Posts Tagged With: traveling alone

Traveling alone in Romania – Adventures in Transylvania

Two years ago, almost to the day, I found myself alone in Transylvania.

Biggest takeaway – it was beautiful.

Sinaia Monestary – Transylvania

Romania had always been one of my random must-see hot spots. Sure, saying you’ve been to Transylvania is a fun one-up on people, being one of those off-the-beaten-path destinations, but I’ve also always been drawn to that Eastern European landscape. So when I was asked to go Bucharest and train our European recruitment team, I jumped at the chance.

Beautiful walk near Parcul Izvor in Bucharest

I spent a week in our Global Business Services office, training and meeting my European counterparts, before then taking a long weekend to explore Transylvania before finally heading home to the husband and kids.

And let me tell you – Romania is a delightful little spot to go exploring alone. English is widely spoken, people are friendly, and anyone who’s not a complete travel amateur will find it easy to navigate. Because it’s not super touristy, you don’t have to worry about getting conned. Uber is widely used and dirt cheap.

It’s beautiful country in general but when I was there the fall colors were positively magnificent and every autumn since I haven’t been able to see a golden leaf without remembering the lovely week and half I spent in Romania.

Bucharest

Famous umbrella street

My first week in Bucharest was for work and we all stayed at the JW Marriott Bucharest Grant Hotel. This is a truly upscale hotel and it seems to be where a good amount of high class people stay (some musician and Japanese diplomat were there while we were). From a cultural standpoint I wouldn’t necessarily recommend it – you know me, I like unique and quaint – but it was a very nice place and in a pretty easy-to-get-around location. The palace is literally right across the giant round-about death circle.

View from my room at the Marriott – two years ago they were working round-the-close on this massive orthodox cathedral. I assume it’s done now.

It doesn’t look like a common area to take a walk but we did anyway and the guards were very suspicious of us snapping pictures.

Somewhat frowned upon picture of the palace at night

A few of my co-workers and I stumbled upon an absolutely delightful restaurant within walking distance called Locanta Jaristea. It’s entrance is completely unassuming – we honestly were a bit worried we were walking into someone’s house –

but once the door was open we were blasted with music and clapping and a total overload of stuff. Locanta Jaristea was a cornucopia of tourist bliss. The menu was almost entirely meat, the establishment was filled with gaudy relics of Romanian past, and dancers and performers entertained us non-stop.

A veritable Romanian-mariachi band walked amongst the tables and serenaded us. Since all four of us were from different countries (Czech Republic, Slovakia, Hungary, and myself from the US) we were all treated to a “traditional” song from our country. I got Frank Sinatra.

The entire experience was delightful and I recommend visiting this establishment whole heartedly.

The weekend I was there they were hosting a street food and wine festival (#MEGAstreetfood) that literally took place at the palace. It was amazing and if you happen to be there when it’s happening – or if you want to plan your trip around it – I highly recommend it. The food trucks were so much fun (over 50!) and the wine tasting took place in the palace – you were able to walk around, learn about the different vendors, taste and buy bottles, etc. It was a really unique and fun experience that happens annually.

After this – I was on my own. I walked and explored the city – both on my own, but also in an organized tour. Both were excellent ways to see this Romanian capital. I always recommend explorers partake in at least one guided tour of a city, even if it’s a free one, but for Bucharest especially. There is so much history – recent history – to see and understand here. Bucharest looks very rough (there is graffiti everywhere) and to understand the cultural explanation of that was really rewarding.

Most Memorable Sights in Bucharest – 1-2 days

Parcul Izvor was a sweet little place not far from the Palace – I stumbled upon a touristy little craft market while on my way to Origo for some tea (see more below!)

Below are sights from my own walking and wandering – I didn’t end up doing a free walking tour but I guarantee if you go on one it’ll hit a lot of the beautiful spots below.

The tour I did end up taking was through Intrepid Urban Adventures, their Dark Side of Bucharest tour. The scariest part was almost certainly meeting in front of the KFC. We ended up visiting two cemeteries and, while they were a bit obnoxious to get to on the subway, it was interesting to see something I never would have visited on my own. The guide had some great stories, too.

After the cemetery visits, we were also taken around to the various monuments and locations of the revolution. This part was great and I really appreciated having the guide. I had always walked past a lot of the areas but didn’t know the details. It’s such recent past and I really felt I learned a lot about the city. I definitely recommend Urban Adventures if you’re open to paying for a tour.

That concluded all the activities of Bucharest before I made my way up to Transylvania. I found some amazing places to eat and relax though – see below:

Favorite Cafes and Restaurants in Bucharest

Origo
More known for the coffee, they were SO kind when I asked about the tea selection. She actually brought out the canisters for me to sniff (I chose one with infused violet) and gave me one of the many wool blankets for my lap. Delightful.

Cozy spot at Origo

Cărturești Carusel
If you know anything about my travel habits – this is my happy place. It’s a book store with amazing architecture and a café on the top floor. It has literally everything. I ordered a lemonade with orange and mint and made plans to eventually be buried here if my plans for living forever don’t work out.

Pasta Restaurant
Yes. It’s literally called Pasta Restaurant. They make fresh pasta on site, the décor is adorable, and they have dried pasta under glass on the tables. I meaaaan COME ON. Loveeee.

Pasta Restaurant

Cărtureşti Verona
Quite literally one of my favorite concepts in the world. It’s a book store, tea studio, and project space all in a unique historical building. It’s lesser known than it’s downtown sister but I loved it even more. Beneath lovely trees with flowers and happy people – delicious food with specials of the day and flavored lemonades. I asked if I could live there, but they said no.

Animaletto Pizza Bar
Absurdly adorable pizza place with a lovely patio space. I’m a sucker for good lighting and paving stones (oh, and the pizza was also legit).

Nothing like ordering a whole pizza for myself

Nomad Skybar
This place is in a really fun location right on one of the main restaurant/club areas. It’s a bit seedy of an area, the “old town” but still one you are bound to visit if you’re doing any kind of nighttime activity in Bucharest. Nomad was fun because the rooftop allowed for some great views of the city and people watching below (also with tasty apps and drinks!)

Brașov

After my week in Bucharest I hopped the train, 2.5 hours, up to Brașov, Transylvania. It’s surrounded by the Carpathian Mountains and is known for it’s medieval walls, the Black Church, and a beautiful Council Square. It’s so adorable with cobbled streets and an entire street dedicated to outdoor restaurant seating. Oddly, it has a Hollywood-esque sign on the mountain side that totally takes away from the historic air but I liked the quirkiness of it.

See the Brasov sign?

You won’t need more than a day, maybe two, here. I only spent the one night before moving on, but I enjoyed putzing around the little town. The free walking tour available was quite good as well.

View of Brașov from the sign. Can you see the main square below?

Not surprisingly, one of the main things to do is go to the top of the mountain to view the city. There’s a platform literally right next to the Brașov/Hollywood sign which I found lovely and hilarious. The views are truly amazing though. You can either hike the whole thing or, after a short beautiful walk, you can just ride a cable car to the top.

Edge of the sign from the viewing platform

Piața Sfatului, or the Council Square, is a lovely place to chill out and people watch. It’s clearly the most central part of the city with great views of the mountains, cafes, a fountain and historical buildings. People use this as a meeting place and the vibrancy of the city shows here. I grabbed a snack at La Ceaun which wasn’t bad but wasn’t great either. The vibe made it worth it, though.

I stayed the night at a hostel up the hill (Kismet Dao – I think it might be closed now) which was fine but not something I would specifically recommend unless you are a legit 20-something backpacker. I left early, opting to walk the almost 3 miles to the train station. Seeing the town square at dawn was really quite amazing and I’m glad I tired out my feet to do so.

There were a few more things I could have done in Brașov, but I opted to head to one of the many castles of Transylvania. Now – I had a few options and one of those was, notably, Bran Castle or “Dracula’s Castle”.

I skipped it.

I decided I didn’t need the tourism – it had very heavily mixed reviews – and instead headed for what was touted to be the far better castle in Sinaia.

Sinaia

Best known for it’s castle and a ski resort town, Sinaia was relatively sleepy while I was there. But that didn’t bother me in the least. I was there at the true peak of the fall foliage and the beautiful of the oranges and yellows were incredible.

My train to Sinaia was uneventful and I made it easily to my B&B, Vila Camelia. It’s super easy to get to from the train and I had an adorable top floor room with a balcony. The food was excellent. I loved the little spot and would highly recommend.

My balcony with a view ❤

It didn’t take me long to settle into the B&B and then walk up to Peleș Castle. I inadvertently took the scenic route (zigged when I should have zagged) and the road was steep but it was still a nice walk with great views up to the castle.

Now – Castle might be a bit of a misnomer as it’s really more of a palace, or legit nice house, but it’s well worth a visit. From the grounds to the inside, everything is immaculate and well-preserved. The guides are great and I learned a lot about the history of Romania.

And that was it! After seeing Sinaia it was back on the train to Bucharest, one more night there in a hostel, the Podstel Umbrella, (super nice with private rooms!) and then back on the plane for home.

I truly enjoyed my time in Romania and while, honestly, at the time I didn’t rank it as one of my top vacations, I find myself thinking back to the week or so I spent there a lot. It’s a country where I found some of the best things I love – book stores and views and flavored lemonades. I wouldn’t turn down the chance to go again.

Categories: Travel | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Book Review: A House in the Sky – 5 out of 5

A House in the Sky by Amanda Lindhout

Print

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

There’s a reason why this book is so popular – Lindhout’s courage to tell her story is something people should pay attention to. Few who go through her distress live, and even fewer are willing to open their experience to the world. It can’t have been easy but I’m really glad Lindhout did. This is an excellent book which, for it’s length, depth, and emotions ties I read it very quickly.

Lindhout’s personality really came though and I identified with her so clearly. She loves to travel and see the world. She has the pull to go anywhere and everywhere. I can 100% understand. I can understand the thrill of traveling somewhere “off the grid,” where your presence as a tourist is a curiosity instead of an expectancy. Where you can accidentally see what real life is like instead of a show. I haven’t traveled the way Lindhout has, and I doubt I ever will. I think it’s testament to Lindhout’s writing style that, even though I know she gets into a horrible kidnapping situation, when she’s telling me about her initial trips and all she sees and the “risks” she takes, I all I feel is jealous and envy, not fear of the unknown. She’s lived and seen amazing things. It’s incredible.

So, there’s that piece to the book. It’s the unexpected wonderful part of this story – understanding her before the kidnapping, seeing through the lens of a backpacker. There’s also the terrible part when she is kidnapped. Lindhout holds little back. She manages to take this long kidnapping step by step and not a moment of it is boring. She’s able to pull us into her mind, to see her hopes, scares, wonders, and realities. To see her struggle between hatred for her captors and understanding, to see her strategies. What I like best is that Lindhout has showed what worked – but also what didn’t. This isn’t a Hollywood movie. She makes some awful, horrible errors. Errors that I myself could have easily done in her place. It’s a gripping, terrible reality.

It’s no spoiler that Lindhout survives. What I’ve often found reading memoirs is that sometimes this does ruin things. Because the author is the main character we know they are going to make it. That doesn’t hinder the suspense in this story. I found myself wondering how it was going to work, feeling her true despair. That’s all testament to just how well this story was put together by Lindhout and her co-author.

Excellent memoir and well worth all its praise!

Categories: Debuts, Pick Ups, Travel, Weekly Review | Tags: , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Memoir Book Review: Without Reservations by Alice Steinbach


Without Reservations: The Travels of an Independent Woman
by Alice Steinbach

withoutreservations

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

This is the kind of memoir I hope I never write.

As cruel as that sounds, it’s what was going through my head as I read Steinbach’s tales of her so-called “Year of Living Dangerously.” (Actually, she may have called it something else but I really don’t want to re-read any of the book in order to find the correct wording.) Steinbach’s telling of her “adventure” consisted almost entirely of pre-made plans that were completely safe and her being chatted up by entirely harmless and friendly people who somehow were all the same.

I consider myself a traveler. I think I have made a great effort in my life to not only see new places but to experience them as well. Because of this, I felt a sharp tang of disgust as a I read Steinbach’s supposedly risky adventure. I’m going to go right ahead and sound pretentious and say there really wasn’t much risk involved. This woman went to Paris, England, and Italy, staying in hotels and often participating in tour groups. To top it off she clearly had no financial concerns even with being away from work for an entire year.

Please note that, in direct contrast with the book title, she wholeheartedly made reservations for every stop on her trip.  Yawn.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for traveling in ways that best suit you. My own “adventures” are in many ways not so different. But if you’re going to write a memoir about, there needs to be some pizzazz. By the end of the book I could guess what was going to happen – somewhere in town someone was going to randomly speak to her, they would talk, get tea, connect, maybe hang out for a couple more days, and then the cycle would repeat in another location. Oops, maybe I should say spoiler alert.

Sorry, I didn’t even realize how much this book bothered with me until I started writing this review. I should pull back a little because I don’t think it’s entirely useless. I think Steinbach had a great year of travel and I love that she did it. I just regret I had to read about it in the way I did. I think Steinbach has a good writing style (if quite clipped, likely from years in her profession as a journalist) and she did make some wonderful observations from time to time. Sometimes she really made me think and there is one particular chapter about rain in Rome that allowed me to connect with her.

But one chapter out of an entire book just isn’t enough.

If you want a good travel memoir, bypass this book. On that note, in case you were wondering, bypass Eat, Pray, Love, too (I swear, they are almost the same thing). There are so many wonderful tales out there about women adventuring and traveling alone – like Somebody’s Heart Is Burning: A Woman Wanderer in Africa or even, Nothing to Declare: Memoirs of a Woman Traveling Alone.

Categories: Put Downs, Travel, Weekly Review | Tags: , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Blog at WordPress.com.