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Steve and Emma's Travel Tales

Into the Mountains and Checking out the Capital

ROMANIA | Monday, 1 March 2021 | Views [26]

It was Emma’s half term and just after my birthday, so we decided to head out to explore some more of the beautiful country of Romania and have a bit of a treat to celebrate my recent ageing event. The plan was to head to the mountains and try skiing for the first time in our lives. We reckoned that seeing as we were in a bloody cold country in winter we may as well join in the action on the slopes. Don’t think we would go on a specific skiing holiday but because skiing is now on our doorstep and relatively cheap we thought we’d have a bash.

The plan was to get the night train to Bucharest and then hop on another train straight from there to Sinaia. Then, have a belated birthday treat at Rhein Cellar Guesthouse in Azuga, hit the slopes and apres ski before checking out the capital on our way back to Timisoara.

 

We got to Timisoara Nord station just before 10 pm and our carriage awaited, so we boarded and soon found our private 2 berth sleeper compartment. Now this is the way to travel. It was an old fashioned wooden carriage with 2 bunk beds and a sink, all very ‘Murder on the Orient Express’. The train was soon rattling out of the station heading into the night across Romania. I had it in my head that there was some sort of law that you had to drink vodka on a night train in Eastern Europe, so we had a  couple of slugs and that coupled with the rocking of the train, we had a decent kip. We woke early, well Emma did, and reported that the scenery was pretty flat and boring on this misty dawn. Never mind, we were soon pulling into Bucaresti Nord and disembarking into a freezing morning. Bucharest was in the yellow zone so it was strange to see people inside coffee shops ( Timisoara was in the red zone and you can’t go inside restaurants there). However, we were very glad of these looser restrictions and we quickly bagged a table to warm up with a brew and breakfast while we waited for our connection to Sinaia.

Now this leg of the trip was not quite so Agatha Christiesque, seems like the whole world was heading to the mountains for a bit of r and r. The train was packed, not great in these covid times but it was only a couple of hours and we soon jumped off in Sinaia. There was snow on the ground- yay, but we couldn’t see any mountains because of the laden skies. Oh well, there was snow beneath our feet and that’s all that matters. We soon found our apartment for the next 3 days and got settled in. As usual in Romania, the apartment was very comfortable, had all we needed and a short stroll into town.

We completed said ramble and found that Sinia is a lovely small town with a nice park and lots of nice looking grand buildings. There are also lots of cafes, restaurants and accommodation. Oh, and lots of tourists too. We headed through the park, Emma spotted a red squirrel which was nice and made our way to our destination for the afternoon, Peles Castle. I was intrigued to find out why a Brazilian footballing superstar had bought a gaff in Romania but it turns out it wasn’t him but some bloke called Carol 1 in 1883, so 50 years newer than our place in South Africa then. It is however a very grand abode set in vast park like grounds which were covered in the white stuff. Unfortunately, we were not the only ones to pop up to the castle that afternoon, the place was heaving so we decided to look inside another time as we didn’t fancy doing the stately home shuffle. We headed back into town and grabbed a drink and something to eat at one of the many eateries lining the main drag. We bailed out early after the exhaustion of overnight train travel so we would be ready for the next day.

Despite the early bath we decided to have a relaxing morning and not do too much. We eventually did venture out and much to our delight there were clear blue skies, sunshine and we were surrounded by snow-capped peaks. Sinaia was looking much better than yesterday so we decided to head back up to the castle to take the photos again that we took yesterday. We were glad we did as the castle was quiet so we popped in for a shufty. Now this little hovel has about 160 rooms but on the cheapskate’s tour you only get to see 14 of them on the ground floor. The castle is ridiculously grand and opulent, even a bit of the top if I may say so, but it was  fascinating and we were glad that we dropped in.

We planned a vague walk around town that went up to the ski slope at Cota 1400 so we could check out potential skiing opportunities. We were glad that we did check it out before stumping up for skiing lessons as the slopes were mobbed and there wasn’t a separate beginners area so you would be learning to fall over as people whistled by you. We reckon we needed a quieter less posy place to embarrass ourselves on 2 sticks, so we practised our après skiing. There was a small bar to the side of the slopes and we watched the pros from there. Even that was dangerous as many skiers shot right through the bar at the end of their run. We headed back into town via various small lanes and cut throughs. We really like Sinaia and were really enjoying our break. We had a glass or was that a bottle of wine in the Irish pub (of course there was an Irish pub), before a middle eastern platter at Nargila Bar and Grill sitting in the warm sunshine.

The next day we thought we would head further into the Bucegi Mountains by getting the gondola up to Cota 2000. Again very busy with skiers, guess that was due to it being the ski season, but we headed away from the slopes and had a nice walk through the woods to a small church. The snow was very deep here and clinging onto the branches of the fir trees making it a real winter wonderland. We also got some fantastic views into the Prahova Valley and the surrounding mountains. There was a nice restaurant just away from the main ski slope and we bagged a table with stellar mountain views and enjoyed a lovely bowl of Romanian soup. After Emma attempted to make a snowman and I had a snowball fight we got the gondola back down to town after an enjoyable day on the mountain. We decided that we would try skiing in Azuga, our next stop.

The next stop was only 30 minutes by train further up the Prahova Valley which was pity as we had a double-decker train ( yes we went on the top deck) to ourselves and the mountain views were incredible. We were too soon jumping off at Azuga station and heading up the valley to find my birthday treat. We had booked 2 nights at Rhein Cellar Guesthouse which was a guesthouse with a wine cellar unsurprisingly. They have been producing wine at this place since 1892 and supplying the Romania Royal family with sparkling wine since the 1920s. Well if it is good enough for them it is good enough for my birthday treat.  Turns out we picked a gem of a place. The building is a lovely old place in stunning grounds with mountains view. The room was great, the staff were very friendly and the attached restaurant knocked out some very tasty grub. Oh yeah, the wine and particularly the fizz were delicious and stupidly cheap. All in all a brilliant place to celebrate my birthday.

The actual town of Azuga isn’t up to much and not as nice as Sinaia, but as it lacks restaurants and hotels it also lacks people. Just what we wanted. We headed up to the main skiing area and took the gondola up to the top of the mountain. We had a short walk through the snow and the views from here way surpassed the ones from Sinaia. The cobalt blue sky and the brilliant white snow made for a stunning environment. The ski slopes here were much quieter and they had a separate beginners slope therefore we thought it was a much better place to learn to ski. We booked lessons for the next day.

 

The following morning we met up with our ski instructor and he got us kitted out with the right equipment at the hire shop. We spent all morning learning the basics without getting hang of much and I think our instructor was despairing that he had been lumbered with 2 fifty-year olds attempting to ski. At lunch time after Emma had taken out a few people and the odd fence we were at the end of the lesson and had a break. We could keep the gear all day so we were able to practice on our own in the afternoon. I got into it then and was able to stop and turn and started to go further up the slope. Emma wasn’t so keen unfortunately and didn’t like all the palaver of the gear, she moaned quite a bit about ski boots. To be fair to her, you do feel like Robocop and it is difficult to walk about when not actually on the skies. Oh well, we tried it and I enjoyed it once I got the hang of the basics but I think competing in the winter Olympics might be beyond me.

It was time to leave the mountains and head back to Timisoara via Bucharest. Now Bucharest doesn’t have a great reputation as one of eastern Europe’s nicest cities despite being the Paris of eastern Europe,but I always like to check out the capital city, as it must be the capital city for a reason right? Just like skiing, Emma wasn’t too keen but it was my party so off to Bucharest for a couple of nights it would be. We ventured out of Bucharesti Nord and ordered up an Uber as Bucharest taxi drivers have a reputation lower than a snake limbo dancing. First thing the driver said was DO NOT GET IN A TAXI ON THE STREET, ok mate got it. He dropped us just round the corner from our apartment in the old town. We had to walk a few 100 metres as with all good old town the streets are cobbled and vehicle-free. We did well again with our accommodation selection, a superb cosy apartment right in the old town above an Irish pub. There were literally 100s of bars and restaurants on our doorstep. We headed out to explore the old town and even though quite small, the streets are lovely and lots of great architecture. There was a great vibe with people eating and drinking in all the street cafes. We were spoilt for choice.

The next day we headed out of the old town and explored the city, we walked down to Union Square and along the impressive boulevard to the humungous Palace of the Parliament. Apparently the second largest government building in the world after the Pentagon. The mega-structure was built in the 80s for Ceaus’secu ego I presume. Shame he didn’t last too long after that to enjoy it hey. Unfortunately, you have to be a group of 10 these days to book a tour so we carried on our stroll along the river and through the Cismigiu Gardens to University Square. Bucharest really is full of grand old buildings, parks and impressive wide throughfares. Why it gets such a bad rep I don’t know, I think it is a great city from the parts we saw.  We headed back to our apartment for lunch before exploring more in the afternoon. We fancied going on the open top bus as the weather was yet again amazing but found out it doesn’t run in the winter. So we decided to get an Uber to the north of the city to the village museum. Now we have one of these in Timisoara but this was on a much bigger scale and housed old traditional buildings from all over the country. It is also set in a huge green area and had an old pub. What’s not to like? We checked out the Arc de Tiumf, did someone say something about the Paris of Eastern Europe ? before heading back to the old town for our final meal of the trip. I fancied trying an old bar I’d read about called Caru cu Bere but they were fully booked inside and out. Oh well, I’m sure we will be back in Bucharest and there were plenty of other options and we found a nice quiet place to enjoy our final night of the trip. The next morning we were up early for the 6 am train to Timisoara. We were looking forward to seeing the trip we had done a week ago in daylight but the scenery was pretty flat and dull until we rode along the Danube River at Dorbeta and then through the hills around Baille Herulane. We arrived back in Timisoara on time after another amazing trip around Romania.

 

 

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