• Norway!

    Norway: Sunnylvsfjord. Go Now!

    Known for its natural beauty, Norway is home to isolated villages, fjords, and mountains that create a culture and landscape without compare. Begin Your Journey!

  • Vatican City!

    Vatican City: Vatican Museums. Go Now!

    Vatican City
    The smallest country in the world offers the heart of Catholicism and among the world's finest art collections, including the Sistine Chapel and the Raphael Rooms (ceiling pictured). Go to Vatican City!

  • Macedonia!

    Macedonia: Traditional architecture. Go Now!

    Macedonia is a country still finding its unique identity, but its architecture is already one of a kind. Explore Macedonia!

  • Austria!

    Austria: Belvedere Palace. Go Now!

    Belvedere Palace (pictured) is just one of many palaces found in Vienna. The capital is a good start to Austria, which also features the Alps, the Lakes District, and incredible history & food. Go Now!

  • Spain!

    Spain: Guell Park and Gaudi architecture. Go Now!

    Fusion foods, lively music, historic ruins, and cultural events like the Running of the Bulls and La Tomatina make Spain and Barcelona (pictured) a favorite tourist destination. Explore Spain!

  • Ukraine!

    Ukraine: Traditional Village. Go Now!

    Ukrainian culture is based on village life, particularly that found in the Carpathian Mountains (pictured). Begin Your Journey!


Brasov, Romania


February 29, 2004
Surrounded by Monasteries

Iasi is truly an experience, or perhaps more an unexplainable feeling. The city stand on a number of hills and is consumed with churches and museums, but also with communist bloc apartment buildings, although many are hidden at first sight.

As you look across one valley you can see two monasteries on the furthest outlying hills of the city, only their silhouettes on the clouded backdrop visible as the sun fell upon them. This only adds to the tranquil feeling the city conveys. The atmosphere feels like I began reading a book and soon saw myself from the outside as a character in a place I didn't expect to be; real, but the details almost exaggerated to the degree of fiction.

On Sunday, from the Moldavian Metropolical Cathedral we could hear singing; the sun soon awoke to display the Galata Monastery on a distant hill. As passers-by crossed the church they crossed themselves twice and continued. Nearly everyone did this and the percentage of believers, based only on crossing themselves was incredible. Nearly all did this young and old, not embarrassed, not proud, only done in a matter of fact tone.

"Little Texas," our hotel was nice, the staff was friendly and giving. The city's prices were very cheap, the history was intriguing, the churches were all unique, and the city was filled by a variety of buildings due to it being the former capital including a building by Eiffel.

I felt removed and placed into a story of vampires and monastery castles here. The atmosphere was only completed when I heard the chanting from the cathedrals and listened to the romance language of which I knew nothing, making me feel completely removed.

*    *    *


April 3, 2004
Grandiose Capital

We caught the 9:00pm overnight marshrutka from Chisinau to Bucharest, having no idea what we were in for. An overweight gentleman, about 250 pounds sat next to me and another bigger guy about 220-240 pounds sat on the other side, putting me and Crystal in between, rotating on who is allowed to place a single shoulder blade against the back of the seat. It was at best uncomfortable and as the trip went on it got hotter and much smellier as the guy next to me got larger (he was eating sausage the entire trip).

Our driver was classic, he had a mullet and the stereotypical 1980s mustache, tapered jeans, and brought his girlfriend along, who seemed to act more as an accessory than a girlfriend. We made a few stops along the way and I failed to notice him at all stops, but one stop I was glued to him. We stopped at a small café on the edge of the road, he leaned cock-eyed in his chair, his back angling from bottom left to top right, cigarette in left hand, coffee in the right, his girl across from him, and his mullet glistening in the neon light of the coffee shop; it was great!

We arrived in Bucharest at about 5:30am after getting a couple hours of sleep. We got into town itself by 6:00 and were greeted by unfinished buildings beside cranes, which are a constant reminder of the fall of communist when buildings were started without money to build them. The main street copies the Champs Elysees in Paris, but is a couple inches wider and here the fountains haven't been running water since 1989.

The "House of the People" is enormous, but closed so we continued on to Dunkin Doughnuts or to the place our guidebook said Dunkin Doughnuts once stood. They had recently closed and this was my first sign that a people not ready to accept Dunkin Doughnuts was not ready for the European Union. We found a nearby pastry shop and ate there, then caught the subway to the train station on the north end of town.


April 3, 2004
Peles Castle

There was a bus leaving from Bucharest, but it was extremely slow so we took a later train that actually arrived sooner to Sinaia.

After our train passed through plains we saw the snow-capped mountains around a small town, Sinaia. A lot of people got off, mostly tourists and the group of us walked up the hill until we stopped at a church to take a break and get our bearings.

We walked through the wooded mountain pass to the palace, which is perched on a hill in much majesty, it resembles how I picture Bavaria or another German castle (although I've never been there). This actually makes sense considering the castle was built in Saxon style decorated with white stucco separated by wood and guarded by great statues.

We wanted a tour, but didn't have time or patience to wait for an English language tour so took the next one leaving, which was in French. I didn't understand anything, but Crystal explained most of it to me.

Each room had a theme and all were remarkable considering the detail and authenticity to the room's theme in regards to every detail. The first foyer consisted of three floors, all carved hard wood brightened by a skylight and most impressively highlighted by a carved wooden spiral staircase from the second to the third floors. This was one of the most impressive rooms I have ever seen.


April 4, 2004
Medieval City in Transylvania

Brasov is a very communist looking town on the outskirts and is much larger than I had thought. It was about a 45 minute walk from the station to downtown, where our hostel was located. We checked in and immediately left to see the town.

The downtown square is said to be the best in Romania and I don't doubt it. The buildings are all red roofed, the area surrounded by mountains, and on the corner of the square a huge gothic church, said to be the biggest between Vienna and Istanbul. It's known as the "black church" and is impressive more because of its size and location than detail its work.

The city feels like a novel set in medieval times, but this feeling was quickly forgotten in the mist of tourists, modern cafes, roadside shops, and the knowledge that just five minutes away is a plethora of communist bloc apartment buildings. Brasov has a reputation as being a great tourist location and while I enjoyed it, I felt like it was perhaps over-rated.

After dinner we went back to the hostel to find everyone there just sitting and watching "Planet of the Apes." To avoid stigmatization and due to a lack of anything to do, we joined. Being absolutely exhausted I went to bed early, but most people stayed out all night because Easter is the biggest party of the year (Orthodoxy requires fasting so Easter consists of a lot of eating and drinking) and that begins at midnight.

At midnight there's a big procession followed by lots of partying. We walked around the night streets for awhile but returned to the hostel, where I met a guy from Madison, who knows a few of my friends from there, small world.


April 4, 2004
Dracula's Castle? Right.

We got a bus to Bran to see the true tourist-trap that it is. The inside of Dracula's castle is all original... from the 1700s, what they don't mention however is that the person Dracula is based on died in the 1400 or 1500s.

The person Dracula is based on is Vlad Tepes, who's real castle is very far away and most of it fell down a cliff, while the rest of it is hidden by a power plant so I've heard.

I guess it makes sense that the castle of Vlad is as inaccurate as Dracula itself. I give the area credit for taking advantage of the misinformation though.

Learn more about Romania Return to Justin's Travel Blog