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Discussions regarding holidays in Eastern Europe
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The Hotels

Inn on Balaban, Bran (http://www.gobtf.com/innonbalaban/Home.html)

We spent 2 lovely nights here at the start of our tour. The Inn is 40 mins from Bran, at the top of a hill, up a steep unpaved road so is not the easiest place to get to, but it is well worth it. Our group of 6 were the only guests there and it was great to have the place to ourselves. Our room was cosily furnished, with lots of space and an excellent bathroom. The heating seemed a bit hit and miss though – in some rooms it was impossible to switch on, in others it was impossible to switch off. We had breakfast and dinner there both nights and the food was simple but very tasty. Bottled water, juice, tea and coffee were available with meals, but we chose to take extra water and alcohol with us (it’s a long way to the nearest shop!). There is wi-fi though. The location meant that there were amazing views of the surrounding countryside, which were only enhanced by the short thunderstorm we had one afternoon. This was our favourite hotel on our trip and we would love to go back one day.

Bella Muzica, Brasov (http://bellamuzica.ro/?lang=en)

This was the second hotel on our tour and we stopped here for one night. The hotel is very well located near the main square, but is slightly away from the noise of the bars and restaurants. Our room was on the ground floor and was comfortable and fairly quiet. Breakfast was good too. We would definitely consider staying here again if we ever go back to Brasov.

Casa cu Zorele, Crit (http://www.casa-cu-zorele.ro/)

We stayed here for 2 nights in the middle of our tour of Romania and it was one of the most unique places we stayed at. Crit is a small, traditional Romanian village and staying at Casa cu Zorele gave us a fascinating glimpse into the rural side of Romania. The building itself is just beautiful and we loved our huge room with a view of the courtyard. Tibi and Mihaela were great hosts and we particularly enjoyed the home-cooked food that was available. There is very little to see in Crit itself, but we did participate in some bee-keeping one morning which was great fun. Definitely an unforgettable experience!

Casa Luxemburg, Sibiu (http://www.casaluxemburg.ro/en)

We stayed here for one night in early June, towards the end of our tour of Romania with Untravelled Paths. The location is excellent and the building itself has lots of character. Unfortunately we did not enjoy our stay here as our room was unbearably hot, even with the window wide open all night, and there was no air-conditioning or even a fan. In addition, the staff smoking area seemed to be below our room and they didn’t seem bothered about being quiet so that their guests could actually get some sleep. The breakfast the next morning was poor as well and definitely the worst out of the 5 places we stayed in. We wouldn’t go back.

Z Hotel, Bucharest (http://www.zhotels.ro)

We stayed here for one night at the end of our tour. The hotel is on the edge of the Lipscani district and is modern and well decorated. Our room was a very good size and the air conditioning worked very well, which was essential given that it was very hot and humid while we were there. Despite the double glazing, we were disturbed by traffic noise at night though, so ask for a high floor/quiet room if this would be a problem for you. The breakfast buffet was excellent, definitely the best of all the 5 places we stayed at, and the panoramic views from the restaurant were a real bonus. When we checked out, we were slightly disappointed to be left waiting at reception while a member of staff went to check if we had used anything from the minibar (despite us already confirming that we hadn’t used anything). It’s a shame that this left us with a bad final impression of the hotel, but other than that we enjoyed our stay and would definitely consider staying there again.
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The Tour

We usually go on at least one tour-based holiday per year and had travelled with Archers on a couple of previous occasions, so were expecting this tour to be in the usual ‘large group/big coach’ format. When our tickets arrived, however, it turned out that Archers were only the sellers of the tour and that it would actually be run by a small British company called Untravelled Paths (http://untravelledpaths.com). I emailed Untravelled Paths direct with some queries on the itinerary before we travelled and received very quick responses so we were very excited to actually start our tour with them. It turned out that there were only 6 of us on the tour which was great as it allowed us to get to know everyone properly – luckily we had a very nice group and excellent guides too!

Day 1 – We arrived at Bucharest airport mid-afternoon and were met by our guide Marius and two of the other tour participants. It was too late in the day for us to fit in the advertised visit to Peles Castle so we were transferred immediately to Bran in the tour minibus, which was air conditioned and quite comfortable. The scenery en-route was very interesting and Marius provided information about the towns etc that we were passing. After a short stop in Bran to pick up our other guide (also called Marius), we were taken up to our first hotel, the Inn on Balaban. There was a short welcome meeting before dinner, where the guides went through the itinerary, explaining the cost and nature of the optional excursions. There seemed to be some discrepancies between the Archers and Untravelled Paths tour description, but these were sorted out easily. It would have been helpful to have had a printed list of the extra excursions and their duration/cost though, particularly from a budgeting point of view. It was also surprising to see that some of our hotels had changed.

Day 2 – One of the reasons we had booked this tour was because we love bears, so we were very excited about out trip to the Libearty Bear Sanctuary. It took about an hour to drive there from our hotel and we were able to join a tour as soon as we arrived. The tour started with an information video which was interesting, but rather upsetting – you could definitely see why they needed to open the sanctuary in the first place. It’s a fantastic place with loads of space for the bears to roam in and we really enjoyed our visit, but we felt it was a bit rushed, not helped by the fact that the sanctuary tour guide seemed determined to herd us round as quickly as possible. We could definitely have done with at least another half an hour there to look around, especially because we then ended up going for lunch at midday. We then went for lunch at the Vila Bran holiday resort, which was lovely as we were able to sit outside on the terrace with a view of Bran Castle. The restaurant itself was decorated in a traditional style and the food was excellent so it was a good place to have gone to. Afterwards we went into Bran itself to wander round the market and pick up some drinks etc for dinner before returning to the Inn on Balaban. There was a huge thunderstorm later that afternoon so we ended up just relaxing and reading for a bit before our final dinner there.

Day 3 – After checking out of the Inn at 10am, we headed to Sinaia for our visit to Peles Castle. This was the busiest place we visited on the whole tour and we had to wait for quite a while to get in. The queue for the ladies toilets was also horrendous! The tour was very interesting but felt quite short as we only got to see a few rooms and were constantly having to move into the next room to let another tour group in. I think it would have been better if we’d left Bran earlier that day so we could have got to Peles Castle before the crowds arrived. It also meant that we didn’t get to Brasov for our lunch stop until 2pm, which gave us very little time to eat before our walking tour (we ate at Gustari on the main square which was very nice). The tour was conducted by a local guide and cost £9 each so was well worth doing as we only had a short time in Brasov. Then it was back to the hotel for a quick change before heading out at 6pm for our bear hide experience.

This was very expensive at £60 per person, but we thought it would be worth it to see bears in the wild. Unfortunately, it turned out to be a very disappointing experience. The hide was a giant plywood and glass box, which we were sharing with a number of other people. We were the last group to arrive and ended up getting the worst seats – right at the back with very little view of the feeding stations. Despite being told to be quiet and turn off any camera lights/flashes, the other participants ignored everything they were told, which resulted in the bears being scared off on a number of occasions. We felt it was extremely unfair that the most disruptive people had the best seats and that there was no opportunity for us to swap seats at any point. The ranger kept on telling us not to talk or use our phones, but spent most of his time either talking to the other guides or using his phone. Thankfully we did actually get to see a number of bears and we really enjoyed watching them eat and interact with each other. Despite being told that the experience would only last for an hour or so, it was nearly 9pm by the time we left and was getting dark. The ranger suggested that it would be easier for us to walk back to the main road, rather than getting back into the minibus so we all agreed to do this. We were expecting a gentle walk through the forest, but ended up scrambling down a wet bank in near darkness with no torches or anything to hold onto. This was very scary and unpleasant experience for two of our group (including me) and it was only luck that stopped us from injuring ourselves. We didn’t get back to Brasov until 10pm so had no time for a proper dinner and ended up getting a quick snack and going straight to bed. In hindsight, I wish we hadn’t booked that trip as it was a rip off and we’d have had a much nicer evening in Brasov!

Day 4 – After having driven past Bran Castle a number of times, it was nice to finally go back for a proper visit. Marius and Marius gave us a talk on the history of the castle, before taking us round for a closer look. Both the talk and the tour were really interesting, but it did seem that we rushed around the castle a bit too quickly. We then went for lunch at a local restaurant, which would have been lovely, apart from the fact there was a group of 50 noisy schoolchildren already there when we arrived which meant we waited ages for our food. I wish we’d been able to go back to Vila Bran instead. Afterwards we started on our journey to Crit, which was broken up with a visit to the village of Viscri to see its fortified church and the house that Prince Charles owned there. We arrived in Crit with just enough time to get ready for dinner.

Day 5 – This was a bit of an odd day. In the brochure and itinerary, it said that there would be a ‘vast range of activities’ available, but it turned out that the only activity we could actually do was beekeeping. This was great fun but was very short, leaving us with nothing to do for the rest of the day. Luckily the weather was really nice so we managed to spend our time reading and walking round the village. Lunch wasn’t included and the local shop had hardly any food in it, but luckily we managed to get some bread etc from the local bar that morning, as it was closed for over 3hrs in the middle of the day. If the weather had been bad, this would have been a really boring day!

Day 6 – We transferred to Sighisoara where the guides gave us an interesting walking tour of the city. The tour was a bit rushed and we didn’t have enough time for any additional sightseeing after lunch, so it would have been better to have arrived there a bit earlier. We had lunch at the International Café on the main square and this was very nice. We then headed to Sibiu, which is another lovely place, but decided not to take the optional walking tour as it would have meant eating dinner quite late. Instead we did our own walking tour using a map from the hotel which was good fun – we particularly enjoyed looking around the Catholic Church and the Orthodox Cathedral. We ended up having dinner at Kulinarium, just a short walk from our hotel and it was very nice.

Day 7 – On our request, we left Sibiu a bit earlier than planned as we were meeting friends for dinner in Bucharest and wanted to make sure we would arrive in time. The journey up the Transfagarasan Road from Sibiu was spectacular but I was really glad that I wasn’t driving! We arrived at the top to find that the tunnel to the other side was closed to cars, but we were able to walk through to see the view from the south side. We then returned to the north side and had a lovely lunch at one of the cabins on the lake. The views were amazing and we took some great photos up there. Unfortunately, the tunnel closure meant we had to drive all the way back down the same road, and then drive round the mountain to get back to Bucharest. We didn’t end up arriving until 7:30pm (after a 5hr+ drive) and barely had time to get changed before meeting our friends for dinner, so it would have been better if we’d set off even earlier that day. We said goodbye to Marius and Marius and then finished off the day with dinner at Hanul lui Manuc (disappointing) and drinks at Bicicleta.

Day 8 – This was the final day of the tour and we had some spare time before our early evening flight back to the UK. The weather was very hot and humid so we decided to do a DIY walking tour of some of the main sights. We saw some interesting buildings and particularly enjoyed looking round the Lipscani district, but the weather was really too hot to appreciate the city fully so we ended up finishing our holiday with a long lunch at Lacrimi si Sfinti, which was excellent. We arrived back at the hotel well before our airport taxi was due, only for it to turn up very early, so it was lucky we were already there. The taxi was far too small for 4 people though and the air conditioning didn’t work very well so we arrived hot and sweaty at the airport with ages to wait before we could check in. The pre-departure side of the airport was very disappointing with hardly anywhere to sit and then check in was delayed so we were quite happy to head home by that point. We all agreed that the holiday had been fantastic though, and that we would definitely recommend Untravelled Paths to our friends and family. And we will all definitely be going back to Romania at some point!
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Loved reading this as it brought back a lot of memories for me, we went to Romania on our own, John planned it and we went to a lot of places you mentioned, also the Transfagarasan as you said was spectacular, we went over it in the morning and it was misty and went back in the afternoon and it was lovely.

It would be worthwhile going back again for you.

Linda
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