Into the Land of the Dracula Legend (Or Is It?) and Moldova

So my trek to Romania is fast approaching.  I shared here about the hike in Romania in support of a local orphanage (donations welcome at www.trekkingforkids.org; mark me as the trekker!).  I have been preparing and planning to visit the Alps in Transylvania, made famous (or better known) by the story of Dracula…

The Hike

The hike will take place over 4 days where among other places we will stop at the castle that inspired the story of Dracula (Bran’s Castle).  We will staying in chalets or other accommodations in the area and we will visit other castles in the area.  We will be hiking for 5-6 hours every day and ascending to upwards of 9,000ft above sea level.  I have done 3-4 hr hikes in Kennesaw Mountain, about 20 minutes north of Atlanta, along trails they have up and around the mountain.  I have also been relying on the treadmill doing hour-long walks at 10% incline or more.  I sure hope this and my overall general fitness level help make this hike something less than a painful experience!

Pre-Hike Visit to Moldova

I don’t generally miss an opportunity to see a new place so I thought to myself that if I am going to Romania, I needed to do something in addition to Romania in this trip.  In terms of Romania, I get to see Bucharest, Brasov and the Transylvanian Alps so I was leaning to go somewhere outside of Romania.

The Greek Isles definitely beckoned but the lack of direct flights to the islands (taking into account all the stuff I will be lugging around for the hike) made me -sadly- kill that option.  A strong contender was neighboring Serbia.  But as I looked at the map more, there was one obvious candidate destination that I may otherwise not get to… the ex-Soviet Socialist Republic of Moldova.  I hear it still feels somewhat Soviet but I have also heard great things about fortresses, monasteries and wineries so it makes sense for me to explore it.  I decided to make it there before the hike.

Through a recommendation from someone in TripAdvisor, I contacted a local guide who will take me around for the 3 days I will be in Moldova to explore this -to me- mysterious country.  The local guide recommended I see Romania’s cultural capital, Iasi (population ~350K, inhabited since 400BC!), very close to Moldova on the west and that he could pick me up there.  So Iasi got added to the itinerary though I will spend less than a half a day there unfortunately.

Iasi, Romania

Iasi (photo courtesy of: RomanianMonasteries.org)

Chisinau, the capital of Moldova, will be my base those three days.  I have decided to stay at the Best Western Flowers which seemed well located and got good reviews in TripAdvisor (one of my preferred sources).

Map showing my tour of Moldova (based in Chisinau)

Map showing the areas I will explore on the three day visit

I am excited to get to explore one of the smallest and lesser known European countries and enjoy its charms before I do the hike.

Getting to Romania

I wanted to use frequent flyer miles to get to Bucharest but, as everyone has heard, airline miles keep losing value.  I had hoped to make the trip business class as I never get to do that on international flights.  However, what used to be a 90,000 mile business class seat can be now over 200,000 miles!  Inflation of awards outpaces any normal inflation metric…  Clearly a mental note has been made to earn points where possible outside of frequent flyer accounts (Marriott, for example, has a great and valuable rewards program).

Sure enough, I couldn’t get anything under 200,000 miles.  I had more miles than that to use but I refused to spend that many miles.  I tweeted in frustration, promising I would diversify my airline choices in the future.  A direct message came in from the airline asking if there was anything they could do to help.  I replied, rather skeptically, explaining further and adding “if you can get me there on business class for much less, I’d take it”.  Long story short, that person contacted me 2 hrs later (after various exchanges clarifying date flexibility, etc.) with an itinerary that was 150,000 via Amsterdam (trans-Atlantic leg with KLM! but 8-hr layover…) BUT it could not get me out of Bucharest to the gateway city (Paris) – I’d be on my own for that.  I was quite pleased.  I realize 90,000 was a dream especially in peak summer season so I understood  that I got as good a deal as possible.  My itinerary though does require 2 stops going over and 2 coming back BUT on the return I have to overnight in Paris anyway so I will make it a 2 night/1 day visit (I lived in Paris for 6 months many years ago so getting to stop there is like going home for me).

Getting to Moldova

Now, the only item left was getting to Moldova.  Trains are a great way to see more of a country but I was trying to maximize time in Moldova and the train ride was not a short one.  Since Iasi, Romania seemed worthseeing, I was going to fly there from Bucharest and then just return to Bucharest to join the hike group by flying out of Chisinau.  I land in Bucharest from the US at around midnight on the night of the 15th of July and catch my flight to Iasi at 11AM the next day.  Clearly I will not have time to unpack and repack for this 4 day trip so I will have to pack my bags in the US so it is a matter of leaving my hike luggage at the hotel in Bucharest and take one smaller bag for the Moldova trip.  (I am scoring a room at the JW Marriott for practically nothing!  I will stay there again the night I come back from Moldova.)

But heaven help me if the Romanian airline’s (TAROM) website wasn’t a royal pain the rear!  After many attempts, I ended up just going to good ole Expedia to book my flight and end the non-sense.  I hope the experience with TAROM is not a sign of things to come!

Bucharest

Sadly, I will only have one good day to see Bucharest so I will book some sort of tour to be efficient about seeing the key sights.  I hate not getting to spend more time and get a feel for the city but checking Iasi and Moldova out seemed more off the beaten path and that will always trump other options!

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So with less than 2 weeks to go, I am slightly daunted by the logistics of packing up all the right things for a hike in the mountains:  do I have all the things I need (they gave us a gear list but still trying to decide what to buy, what to borrow, and whether to buy cheap alternatives or the real things…), which bags are the ideal bags (my huge backpacker backpack, a duffel bag, etc. considering the multiple plane changes and the darn hiking poles), and how to strategically pack my bags.

However, any anxiety or eagerness to resolve all these pales in comparison with the excitement about the hike, the orphanage we are working with, and the sights and sounds I am about to experience in this corner of Eastern Europe!

Comments

  1. i’m so excited for you, Raul. this trip sounds so amazing in all the right ways. going somewhere you’ve never been. giving back. and continuing to explore as much as you can even in only a little bit of time. we are definitely kindred traveling spirits…i can’t wait to have the same kind of adventure in Cambodia, Laos & maybe Thailand!!
    lola recently posted..TBEX afterthoughts…who IS a travel blogging hero?My Profile

    • Thanks, Lauren. I am glad to have this opportunity and that you one like it too! Neat way to see the world and see something different than we get to see in our usual trips. We will be trading stories, I am sure!

  2. I’m so proud of you for doing this, and know that you’ll do well. Romania is on my bucket list, but I have no idea when I’d ever get there. I think you’ve made such a selfless decision to do this hike, plus it combines your love for travel. I can’t wait to see your photos.
    Leah Travels recently posted..Texas Tuesday: Swimming with the FishesMy Profile

    • Thanks, Leah. It just seemed a great way to mix travel with some way of volunteering. I hope I can have good info on what to do in Romania when I return since I will be seeing more than Bucharest with the hike and days in Brasov, and then a day visit to Iasi.

  3. Sounds like a great adventure to come Raul! Look forward to tagging along!
    D.J. – The World of Deej recently posted..Rees Jones – Interview with an ArchitectMy Profile

  4. This sounds like it’s going to be an amazing trip! Not only are you getting to help people, but you’re getting to see the world. I also used Trip Advisor to hire a private guide for Egypt. We only have three days to work with and want to see as much as possible. I think it’ll be the best way for you to see what you want to as well. :)
    The World Wanderer recently posted..Celebrating St. Stephen’s in Ireland.My Profile

    • Sometimes exploring solo is not the best way, much as I like it. I am finding myself in a similar situation with Bucharest where I really will only spend most of one day. I will look at the options but may do a hop-on/hop-off early in the AM to get my bearings and then spend most of the day visiting the things that caught my attention (or the guide books/websites may point to as key). I love Egypt – when are you going??

  5. What an incredible experience for such a great cause! You are going to have an amazing time with stories to last a lifetime. We can’t wait to follow along!
    Tawny- Captain and Clark recently posted..Getting a taste of San Juan, Puerto Rico.My Profile

    • I hope so – I just have to survive the trip over! After 24 hrs of travel, I get to Bucharest around midnight, only to leave the hotel around 9AM to catch another plane to Iasi, Romania! I wonder if I am crazy sometimes -> no comments! :)

  6. this is going to be aaaamazing. so excited for you, and can’t wait to read all about it!!
    the lazy travelers recently posted..no travel requiredMy Profile

  7. Sounds like an amazing opportunity Raul. Can’t wait to her more about it and see your pictures when you return.
    John recently posted..Exploring Outer Space In Broad Daylight at the Griffith ObservatoryMy Profile

    • It really is a great opportunity – I had always wanted to do a trek with this group and I have always wanted to explore the mountains in Romania. Sometimes, it is amazing how well things work out! Hope you are enjoying Nicaragua, amigo!

  8. Have a fantastic time, Raul! This sounds like an amazing adventure. Mr. JA loved his travels to both Romania and Moldova (including the Milesti Mici winery), as I may have told you before. :)
    Pola (@jettingaround) recently posted..Photo of the Week: Zócalo in Puebla, MexicoMy Profile

    • Pola, I am going to that winery! Thanks for the tip. Also going to Chateau Vartely. One week away and not really ready but, heck, here I go!

  9. I am so jealous you are going to visit the Castle that inspired Dracula. Say hello to ole Vlad the Impaler for me. Actually, I am not jealous as I now will really look forward to your posts on the subject.
    Traveling Ted recently posted..And the winner of the Uprinting drawing isMy Profile

  10. What a unique part of the world… and as much as I am intrigued by Romania… I really can’t wait to learn about what you discover in Moldova. I can honestly say you will be the first person I know who has traveled there.

    stay adventurous, Craig
    Craig Zabransky recently posted..Sunset Sunday – Sunset on the Streets of Quebec CityMy Profile

    • Thanks, Craig. I can’t believe I start this trip in less than a week! I have heard there are a lot of neat things to see in Moldova so I am intrigued – will do my best to bring Moldova to the blog!

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