When I decided earlier this year on doing the trek in Romania, little did I know how a one week trek was going to become a 16-day trip – but I am talented that way: plan a vacation and then add more than originally intended to practically double its duration and scope! Let me share with you how that happens to me using this trip as an example. I will also use this post to lay out the overall trip to Moldova and Romania so that, as I write about it, readers can see how it all comes together…
Note: I hope you subscribe to the blog (if you have not already done so) so you can keep up with the writings and read as you have the time. The trip was incredibly different for me and I hope what I share helps give a better glimpse into these countries!!
First Things First: What Led Me to Take a Trip Now and to Romania?
Fine questions! As I announced in a prior post, the main purpose of this trip was to go on trek with Trekking for Kids to help an orphanage in Romania by raising funds for projects to improve the orphanage and also to just be with the kids and bring them something different from their day to day. More about the orphanage part of the trip later but I will say now that if you want to help children around the world and tackle some great mountains (Everest base camp, Kilimanjaro, Machu Picchu, etc.), you should look into Trekking for Kids.
An Itinerary Takes Shape, with Some Randomness
On to how I planned my itinerary…. The trek was about a week so I knew I had to take advantage of getting to that part of Europe to see something more. Can’t waste a good and dear trans-Atlantic crossing…
Among the choices was a return trip to the Greek islands (for R&R after the hike; something I would have really enjoyed), or visiting any of the countries that surround Romania. Of those countries, I had already gone to Bulgaria so that left the Ukraine, Moldova, Hungary and Serbia – none of which I had visited. I eliminated the last 2 as I felt those are easier to get to from places like Austria, Croatia, etc. so I w0uld be more likely to see them in the future. That left the Ukraine and Moldova. Moldova started peeking my curiosity as it is so much less known to me and, likely, to my compatriots. As I researched the country, it sounded like it had some interesting things so that became the destination.
My plans then were to land in Bucharest and go to Moldova ahead of the hike part of the trip. I proceeded to research hotels in Chisinau, the capital of Moldova (pronounced KISH-now). I had not yet figured out how I was going to see the country and what it had to offer. As I read reviews in Trip Advisor for hotels, I ran into a comment that a reviewer from the UK had made about a guide he hired for a one-on-one tour of Moldova. I sent the reviewer a few questions and with his strong endorsement of this guide, I proceeded to contact the guide, Dumitru, to see what itinerary he would recommend for a 2-3 day visit and what the costs would be. Dumitru offered several options and mentioned, in passing, that he could pick me up in Iasi, Romania if I wanted. Immediately curiosity kicked in as I wondered why he would think I would go to Iasi. There had to be a reason…
So off I went to research Iasi. Turns out it is considered to be the cultural capital of Romania and that it had a hotel designed by Monsieur Eiffel himself. That was all I needed to hear but now I had more logistics to research and more time on my vacation calendar to slice off. (I will say here and likely repeat in a future blog how great Dumitru was! Should you need a guide in eastern Romania or Moldova, hit me up for his email.)
Researching Trips Rocks
If you are thinking to yourself “this guy must love researching stuff”, you would be correct. Doing research for me is the beginning of the trip: I started learning the moment I started studying the maps of Moldova and Romania, or when I read some bloggers’ writings about these places, or when I chatted with a fellow Twitter friend about his trip through the Transniestra…
Figuring out the Logistics…
In any case, I decided due to my arrival date in Romania and the start of the hike that I could not afford taking the train from Bucharest to Iasi. While distances are not long some times in Eastern Europe, what I consistently found out or heard was how artificially long the train rides are; case in point, a 6-7 hour drive from Chisinau to Bucharest could take twice that by train! So I decided to fly to Iasi the morning after arriving in Bucharest foregoing looking at the landscape as I traveled. Once in Iasi, I would have that afternoon and evening to explore it (almost enough time). The next morning, I would be picked by my Moldovan guide, and then fly back to Bucharest from Chisinau, Moldova 2 days later.
My 3 days in Moldova would mostly be centered in the middle region of the country given where most of the key sites are but a trip north was planned to visit an important fortress in the town of Soroca on the Ukrainian border.
Once in back in Romania, the situation required less planning as most of it was handled by the trek organizers. I only needed to take care of my hotel after returning from Moldova and plan my sightseeing the day after. The trekkers would spend one night together in Bucharest before heading to Transylvania (the town of Brasov – prounounced BRAH-shov) where our trek and orphanage work would be “headquartered” for the next week.
The Travels I Did – A Map
I find a map helps visualize things so I quickly marked on this Romania/Moldova map the key travel routes and the method of transport I ended up using. Clearly, I did not see all that Romania has to offer. I hear Sibiu, Timisoara and Cluj-Napoca are well worth seeing too.
By the way, as a footnote, there is some kinship between Romania and Moldova. In fact, the languages are practically the same and there are many cross-border family ties as, at some point in history, they were both one country. Apparently, it is still a topic today (reunification or not), but I do not know enough to explain the situation here… Suffice it to say that Moldova has, itself, a region in the east that wants to separate from Moldova (it’s called the Transniestra and it was in the news in the 1990s due to civil war-like clashes with the Moldovan government)!
Final Itinerary and Key Activities in Romania and Moldova
To sum it all up and serve as a guide to writings I will create (I will add links here as the writings are published), here is a detailed itinerary of the trip…
Day 1 – Depart Atlanta, connect in Amsterdam, and land in Bucharest at midnight local time.
Day 2 – Depart Bucharest in the morning and land in Iasi in the morning.
Day 3 – Be picked up by my Moldova tour guide in Iasi and cross the border into Moldova. Visit the Frumoasa and Curchi monasteries. Brief stop in Orhei. Visit Chateau Vartely, have lunch, and sample the wines.
Day 4 – Tour Chisinau, and travel to Soroca.
Day 5 – Visit the Milestii Mici winery and the Capriana Monastery. Fly to Bucharest.
Day 6 – Sightsee in Bucharest, including its Palace of Parliament, and meet the hike group.
Day 7 – Travel by road to Brasov (3-4 hrs). Explore Brasov and visit the orphanage.
Day 8 – Begin the hike on the Wallachian side of the Carpathian Mountains.
Day 9 – Second day of the hike into Transylvania via the Strunga Pass.
Day 10 – Third day of the hike.
Day 11 – Final day of the hike and night out in Brasov.
Day 12 – Explore more of Brasov. Afternoon and evening at the orphanage with football (soccer) match included.
Day 13 – Hike with the kids. Return to Bucharest.
Day 14 – Depart for Paris.
Day 15 – Hang out with nothing seriously planned in Paris.
Day 16 – Fly back home!
If you can relate to this approach to trip planning and/or have stories of your own, I’d love to hear them!