Palace of Parliament, Romania


Editor’s note: Jane Shivers, former honcho marketing exec, is a part-time Telluride local and full time traveler with hubbie Bill Sharp. Jane plans a blog site of her own, but for now, from time to time, she uses our platform and we are grateful for her posts about the faraway places she visits.

Palace of Parliament, Romania

Palace of Parliament, Romania


Not at the top of your list?

Think again.

I just returned from Romania, Bulgaria, Ukraine and Turkey. Romania was the real surprise.

Bucharest is a beautiful city. Who knew? Not Michael Jackson, who famously came out on stage and said he was thrilled to be in Budapest. Oops. Don’t make that mistake: locals are still mad about it.

Lady Gaga was in town and staying at our hotel, the Hilton. Paparazzi loitered about all day along with teens with pink wigs and other Gaga-esque getups. When I asked both our guide and the hotel concierge about getting tickets, they both discouraged our attending. “No one cares about her here” the guide said with great derision and the concierge said it might be okay for his daughter though he wouldn’t let her go, but not for my husband and me.

The day after the concert we learned the show was a sell out: 30,000 people crammed themselves into the big square to see the mega production. We met people who had flown in from Azerbaijan and other countries for it. Meat dress and all they said.

Wide boulevards, wonderful classic architecture, and lovely parks give Bucharest a Paris-meets-Italy appeal. Thracians, Greeks, Romans, Ottomans, and Russians all have ruled there through the ages. Romans left behind the Latin language and Orthodox religion.

A must-see is the Palace of Parliament built by a megalomaniac Communist leader, Nicolae Ceausescu. It was started in 1983 with the idea that he would locate all the branches of government there. It would also double as living quarters for him and his wife. Ceausescu was determined to show off his power and the result is the second largest building in the world, exceeded only by our Pentagon.

Building the palace required a zillion workers, who toiled for very low pay while Romanians were starving and struggling in the early 1980’s under Communist rule. Inside the cavernous spaces are gold covered ceilings, hand-made intricate carpets, 480 crystal chandeliers fashioned from 3500 tons of crystal, marble stairways, and 9,700,000 square feet of wood varieties on the floors and walls. All materials came from Romania.

Ceausescu didn’t live to see his palace finished; he and his wife were summarily executed when the Iron Curtain fell. The building is now a blessing and a curse. Tourists flock to it, but the upkeep of the place is way too costly for Romania in its current economic state. Wear and tear is not being repaired and our guide was careful to turn off the chandeliers when we left each room to save on electricity.

Romania is in political flux. It remains to be seen if the country has a positive future. The uncertainty is not easy for a population that lived so long under Communism. Romania is in the EU and NATO and trying to get its house in order. For travelers, however, it is a great place to visit, especially in the summer. The countryside and smaller towns are charming. Ski resorts tuck into the Romanian Alps, also quite lovely when the snow melts.

Head to Brashov in the Carpathian Mountains, a medieval city founded by the Germans – they called it Kronstadt – its picturesque central square surrounded by churches, restaurants, and fortifications. Almost half of Romania is in the Carpathian mountain range, home to brown bears, lynx, wolf, wild boar and other critters. Hiking, biking, hunting and camping are popular pastimes.

The food is basic but tasty, all locally grown. Tomatoes and fruits are delicious. The stuffed cabbage, mincemeat sausages, goulash and local fish are prepared the same everywhere. After a few days, the pizza places that line the outdoor squares are a welcome sight. McDonald’s made an early incursion into eastern Europe and one pops up in most major towns, so if you are desperate for a burger you can head there.

Bran or "Dracula" Palace, Transylvania

Bran or “Dracula” Palace, Transylvania

Traveling in Transylvania, you will encounter the story of Vlad Dracula (Vlad the Impaler). Count Dracula is a fictional character dreamed up by writer Bram Stoker, who was inspired by the tales of supernatural powers in Transylvania.

Count Dracula is based on the real Vlad the Impaler who was just not a nice guy. Weaving a stake through his victims from bottom to top and leaving them to bleed to death was his legacy in the town of Walachia in the mid-1400s, a grim legacy for sure, but the region has embraced the popularity of Count Dracula and will point you to the Castle in Bran. Neither the real or fictional Dracula had anything to do with this castle, but enterprising natives would have you believe otherwise. Gift shops are full of t-shirts and creepy Dracula souvenirs. The Castle itself is one of the most interesting  in all of Europe.

Throughout our journey we saw lots of brides and bridal celebrations. Our guide remarked that while couples are young and hopeful now, most will divorce after a couple of years. In Romania the divorce rate is about 60 per cent.

If you go, plan to spend at least five or six days so that you can visit Bucharest and get to Transylvania and other areas. Constanta is a lovely seacoast resort town. Roads are great and there are many historic sites to visit.

Romanians are a bit sensitive about the fact many people think Roma (Gypsies) are Romanians. In fact, they are of Indian descent and moved to Rome. From there Roma spread out into most parts of Europe. Some also now have made their way to America. Roma make up only two percent of the population of Romania. The rest are Romanians with a few Hungarians thrown in. Right now, encampments of Roma in France are becoming a thorny political issue.

Ukraine also is an interesting country. We traveled to Sevastopol, Odessa and Yalta, each very different and historic.

Blue Mosque, Istambul

Blue Mosque, Istanbul

Istanbul, Turkey remains a favorite for our family. With Asia on one side of the Bosphorus and Europe on the other, the country is is a complex amalgamation of 17 million people.

Turkey’s highways, airports, and infrastructure have evolved significantly in the past ten years. Huge cruise ships crowd the harbor with tourists swarming to the rug shops, Grand Bazaar, Blue Mosque and Hagia Sophia. Over one million people commute daily across the bridge that connects the two continents. Because the Bosphorus is a narrow strait connecting the Med with the Black Sea, there are many collisions with small fishing and pleasure boats sharing space with huge cargo and cruise ships. Therefore, the popular Prime Minister Recep Erdogan has announced “a crazy and magnificent plan” to build a new canal for commercial ships. If completed, at 30-miles long, it will be bigger than either the Panama or Suez canals. The project is controversial but construction is underway and scheduled to be completed by 2023, when the country celebrates its 100 anniversary as the Turkish Republic. Erdogan also has plans to build the biggest mosque in the world. A third bridge and a new airport are currently under construction.

Compared to France, Italy, and Switzerland, traveling in Romania, Ukraine and Turkey is a bargain. (Well, maybe not the Four Seasons in Istanbul.)



Food is healthy and there are many great cafes and restaurants. Rent a car and hit the road. Or, hire a guide/driver who can make sure you see all the wonderful castles, Roman ruins, archaeological museums, and palaces, Byzantine arts, Icons, and handicrafts. A knowledgeable Romanian guide and van costs approximately $200 a day and will take you around the country for five or six days. In Istanbul you can hire a “shopping” consultant, whose job it is to take you to find the really good rugs, pashminas, and jewelry. Best to have a guide in Istanbul or you will waste too much time being in the wrong place at the wrong time or being lost in the Bazaar. The best treat of all is to schedule a Hamam (Turkish Bath). There are public ones and more pricey special ones in the hotel spas. I have survived both. Let’s just say it is an experience and not to be missed. Your skin will be the softest it has been since the day you were born.

No Comments

Sorry, the comment form is closed at this time.