Transylvania - Romania and Hungary

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Day 1: Arrive Bucharest

Upon arrival in Bucharest, you are transferred to our hotel. Tonight we will have an orientation meeting followed by dinner.
Overnight in Bucharest.


Day 2: Bucharest Exploring

We begin our morning with a guided city tour of Bucharest, seeing the historical downtown and the Parliament Building, which was designed and nearly completed by the Ceausescu Regime as the seat of political and administrative power in Romania. Constructing the Palace required demolishing much of Bucharest's historic district, including 19 Orthodox Christian churches, six Jewish synagogues, three Protestant churches (plus eight relocated churches), and 30,000 residences. This is the world's second largest building after the Pentagon.
Overnight in Bucharest.


Day 3: To Brasov via Sinaia. Bran Castle

After Bucharest we begin our journey to Brasov, crossing the Carpathian Mountains, which will be our point of entry into Transylvania, the land of Magyar, Saxon, Secler, Romanian and Moc Peoples. Enroute we stop in Sinaia, named after Mount Sinai in Egypt. It is a mountainside town with winding streets and colorful houses. We visit Sinaia Monastery and then Peles Castle, a former royal residence. Built between 1875 and 1883, the castle contains many architectural styles, 160 rooms, and beautiful terraces.

After lunch we drive to Bran Castle, one of the most famous castles in Europe and the setting of the famous Bram Stoker novel. Falsely attributed as a residence of Vlad Tepes and the Dracula myth, it is still a very impressive castle even if it isn't connected with infamy! The castle was built in 1378 atop a cliff that served as a customs checkpoint and as a strategic point for protecting the pass. Its narrow stone stairways, the comfortable rooms and furnishings give one a first-hand look at the life of nobles that ruled the region in the 15th and 16th centuries.
Overnight in Brasov.


Day 4: Brasov Sightseeing, Risnov & Prejmar

This morning we explore the downtown core of Brasov, one of the seven main saxon cities. It has a well-preserved downtown square that is surrounded by beautiful buildings. (It is reminiscent of squares found in Prague.) We visit the Black Church, named so by a fire that blackened its walls. Erected in 1476, the Gothic cathedral has a 250-foot high tower and an organ with 4000 pipes. We also visit the first Romanian school with amazing old Slavic manuscripts.

After lunch, we visit the fortress of Risnov with its stunning panorama of the surrounding area. This enormous citadel was built around the year 1215 by the Teutonic Knights and was conquered only once in its history. The citadel is most famous for a well (470 feet/143 meters deep) that was dug by Turkish prisoners of war during a siege and which sits today in the center of the fortress.

In the late afternoon we explore Prejmar, a former Saxon fortified church in a town outside of Brasov. This church is exquisite in design and contrast, featuring thick walls with internal passages that were used to defend the inhabitants from attack. Overnight in Brasov.


Day 5: Viscri, to Odorheiu Secuiesc

We say our goodbyes to Brasov today, as we travel through coniferous forests and steep rocky peaks to inner Transylvania. Our first stop will be the village of Viscri (UNESCO World Heritage Site), with one of the most impressive of all the Saxon citadels. From the tower, there is a view of the idyllic countryside and of the village, a classic Saxon Strassendorf, with a row of houses on either side of a single street and a brook running down the center. Hear about the history of the village from one of the last Saxon inhabitants as we learn about the traditions, culture and folklore of the local people. Enjoy a typical Saxon lunch with a local family and take a glimpse at the house of Prince Charles, who has Transylvanian origins and recently purchased a house here. We arrive to Odorheiu Secuiesc for some free time before we go out to dine in a local restaurant.
Overnight in Odorheiu.


Day 6: Biertan, Copsa Mare, Sighisoara

Today we will visit more Saxon heritage sites. Our first stop is the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Biertan. The Saxons built this fortified church, which houses a magnificent altar made up of 28 panels, in the 15th century. We then visit the village of Copsa Mare to see the church, which was built in the 14th century. The church was attacked in the 16th century by the Turks and Tartars, but survived, only to be destroyed in 1605 in an attack by Szekely troops. After climbing the bell tower to enjoy the wonderful view, we will be ready for our picnic lunch. After lunch we drive to Sighisoara (Shassburg) the best-preserved medieval/fortified Saxon town in Europe. Walk up to Citadel Hill along narrow winding streets crowned with a 200-foot clock tower that watches over the main gate. This 14th-century building contains old documents, weapons, coins and glass icons. Atop Citadel Hill, there is a Gothic cathedral with strange stone sculptures on the buttresses. You can also visit the house where Vlad Tepes "Dracula" was born. It is now a pub!
Overnight in Odorheiu Secuiesc.


Day 7: Mt. Hargita hikes, Secler-gates, Korond & Enlaka Villages

This morning we drive up to Mt. Hargita, the sacred peak of the local Seclers, via the scenic Ivo-stream Valley. There we have an hour-long hike to the very peak, where we can enjoy the landscape of central Transylvania with long-range views of the Carpathians.
Enroute we stop in a small village, famous for its dozens of "Secler-gates", whose beauty adorns the streets. These gates were a sign of hospitability and showcased the skill of local woodworkers. Many of these gates are more than one hundred years old and are deemed to be national monuments.
After a picnic lunch, we will drive down to the foothills to see the work of a traditional charcoal maker before continuing on to the remote village of Enlaka, a traditional Unitarian village and a potential UNESCO World Heritage Site. Here the ancient traditions and architecture of the local people are preserved. After sightseeing and dinner in a local barn and a sample of the famous local plum brandy "Palinka", we return to Odorhei.
Overnight in Odorheiu Secuiesc.


Day 8: Praid Salt Mine, to Gura Humorului via Bicaz Gorge and Lacu Rosu

We begin our day with a stop at Korond Village, whose inhabitants are the most famous handicraft makers in the country and where more than 5000 families make a livelihood from producing ceramics and wooden crafts. Aftwards we continue with a visit to the Salt Mine at Praid. Traveling by bus, we descend down into the mine far below the surface. Today the salt mine is a sanatorium for children who suffer from asthma. They come here to live and sleep for several weeks while they receive care for their condition. This virtual underground city is complete with a hospital and underground church. Afterwards we continue on to Voronet, our base to explore the famous Painted Monasteries of Bucovina. Our journey today has us crossing the Bucsin-Pass of the Eastern Carpathians. Enroute we will pass through the narrow Bicaz Gorge, with its hundred meter high walls, and Lacu Rosu (Lake of Murder), with its unique landscape and which is oftentimes referred to as the "Switzerland of Transylvania". Above the lake is the Tunder (Fairy)-Rock, which offers stunning views of the area. We will finish the day in Gura Humorului, the center of Bucovina. Overnight in Gura Humorului.


Days 9 - 10: Painted Monasteries of Bucovina

Among the most picturesque treasures of Romania are the Painted Monasteries of Bucovina. Their painted exterior walls are decorated with elaborate 15th and 16th century frescoes featuring portraits of saints and prophets, scenes from the life of Jesus, images of angels and demons, and heaven and hell. Deemed masterpieces of Byzantine art, these churches are one-of-a-kind architectural sites in Europe. Far from being merely wall decorations, the murals represent complete cycles of religious doctrine. The purpose of the frescoes was to make the story of the Bible and the lives of the most important Orthodox saints known to villagers by the use of images. Their outstanding composition, elegant outline and harmonious colors blend perfectly with the surrounding landscape. Some of Romanias most beautiful countryside is to be found in Bucovina, whose rolling green hills nestle villages and monasteries within their valleys. Horses, decked with red-tasseled bridles, travel country lanes, as villagers crowd churchyards in traditional folk dress on Sundays and holidays. Seven of the churches were placed on UNESCO World Heritage list in 1993. The eighth, Sucevita, is awaiting sanction to be added to the list. We have dedicated two days to explore the most stunning examples of painted churches in this area.
Overnight in Gura Humorului.


Day 11: Drive to Tirgu Mures, European Bison Reserve

Today we have a long day of driving to reach Rimetea, stopping in Tirgu Mures for the night. Our journey will take us through beautiful mountain scenery, as we cross the Eastern Carpathian arch and through central Transylvania, passing through the Carpathian Mountains at the Mestecanis Pass, and then following the route through a series of significant towns that were once an important part of medieval Transylvania. We stop enroute at one of the five reserves of Transylvania, where the reintroduction of European Bisons (also named Wisent) are taking place. These enormous animals are larger than their american counterparts, and instead of prairies, here they prefer woodlands and remote mountains. European bison were hunted to extinction in the wild, with the last wild animals being shot in the Bialowieza Forest in Eastern Poland in 1919. By that year fewer than 50 remained, all in zoos. The Transylvanian Bison was wiped out by 1790, and now the governments is trying to establish and reintoduce them into well established areas of the Carpathian Wilderness.

We arrive to Tirgu Mures in the late afternoon, where we will enjoy one of the finest restauranst of the area, attached to our hotel!
Overnight in Tirgu Mures.


Day 12: Torda Gorge Hike, Rimetea Village

After a short drive, we hike the Torda Gorge, one of the largest in Romania and which contains hundreds of endemic plants and insects. According to one legend, the sword of St. Ladislaus, a legendary Hungarian King of the 13th century who escaped the Mongolian Tatar hordes, forged the canyon. We will see the giant nests of Golden eagles and with luck, we might see them soaring overhead.

After lunch, we have a short drive to the remove village of Rimetea, one of the most magnificent settings of Western Romania. Here we visit an ethnographical museum which is known for its traditional life of the local people including their unique costumes and the ore-mining history of the village. You will find most of which is dominated by Secler Rock which is a sacred peak of the local people.
Overnight in Torockoszentgyorgy.


Day 13: Torockoszentgyorgy castle hike, Moc Villages

This morning, we explore the XIII century castle ruins which overlooks our village, Torockoszentgyorgy. Our hike takes us through the gorgeous rural countryside. The view from the abandoned castle is simply breathtaking.

After lunch, we drive to a traditional Moc village surrounded by large mountains. The Mocs are an ancient ethnic group who live a secluded life deep in the mountains, many without electricity or running water. The Moc people speak Romanian and many of the houses have conical, thatched roofs. We also visit a beautiful wooden carved monastery.
Overnight in Torockoszentgyorgy.


Day 14: Sincrau Village, Oradea. Arrival in Hungary

After our morning at leisure, we make our way to the Hungarian border. Enroute we visit a Calvinistic church of the Magyar Sincrau (Kalotaszentkiraly) Village. This is one of the foremost, original ethnic villages of Western Transylvania, famous for its folk and native culture. Enjoy the hospitality of the locals with their traditional costumes, very special local dishes, as well as the opportunity to shop for some local handmade painted pitchers, woodcarvings and embroideries. We cross the Bucea Pass, our exit point of Transylvania, as we descend to Oradea (Nagyvarad) to visit one of the most gorgeous baroque churches in all of Central Europe, and the burial place of the sacred Hungarian King, St. Ladislaus.
Overnight in Hajduszoboszlo.


Day 15: Hortobagy National Park, Godollo Royal Palace

After breakfast we will visit a local animal farm with many endemic domestic animals before we travel into the Pusta. The Pusta is a wide-open flat area with unique vegetation. In terms of flora, the Pusta is Asiatic and is known as a small piece of Asia inside Europe. Hortobagy National Park is a World Heritage Site that preserves the unique natural and cultural treasures of this remote part of Europe. Here we will see the special curly-haired and "cholesterol-free" mangalica pigs, strange spiral-horned sheep, the enormous Hungarian Gray Cattle, Water Buffalo and many special house fowls and pigeons. After the animal farm, we travel by cart into the open plains, where we will be introduced to the life of the local herdsmen and horse riders as we visit several herds of semi-wild kept animals. After lunch, we continue to travel westward to see the former royal palace of Godollo. Godollo was a palace of Emperor Franz Joseph, King Charles IV (the last Hungarian King), and Nicholaus Horthy, regent of Hungary between the two world wars. Partially restored over the last two years, the building and garden provide a glimpse into the Austro-Hungarian Empire's regal past, highlighting the life of the famous "Sissi", wife of Emperor Franz Joseph. After our visit, we continue to Lake Balaton, Hungary's largest lake.
Overnight at Lake Balaton.


Day 16: Lake Balaton: St. Gheorghe Hill (volcanoes)

During the next two days, we visit the most important sites of Lake Balaton. Known as the "Hungarian Sea" - a 77 km long lake in the centre of Transdanubia with its opalescent, yellow-green, silky-smooth water, which is one of the country's most precious natural resources and most visited resort, surrounded with small volcanic peaks and wonderful wineries. With a surface area of 600 km2 it is Central Europe's largest lake. Even from a distance, it is not easy to explain the magic of Lake Balaton. This gentle lake in the centre of Europe has no palm-fringed shores, there is no backdrop of soaring mountain heights, nor is it associated with prehistoric legends. Despite this, those who come for the first time are surprised to find that in the microcosm of Lake Balaton, every day brings its own minor miracle. One thing is certain: people return from Lake Balaton cheerful, rested and full of energy.

Our first destination today is Keszthely city, the capital of the lake region. This is the largest and oldest settlement on Lake Balaton, which was an important trading centre in Roman times.
We then hike the famous Szt-Gyorgy (St. George) Hill, where we have the opportunity to sample local wines. The region is one of the most interesting in the whole country: 14 domed basalt hills covered in vineyards encircle this town lying in the Tapolca Basin. A coffin-shaped 420-metre-high extinct volcano with geologically rare "basalt organs" on its slopes and vineyards produce the fine wines of the monks belonging to the order of St. Paul: "Badacsony Sz├╝rkebarat" (Badacsony Grey Monk). Wines were introduced to Lake Balaton by the ancient Romans and the excellent quality is the result of thousands of years of tradition. The most famous wines in the region come from the slopes of the nearby extinct volcano Badacsony Hill, but it is also well worth tasting the wines from the vicinity of Balatonf├╝red, Balatonboglar and Tihany. It is said that there is song in them.
If time and weather permitting, we may return to our hotel by cruising across Lake Balaton. Overnight at Lake Balaton.


Day 17: Lovasbereny Castle, Alcsut Arboretum, Kamandul Hermitage

Today, we make our way back to Budapest via beautiful rolling hills to enjoy the area of the Vertes Mountains. We visit the Lovasbereny Castle, a ruined and half-abandoned mansion of a local aristocratic family who shared a fate similar to other such properties during the Communist-era. Enroute, we stop on a hilltop to enjoy the view of the second greatest lake of Hungary, called Lake Velence... a grand vista. We then enjoy a guided tour through the largest arboretum of the country at Alcsut village, part of the Danube-Ipoly National Park. Here we have an opportunity to see many of the 540 different tree and bush species displayed in the landscaped park and learn the special history of the place. It was a garden of a former aristocratic palace. We also have a guided tour at the Kamandul Hermitage site of Majk, an extraordinary assemblage of buildings. The Kamandul Order was established in 1009 in Italy, and the monks were allowed to speak to each other only twice a year. They lived at this peaceful spot from 1733-1770, when it was converted into a hunting lodge of the famous Esterhazy Family.
Overnight in Budapest.


Day 18: Budapest Sightseeing, Citadel

The broad Danube River runs through the middle of this stunning metropolis, dividing hilly Buda from the Pest plain, with nine beautiful old bridges and romantic islands. Today, we explore Budapest by foot and by bus. First, we visit the Buda Castle District, a World Heritage Site that includes Mathyas Church, the Royal Palace, and the viewpoint at Fishermen's Bastion. Later we cross the Danube and drive along Andrassy Street (a World Heritage Site) with a chance to see the highlights including the Opera House. We visit Hero's Square and the Parliament building, which are ranked as one of the most beautiful in the world. With 691 rooms, this neo-Gothic palace stretches 880 feet (268 meters) along the embankment of the Danube River. We also visit the Basilica, the greatest of the Hungarian churches. After dinner we drive up the Citadel,(Gellert Hill) to enjoy the best panorama views of Budapest. It is easy to see why Budapest is known as one of the most romantic cities in the world!
Overnight in Budapest.


Day 19: Visegrad, Danube Bend, Szentendre

Today, we travel north from Budapest to the very center of the Danube Bend, visiting the Royal Palace of Visegrad City. Completed in 1330, Visegrad was the largest building ensembles in medieval Hungary and was declared as the capital in the 14th century. "From Visegrad, from an earthly paradise" - thus wrote an ambassador of the Pope, guest of King Matthias (1458-1490), and a person well used to glitter and pomp. We travel to the Serbian City of Szentendre to explore this legendary old museum town. With its winding streets, church towers and colorful houses, Szentendre is probably the Danube Bend's most visited tourist centre and is a fascinating place to explore. Tonight, we enjoy our Farewell Dinner.
Overnight in Budapest.


Day 20: Depart Budapest

Our adventure in Eastern Europe concludes today as we depart for Budapest Airport to board our international flights home.

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