Travel in Romania: Breb Home Stay and the Return to Moldova

After spending our afternoon visiting some of the wooden churches, we headed to Breb, a small town further north.  Here, we had booked a home stay at a small farm.  The room was simple but clean and pretty, and the location was quiet and peaceful.  I loved that the little “cabin” we stayed in had bright blue and green accents!

When we arrived, the older woman that runs the place with her husband was very happy to learn that I spoke Romanian, as neither of them speak English.  She welcomed us and showed us to the cabin, telling us along the way about the other visitors also staying in the cabin (we had a room with two beds and bathroom to ourselves): an Italian family currently living in France and a Romanian couple.

Once we settled into our room we went outside to meet the other guests.  We were happy to discover that everyone spoke English, allowing us all to communicate despite otherwise speaking other languages (there were 4 languages spoken between us: French, Italian, English, and Romanian).  We spoke about where we were from and our families for a bit.  The Italian family had two kids- a boy around 9 and a girl around 5.  The boy understood English very well but was shy about speaking with us.

After talking for a short while, we were invited to dinner, which was served outside.  Dinner was absolutely delicious!  First there was ciorba, a traditional Romanian soup, which had meatballs in it, and bread.  Then there was mamaliga (a cornmeal dish similar to polenta).  After that there were sausages.  And finally there was a dessert, which I sadly don’t remember as I was so stuffed by that point.  Throughout the meal, there were also several toasts over horinca, a homemade vodka.  Our hosts offered us three different kinds of horinca: apple, plum, and blueberry.

Over dinner and for a while after, we spoke with the other guests about a wide range of topics, including politics, families, living and visiting various countries, the school systems in various countries, etc.  At the table, there was a dentist, a medical student, a film photographer, a linguist, two kids, a teacher (my mom), a realtor (my dad), and a TEFL teacher (me).  It was a fun night getting to know other people.

The following morning, we ate breakfast all together at the same table.  This time, we had toast with homemade butter and jam, pancakes (stuffed with brinza, a homemade cow’s cheese, and plain), tea, coffee, and vegetables.  Our hosts offered us horinca once again, but we all declined.  Following breakfast, we packed up and headed on our way.

Our drive from Breb to Suceava, our next destination, was a long one.  We wanted to do one of the mountain passes and had chosen to do the Prislop Pass.  We were unaware, however, that there was construction on the road the entire duration of the Prislop Pass.  This meant that every 400 meters or so, the road would turn from two narrow lanes with a drop off on one side to just one narrow lane.  The pass, while gorgeous, took a very long time to get through and was a bit harrowing due to the road work.  We had hoped to make it to see the painted monasteries around Suceava, but we got in too late to see any.  This was definitely disappointing and we also felt like we lost an entire day of our trip just travelling.

We stayed in Suceava for the night, then began our return to Moldova early the following morning.  Thankfully, it wasn’t too long of a trip, though we did have a bit of a hassle getting through at the border.  In the end, though, we made it back to Moldova safe and sound, which is what is important.

Where we stayed: Casa Opris (Airbnb) in Breb ||  Apartment in Villa (Airbnb) in Suceava

Notes and tips about visiting Breb:

  • We really enjoyed our stay at Casa Opris.  The hosts were generous and kind, the other guests friendly, and the food delicious!  One thing to note is that the hosts do not speak English.
  • The Breb area is very beautiful and reminded us a lot of Switzerland.
  • If you’re hoping to go from Breb area to the painted monasteries, you’ll want to give yourself more time than we did.  We had thought the distance was shorter and also didn’t anticipate the road work we encountered.
  • Prislop Pass is pretty but quite difficult to drive due to all of the switchbacks.  I wouldn’t recommend driving it until the road work is finished.
  • There are very few places to get food between Breb and Suceava, so pack some food!

Travel in Romania: Maramureş County [Wooden Churches]

We left Sighişoara in the morning and headed towards Maramureş County, which is in the north of Romania.  We were blessed with amazing views on our drive, which was a bit longer than we expected.  In the early afternoon, we reached the first of the wooden churches we visited.  The churches in this area were built of wood because Ottoman rulers wouldn’t allow them to build with long-lasting stone.  However, although they were meant to last for a short while, several of them are still in existence today.  Most are bare wood on the outside and the walls inside are completely covered with hand-painted murals.

Ieud
Ieud

The first wooden church we visited was in Ieud.  This church is believed to have been built in 1364 (though there is disagreement on this and some believe it wasn’t built until the 16th century) and as such is considered the oldest wooden church in the Maramureş area.  It is built of fir and is a UNESCO heritage site.  Pictures weren’t allowed inside, but the inside was covered in fairly well-preserved murals covering pretty much every surface.  There is also a ladder inside that is built from one large piece of wood, which is quite unique.  We went inside the church to admire the murals and spent a short time walking around the cemetery that surrounds the church.

Botiza
Botiza
Botiza
Botiza
Botiza
Botiza

Our next stop was in Botiza.  The wooden church here was built in 1699 in another site, and transferred to Botiza in 1899.  It is a typical wooden church of this area, though it’s front porch is larger than normal.  The murals inside were not in as good of shape as at Ieud, but still interesting.

Stacking hay near Botiza
Barsana Monastery
Barsana Monastery
Barsana Monastery

We had planned for our next stop to be at Bârsana, but we somehow ended up at Bârsana Monastery instead of the historical church.  We still enjoyed walking around Bârsana Monastery, which has a recently built wooden church as well as many wooden buildings of different purposes.  There were nice views from the monastery and it was well-maintained with gorgeous gardens.

Barsana Monastery
My parents at Barsana Monastery
Barsana Monastery
Barsana Monastery

We had hoped to visit additional wooden churches, but it was late by then, so we headed on our way to Breb, where we were spending the night.

Notes and tips about visiting the Wooden Churches of Maramureş:

  • You really need at least a full day if you want to see all of the main churches.  We only ended up seeing two of the historic wooden churches, despite planning to see at least six of them, because we got to the area so late.
  • The drive from village to village where the churches are located are very short distance-wise but take a bit of time as the speed limits are fairly slow and there are other small villages in between.
  • There is a fee to enter some of the churches, but not in others.  I believe it was around 10 RON at Ieud.
  • Of the churches we visited, there was information posted in English, but some things were only posted in Romanian and Hungarian (I speak fluent Romanian, so I was able to translate for my parents).

Travel in Romania: Sighişoara

We arrived in Sighişoara, a medieval walled town, in the early afternoon.  There is no parking within the walled town, so we parked down below the back gate entrance and walked up the hill to check out the town before our 2:00 check in.  This city is older and smaller than Braşov.  Parts of it date to the 12th century, though much was built in the 14th and 15th centuries.  It is now a UNESCO heritage site and considered one of the best preserved medieval towns in Europe.

We ate lunch at the Cafe International and then checked into our room at Casa Wagner.  After, we headed towards the Clock Tower, the top attraction in the town, but decided to wait to enter as there were several large school groups going in.  We wandered around the entire perimeter of the town, checking out the various towers (only a couple are open to the public) and many-centuries-old houses and buildings.

Once we had thoroughly explored the perimeter, we returned to the Clock Tower, where we paid to enter the town and climb up to the upper balcony.  On the way up, on each floor, there is a museum about the history of the citadel.  The balcony has good views of both the walled citadel and the surrounding city, as well as small plaques indicating in which direction and how far away various cities are.  My mom, who isn’t a fan of heights, didn’t particularly like the balcony views, but I thought they were pretty cool.

After we visited the Clock Tower, my dad went to the Torture Museum while my mom and I sat on the church steps near the tower.  We then wandered around the town a bit more before climbing the Scara Scolarilor (Scholar’s Stairs), which are 176 covered steps, built in 1642, that lead to the Church on the Hill.

We spent a bit of time relaxing in our room before heading out for dinner.  We ate at Hotel Sighişoara Restaurant, then spent some time sitting in the Piata Cetatii (Citadel Square) taking in our surroundings.

Where we stayed: Casa Wagner (Booking.com)

Notes and tips about visiting Sighişoara:

  • The walled city is pretty small.  One day to walk around it is plenty.  It seemed like most people were visiting as a day trip.  One of the advantages to staying directly in the citadel was that many of the tourists cleared out by dinner time, so it was quieter to explore in the evening.
  • It is a very remarkable medieval town.  When we first entered, it felt a little like actually going back in time.
  • There is parking below the back gate entrance.  We paid the daily rate, and then had to pay again in the morning, even though we were leaving, because the daily rate only covers one calendar day.  This was fine with us, as we were just happy there was no fine/ticket for parking overnight.
  • Be prepared for lots of stairs! We walked up both the Clock Tower and the Scholar’s Stairs within about an hour.  It was lots of stairs at once, but worth it.

Travel in Romania: Rupea Fortress

While on our way from Braşov to our next destination, Sighişoara, we were driving through a town when we saw what appeared to be a large walled fortress on the hill above the town.  My dad thought he may have read about it while researching what to do in Romania, so we decided to check it out.  Thankfully the fortress, Rupea Fortress, was open, and when we arrived there were only a few other cars.

We spent about an hour or so exploring the fortress, which was fairly empty of other people until shortly before we left.  The outside walls, towers, and a few of the original houses have all been beautifully restored.  The fortress was built sometime before 1324 and is located at one of the oldest archaeological sites in Romania.It is believed to be built upon Dacian, the civilization in this area that preceded Roman rule, ruins.

Although only 5 houses have been restored, historians believe at least 400 people lived within the walls.  The citadel has sweeping views of the gorgeous mountain landscapes of Transylvania.  We really enjoyed the views and exploring the citadel.

Notes and tips about visiting Rupea Fortress:

  • The citadel is easy to view from the road and located pretty much midway between Braşov and Sighişoara.  You just have to follow the signs for “Cetaţii Rupea”- it’s very easy to get to.
  • There is adequate parking just outside the gates.
  • The entry fee was 10 RON (a little over $2) per adult.
  • We just explored on our own, but you can pay an additional price or an audio tour if you’d like.
  • We visited in the morning, around 11:00, which seemed to be a good time to visit with only a few other visitors.  By the time we left, a little after noon, it had become much more crowded.

Travel in Romania: Braşov

Council Square

We arrived in Braşov in the early evening.  After checking into our hotel room and finding parking (which was a bit of a hassle), we immediately set out to explore the Braşov historic town, which was founded in 1211 by the Teutonic Knights.  We were quite hungry, so first on our list was to find some food.  We ate at a burger place right in the town square, then walked around some more.

Nicolae Titulescu Park
Me and my dad at Nicolae Titulescu Park
My mom and dad at Nicolae Titulescu Park
Historic center
Historic center
The Old Town Hall

The historic town is really cool, with so many old buildings (many are restored, others are in less-than-ideal shape, especially off the main town center).  The citadel is encased by a medieval wall, complete with towers and a gate entry (Catherine’s Gate) dating to 1559.  Our first night, we checked out the Council Square as well as the Nicolae Titulescu Park, which is located just outside the historical town center.  We also walked down some of the streets connected to the Council Square.

Council Square
View from the Black Tower

Our second day, we checked out the Council Square again (it was less crowded), the outside of the Black Church (Biserica Neagra), and the defensive fortifications of the town.

View from the Graft Bastion of the Black Church
View from the Graft Bastion
Museum located in the Graft Bastion, which we visited on opening day
Graft Bastion
My parents in front of the Graft Bastion
Strada Dupa Ziduri- Behind the Walls Street

We walked along Strada Dupa Ziduri (Behind the Walls Street), hiking up to see the White Tower and Black Tower as well as the Graft’s Bastion.

Catherine’s Gate
Strada Sforii (Rope Street)

We then explored some more side streets before making our way to the other side of the citadel to see Catherine’s Gate (1559), Schei Gate (1827), and Strada Sforii (Rope Street), which is one of the narrowest streets in Europe.

Carpenter’s Tower
Carpenter’s Tower
Draper’s Bastion
Draper’s Bastion
Peacock flowers at a park

From there, we headed towards Tampa Mountain, although we didn’t go up the mountain.  Instead we walked along Aleea Tiberiu Breliceanu, which is just outside the city walls.  There, we saw The Weaver’s Bastion, The Carpenter’s Tower, and the Draper’s Bastion.

Council Square at night
Old Town Hall, night
Council Square, night

We ate dinner at an Irish Pub and Restaurant, a little bit off from the Council Square, where I had the best meal of our trip (Guinness Pie- so good!).  We checked out the square at night, which was just as beautiful as during the day, then headed to bed.  The following morning, we headed on our way.

Where we stayed: Residence Central Annapolis (Booking.com)

Notes and tips about visiting Braşov:

  • There’s a lot to see and do around the town- I’d recommend walking around to see as much or as little as you’d like.
  • There is a lift up to Tampa Mountain and you can also walk up to the top, where you have good views of the town from above, but we didn’t do either.  Instead, there are nice views from the White Tower, which is off of Strada Dupa Ziduri.
  • We really enjoyed where we stayed, and had a really nice room there.  One early evening, before heading out to eat dinner, we played cards and shared a bottle of wine in the inside courtyard.
  • I wish I had read up a bit more about the town’s history before we went, but most things are well labeled with informational signs.
  • Other than food and lodging, everything we did was free!