Transylvania, Romania: An Affordable Fairytale

So far, I haven’t done a single blog post on a country we’ve lived in because condensing 1-3 months into a single blog post felt intimidating.  But today I decided to finally go for it and at least share part of our adventures in Romania with you all!  Romania was the very first country we “based” ourselves in while teaching with VIPKID.  We stayed in the capital, Bucharest, from October to December 2018.  It was great stepping stone for us because it has a relatively low cost of living, high-speed internet, pretty scenery (I wanted autumn leaves & snowy winters!), and an airport with tons of cheap flights.  We spent a lot of time teaching, but also did some sight-seeing around Bucharest and Transylvania.  I’m saving Bucharest for a second post because we did actually visit Transylvania twice (once in October by ourselves, and once in November with my parents), so this post is pretty photo-heavy already!  Anyways – on to our cheap European fairytale!

Bran

The first trip we took in Romania was to Bran castle – better known as “Dracula’s castle” – in October.  Writing about it now while in tropical Malaysia makes me a little jealous and nostalgic!  The nickname is a little confusing – of course, Dracula wasn’t a real person, so how can this be his castle?  (Skip this paragraph if you don’t care about history/literature!)  When Bram Stoker wrote “Dracula,” he based the main character’s castle on a written description of the real Bran Castle.  The region around Bran Castle did also hold beliefs in evil spirits called “steregoi,” which may have also influenced Stoker’s book.  The name of Stoker’s character is tied to Vlad Dracula (aka Vlad the Impaler), who was actually a ruler of Wallachia in the 1400s (not a Transylvanian nobleman/vampire).  Vlad was imprisoned in Bran Castle for 2 months, but never lived there.  His home castle remains in Wallachia.  Bran Castle was built in the 1200s as a way to establish Teuton (Germanic tribe) influence and went through a whole series of different owners, the most notable one being Romanian Queen Maria in the 1920s, whose descendants still own it today.

Okay, the history lesson is over!  Bran Castle is actually rather small and simple.  It has a very cozy feel to it, with lots of fireplaces, woodwork, and brick.  The rooms and hallways go in a square around a cute little courtyard with a well and some climbing plants.  There is a no-longer-secret passageway that you can climb up!  It’s all very charming.  They do also play up the connection to Dracula with fun Halloween decorations and events, but have lots of information about the real history of the castle as well.  It is equally gorgeous with autumn leaves (when Tommy and I first went) or late-November snow (when we went with my parents)!

Brasov

The city of Brasov is on the way from Bucharest to Bran, so after checking out Bran Castle we headed back there for the night.  We checked out Council Square, the Black Church (interior was closed both times we were there, unfortunately), and the 15th century citadel.  We ate at a random restaurant that turned out to be really cool – you walk through a brick passageway into a garden, then down some steps and you are in some super brick cozy rooms with couches, books, candles, arches, and Renaissance-style art prints on backlit glass.  It was on a street with lots of cute shops so we checked out a few of those as well.  Our AirBnB was also across from a park with lots of roses that we walked through a couple times.  I actually loved Brasov a lot even though it was only a stop-over city!

Busteni

Part 1 of the trip to Transylvania we pretty much did exactly the same by ourselves and with my parents.  Part 2 we did slightly differently.  When we went to Transylvania with my parents, on the way back from Bran/Brasov we stopped in Busteni for lunch and a little sight-seeing.  We had planned to take the cable car up into the Bucegi mountains, but it was closed due to windy weather.  We also went to Cantacuzino Castle, but had missed their English tour and self-guided tours aren’t allowed, so we just checked out the outside instead.  Despite our two major tourist plans being slightly foiled, the gorgeous mountain views and nice architecture still made it a fun little stop!

Sinaia

On our trip to Transylvania by ourselves, Tommy and I skipped Busteni and went straight to Sinaia.  Here we visited Pele’s Castle, which is quite different from Bran Castle in size and style – both are beautiful, but Pele’s Castle definitely has the “wow” factor!  It was built in the 1800’s for Romania’s first king as a hunting estate/family summer home.  The outside of it is actually featured in the cheesy but cute Netflix movie “A Christmas Prince!” 

The inside is quite stunning with lots of different European styles as well as an “oriental” themed room.  Pictures weren’t technically allowed but a fair number of people were taking cell phone pictures so we snapped a few quick ones ourselves.  There was another secret passageway in the library – Romanian castles are pretty awesome!  Unfortunately, the interior was closed for cleaning (?) the entire month of November, so my parents did get to see the outside but not the inside.  Tommy and I also had some super delicious mulled wine nearby but that restaurant was also closed when my parents visited.

On the trip with my parents, we toured Pelisor Castle instead!  It is part of the same complex as Pele’s Castle and was originally build as a residence for the king’s nephew/heir and his wife (Queen Marie).  It is smaller and a little less grandiose, but still beautiful.  There was one super crazy room that was completely covered in gold leaf which was definitely one of the most impressive rooms in both Pele’s and Pelisor Castle.  It was absolutely glowing!  No photo-taking again here and they seemed more strict than Pele’s so we did not get any of our own inside, but thank you internet for a couple to show off!

On both trips to Transylvania we visited Sinaia Monastery, which has a very tranquil series of courtyards and two interesting churches (one from the 17th century and the other from the 19th).  On one of the trips we got to witness some elements of Orthodox ceremony (multiple people chanting while rotating a worship book), which was quite interesting.

Sinaia is also just a great place to walk around and admire the architecture, so we enjoyed finding interesting houses both times.  Tommy and I fell in love with one that turns out to be a half-a-million-euro former hotel that was the secret meeting place of the crown prince and his paramour

During both trips, Transylvania absolutely stole my heart.  I love the unique architecture, gorgeous mountains, and weather that transforms it into something out of a fairytale!  Romania is definitely an underrated European country.  Plus you can drink mulled wine and eat Dracula schnitzel. 😉  Keep an eye out for future posts, which will at some point get into where we lived for real!  Lots of love to everyone back home. 💕

4 Replies to “Transylvania, Romania: An Affordable Fairytale”

  1. Awesome! I saw “A Christmas prince” – the cheesy movies are the best ones to watch when it’s -10 and you’re stuck inside 🌬❄️. Thanks for the real pic of the castle 😊

  2. Oh my goodness! What beautiful/ornate/luxurious/extravagant buildings. Can you imagine being a builder of one of those places? Absoulutely above-the-line places! Can’t even imagine having the $$ for that kind of stuff. Glad you two are enjoying seeing & visiting these spots.
    May God continue to keep you safe!
    Love you,
    Gramps S. (aka “Pops”)

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