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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. Peles Castle, Sinaia Monastery, Brasov Sightseeing
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. En route 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.
Day 4: Prejmar, Risnov, Bran Castle
This morning 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. Later (weather permitting), we will go up by cable car to the peak of Mt. Keresztely situated at 5905 feet (1800 m) - one of the highest peaks of this section of the Carpathian Mountains. From the top enjoy amazing views of the nearby Prahova Valley. After 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 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. During the afternoon we explore Prejmar, a former Saxon fortified church in a town outside 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 is has Transylvanian origin 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, Charcoal Makers, Secler-gates, Korond Village and Enlaka Village
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. 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. En route 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. Afterwards continue on to Enlaka, a traditional Unitarian village and a potential UNESCO World Heritage Site that preserves the ancient traditions and architecture of the local people. 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. En route 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: Moldovita, Arbore, Sucevita, Probota, Voronet, Humor and Saint John the New Monastery
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 over the next two days 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 en route 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 form got extinct much earlier, in 1790, and now governments try to establish and reintoduce them into well established areas of the Carpathian Wild.
Day 12: Torda Gorge Hike, Rimetea, Moc Villages
After a shorter drive first we hike 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 a picnic lunch in Rimetea we travel a short distance by bus to visit 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 and try to meet with the local orthodox monks. Overnight in Rimetea.
Day 13: Hunedoara Castle, Deva Fortress
This morning we drive to Hunedoara, to visit one of the largest and most breathtaking medieval fortresses in Transylvania. The impressive size and architectural beauty set it among the most precious monuments of medieval art, subsequent developments mixing Gothic style with Renaissance and Baroque. The building lies on a rock around which flows the Zlasti River. It has an impressive drawbridge, countless towers, a number of interior courts, and two large halls, "Knight Hall" and "Diet Hall", as it housed the diet of Transylvania for a very short period. The castle's history is mostly related to the Hunyadi Family, as it was the place where John Hunyadi spent his childhood. He was one of the heroes of the fight against the encroaching Ottoman Empire, and the most skilful warrior of medieval Hungary. He advanced to be named Voivode (Prince) of Transylvania, which was at the time an autonomous part of the Kingdom of Hungary. He formed a coalition with the principalities of Moldavia and Wallachia and engaged in crusades against the Turks to free Serbia and Bulgaria. Although he died in a military camp, his son Matyas (Matthias) later became one of the most famous Hungarian kings. The rising nationalism in the modern era made John a celebrated hero of Romanians, Hungarians and Serbians. Statues of John Hunyadi can be found in Hunedoara and various other locations in Romania and Hungary. On the way back we drive up to Deva Castle, a 13th century fortress sitting on the top of a hill with great panoramic views over this section of the Carpathians. If time/weather permits, we do a shorter scenic hike to the castle ruins that overlook Torockoszentgyorgy Village, situated far below. The views are superb! Overnight in Rimetea.
Day 14: Rimetea, Sincrau Village, Oradea. Arrival in Hungary
We begin our day with a museum visit in the town of Rimetea, which is known for its traditional life, and we learn in details about the local people, their unique costumes, and the ore-mining history of the village, dominated with Secler Rock, a sacred peak for the local people. After our morning of sightseeing we will start to travel to the Hungary border. En route 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. We will 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. We also will learn about Endre Ady, the greatest Hungarian poet. 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 take a freeway west of Budapest, to the largest freshwater body of Hungary, to Lake Balaton. Overnight at Lake Balaton.
Day 16: Lake Balaton: Szigliget and St. Gheorghe Hill (volcanoes)
During the next two days we visit the most important sights of the of Lake Balaton area. 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.
Day 17: Castle of Lovasbereny, Alcsut Arboretum, Kamandul Hermitage
Today we are heading back towards Budapest among beautiful rolling hills, to enjoy the area of the Vertes Mts., with a first stop at 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. En route we stop on a hilltop to enjoy the view of the second greatest lake of Hungary, called Lake Velence... a grand vista. Than we enjoying a guided tour through the largest arboretum of the country at Alcsut village, part of the Danube-Ipoly National Park, to see as many of the 540 different tree and bush species displayed in the landscaped park and learn the special history of the place, as 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
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 visiting the highlights of Andrassy Street (a World Heritage Site) including the Opera House, Hero's Square, and the Parliament building, which is 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 visit the Basilica, the greatest of the Hungarian churches, and the Synagogue (subject to visiting hours), which is the 3rd largest in the World and the largest of the continent. 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. In its day, completed in 1330, Visegrad was the largest building ensemble 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. After dinner we drive up Citadel (Gellert Hill) to see the best panorama of Budapest. It is not difficult to see why Budapest is known as one of the most romantic cities in the world! 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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