Friday, October 23, 2020

Off the Beaten Track in Eastern Europe & Transylvania

GLOBAL TRAVELER

The impressive Bran Castle, known throughout the world as Dracula’s Castle.

The impressive Bran Castle, known throughout the world as Dracula’s Castle.

Three Eastern European countries that are not widely visited by Americans offer some of the most intriguing and historical medieval sights worth discovering.

The countries – Bulgaria, Serbia and Romania – suffered decades of brutal Communist dictatorship following World War II, endured 400 or more years of Ottoman rule and oppression, and in the case of Serbia, a recent war. Despite all these obstacles, the countries retained their cultures, continued their religions, and maintained their traditions. I was amazed on my visit to observed their economic success and progress. They deserve credit for their achievements and recognition for their changes. And their cuisine is worth tasting, heavily dependent on meat. The trip was sponsored by Gate 1 Travel, my first trip with that company.

Hunedoara Castle, Romania Photos by Dave Pattison

Hunedoara Castle, Romania Photos by Dave Pattison

We began our trip in Sophia, Bulgaria, which I thought was the most interesting city on this trip and the equal to many other cities in Europe. The highlight scene was the impressive Alexander Nevsky Eastern Orthodox Cathedral, one of the largest in the world. We also saw the palace guarded by uniformed soldiers, colorful churches, remains of a 4th century Roman rotunda, and a Bulgarian national museum.

After a long wait crossing the border to Serbia, we stopped for lunch and a visit in the historic town of Nis, which has been an important crossroad since pre-Roman times and contains a well-preserved Turkish fort. The next stop on our journey was Belgrade, the capital of Serbia, and one of the oldest cities in Europe. Like Sophia, the highlight here was another one of the oldest Orthodox cathedrals in the world, the colorful and imposing St. Sava Temple. Then we visited the imposing Kalemegdan fortress dating pedestrian as far back as the 1st century. It overlooks the Danube and Sava rivers. It has a pedestrian street in its old bohemian quarter.

Dramatic masks for sale near Bran Castle

Dramatic masks for sale near Bran Castle

The following day we stopped for lunch at Novi Sad, the second largest city in Serbia, bordering on the Danube River. A large fortress known as the “Gibraltar of the Danube” towers over the river. Novi Sad is a pretty city dominated by a pedestrian street stretching from an ornate palace on one end, and a large town hall and church at the other.

Sighisoara clock tower

Sighisoara clock tower

Traveling to Romania we stopped overnight at the attractive but little known cities of Timisoara, Sibiu, and Brasov, which are in the area of Eastern European cities called Transylvania. All have medieval and bohemian characteristics and colorful architecture.

Timisoara has a fortress and a castle and is known as “Little Vienna” for its culture. We walked to two large squares that contain many architectural gems. Sibiu has a long pedestrian cobblestone street lined with cafes and 17th and 18th century homes. It is known as a cultural center of Romania.

The author in Bulgaria

The author in Bulgaria

Along the way we stopped at Sighisoara, one of the best-preserved medieval towns in southeastern Europe, with fortified walls, cobblestone streets, 16th century gingerbread houses, and a clock tower. That evening we stayed in Brasov, which features a large town square full of ornate structures.

A featured stop on our tour was at the mythical 14th century castle of Hunedoara, which is known as one of the prettiest castles in the world. It has huge pointed towers, a massive drawbridge and high battlements. It was a magical sight.

A highlight of our trip on the next day was a tour of the fabled Bran Castle, the legendary home of the vampire, Count Dracula. It is one of the most well known and visited castles in the world, and it did not disappoint. The castle is perched high atop a 200-foot high rock, and is quite a climb up the steep and narrow medieval steps to reach the top. The spirit of the vampire evokes his presence here.

Pele. Castle in the Carpathian Mountains, near Sinaia, Romania

Pele. Castle in the Carpathian Mountains, near Sinaia, Romania

Next we visited the very romantic castle of Peles, which is well furnished and decorated with many historical and attractive items. Later we toured a monastery.

We finished our tour in Bucharest, the capital of Romania, which has been named the “Paris of the East.” Its greatest claim to fame is its former palace and present parliament (the Palace of the Parliament), the second largest building in the world after the Pentagon. The city also has a replica of the French Arc de Triumph, commemorating Romanian soldiers who died in World War I.

 

 

Dave Pattison has lived in Marco Island since 1999. He has traveled to every continent and over 100 countries, and still takes five-six trips annually. Dave is a well respected travel writer, winning first place in a Florida Press Association contest. Dave was a lawyer/lobbyist for the insurance industry, and had worked in the White House for four years before retiring. A widower, Dave has four adult children and five grandchildren.

A colorful market scene.

A colorful market scene.

Sighisoara medieval village in Romania

Sighisoara medieval village in Romania

Alexander Nevsky Cathedral, Bulgaria

Alexander Nevsky Cathedral, Bulgaria

Name of Mary church, the largest church in Novi Sad, Serbia

Name of Mary church, the largest church in Novi Sad, Serbia

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