Romania had much to celebrate on January 1 this year. It joined the European Union, finally shrugging off a communist hangover. Bucharest, the country's capital, had felt most pain as it was the headquarters of the brutal dictator Nicolai Ceausescu, who ruled for 25 years.
The country is now welcoming tourists and has a lot to offer medieval towns in Transylvania, the painted monasteries of Bucovina, Maramure's traditional villages, the romantic Danube delta, fairytale castles, Black Sea resorts, the majestic Carpathian Mountains and Bucharest's magnificent architecture.
It also offers 37 museums, 22 theatres, opera houses, concert halls, art galleries and many libraries and bookstores.
Between the world wars the city's elegant architecture and sophistication earned Bucharest the name "Paris of the East". It was a glorious example of Belle Epoque, with wide, tree-lined boulevardes and a reputation for the high life. Many buildings were damaged or destroyed by war, earthquakes and Ceausescu, but much survived.
Ceausescu dedicated the gargantuan People's Palace to himself. The 11-storey building was created by 700 architects guiding 22,000 workers, toiling in three shifts from 1984 to 1989. It has 1100 rooms, including 30 giant halls and 440 meeting rooms. The best materials and craftsmanship in Romania were used. Marble, crystal and wood, hand carved and cut, were not permitted to be used for anything else except the monument to Ceausescu, which is the second largest building in the world after the Pentagon.
Our crew travelled to the Transylvanian city of Sibiu, 20km from the Fagaras Mountains. It straddles the River Cibin and its cobblestone streets and Saxon-style houses create an open-air museum, steeped in history. It now joins with Luxembourg as a European capital of culture. It has wonderfully preserved medieval fortress towers, 15 majestic churches, 12 buildings of art collections, paintings and exhibits in decorative arts, archaeology, anthropology, history, technology and natural sciences.
Curtea de Arges, a fortified town at the foot of the Fagaras
Mountains, has been documented since 1330. It is much loved by Romanians for its orthodox monastery and the legend of its architect Master Manole.
The early 16th-century cathedral is one of Romania's most famous buildings and is dedicated to St Nicholas. Built in the Byzantine style and with Moorish arabesques, the oblong construction resembles a large, elaborate mausoleum. A dome rises in its centre and it is fronted by two smaller cupolas. Another dome, broader and loftier than the other, rises from the annex. Each summit has inverted pear-shaped stones bearing the triple cross of the Christian trinity.
A wonderful experience is to drive the Transfagarasan Road at the altitude of 2000 metres. It connects historic Muntenia to Transylvania and has spectacular mountain and valley views.
Bucharest, Romania's capital.
Top Deck Tours has 12-day tours from Budapest to Bucharest. Accommodation, transport and most meals are provided. Prices start at $1790 per person and run between May to September.
Emirates has flights to London with connections to Bucharest. These fares are available between October 4 and November 11, 2007.
- Melbourne $2402
- Brisbane and Perth $2404
- Sydney $2419
- Adelaide $3030
- Darwin $3802
Prices quoted are correct on February 1, 2007
Top Deck Tours
Level 3, 55 Harrington Street,
The Rocks, Sydney
Phone: (02) 8252 5300/1800 077 251
Phone: 1300 13 13 90
Ph: 1300 303 777