Taste Your Way Around the World: Romania

We are all different from one another, we enjoy doing different activities, our preferences are not always the same, and we never see things in a similar way. But we all want to get to know the places we travel to, as well as to understand cultures and traditions.  To do that we must get closer to people, and we all know that besides music, what gets us closer to each other is usually what’s on the table: local food.

So, if you plan to travel to Romania, besides getting in touch with its history and culture, you should also taste your way around the cities and the villages you visit. Since Romania offers its visitors an incredible culinary experience, your expectations will definitely be met.

Not only that the Romanian cuisine is fantastic, but it is also intriguing since it is a delicious mixture of flavors gathered from all the traditions people came in contact with, before building its own character. So, you will be served dishes that might have influences from the Ottoman, German, Serbian, Bulgarian and Hungarian cuisines.

Start a Perfect Meal with a Peasant’s Platter

All great meals begin with a delicious starter, don’t they? While in Romania, you have a diversity of options, but by far the best one is the famous Peasant’s Platter, which is available in all traditional restaurants. The great part is that it offers foodies a delicious combination of tastes, so you kind of get the chance to taste your way around Romanian starters.

Photo credits @Cristina Marin

What exactly does the Peasant Platter bring? Well, you get fresh Romanian cheese, as well as the tangy cheese we call “burduf”, homemade sausages, head cheese, local bacon, pork scratchings, tomatoes and onions. This sounds delicious, doesn’t it? Of course, you will enjoy these delicacies with homemade bread. In addition, I would also order some tasty eggplant salad.

Romanians Can’t Live without Their “Ciorba”

When I was a child I was always told that I would never grow up if I didn’t eat my “ciorba”. This is how mandatory this dish is!

Photo credits @Cristina Marin

“Ciorba” is what Romanian people call their soups, which mainly consist of various vegetables and meat. Since most people eat a “ciorba” a day and if they skip a few days they begin feeling sick,  there is no way you come to Romania and don’t taste a few of the traditional soups.

One of the core soups in Romania is made of beans and smoked meat. It is delicious and most people eat it with fresh onion. Another really special soup that I only ate in Romania is the peculiar, but really tasty tripe soup. A bit sour and spicy, this is what many people eat to get rid of a hangover. So, whether you have a hangover or not, you must have a sip! Don’t be fooled by its yellowish colour because it’s delicious!

“The Best Vegetable is Fresh Pork Meat” 

Romania is the country of meat-lovers. There are many vegetarian and vegan-friendly restaurants, but the most delicious traditional meals are made with meat. People here even joke around saying that “the best vegetable is fresh pork meat” and the truth is that Romanian really love eating pork. No wonder one of the best main courses in this beautiful country is called Pomana Porcului (Pork Feast). If you order this, you get fresh meat fried in fat and served together with pickles and polenta. Might raise your cholesterol level but it is absolutely mouthwatering!

Another interesting pork part you should eat while in Romania is the pork rind, called sorici. It is actually the skin collected from softer parts of the pig and served uncooked or boiled with garlic. Last, but definitely not least, don’t even think about leaving the country without eating pork scratchings. They are a delicious aperitif especially when you add warm bread and fresh onion.

These are just a few of the many delicious Romanian foods, but you would need more than one visit to try them all since the dishes differ from one region to another. Well then, “Pofta buna!” (Bon Appetit!).

The Best Nightlife in Europe: Bucharest

We all love to party from time to time, and choosing to travel to a place with a wild nightlife is a great idea, especially if we are celebrating something. Imagine having a bachelor party in a place where everything closes at 10pm. Not the perfect destination, right?

Many of you think about Berlin or Leipzig when they want to plan an entertaining holiday, but the truth is that there are many less famous, but definitely not less memorable, destinations for party enthusiasts, and one of them is Bucharest, the lively capital of Romania.

Locals and visitors have the chance to enjoy long nights in one of the numerous ( more than 1000) pubs, bars or clubs that keep their doors open until late at night.

Whether you enjoy a good old-fashioned party in a pub, or you want to go wild in a high-class club while listening to famous DJs, Bucharest has everything you can think of. And guess what? The prices don’t even compare to what you would pay in cities like Berlin.

Everybody’s Favorite Cocktail Bar: Interbelic

Interbelic is a place many locals love partying at. It used to be a hidden cocktail bar that became one of the most famous places in town. Not only does it have delicious cocktails on its menu, but the decor and atmosphere are also exactly what you need in order to have an unforgettable time. Last, but not least, the people you will meet here are really, really cool!

Interbelic Cocktail Bar

The Landmark for Great Music: Fratelli

In all cities, there is a bar or a club, or even both were all the rich and good looking people hang out in order to see and of course, to be seen. Well, Fratelli is the place where rich Romanian kids of all ages come to play while listening to some of the best DJs, wearing designer clothes and drinking expensive liqueurs. This is definitely a must if you are into upmarket clubs!

Fratelli Club

Entourage

With excellent cocktails and decent food, an interesting decor and really good music, Entourage is the place where locals who love to socialize meet. The music is fantastic and not too loud, giving people the chance to chat with each other. It’s a great place, especially for people who travel alone and want to spend the night having a great conversation with a local, instead of dancing until the next day.

Nomad Skybar

Located in the lively Old Center, together with other great pubs and clubs, Nomad is my favorite place to dance in Bucharest. Though not really a skybar since it’s located on the second floor, Nomad is not a club but a fantastic dancing bar, where great music meets tasty drinks as well as qualitative people of all ages. No matter how old you are, you will definitely have fun at Nomad Skybar!

Control Club

Control is where the hipsters gather in order to party till the sunrise. With an outdoor bar, good drinks, friendly prices, as well as some really great concerts, this the place where not only you will have a lot of  fun, but there is always a good chance to meet some extremely interesting people!

Control Club

These are just a few of the thousand places where you can spend a wild night in Bucharest. Keep in mind that, unlike other cities, Bucharest never sleeps and you can always continue dancing, singing and mingling at an after party. So, are you ready to have some real fun?

–  by Ana Maria Ionita

Top 5 Activities for a Fall Holiday in Romania

Romania is one of the most beautiful Eastern European countries offering travellers from all over the world a rich history, interesting culture, breathtaking landscapes, delicious foods and never ending parties. Romania is definitely one of those intriguing countries that let modernism conquer its lands, but, at the same time, allowed old traditions to survive.

Whether you choose to pay a visit in spring or autumn, summer or winter, there are always many interesting things to do, festivals to attend and traditional celebrations to be part of. However, each season has its special aspects.

Autumn in Romania is absolutely gorgeous. Not only does it come with a mild weather ( though sometimes rainy)and fascinating colors but it also brings delicious foods and traditional drinks since this is the time foods are harvested.

The Red Lake
Photo Credits: Cristina Marin

If you are planning a fall holiday in Romania, here are a few things you can do in order to have an unforgettable vacation.

Get Closer to the Busy Romanian Capital, Bucharest

Bucharest is a fantastic city and the best time to explore it is definitely autumn. I spent many years in this charming European capital so believe me when I say that summer is too hot, winter is too cold and spring is too unpredictable.

Caru cu Bere, Bucharest
Photo credits: Noi Media

Now, what can a traveller do in autumn, in Bucharest? Well, you can begin by acting like a real tourist and check out the museums in the city. My favorite is by far the Village Museum,  an open-air ethnographic museum located in the Herăstrău, a charming park every visitor should explore. As I said before, the autumn colors are absolutely amazing so spending time outside is a great idea. Besides the fabulous parks like the already mentioned Herastrau or the amazing Cismigiu, there are also many terraces where you can relax and enjoy a delicious drink or a tasty dish. My choice is always Eden Garden, a fantastic place located in the central area.

There are also many activities like escape rooms or interesting cultural events in parks, bars or coffee shop you can attend. And of course, you can always have some fun in the Old Centre or in one of the fancy clubs in Bucharest. The city is famous for its parties, after all.

Get in Touch with Art and Religion in Picturesque Bucovina

In the north of Romania, there is a region called Bucovina, which is famous for some of the most picturesque landmarks of the country. The Monasteries of Bucovina definitely deserve a visit since they are not only religious places but they are also fascinating traditional art representations. The best-preserved are at Moldovita, Suceava, Voronet and Sucevita,  Probota, Patrauti.

Admire the Natural Beauty and Understand Old-Century Traditions in Maramures

If you are given the chance to go to northwestern Romanian region of Maramures, you should take it. The breathtaking villages with their lovely people who managed to preserve century-old traditions as part of their usual lives, their delicious foods as well as the hospitality and good will you are welcomed with will make your Romanian fall vacation really hard to forget. While you are here, check out the famous Merry Cemetery, where humorous verses are carved on the wooden crosses and have an adventure with narrow gauge steam train, called Mocanita.

Attend a Traditional Festival

There are numerous festivals, ancient celebrations and religious holidays in Romania and in many parts of the country people really preserve their traditions. Depending on your vacation dates as well as on which part of Romania you plan to visit, you might have the chance to attend one of the many interesting festivals and celebrations.

For instance, if you plan to wander around Transylvania, you should check out the September Bran Annual Cheese and Cured Mutton Festival “Ravasitul Oilor”. It’s all about food, folklore and celebrating the shepherds’ return from the alpine transhumance. I loved it!

– by Ana Maria Ionita

Relaxing in the Wilderness of the Danube Delta

Romania is one of the most beautiful countries in Eastern Europe, being famous for its imposing mountains, fascinating valleys and rivers, but also for hosting the largest and best-preserved delta in Europe.

If you plan to visit the astonishing natural beauty and wilderness of the Danube Delta, you will have the chance to completely relax and forget all about your daily worries, while admiring the unforgettable sunsets of this new Romanian land.

The calmness of the Delta. Photo credit @David Vincent Photography

What You Should Know About the Danube Delta

When I visited this fascinating land, I was lucky enough to have a very informed companion. Being a travel guide for many years, my travel mate knew a lot and taught me many interesting things about the place we were visiting.

The Danube empties into the Black Sea, creating this fascinating Delta, after passing through 10 countries and 4 capital cities. There are less than 20,000 people living in this region, together with 3,500 species of animals and 1,700 plant species. There is no wonder why The Danube Delta is included on Unesco’s World Heritage list.

Now, even though there aren’t too many inhabitants, and the area is really far from being rich, there are a few hotels as well guesthouses that are waiting for travelers with delicious traditional food, friendliness and happiness. However, we wanted an authentic experience and we stayed in a fisherman’s house, ate food cooked by his wife and went on boat trips with his son. It was incredible but, if you prefer something more comfortable you can always book a hotel room. All have floating pontoons and boats so you can have a similar adventure.

Now, you won’t find clubs (though we caught a glimpse at the village disco), parties and too many activities, because a trip to Danube Delta is for people who want to relax and get in touch with nature. However, I promise you that you won’t even think about civilization while you are in the middle of this beautiful, quiet and still somehow lively place.

Water lilies
Photo credit @David Vincent Photography

Enjoy a Few Unwinding Hours of Bird Watching

Besides savoring the peace and serenity, while you are exploring the wilderness of the lakes you can also enjoy bird watching. There are hundreds of species here like swans, pelicans, and watching them in the wilderness is definitely a delight.

Pelican
Photo credit @David Vincent Photography

A Boat Ride on the Charming Danube Canals

Whether you choose to rent a boat or enjoy a ride with the hotel owners or employees, a day on the beautiful canals will make you fall in love with the region. We went in the morning and also during the day, but the most memorable time was at the sunset. The feeling of being in the middle of the wild delta, surrounded by the most incredible colors I have ever seen, was one of the best I’ve ever had.

– by Ana Maria Ionita

 

How can you experience Romania like a local?

Wherever you travel, beyond the lists of sights to check, you might enjoy more to have a taste of what life for the locals is.

It actually doesn’t matter where you are and for what reason, if you ask me, experiencing any place like a local does, has a special power to create unforgettable memories. You don’t have to be very adventurous but you do need a certain level of courage to step away from being a traveler and you need not be a tourist for sure.

As a Romanian living in Romania and creating for you bespoke trips in my country, I can tell you how and where you can experience Romania as a local. It could be that you can translate this list to other places, in the end we’re quite similar across cultures and countries in the way we live day after day.

Here are my 3 tips for you:

  1. Go to a local market. Whether you want to buy something or not, ask for the most typical market in the village, town or city in Romania. Whether it’s a permanent market or a temporary one, take time to go in the early hours of the morning. Mingle with the other shoppers, the Romanian people rushing to buy what they need for the house. Stop by the cheese stands and ask to taste the various types of salted cheese. Buy if you like one a lot. See what people have on their tables. Try to distinguish the local and seasonal products from those that are imported. In July and August look for the large and often strangely shaped tomatoes. Definitely buy one; if not, at least smell it. Yes, smell the tomatoes. You’ll be amazed. Find an old lady selling herbs and see if you recognize them all. Smell the dill, the parsley, the more local leaves used for soups and other courses.
Have your pick! Source:PresaGalati.ro

Create your experience: take this a step further and buy a couple of ingredients for a picnic. You can find everything and your guide can help you learn and choose a variety of seasonal products.

  1. Take a tram or a bus for a short ride. There is no better way to experience the life of local people than by using the public means of transportation. I am biased here as I have a passion for riding trams every now and then. I feel that for those 20 minutes that we share the tram ride, everyone is part of the story despite the different stories we all come from, bring to the tram and go towards after the end of the ride. So try it out. Get yourself a ticket and alone or with a guide, go for a short ride in any city. Observe the people around and feel like someone belonging to that particular city.
Buy a ticket first 😉 Source: Metropotam.ro

Create your experience: plan a whole day using just public means of transportation. I can guarantee some adventure and some good stories to tell to friends afterwards.

  1. Attend a special event. This can be the most fun ride you have been on in a long time. I’d recommend attending a local wedding, if possible in a place where traditions are still kept. Ask your guide to translate the exchange of lines between the groom and the parents of his bride as he comes to ask for her hand. Pay attention to the negotiation going on when the bride is taken away. Definitely dance on typical Romanian music and enjoy all the food. If it’s not a wedding, maybe it’s a religious holiday or an important ritual in the life of a family. While these experiences cannot be produced on demand, ask for such opportunities and definitely don’t hesitate if they come your way.
Take off your shoes and just dance! Source: BD

Create your experience: plan ahead of time to increase your chances of being part of such an event.

Have I convinced you to go off the beaten track when you travel and experience life as local people do? Wherever you go next, try it out 😉

What to expect when you travel to Maramures

I won’t tell you what to expect when you travel to Maramures from my imagination. Last week I have actually done that for you and other guests who are planning to come for a trip in summer and fall.

We already wrote about Maramures, what is there to see and why you should go. But that was a while ago. I wanted to see how the region changed, what’s new. To be very honest, I also wanted to try out the traditional guesthouses I know had opened in Botiza, one of the villages where you can have an authentic experience of the region.

So what did we find? In a few words: beautiful landscapes, wonderful accommodation, and extremely welcoming and warm people.

We stopped for a night nearby Alba Iulia, the city known for Romania’s unification in 1918. We strolled around the Alba Carolina citadel before heading towards the mountain villages nearby.

The Roman Catholic Cathedral from Alba Iulia. Source: BD

The morning after we woke up to an amazing view of this oddly shaped mountain.

Morning view from Coltesti, Alba. Source: BD

Speaking of views, the week continued with beautiful, picture perfect images that I can only wish to wake up to more often. Here are some from Viseu and Botiza.

Morning view from Viseu de Sus, Maramures. Source: BD
Morning view from Botiza, Maramures. Source: BD

But while driving we also came across bee keepers, visited Mr Barsan and stopped by to visit some of the wooden churches that make Maramures famous and that are included on the UNESCO World Heritage List.

Bee keepers on the side of the road in Maramures. Source: BD
Wood carving in Mr Barsan’s workshop in Barsana, Maramures. Source: BD

The places of accommodation we found? I’ll tell you this: you will get more than what you’ll expect when looking from the outside. Centuries old traditional wooden houses have been tastefully restored to allow guests to enjoy their stay in authentic locations while having excellent levels of comfort. Whether in Breb or Botiza, you can actually choose from the various guesthouses depending on what you expect your experience to be.

Traditional gate from Maramures, in Botiza. Source: BD
Beautiful guesthouse in Botiza, La Sesuri. Source: BD

We ended our trip with the loveliest of drives coming down from Maramures into Transylvania on a narrow mountain road, crossing very few cars and enjoying the views. Our last night before returning home was in Cluj, the NW gateway into Transylvania, home to more than 80.000 students, bubbling with life, and very inviting to stay for longer.

Statue of Matei Corvin from the Union Square in Cluj. Source: BD

As the week starts and so many memories from this trip are still very fresh on my mind, I can only plan to travel to Maramures again later this year. I’d recommend you do the same 😉

3 things we would love to do more of for you

As a purely bespoke travel agent, we are always putting first what you could enjoy the most while in Romania.

It takes time to understand what you like, have an interest in, love to learn about, try out, and simply have as an experience while on holiday. But this is one of the things that makes our job great.

Recently though, we had fun doing some things we’d love to do more of for each one of you. I’ll give you top 3.

  • Research for your trip a corner of the country.

Next week I’ll be in Maramures for a whole week of research. I’ve been there 2 years ago but we have 4 returning clients who want to spend 10 days discovering in a very laid back way this beautiful region.

Traditional wooden gate from Maramures at the Village Museum in Sighetu Marmatiei. Source: BD

What’s my plan? Firstly, I need to find the best options for accommodation and for excellent food; somewhere close to nature, authentic and yet with good standards. Secondly, I’ll check out the typical stops one makes in Maramures: the wooden churches and the Merry Cemetery. Finally, I’ll look for special experiences: craftsmen, water mills, the steam train, local chefs who could give a cooking workshop, local people who could share anything that would be of interest to our guests, and of course, I’ll stay open to surprises.

  • “Pimp” your selected accommodation

For a small group of guests coming in April, we’ll work on making their guesthouse an even cozier and nicer place to be in. Don’t think construction work! Think flowers, board games we know they like, candles, torches, better toiletries in bigger containers than the usual hotel ones, softer towels and bath robes, a larger selection of drinks, etc. None of these things are major changes and yet they are little touches that can take the experience of our guests from 98% to 100% excellent.

  • Find you the ideal teacher for your passion

There are many ways in which you learn about something you love. One of the best ways is to learn with and from someone who is as passionate as you are about the same subject and who loves to share the passion and the knowledge.

For a young group we have coming soon we’ve searched for an astronomer. Our guests wanted to learn more about astronomy, to look at the stars and the planets with a telescope, to learn about cosmological formulas, and to check out sky maps.

It’s not every day you meet someone passionate about astronomy but while searching for the ideal teacher for our guests, I could not help feeling impressed at the wealth of resources that are available. I am now certain that no matter what your interest or passion is, you can meet someone to talk to about it while on your vacation. Can you imagine how much fun that is?

Meet a local craftsman to learn about their work and make new friends Source: BD

The list could go on but I stop here with a thought I often have about travel: go slowly and make it an experience. No matter where you go and what you do, no matter what your budget can afford, choose to have experiences instead of a fast trip checking items on a bucket list.

If you ask me, that’s the essence of travel, that’s what makes travel great.

PS: Get in touch if you want your own trip to Romanian planned by us.

George Enescu Festival in Bucharest, for all the music lovers out there

You may have heard of it, even may want to join this year. But if you haven’t, let me tell you about the George Enescu Festival, one of the biggest classical music festival and classical international competitions in Europe. The first edition of the festival was held in 1958, three years after George Enescu passed away.

Grand Palace Hall
All concerts part of the “Great Orchestras of the World” series in the Enescu Festival take place here

But who was George Enescu? As put on the official website of the festival, he was “a genius. A free man. A genuine modern spirit, not only for fashion’s sake. A man of his word. A character. George Enescu, the first Romanian composer who crossed the threshold into the universal cultural heritage, loved equally the cockcrow, the folkloric tones and the thrilling Wagnerian chords”. One of his most beloved compositions is Romanian Rhapsody 1  which, along with Romanian Rhapsody 2,  have long held a permanent place in the repertoire of every major orchestra.

Queen Elisabeth of Romania with George Enescu and Dimitrie Dinicu at Peles Castle.
Source: Wikipedia

This year’s edition is scheduled for September 2 – 24, and some of the world’s most famous orchestras, chamber ensembles and opera companies will perform on stage. The London Symphony Orchestra, The Russian National Orchestra, The Romanian National Youth Orchestra, The Czech Philharmonic Orchestra, The Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra, The Munchener Philharmonic, The Royal Philharmonic London, and Scala di Milano to name just a few. For a more comprehensive schedule of performances, go here.

If you love music and travelling, why don’t you take the opportunity to combine the two, join the festival and visit Bucharest (read what The Telegraph has to say about the Romanian capital here), we promise it will all be worth it.

The sweetest pen pal we’ve ever had

Our main job is to be in touch with people. Whether it’s you, future guests, or our partners, we spend most of our time in contact with people. Part of the reason we really like what we do is this constant contact with people, with you.

We get the best of you; we get that side of you that dreams of your next trip. We get the child in you who plans his/her next adventure to an exotic land. We get to exchange e-mails and talk to the adventurous and playful side of each one of you. And that is just fantastic!

But we’ve recently had a unique experience with probably the youngest person to ever write to us.

It all started with an e-mail written by a mother on behalf of her daughter, Brooke. She was asking if Brooke could send a message to Dracula and get a reply.

While the Count was not to be found, I could only promise to send an answer on his behalf, from us. And so, weeks later we got this lovely letter from Brooke and her mom.

Seeing Dracula might be a problem…he never comes to work. Source: BD

It was right before Halloween and I have a hunch Brooke dressed up as a scary vampire. She sent her love to Dracula and drew a heart with teeth on it.

We wrote back, send her some postcards and promised to pass the message to Dracula when he stops by our office.

Last week we got a reply. This time not only the Count got a card from Brooke; I did too. And a gift: a bracelet with the shape of the state of Texas. Now both I and Dracula have a friend somewhere in Texas thinking of us and sending us love and hearts with teeth.

I got a longer letter than Dracula…and a better gift 😉 Source: BD

You know we love creating memorable experiences for you when you visit Romania. You also know we love making these experiences special even before you come to visit Romania by sending you hand written postcards. But writing to Brooke and her mom was just special. Can you imagine her face when getting mail from her favorite character, Dracula?

A day doing what we do

Many of my friends ask me what I do exactly, how I create or manage a trip for our guests. Do I stay at the office, do I accompany them on tours, do I check the places personally? The answer to the first two questions depends on many things, but the last one is always yes.

So I start giving them examples. As I’m about to give you.

I’ve just returned from Bukovina, and my memories are still fresh, so this should be easy. It was the second time I’ve been there in the last 6 months, so this was no regular research trip. It was about setting all the details for an out-of-the-ordinary tour we’ll have in May, with requests so special we have to discuss everything in person with our partners in the region, and then do it again in a couple of months. You wonder what could be so special? Well, everything that involves the airport arrival procedures, ground transportation, lunches, monastery visits… It all needs to go smoothly, like a Swiss clock. So, after my colleague Raluca already met everyone, I went there to meet them as well, from the airport manager to the restaurant chef. And we’ll go again just before the tour starts.

As you may know, our main office is in Timisoara, the Western part of Romania, so from here to Bukovina there’s quite a drive, almost 10 hours.  So I flew to Bucharest, made a stop at my favourite restaurant, took the company car and drove the rest of the way to Suceava, for about 6 hours. But you just can’t do this job if driving is not your thing, and I must confess – I love it! I could drive for days, I just need my map and my music.

Of course it wasn’t all work and no fun, as it never is. What I enjoyed most was the food and the people (as it’s always the case), even if now, after I got back home, I need to go on a diet to fit in my skinny jeans again. And the people? The people in Bukovina are so hospitable and accommodating, I would have liked to get adopted by the restaurant owner and ask the bus driver to be my next best friend.

I’m not going to tell you about the famous painted monasteries there, all on the UNESCO World Heritage list (I wrote a more thorough report here, last summer). I visited some of them again, just because I wanted to see how the sky above them looks in winter, how it changes the colours of the frescoes. And it was worth it, my Instagram photos were a success.

Joke aside, Bukovina is a place that always manages to surprise me, and I would go back there over and over, be it summer or winter or spring. For you, I would recommend summer, though…

This is just a glimpse into my work life, although it’s not so much work when you love what you do. If you’d like to know more, hit the Comment button at the bottom of the page, I’d be more than happy to share.