After landing in the small city of Bacau, in northeastern Romania, I patiently waited for the stairs to arrive outside my window and aircraft door to open. With bright eyes, this first-time visitor was eager to unwrap Romania, a giant gift of a new country to explore. It was a cool June evening with light rain falling after what the tarmac revealed must have been a heavy downpour only moments earlier. Much like many European, African, Asian and South American airports, planes in Bacau were met by a flight of stairs on wheels instead of the jet bridge Americans are accustomed to.
Before leaving the airport for a rented apartment, my initial observations suggested most Romanians spoke at least some English. That theory was quickly proven wrong, as I entered the city and found very few English speakers of any level. Though Romanians are generally proud of their independent country and sympathetic to the struggle of their Ukrainian neighbors, I found there to be somewhat of a Russian feel throughout the country. Perhaps this can be more attributed to the initial coolness of its people (which quickly warms during conversations) than the unmistakable architecture of the occasional Russian Orthodox Church in my path. In my opinion, this beautiful little country is indeed a gateway between western Europe and Russia, and it is a fascinating place to visit because of this convergence of cultures.
Romania is chock full of things to see and do. The following list highlights things not to be missed in the capital of Bucharest, as well as the rest of the country.
Romania’s most recognized city, is home to many museums and beautiful parks, and its rich history is exhibited at nearly every turn. The National Museum of Romanian History is a perfect place to begin. Housed inside a sprawling Neoclassical building, exhibits here range from Prehistoric to Modern times. A visit here, along with an excursion to the open-air museum called Dimitrie Gusti National Village Museum, will give you a good foundation of Romanian history. A stroll through the Old Town of Bucharest will highlight the current restoration initiative, with many restored buildings sitting next to some in varying stages of disrepair. The Palace of the Parliament, the heaviest building in the world, is a tourist favorite inside the city. A tiny Greek Orthodox church called Stavropoleos Church is a stark contrast from the much larger cathedrals and basilicas in nearby proximity. Take a walk through Revolution Square. Prior to the successful coup in late 1989, this area was known as Palace Square. Make sure to check out the similarities and differences between Bucharest’s Arch of Triumph and that of Paris and other European cities.
Built in the late 1300’s the Bran Castle is one of the most important landmarks in all of Romania. This quirky castle is known to be one of Bram Stoker’s inspirations for his novel, Dracula.
As you travel through Romania, look out for the many (more than 150) fortified churches, built between the 13th and 16th centuries. Viscri is a tourist favorite, and there are many others worth seeing dotted around the Romanian landscape.
Open during the summer months, this road is one of the most popular and beautiful to experience. Imagine hairpin turns and tight s-curves snaking down a mountain while offering breathtaking vistas, and you might have an idea. This is not recommended for people who become motion sick or scare easily.
Inside this city, take a stroll through the charming old town and see Black Church, which famously gets its name from a fire it sustained in the late 17th century.
Don’t miss the Observatorul Astronomic Victor Anestin. This observatory is the best in Romania and one of the most advanced in the world. There is a 4k planetarium and a large telescope that allows you to see the moon clearly during the day. Views from the building are spectacular, too.
Many of these monasteries date back to as early as the 15th century and are worth finding. Drive around the countryside and cities alike to locate and explore these beautiful buildings. Some of the most famous are Probota and Moldovita.
By Lisa Osborne Blalock
Footloose Travel & Tours