Travelogue : A week in Romania & Rome

Romania.. a country that I’ve never dream to visit. It was not in my travel bucket list before, even the name of Bucharest never came across my travel search until I bump into a very tempting cheap flight fare to Bucharest via Qatar Airways in the internet back in 2016. A return flight ticket from Kuala Lumpur to Bucharest, Romania for only RM816 per pax seems too good to be true right? Believe it… until now I still cannot believe the price.. After just an hour discussion with my travel buddies, we agreed to proceed with the booking since we really want to explore the other part of the world. Although we booked the flight directly through Qatar Airlines website, we were very worried that it was an scam ticket, until we really checked-in for the flight on the day itself.. hahaha..

Its a short a week travel cause most of us couldn’t take long leave.. Romania was not as popular as compared to its neighboring country Hungary & its capital city Budapest, even its hard for me to plan this trip because not much of info on this country from the internet, except for its famous for the Transylvania Region and the birth place of Count Dracula.. hahaha… I tried to search for travel guides and recommendations via internet, but unfortunately, Romania is not a popular tourist destination at that time, so not much of reference available to be read. We had no real idea what to expect of the country, even my Dad a little bit concerned as we are going to an ex-communist country that might not be friendly to muslim like us. But seriously i really underestimate this country, it turned out to be a fabulous travel destination… The place was beautiful, the people was very friendly, fairly cheap as the currency rate almost the same as buying in Malaysia.. and to my surprise, lots of halal eateries too. The whole experience in Romania makes us wanna extend our holiday there. We really wish that we can explore more places and spend longer time in Romania. Ohya, we also make a few days detour to Rome as we manage to grab a cheap return flight via Ryair for just rm150 per pax. May 2016, I, my husband & 2 other friends, Ili & Wan started our journey to Romania via the Qatar Airways.

Day 1  : Bucharest

After 7.30 hour flight from Kuala Lumpur to Doha, 2.30 hour transit in Doha, and another 5 hour flight from Doha to Bucharest, we reached Hendri Coanda International Airport almost noon. Although its a long journey, we feel very excited to explore the city as we were greeted with “Welcome to Romania” ! signage everywhere. After collecting the luggage and exiting the arrival hall, we quickly took the free airport transfer to collect our rental car at Klass Wagen office. We decided to rent the car as we are planning for few days of roadtrip to explore the Romania countryside. The rentalcar pick up was quite easy and smooth and we proceed to check-into the apartment in Bucharest town. Its already late noon when we reached the apartment at the Bucharest city, so we had a quick rest before proceeding to explore the city.

The first day in Bucharest we just hanging around the city center including the old town area by foot.. Bucharest, or—as the city’s Romanian name, Bucuresti, translates to—”the city of joy.” began as a village along the Dambovita riverside before it became the country’s capital. It had 60,000 inhabitants at the beginning of the 19th century but reached 1 million residents by World War 2. Its long history has given it a diverse architectural scene, spanning from medieval architecture with Ottoman influences to neo-classical, Communist, and modern buildings. The Bucharest city had its old European charm where most of the building color is in either beige or light grey. Bucharest city is fairly a small city that easy to walk around, and it doesn’t have much impressive landmarks like the London, or Paris. We manage to see that many buildings along the Calea Victoriai Street such as the Romanian National Art Museum, The Statue of Carol I, The Biserica Kretzulescu Old Church which constructed during 1700s using brick. We didnt manage to visit into the gigantic Palace of Parliament Building as there is a festival on going when we reached the areas, so we just catch the glimpse of the building from far. As the world’s largest administrative and heaviest building, The Palace of the Parliament is one of the building that must visit list in Bucharest, even if its just to look from the outside.

The Old Town area was one of my favorite area in Bucharest, as one of the few areas in Bucharest that survived the communist bulldozers. Wandering around the preserved old quarter with its small streets full with small cafes and shop was my favorite ways to explore each city that I visit. Its fun to see some of the old buildings and quirky spaces have been thoughtfully reinvented into super cool cafes that serve Romanian specialty.

There’s few halal restaurant located at these area, so I quite excited to see lots of muslim people walking around the city too. Something that I did not expected to see here, as I thought we will having difficulties on finding halal food in this city. We were also quite lucky to coincidentally bump into an open muslim bazaar that held at an open square in the old town area that sells lots of local stuff including local halal street food too.

There’s unique, understated beauty that i discovered throughout the new and old quarters of Bucharest, and a creative scene that will no doubt leaving me impressed, like stepping back to an almost forgotten era. Walking at its street reminded me the charm of Paris, Bucharest had many beautiful and elegant buildings, only that they were vandalist with ugly communist architecture and covered in graffiti. I could feel that Bucharest feels like Paris if they neglected themselves.

Day 2  : Bucharest to Brasov

Early morning, we started our roadtrip towards north of Romania with no fix itinerary, except that we will stay for a night in Brasov. Our first stop, the Hard Rock Bucharest located just 20mins outside the Bucharest city. The Hard Rock was located facing a large lake and park, and since it was still closed when we arrived there, we hang around lake until the Hard Rock Shop opened at 11am. The lake itself was such a lovely and peaceful place for a stroll on a sunny day.

While we hang around the park, we noticed that there is a National Village Museum located just next to the Hard Rock area, so we decided to check it out after the souvenir shopping. It turn out to be a nice place to visit. From outside, it looks like just a small museum, but once we enter beyond the small building, its actually have bigger area behind the secluded landscape. We were surprise that its actually an open museum where they portray different traditional architectural of Romania based on different districts. It was fascinating peek into life in a Romanian village in the past few centuries,about building techniques, about different religions, about different parts of the country. It is one of the best museums that I have visited, with only 15 lei or about rm15 for entrance fee, I’ll recommended anybody who interested to know about Romania to pay a visit here. Really nice place to wander for a couple of hours. And we are more excited to see that there is also a festival going on which makes the whole area feel lively, where they sells locals stuff made by each district. But unfortunately, only cash accepted here. I wish I have more cash in hand that I could spend there, as they sell many beautiful hand made craft at very cheap price. We ended spend almost 3 hours wandering the whole area.

Its already past noon when we continue back on the road to Sinaia, as we planned to visit the Peles Castle located just outside Sinaia. It was a peaceful 2 hours drive from Bucharest, driving through a flat landscape with lots of local farms on the both sides of the highway. Driving in Romania was very easy as long we had the internet to guide our way there. We did make a pit stop at few places by the road whenever we see nice views and scenery.. Gradually we drive uphill through the mountain when we almost reach Sinaia. Sinaia is located in the Carpathian Mountains so the views was breathtaking. Unfortunately, it’s already late evening when we reached Sinaia, so we decided to skipped the town proceed to visit the Peles Castle. Luckily we manage to enter the castle area before the Peles Castle closed.

Peles Castle is a beautiful castle, surrounded by lush green garden, sitting majestically on top of the hill. Being built to impress the royal crowned heads around Europe, this castle is one of the best preserved Romania. We didn’t go into the castle building as we had to join the group tour guide and the tour fare is quite expensive for our pocket. Even we will have to pay for special fee to take the pictures inside. So we just hang around the ground area admiring the external building details of the building. The castle ground with its nice courtyard are picturesque especially with views of the surrounding mountains. I feel a bit disappointed that we miss the chance of going to the top of the mountain due to the time constraint. We’ve been informed that we could take a cable car from the Sinaia town to the top of the picturesque mountain.

After an hour at the Peles Castle, we continue to drove about 1 hour to Brasov. It’s almost dark when we reach Brasov, so we proceed to check into the apartment that we booked in Brasov old town area for a night stay.

Day 3 : Brasov to Sibiu

We spend the whole morning exploring the old town of Brasov. Known as the Brasov Historical Center, the old town is surrounding the Council Square (Piața Sfatului) as its center of the town. I really love this old town main square, a really good place to just sit and people watching, and giving food to the pigeons too. With the peaks of Southern Carpathian Mountains becoming the backdrop of the the town, the pace of life noticeably slow in Brasov, especially when we come from the busier Bucharest the day before.

Piața Sfatului is very large, with a fountain at its center, is surrounded by architecturally beautiful 18th-19th century buildings and pedestrian-only streets. Few significant historical building located nearby such as the Black Church, Orthodox Church, Casa Mureșenilor museum, Museum of Urban Civilization and the Hirscher House. We didnt enter the buildings, just wander around it. The air was cool, with a relaxed, romantic feel as we wander through Brasov’s narrow cobblestone streets. This long streets is full with boutiques shops, outdoor cafes and restaurants, all creating a cosy atmosphere. The cleanliness and lack of graffiti immediately struck me here. We had a leisure walk exploring its cobbled stone street and by noon we continue our journey to Bran, about 30min drive from Brasov.

At Bran, located The Bran Castle, famous for its legend to be the so-called birthplace of Count Dracula, labelled as one of the must-visit place in Romania. There was a lot of tourist traffic going through the castle when we were there. We had to queue almost 2hours just to buy the entrance ticket, and feel a bit disappointed to see the castle was quite small compared to the Peles Castle we visited the day before. From the outside it looked as per my expectations for the castle of Dracula. The castle and grounds are beautiful from the outside, however the inside of the castle is lacking, surprisingly small on the inside. It is difficult to move around in tight stairways and halls especially with big crowds and we had to waiting in line to go through the different sections of the castle and we barely can see much. We just spend about an hour to explore its building. Aside the crowd, the castle building itself is beautiful and looks well maintained.

After the disappointing experience at the castle, we hang around the streets bazaar located at the castle entrance, between the castle and the carpark. Although a lot of them sell the exact same thing, they are however very respectful and don’t bother you with trying to make a sale as you walk by their stalls. I would recommend those who searching for some cheap vampire memorabilia to spend some time here. I did buy some Brasov souvenir there. I wish we had more time to explore the streets here.

After that, we continue our journey to Sibiu. The 3 hours journey travel through the beautiful landscape and farms, and passing through few villages and towns. I wish we had more time to drop-by these villages and towns as each of them seems exciting. As a city girl with architecture background, I always feel excited to explore other cities & places, especially those old towns with significant architectural character. It’s almost dark when we reached Sibiu. We feel very excited to receive a very warmth hospitality from the Airbnb owner although we reached the apartment late.

Day 4  : Sibiu to Bucharest

We spend the whole morning exploring Sibiu Town on foot. It also had a nice town centre and large square where lots of people just hanging around this square. It has that medieval charm and you can understand why it enjoys the status of an historic town. I regret not taking much of picture here due to some personal matters happen there. Sibiu is a wonderful city. Whether you fall in love with its architecture, with its people, with the nice restaurants, shops or with its legends, there is definitely something for each of us there. I really loves the small shops and alleys at the streets there. The Old Town holds so much history and has so many stories to tell that one single visit would not be enough.

Its our last day of the roadtrip in Romania as we had to return back to Bucharest to catch an early flight the next day to Rome.. After checkout from the apartment, we drove about 4 hours straight back to Bucharest. Its already late night when we reach at our stay in Bucharest city.

I wish we had more time to spend in Romania for the roadtrip, seriously i underestimate the beauty of this country, especially the countryside.. We didn’t even manage to go up to Sighisoara, another city in north Romania famous with its old castle. We didn’t even manage to drive the scenic Transfagarasan Road. Each city that we stop have its own charming medieval town character that makes us wanted to hang around more at these area.. Even halal food was easily available at every city that we stop.. I know, one day we will come and explore the charming country again..

Day 5  : Bucharest to Rome

We took an early Ryanair flight from Bucharest to Rome after returning the rental car at the rental car office. During an hour flight, the sky was quite clear that we could see the whole landscape, even the clear view of the Colosseum upon reaching the Rome Ciampino Airport.

The Rome Ciampino airport is the smaller airport in Rome, with lesser facilities. Since there is no direct rail service from the airport, and the nearest train station is 10minutes taxi ride away, the most convenience way to the city is the take the 45mins bus ride directly from the airport. However, due to the large volume of people when we arrived, we had to queue for almost 2 hours just to take the bus to go to the city center. The bus drop us directly outside the Rome Termini Station, the main train station in Rome town center. Our apartment stay for the next 3 days in Rome was just few hundreds metre outside the train station, but walking with the heavy luggage on the cobbled street really makes us sweating and tired. Hahaha..

After having a short rest, we spend the whole evening exploring the streets of Rome on foot, until we reach the famous Trevis Fountain. The Trevi Fountain is incredibly beautiful, old and a Rome icon, and there is really not much else to do there other than gaze at its beauty. However, we unable to enjoy it due to many people and nowhere to sit. We barely managed to squeezed in to snap some pictures there.. hahaha..

Since we had limited time in Rome, and we unable to really go for souvenir hunting, we just stop at shops and stalls that we bump into along the way during our walk.. And of course the trip wont be completed without a visit to the Hardrock Rome.. Hahaha..

When the sun down, we return to the Roma Termini Station and had explore the neighboring area. We also had our dinner at the one of many muslim restaurant around the Termini Station.

Rome had everything that I would imagine an old historical city have, with its old greyish and brown buildings, cobled stone and small streets.. However, even in the first day in Rome, I can see much different ambient of this city compared to Romania. Although Rome is famous for its old historical building, the streets were quite dirty and full with vandalism, totally the opposite of the city in Romania. We even feel insecure walking at night at the city too..

Day 6 : Rome

Our second day in Rome, early morning we make our way to visit the famous Vatican City. Vatican City is an independent city-state enclaved within Rome, and the smallest sovereign state in the world by both area and population. It is the mecca for Christians as its home to the Pope. Despite that, its visited by many non-Christians including me. As a muslim, its good to learn and respect other people culture so we can live in harmony. It doesn’t matter if you are catholic or not, the Vatican city was one of the most amazing place I have ever seen, filled with mystery, history, architecture and gives a special feeling of peace and reverence.

There was already very long queues when the reach the Vatican area, but luckily Ili had booked the museum vatican entrance ticket much earlier through online, so we manage to skip the long queues.

Within the Vatican City are religious and cultural sites such as St. Peter’s Basilica, with its double colonnade and a circular piazza in front and bordered by palaces and gardens, the Sistine Chapel, and the Vatican Museums. They feature some of the world’s most famous paintings and sculptures. A unique collection of artistic and architectural masterpieces lie within the boundaries of this small state. The Vatican Museum complex was very huge and we took almost 3 hours exploring the whole area. Its actually comprises of few museums adjacent to each other, each exhibit different kind of style.

Ili doesnt feel good after we touring the Vatican city, so she decided to return to the apartment after the lunch. We split and I continue my walk around the Rome city, exploring the streets of Rome until I reached the Pantheon. The Pantheon is must see in Rome, originally a Roman temple which then converted into a church. It’s free to enter the building, so we just take the chance to admire its architecture from inside. The interior is breath taking and the dome is an engineering masterpiece. The Pantheon itself is located in a small piazza surrounded with cafes, restaurants and shops. As the sun started to down, I could see more locals gather around the “piazza” to chitchat and have a drink at the cafe. There’s even streets performance at the piazza that drown the people to hang around around the piazza.

Day 7 : Rome

A trip to Rome will not be completed without visiting one of the 7 wonders of the world, The Colosseum. I was quite surprised to see that the historical building was actually located in the middle of Rome city, surrounded by modern buildings and roads, as i always imagine its ancient structures will be complemented by old buildings.. hahaha.. Collesseum is also attached to few others historical buildings and structure, such as the Palatine Hill and the Roman Forum. The whole historical complex was quite big, and we spent almost the whole day exploring the whole complex. Ohya.. the entrance ticket for covers for all 3 sites, Collesseum+Palatine+Roman Forum.. so make use it to the fullest yahh.. Since Ili was still not feeling well and won’t be able to join for heavy walking, we decided to start the day with exploring the Palatine Hill & Roman forum first in the morning, so that she can join us later to visit the Colosseum by noon. It turn out to be a wise decision as we manage to avoid huge queue all entrances as many tourist are doing the visit the opposite way.. by visiting collosseum first, and continue by Roman Forum & Palatine.

We start our exploration through the ancient ruins of Palatine Hill. We just walk slowly towards uphill while admiring the ruins along our way. Thanks to MrGood shoes for your comfortable sole.. hahaha.. Just wandering and imagining how life was during the height of the Roman Empire is a brilliant way to spend the morning. A great experience to walk through this historic site, we even bump into few people doing some archaeological studies at one of the ruins. The views from the uppermost vantage points overlooking the ancient city and other sights below such as Circus Maximus and the Roman Forum are amazing. From the top, I can feel the great sense of the grandness of the Roman empire.

Roman Forum and Palatine Hill are in the same (main) place. I mean that there is no borders between them. From the top of Palatine Hill, we start to walk downhill towards the Roman Forum. Walking through the Roman Forum ruins is a time travel. We see the remains of thousand years of the most powerful empire that influenced art and architecture since then. It has been the center of political, economic, cultural and religious life of ancient Rome, the place of the most important public celebrations. It’s a plaza surrounded by the ruins of several ancient government buildings, have temples of Saturn, Vespaian、Titus and Caesar also. It is filled with ruins of former temples, basilicas, and arches, but the dimensions and the ruins already give an idea of the gigantic dimensions of the Roman Forum and its buildings. It is simply amazing to walk through this large outdoor space.

It’s already noon when we queue to enter the Collosseum. I still amazed to see the buildings that always appeared in the historical movies in about the Roman Empire Era, such as the Gladiator, one of my fav movie. Being inside the colloseum really does give an idea of the gruesome bloody events which took place back then, especially after experiencing a spectator’s perspective gazing down upon the arena. Even though it was a venue for the most cruel and brutal events to entertain and amuse the free inhabitants of Rome, it is still impressive, one of the symbols of the city and shows the architecture of the ancient Romans. You cant help but lose yourself to the history of the architecture of this beautiful place. I made sure to stroll every bit of the accessible interior. The view is amazing from just about anywhere in the structure, and exploring it is a unique experience.

One bucket list checked, visited 3 of the 7 wonders of the world namely The Great Wall of China, The taj Mahal & the latest Collesseum.. I wish i would be able to visits other remaining 7 wonders of the world in future, just cant wait for the Covid19 to end so we can start traveling again..After the tiring unforgettable day, we went for late lunch plus dinner and back to our apartment. We decided to go back early to pack our things as we need to take an early morning flight the next day.

Day 8 : Rome to Bucharest to KL

We basically didn’t slept the whole morning doing some packing, as we had to catch our morning flight back to Bucharest via Rome Ciampino Airport at 6.30am. We slept the whole 2 hours flight and once arrived at Henri Coanda International Airport, we proceed to the Qatar Airlines to check in for our 2pm flight return to KL with transit in Doha. It was a crazy and tiring flight transfer day as we had to take 3 separate flight just to return home.. We were soo tired that we even didn’t take any photos that day. Hahaha..

As overall, if I got another chance, I would like to explore Romania again, having at least 2 weeks road trips exploring its small towns and countryside.

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