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Romanian trip winds up with beautiful cities, trip to Dracula’s Castle: Ed O'Connor

Posted 10/31/18

Editor’s note: This column wraps up Ed O’Connor’s tales of his trip to Romania.

We left our Timisoara apartment at 8 a.m. bound for our four-day whirlwind tour of Transylvania. …

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Romanian trip winds up with beautiful cities, trip to Dracula’s Castle: Ed O'Connor

Bran Castle, built in 1212, is better known as Dracula’s Castle.
Bran Castle, built in 1212, is better known as Dracula’s Castle.
Posted

Editor’s note: This column wraps up Ed O’Connor’s tales of his trip to Romania.

We left our Timisoara apartment at 8 a.m. bound for our four-day whirlwind tour of Transylvania. This area is in the central part of the country’s scenic Carpathian mountain range.

In lieu of a group tour, we opted for hiring a personal, professional tour guide. It turned out to be the correct decision.

Our guide, Alex, was Romanian by birth. His family escaped the communist regime in Romania and moved to Germany when he was a child. Because of the influx (or invasion) of illegal immigrants and the resulting large increase in crime (sound familiar?), he decided to return to his country of birth and start a tour guide business.

Alex had his bachelor’s degree in tourism and his master’s degree in history. He also spoke three languages fluently: Romanian, German and English. Plus, his knowledge of the country was remarkable.

We drove through quaint Romanian villages on our way to our first stop, the town of Sarmizegetuza Ulpia Traiana (say that three times quickly). Here, we saw Roman Empire ruins dating from the second century.

The following stop was Corvin Castle. There are in excess of 400 castles and fortresses in Romania. Built in the 1400s, this one is considered the most spectacular Gothic-style castle in the country. It looks like something from a movie set.

Our next destination was the Medieval city of Sibiu founded in the 1100s. As with most of the Romanian cities we visited, Sibiu was originally a walled city fortress. The lookout towers still keep a silent vigil.

Unfortunately, we only had one day to explore this beautiful place. Sibiu was one of my favorite cities on the trip. The cost of living was amazing. To give you an idea: per numbeo.com, a site that compares costs between cities in the world, overall consumer prices are 55 percent lower than in the Middletown area; rent is 67 percent lower; and groceries are 58 percent less. Can you imagine?

Leaving Sibiu behind, we journeyed on the Transfagarasan Road, considered the greatest driving road in the world, to Balea Glacier Lake at an altitude of 6,700 feet. Although it was July, there were still patches of ice and snow.

Then we were off to Brasov, another of my favorite cities in Transylvania. As with most of the Romanian cities, Brasov is a very clean, excellently maintained, pedestrian-friendly city with a rich history. We only had one day here to discover this beautiful city.

After breakfast the next morning in one of the many outdoor cafes, it was off to Bran Castle. Built in 1212, you may know it by another name — Dracula’s Castle, made famous by novelist Bram Stoker in his book “Dracula.” The real prince’s name was Vlad Tepes, and he was not a vampire, but he was cruel. To stop Ottomans from invading, he impaled 20,000 Turks on their invasion route. Needless to say, when Muslim invaders witnessed the carnage, it gave them pause. The castle is the No. 1 tourist attraction in Romania.

Our next stop was Sighisoara. Like many of the Transylvanian cities, this one was settled by German craftsman and merchants. German influence in architecture is quite noticeable and some of the populace still speaks Deutsch. Again, we only had one day to view this unique and interesting city.

With our last day at hand, we went to Alba Julia, another treasure trove of Roman ruins. What a stunning city. The largest fortress in Southeastern Europe is located here, and it was the most extensive military center during the Roman occupation. The city was a copy of mother Rome.

Four long days and 1,600 grueling miles later we returned to Timisoara. Travel humanizes a distant land.

Alex drove every mile of the trip in his Alfa Romeo. Not content, we asked him if he could take us on another tour. So, after a two-day rest, we were headed for a Danube River tour.

At 1,785 miles in length, the Danube is the second largest river in Europe. It flows through more countries than any river in the world — 10. Imagine the Susquehanna River on steroids.

We took a cruise on the river, and it was spectacular. At some spots, the sheer cliffs rose 250 feet above the water. On our way to and from the river we stopped at more historic sites. It was a 14-hour day trip but quite worthwhile.

We grudgingly said goodbye to Timisoara and flew to our next adventure, Romania’s capitol and largest city, Bucharest. We were met at the airport by Olga’s friend and her husband. Fortunately for us he was a taxi driver. With only four days remaining, we squeezed in as much as possible. When in a new city, we ride a tour bus to get an initial overview. The next day we took a walking tour. So much to see and so little time: parks, architectural masterpieces, historical spots and museums.

The final day we went to what would be one of the trip’s highlights — the Palace of The Parliament. This is a colossal edifice that truly must be seen to be appreciated.

Under communist dictator Nicolae Ceausescu, construction began in 1984. Between 20,000 and 100,000 people worked three shifts around the clock until its semi-completion in 1997. Ceausescu never got to speak from the huge balcony overlooking the city as he was executed Dec. 25, 1989, during the revolution.

Some statistics: The building is the second largest administrative building in the world (No. 1 is the Pentagon). It is the heaviest building in the world. There are 1,100 rooms (only 400 are used). It can be seen from the moon. Led by a 28-year-old woman, the architectural team numbered 700. It is valued at $3.4 billion. Its area is 3,930,000 square feet. The yearly heating and electric bill is more than $6 million(it’s good they don’t use MEM — the Middletown Electric Monopoly!). There are more than 200,000 square yards of woolen carpet. All materials used in construction are from Romania and Moldova.

And so, the five-week journey to Romania ended. It is indeed a stunning country.

Your intrepid trekker … Eddy O

Ed O’Connor, a former resident of Middletown and Lower Swatara Township, is an expatriate living in Cuenca, Ecuador.