Brasov, a medieval Saxon town surrounded by verdant Transylvanian hills, is one of Romania's most visited places. It was in Brasov that the first public opposition to the Ceausescu regime occurred - in 1987 thousands of disgruntled workers, angered by wage cuts, long hours, and rationing, took to the streets demanding basic foodstuffs. Ceausescu's response was to call in the troops (three people were killed) and cut rations even further. Brasov's main attraction is the Black Church, said to be the largest Gothic church between Vienna and Istanbul. The church's name comes from its blackened appearance following a fire in 1689.Many people use Brasov as a base for visiting nearby attractions. The main magnet for tourists is Bran Castle, commonly known as 'Dracula's Castle', 30km (18.6 mi) south of Brasov. Despite popular myth, the castle has no links with Vlad Tepes, the medeivel prince most often associated with everyone's favorite vampire. And, with its fairytale turrets and whitewashed walls, the castle is not exactly menacing. Less touristy and more dramatic is Rasnov Castle, en route to Bran Castle from Brasov. The ski resorts of Poiana Brasov and Sinaia are also within easy reach by bus or train from Brasov. Plenty of local and international buses and trains stop at Brasov.
Romania's capital - named after its legendary founder, a shepherd called Bucur - lies on the Wallachian plains, between the Carpathian foothills and the Danube River. In the 1930s it was known as 'the Paris of the East'. Since then, earthquakes, WWII bombing and Ceausescu have combined to destroy much of its prewar beauty.In the 1980s Ceausescu bulldozed 7000 homes and 26 churches in historic southern Bucharest to build a Civic Centre. The focal point of what locals dubbed 'Ceausima' is the enormous 12-storey Palace of Parliament, intended to be the largest building in the world - it's actually the second, after the Pentagon. Ceausescu - who was executed just as it neared completion - intended it to house the president's office, central committee and all the state ministries. The Iliescu government did not know what to do with this white elephant - many people wanted it demolished - but in 1994 decided to use it to house the Parliament and to host international conferences. There are guided tours, so you'll get a chance to gawp at the ornate 3100-room interior as well as the mesmerising exterior.For a taste of the old, head for central Bucharest, where the 16th-century Old Court Church contains beautifully preserved frescoes. The George Enescu Museum displays the musician's manuscripts and personal belongings. Also here is Romania's very own Raffles, the Athenee Palace Hotel, centre of early-20th-century decadence, and the meeting place of Olivia Manning's characters in The Balkan Trilogy. It has just had a US$50 million facelift and is the city's classiest and most expensive hotel.In western Bucharest you'll find Ghencea Civil Cemetery, final resting place of the Ceausescus. Nicolae's grave is quite ornate and decorated with flowers and candles, but Elena is apparently less revered by those who still mourn their overthrow. Their son Nicu (Transylvania boss, drunkard, playboy and one-time partner of the Romanian gymnast Nadia Comaneci) is buried close by.Bucharest offers a wide range of accommodation options, including private rooms, university campuses, hostels and hotels. The main places are in the centre or around the main train station (Gara de Nord). Bucharest has seen a rapid influx of flashy, upmarket, expensive restaurants offering international cuisine, but it is still easy to track down traditional Romanian cooking in central Bucharest. This area is also the focal point for nightlife: you'll find plenty of entertainment here, including bars, nightclubs, theatres and cinemas.
Like Brasov, Sighisoara is a Saxon medieval town surrounded by hills in Transylvania. But it is more beautiful and less hyped than Brasov, and has a greater amount of perfectly preserved medieval buildings. For many, its great drawcard is the Dracula connection - within the walls of the medieval citadel you'll find the Dracula House, in which Vlad Tepes was born in 1431 and reputedly lived until the age of four. It is now a bar and restaurant.Sighisoara's other main sights are also inside the citadel walls, with its nine surviving towers. The clock tower, a history museum and the Church of the Dominican Monastery, which became the Saxons' main Lutheran church in 1566, are all worth seeing. And don't miss climbing the 172 steps of the covered stairway to the Gothic Church on the Hill. Just 4km (2.5mi) northeast of Sighisoara is the village of Albesti, home to the Sandor Petofi Museum, which commemorates the Hungarian poet who died in battle here in 1848. Sighisoara is well serviced by both local and international bus and train services.
The Black Sea Coast
In Spain it's Benidorm, in Australia it's the Gold Coast - and in Romania the sun-sea-sand-and-sex brigade heads for the Black Sea coast. Constanta, Romania's largest port and second largest city, is the main transport hub for the Black Sea coast, and the gateway to other resorts. International soccer fans may feel compelled to pay a visit, as this is Gheorghe Hagi's home town. The beaches are dirty and crowded, but the town itself is picturesque and has some excellent museums. Mamaia, an 8km (5mi) strip of beach north of Constanta, is Romania's version of Palm Beach, with 61 hotels containing a total of 27,000 beds that fill up between mid-June and August. If you like lying on overcrowded beaches listening to blaring pop music, head 17km (10.5mi) south of Constanta to Eforie Nord. Other beach and blaring music resorts are Neptun-Olimp and Costinesti. And if you think the music's bad, imagine lying on the beach listening to one of Ceausescu's speeches blaring from the loudspeakers, the order of the day until the revolution - not the best cure for a hangover. In summer, Constanta is accessible by charter flight from European destinations, and by ferry from Istanbul. Minibuses connect Constanta with other Black Sea towns. Constanta is well serviced by bus and train.
Timisoara, in the Banat region close to the Hungarian border, is world-famous as the place where the 1989 revolution began. Numerous memorial slabs to those people who died in the fighting are encrusted in walls on streets around the town. Most are still honoured with fresh flowers and lavish bouquets. The Tokes Reformed Church, the flashpoint of the revolution, is south of the town centre. Other main sights include the Roman Catholic Cathedral and the Serbian Orthodox Cathedral, which are in the town centre on opposite sides of Piata Unirii, Timisoara's most picturesque square. Timisoara is serviced by international buses, though there are few bus connections to other Romanian towns. The city is serviced by plenty of international and domestic trains. Some international flights go to Timisoara.
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