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October 20, 2010

We travel to Romania

We are in Bucharest, Romania visiting my daughter Louisa and her husband Chris and their daughter Neva. Our flights over from Raleigh/Durham to London/Heathrow on the 9th was on American and the flight from London to Bucharest on British Airways were both almost on time and not packed full so the travel was straight forward. Our checked luggage arrived too and Louisa met us at the airport and we took a taxi to their apartment which is very modern and nice. The +7 hour time zone difference has taken a few days to adjust. Unfortunately, I picked up a sinus cold somewhere along the way so I have both been doing a lot of sleeping but we are now mostly on local time.
Our first several days were spent locally here walking around Bucharest and learning to use the busses and subway which are clean, efficient and modern. Bucharest has a lot of parks with the latest playground equipment for the kids. Neva enjoys them and has made some local friends that she meets at the park. She is in the Mark Twain School here and really enjoys it. The school bus picks her up and drops her off right in front of their apartment which is very convenient for mom and dad.
We accompanied Louisa to the local grocery store and it was interesting to see that prices, variety and quality are on a par with the US or better. Romania wine is a bargain and good quality wines can be bought for the equivalent of $10-15 per 750 ml bottle. Their rent is comparable to what they were paying in Jamaica Plain (Boston) for about the same square footage and is equally as nice. Gas of course is expensive by US standards – about $6/gallon – but most of the vehicles here are fuel efficient.
Last Friday we went with Chris and Louisa to a local car dealer and they bought a used ’07 white diesel Hyundai Santa Fe 4X4 with the 3rd row seat. It should be paid for, registered, insured and ready for them to drive in the next day or so – subject to all the bureaucracy and the requirement to get all documents “stamped” in several different locations! The price includes a 24% VAT!!
Last weekend they rented a car (from Thrifty!) and we drove northwest of Bucharest through the Prahova Valley through Ploiesti and on to Sinaia in Transylvania. This part of Romania is rugged scenic mountains and the road wound its way up through the valleys. We stopped in Sinaia where we had lunch and toured the Castle Peles and then drove on to Brasov where we had reservations at the Pantex Hotel. It was very modern, clean and comfortable for the equivalent of about $60/room per night and included a full European breakfast. That evening we ate at a restaurant recommended by the hotel called Taverna Sarbului and had a large very good complete meal with wine and dessert for about $30 per person. Not cheap but well worth the money.
We walked around the town center before and after dinner and the streets were clean and well lit with a light Saturday night crowd all well dressed for a night out. Romanians are generally slim (unlike the increasingly typical obese American) and the women all dress in very stylish clothes. There are a very high percentage of smokers here and the health awareness is less obvious than in the US. Most restaurants (including the one we went to) allow smoking and do not have a no smoking area. I had forgotten how bad it is to try and enjoy a meal in a smoke filled room!
Sunday morning we walked around town again and then pressed on to Bran and the “Dracula” Bran Castle there. The castle is situated on top of the pass where the river enters the valley and commands an impressive view over the pass. It was built in the 1300’s by the Teutonic Knights and later became the home of Vlad the Impaler who earned the name by impaling his victims!
The area at the foot of the castle is filled with stalls of merchants selling tourist stuff and snack foods. We stopped at the stand that was making Kurtos Kolac which is a sweet biscuit like dough rolled onto a wood mandrel and baked by rolling it over an open charcoal fire until golden brown. It is then coated with a sweet glaze and rolled in a flavor of cinnamon, or nuts, garlic, sesame, chocolate or coconut! Very yummy! We bought several flavors and ate them in the car on the way back to Bucharest.
We have been inside most of the last two days with overcast rainy weather. We did venture out with Louisa to the local mall and the “Carrefour” mega store. It is much like a super Wal-Mart and is the largest, cleanest, best stocked store of this kind that I have ever been in anywhere! Prices were very competitive with the best US discount stores.
We plan to drive out into the countryside again this weekend to see more of rural Romania and then leave for London Monday. We are enjoying our visit with family and the opportunity to see and learn more about Romania.

Posted by Dick at 12:07 AM