I never really visited many places in my home country. As a child, our parents took us here and there but I can’t remember those trips. I was too young. Then as a teenager, I went with my friends but teenagers don’t really visit places. They take advantage of the fact that they are far away from their parents and do crazy things. I wasn’t such a crazy kid but my group was. So every time we went to the seaside or to the mountains, the most time was spent with drinking and partying. That’s not such a pretty sight for a sober person like I was but it was fun nonetheless.
As I grew older and wiser, then moved to Germany, people started asking me about my country. I haven’t seen much so I decided this year that every time I go home, I’ll take a trip somewhere.
In September we went to Hajdúszoboszló in Hungary (technically that’s not my country but practically I am Hungarian too) and to Sibiu/Szeben in Romania. You can see the pictures here and here. We had a great time and we were pleasantly surprised by both places. It was beautiful and clean but most importantly the people were friendly to us and went out of our way to do everything to please us.
This month I traveled home for Christmas and we decided to take another trip but this time to the mountains since it’s winter. As we arrived to the hotel late in the evening, we were kindly informed that, even though we booked the room with buffet breakfast, we will get a discount on the room and not get the booked breakfast. The hotel didn’t have a lot of guests who booked the breakfast as well so it wasn’t affordable to them to prepare a buffet only for us. They also said that we can have breakfast in the restaurant by ordering what we would like and it would cost pretty much the same. There are a lot of people who would’ve demanded their booked buffet breakfast, but we understood their point of view and accepted it since we’re reasonable people.
There was a big sign in the lobby saying that there’s free wireless internet and the receptionist confirmed it too. So the first thing I did was to turn on the notebook and try it out. It didn’t work! Like that surprised me! Luckily my mom has a mobile internet stick which worked perfectly even if we were in the mountains far away from civilization.
The next morning, we woke up to a beautiful sunny mountain view. It was breathtaking and we were in a good mood.
Actually a big group of 20 young kids woke us up. They just arrived at 9 in the morning to the same hotel and were laughing and yelling loud in the middle of the street. Ah, these younglings! I was just like them long time ago.
Anyway we went to the restaurant to have breakfast and ordered just a few things like eggs, salami, tomato salad and bread. I ordered a coffee too and then we waited and waited and waited some more. We sat there like half an hour and they didn’t even serve my coffee, not even mentioning the food.
So as we were waiting in the restaurant, that big group came in too. They ordered wine (yes, at 10 in the morning), smoked (yes, in the restaurant where we were eating) and yelled as loud as they could.
I completely lost my appetite so, when the food arrived, we just wanted to shove it down and get out of there as fast as we can. That was quite difficult because the eggs were cold and the bread was dry. Anyhow, after we finished our very bad meal, I thought that we can write the bill on the room but that was quickly dismissed by the waiter who demanded us to pay immediately which I didn’t argue. When I saw the bill, I almost passed out. I’m not even mentioning that they put way too many bread slices on the bill, but it was much much more expensive than the discount we got from the reception. They tricked us into believing that a couple of eggs, 3 slices of salami, half of tomatoes and a few slices of bread would cost the same like the buffet. My brother was still starving and we paid for that small breakfast so much that all three of us could have had breakfast and dinner for 5 days at least. Even though we wanted to have the Christmas dinner in that restaurant, at that moment we decided not to eat there at all anymore.
That day was warm. Everything was melting. Predeal is the quiet area in the Prahova Valley, so they told us. The action is in Sinaia, so that’s where we went. My mom and brother brought their ice skates (mine was somewhere on the way from Germany to Romania but that’s a long story) so the first thing was to search for the ice rink in Sinaia, which we found easily. My mom and brother changed into their ice skates but I refused as soon as I saw the ice rink. Half of it was melted already and it was bumpy too.
The next on our agenda was to take the gondola to 1400m altitude. We saw some signs showing “Cota 1400” so we started that way. Boy, that was steep! After 15 minutes of climbing, we considered if we were heading in the wrong way because we still haven’t seen the gondola anywhere. One kind gentleman explained us that we’re on the way to another gondola which is at half way between Sinaia and Cota 1400 so we should go back because there’s a gondola going directly from the city.
The gondola ride was wonderful, the location is beautiful from above and we enjoyed it. But as we arrived up, we were very disappointed. There’s was mud and melted snow and everything was dirty. It was lunch time already and we agreed prior to coming up that we’ll have it up there. We spotted a self-service restaurant which was closed and a wooden cottage where people were sitting. After going through the mud, we reached it and headed for the terrace which had a lovely view to the valley. We were searching for a table as I noticed that a pack of big dogs without owners was heading our way.
We decided to sit inside so that they leave us in peace. We sat there for 15 minutes, the waitress passed by several times but no one came to take our order. The final straw was when the waitress came in with some plates she collected from the tables outside, but she let one of the dogs come in too. I was terrified! That dog was bigger than me as I was sitting there. So we quickly took our stuff and ran out as fast as we could.
I completely lost my appetite and my mood to stay up there, although we planned to stay until the last gondola ride goes down. We literally ran to the gondola and were really happy when we arrive down to Sinaia again.
The last thing on the agenda was the Peleș Castle. We parked far because driving up is forbidden and went up along a nice creek. We were astonished to notice that, even though there was a big sign at the point where we parked that driving up is not allowed, a lot of cars were coming up and down. I guess some just don’t care about it.
The guard at the entrance informed us that we’re not allowed to go in because the Romanian president is spending the Christmas in the castle. There was a lot of secret service around and very expensive cars with highly important people were driving in which I think were guests invited to celebrate Christmas with the president.
It was already getting dark when we got back to the car so we were heading back to Predeal but we stopped at a very nice traditional Romanian place on the way to grab a bite to eat.
The evening went by so fast. We played cards (I lost!), watched Christmas movies and had a fun time.
The next morning it was all over the news that the Minister of Tourism Elena Udrea was in Sinaia 2 days ago at the opening of the ski season. They showed footages of big snow and people skiing. I think it was all false because I was there and it was only mud everywhere.
Nevertheless, to check its validity, I searched on the web and found that there will be another celebration in Poiana Brașov exactly on that day. We planned to visit first the Bran castle (known from Dracula) and then drive to see this celebration ourselves.
The instructions given by the hotel employees on how to get to the Bran castle was all wrong. My brother’s GPS didn’t recognize the location but luckily we checked on Google maps and Google earth. It wasn’t so clear there either but it gave us a vague idea of which way we have to go.
We checked the market in front of the castle where villagers are selling all kind of things and then up in the castle we went. After yesterday’s disappointment, it was very nice to see that there are nice places to visit after all.
On the way to Poiana Brașov, we missed the street because the sign was placed wrong (typical!) so we ended up in the city of Brașov and we had to drive from there to our final destination.
We found a parking lot (you have to pay big fees EVERYWHERE to park your car, this is a great business plan to get rich) and after calculating the right fee (the guy insisted to sell us a daily ticket of 12 RON but it was only 1.5 RON / hour, it was 16 o’clock and we had to pay till 20 o’clock so that makes 6 RON instead), we walked around. We all agreed that Poiana Brașov is the nicest resort of all that we’ve seen. We found a nice restaurant with incredibly good food (unfortunately you also get a dose of smoke with that since smoking is allowed everywhere) and then headed to the spot where the ski season opening party already started. The concert was very good, everyone was dancing and singing to the tunes of Fly Project, a famous band in Romania. They made a great show where skiers came down on the slope with torches and finally the fireworks were incredible.
The next day we stopped in Sighișoara/Segesvár to visit the castle where Vlad Dracul lived for a few years and after having lunch there, we returned home.
But in the end with all the disappointments with the hotel tricking us to not have our booked buffet breakfast, some trying to trick us into pay big fees for parking, others being very unfriendly, waitresses not taking our orders, big dogs without owner literally everywhere and so on, we managed to have a great time. The most important thing was that we spent the Christmas together.