Is this the year you are considering travel to Europe? The tour companies are telling us early bookings suggest a busy travel year in Europe. Airfares remain as high as they were last year, but travelers continue to flood the Continent. Eastern Europe is gaining popularity. You may be interested in knowing that when a period film is set in old Europe many exterior scenes are shot in Bulgaria and Romania. A lot of modernization has not occurred here yet. This is a part of Europe that still has narrow streets and so much architecture resembles the 13th and 14th centuries. Even the castles look almost foreboding. Eastern Europe is Europe’s most up-and-coming destination with its lush history and culture of Transylvania, Bucharest and more.
Let’s do an imaginary 13-day tour of the area. We begin with a regularly scheduled overnight flight to Sofia, Bulgaria. Being greeted by our tour manager with a warm “Dobre Doshal,” which is welcome in Bulgarian, we are transferred to a nice hotel for check-in, a warm shower and a few hours of sleep after the long flight. That evening you meet the others that are part of the tour along and enjoy a fine dinner.
The next morning, wake up refreshed and ready for some interesting sightseeing. Sofia is one of the European Union’s newest and most walkable capitals. With a guide leading the way, pass the parliament building, Viennese-style royal palace and the restored national theater, stopping along the way to admire the golden Ottoman domes that distinguish Sofia’s skyline. You have yet to see cathedrals and much more. In the afternoon you’ll want to spend some time in some of the cathedrals to examine the many art pieces displayed.
On the following morning drive to Viliko Tarnovo, a city set against the Yantra River. With a local guide, you’ll see scores of ancient ruins and crumbling fortresses that lend the city an old-world feel. Why not meander among the Samovodska Charshi district’s high stone walls, balconied homes and narrow, cobbled streets? This is what you probably came for, an old Europe look. You can enter the Tsarevets Fortress, once a citadel, now a relic of the city’s storied past. After a full day of sightseeing its time to freshen up and enjoy dinner.
The next day, it’s off on more amazing sightseeing. At the foot of the Trapezitsa and Tsarevets hills, and just outside Veliko Tarmovo’s medieval fortifications, discover one last sight: the Church of St. Demetrius of Thessaloniki.
Then we board a motor coach destined for the Black Sea coast. There will be several interesting stops along the way. Your destination is Varna, where a feast of a dinner awaits you.
Now its time for a free day on your own. Walk the many streets, including the ambling beach walks, to take in the local doings and culture, with a stroll through Primorski Park; and then have lunch at an inviting little restaurant. In the afternoon take a side trip to the coastal village of Balchik and the Kap Kaliakra peninsula for some stunning cliffside photography of the Black Sea and a visit to a Romanian queen’s summer villa. Late in the afternoon the coach will take you back to Varna.
This morning, say goodbye to Bulgaria as you head for Bucharest. There will be fascinating stops along the way. Cross the Danube River and continue on to Bucharest.
Rest well this night for there are all kinds of wonderful scenes the next day. Here you will find classical buildings, some from the Art Deco to Neo Classical eras. Take a walk down Victory Street, the city’s oldest boulevard. Admire the ornate Trumphal Arch, lavish Savings Bank and Ceausescu’s grandiose palace, constructed under the Communist regime. Continue on to distinctive squares and soon come to the Village Museum, which is outdoors and the largest of its kind anywhere. It will give you a view into Romanian village life and folk traditions. From here, you can simply explore on until your feet won’t take anymore walking. Then it’s back to the hotel for the evening.
Time now to travel into the heart of Transylvania to Sibiu. Traditionally, vampires have been Transylvania’s claim to fame, but slowly and steadily, the region is gaining acclaim for its culturally rich cities. Recently Sibiu was proclaimed the Capital of Culture. Why? Your guided tour will begin in the old town, taking in the towering gates and walls that prettily enclose the city. Next, enter the Lutheran Cathedral, a breathtaking example of Gothic architecture. Now, cross the cast-iron Liar’s Bridge and find yourself entering Huet Square and its mix of Gothic buildings. Stand in one place and focus on the breathtaking Gothic architecture of the buildings that surround you. You will be clicking your camera many times here. Tonight, enjoy your Romanian dinner with a glass of local wine. Many say it’s the finest in Europe.
With the next day free, you will be itching to leave your hotel to explore the several parks and to walk down the cobble stone streets. This is really old Europe at its finest. I suggest also a tour to medieval Saxon villages that will remind you of the Dracula movies you have seen. All you need is the foreboding music that accompanied the sound tracks.
Of course you can’t leave Transylvania without visiting the legendary Bran Castle. With the Carpathian Mountains as your backdrop, make your way to medieval Brasov for a walking tour of the city’s historic center, narrow alleyways, stone walls and towering Gothic churches. On your way back to Sibiu, stop in Bran for a guided tour of Dracula’s Castle.
It is a national monument and landmark in Romania situated between Transylvania and Wallachia. It became famous when Bram Stoker introduced Dracula in his book, which is in fact based on legend. Many of the locals believe in the legend of Dracula and his terrible deeds. Some even believe in vampires. It’s up to you, but touring the ancient castle may help you believe the legend. All you will need is Bella Lugosi as your tour leader.
This is a dramatic fortress castle and worthy of some time. The rugged surroundings also complement the castle.
There are more places and castles to explore on your way back to Bucharest for a night’s stay before boarding your scheduled flight back to the good old U.S.A.
You have to be in good shape to enjoy this Eastern European tour because it requires a lot of walking in order to relish the towns and cities to their fullest. Be sure to take a raincoat and umbrella because you never know how much it will rain. This will be one of those trips you will always remember.
I strongly suggest your taking the time to consult a travel agent who will give you brochures outlining the itineraries and tour features, prices and what is included. It’s wise to plan well.