Romania doesn't tend to be at top of people's traveling lists (though I hear that's changing). And for those that are interested, they will be advised to spend as little time in Bucharest as possible and to head straight to Transylvania.
Transylvania is amazing, but Bucharest has its charm as well. 'Beautiful' is probably not how I'd describe it, but its definitely has more than couple of interesting things to see.
It's probably the contrast between different eras what makes Bucharest worth visiting. On one street we might a four hundred year-old church next to a communist-era apartment block. In fact, this is quite a common sight.
While much of the centre is modern, old Orthodox churches and delicate french buildings are tucked away in quiet corners. But, yes, without a doubt, the Ceausescu era took a toll on Romania, and nowhere is this more evident than at the gargantuan Palace of Parliament, the heaviest building in the world and the second-largest – and 70% of it is constantly empty!
From crazy Bucharest we headed into Transylvania, a land of myths and scary folk stories.
The 'land beyond the forest', venturing into Transylvania is like walking into an old European ghost story. It almost feel as though we entered into a mythical place.
The landscape is beautiful, bordered on the east by the Carpathian mountains and covered in dark, thick forests. Every so often we find a beautiful castle or a small village that seems to have remained frozen in time. In fact, Transylvania is often referred to as 'the last truly medieval landscape in Europe'. Horse-drawn carts, dirt roads, shepherds...
We first headed to Peles castle, considered by many to be a distant relative of Germany’s world-famous Neuschwanstein Castle. Without a doubt, Peles is one of the most beautiful castles in Europe.
Commissioned by King Carol I in 1873 and completed in 1883, the castle served as the summer residence of the royal family until 1947.
We also visited the nearby smaller Pelisor Castle, commissioned King Ferdinand, who succeeded Carol I.
We moved further into Transylvania, ending at the obligatory tourist stop – Bran Castle, which dates back at least 800 years.
Surrounded by an aura of mystery and legend and perched high atop a 200-foot-high rock, Bran Castle owes its fame to its imposing towers and turrets as well as to the myth created around Bram Stocker's Dracula.
Although Stoker never visited Transylvania, he relied on research and his vivid imagination to create the dark and intimidating stomping ground of Count Dracula. Bran Castle fits his description (and so does the landscape around it) leading to persistent myths that it was once the home of Vlad Tepes, ruler of Walachia – Dracula.
This is not a castle as beautiful as Peles, but it has a creepy aura that makes it quite a special visit.
At its foot we find the village of Brasov, quaint and beautiful, but small and creepy enough to fit the Dracula narrative.
And finally, we went to ruins of what probably was Dracula's real castle – that is Vlad the Impaler, the creepy Romanian prince Bram Stoker based his character on.