and dancing under the stars in a quite, park-like setting, or during the winter a cosy fireside barbeque. The old mansion was discovered by an Italian visiting the area looking for some old friends. He never did find the old friends but he fell in love with the town and has brought a true touch of Italy to the area.

The nearby small town of Campina is home to the B.P. Hasdeu Memorial. A strange villa that the great historian and philologist, who was also well known for his spiritual meetings, built for his dead daughter Iulia. The town has two other memorials. One to the pioneer pilot Aurel Vlaicu, whose plane crashed near Campina as he attempted to fly over the Carpathian Mountains, and the other the home Nicolae Grigorescu, Romanian greatest classical painter. Many of his pastoral scenes are on view there. 

If you are driving, do get off the main road as much as possible and explore the numerous small villages dotting the mountain sides. Many have interesting churches, small monasteries and a rural way of life most of us have forgotten ever existed.

WHERE TO STAY

The Hotel Silva in Busteni is the main tourist hotel in the area with a total of 139 quite, peaceful rooms with 2 twin or 1 double bed, 5 penthouse suites and 6 split-level suites. All rooms have satellite Coloured TV., telephone, en-suite bathrooms and balconies. Rooms at the rear of the hotel have an uninterrupted view of the mountains. 

Facilities at the hotel include Bar and lounge, first class restaurant, convenience shop, coffee bar with patio, Disco and electronic games room in the lower level, laundry service, overnight photograph printing and developing, guest passes to local sports facilities. Taxi or bus service and reservation service for travel and entertainment.

The well-training staff are friendly and helpful. Many speak English, French or German.
The spacious, comfortable dining room with large patio and, most evenings live music for dining and dancing pleasure, offers menus for all tastes, traditional Romanian, Continental, American and Vegetarian. A daily 3 course and a 4 course table d'hote menu with two selections plus a vegetarian dish is always available, or guests can choose from an extensive a la carte menu.
A wide selection of local and international wines are offered at very reasonable prices. Romanian wines are excellent. The country is the ninth largest wine-producing country in the world but only about 15% of their production is exported which says a lot for the drinking habits of the inhabitants.

In the centre of town is a large youth hostel for under 30 year olds and the 14 room Hotel Paraul Rece.

There are many villas dotting the surrounding countryside but few provide much in the way of maid service or cooking. However these services may be provided at extra cost, upon request.

HOW TO GET THERE

Most International airlines fly into Bucharest. The Hotel Silva will pick you up at the airport by prior arrangement. Frequent fast trains from Bucharest to Brasov stop at Busteni. A train station is in the centre of Busteni and a taxi ride to the hotels or villas will only cost a few dollars.

WHAT TO WEAR

Casual clothes in layers as it can get quite cool in the evenings. Something a little more dressy for dinner out.
Comfortable shoes and a raincoat are a must. note:- toiletries, snacks and chocolate bars are easy to obtain. Specialized medicines are not. Bring an ample supply from home.

2002-2012 Barbara Elias   

Contact: barbara@BarbaraElias.com

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