Skip to content

A Romanian Tour With Exeter International

At Exeter International, one of the most rewarding aspects of our work is knowing that clients have enjoyed a once-in-a-lifetime experience through the tours and travel that we schedule for them. We’d like to present a guest post from “A Passion for Travel,” a blog run by a husband and wife team who truly have passion for travel!


24 May – 3 June 2014

“We stayed in Romania for a private tour booked with Exeter InternationalOur purpose was to see Romania’s Painted Monasteries, but that turned out to be only a part of this fascinating journey. Aurelian, our guide, excelled in every aspect and made this one of our best travel experiences ever.
Day 1
Aurelian took us on a short walking tour through the old part of the city during the morning. Dragush, our driver, spent the day dropping the 3 of us off at various places.
Romania - Bucharest (61) Romania - Bucharest (54)
We saw the exterior of the Royal Palace and photos showing the destruction during the 1989 Revolution and the reconstruction.
Romania - Bucharest - Cretuscleu Church (3) Romania - Bucharest - Cretuscleu Church (1)
We went inside Cretuscleu Church with its restored frescoes; a mass was in progress, so we only peeked from the back.
Romania - Bucharest - Atheneum (15) Romania - Bucharest - Atheneum (2)
Aurelian made Bucharest come alive for us as he told stories about people and places we passed. At the concert hall, the Athenaeum, we slipped inside the ornate building to hear a few minutes of orchestral rehearsal.
We saw some places we saw yesterday but with better explanations this time: the inn from 1809;
 Stavropoleos Monastery with its courtyard

Romania - Bucharest - Stavropoleos Monastery (6) Romania - Bucharest - Stavropoleos Monastery (2)

Annunciation Church with its icon of St. Andrew where the ritual of baptism for a baby was in progress. We took the car to see an area somewhat spared from Communist destruction but deteriorating almost beyond restoration. We saw Antim Monasteryhere
along with a nunnery that was relocated and turned into the Church Archives Building. 
Romania - Bucharest - Orthodox Church Archives
To prevent their destruction by the Communists, some churches were placed on concrete skids and moved many meters. We spent time in the Museum of the Romanian Peasant where we enjoyed an excellent collection of icons, costumes and textiles. After walking through the Saturday Flea Market, we drove past the Triumphal Arch 
 and near the Casa Presei Libere [House of the Free Press], which houses printing presses and newspapers.
Beautiful beds of blooming roses adorned the area.
We then went to the Grand Hotel Continental for the night.
Day 2
Aurelian was our driver/guide. We left the city of Bucharest behind and headed for Sibiu in Transylvania. On the way, we toured the area known as Wallachia. We enjoyed the day’s drive through green fields, many under some form of cultivation. Although we did see two or three tractors, horses pulled plows and carts. Men wielding scythes cut swaths of long grass which was piled into rounded conical haystacks using pitchforks. Large herds of sheep and goats often appeared on the landscape; each flock was guarded by one or more shepherds and dogs. We saw some cattle but mostly just saw a milk cow or two tied near the roadside; horses were also there. Beekeeping is also a new and thriving industry. Traveling through towns, we marveled at the different architectural styles of the houses. Most yards contained small vegetable gardens. Every yard was abloom with flowers, mostly roses, and many had huge grape arbors. Pots of geraniums and other flowers lined porches, walks, fences and hung from eaves. Small wild flowers provided flecks of color in the unmown grass, and wild roses were scattered among the hedgerows. Aurelian provided commentary as we traveled and we learned both past and present facts about places we saw.
Our first stop was Manastirea Hurezi, a nunnery founded in the late 17th century by Prince St. Constantine Brancoveanu Martyr. We saw the interior of the main church and an apprentice nun took us to a smaller chapel erected by Constantine’s wife. The frescoes in both amazed.


As Horezu is famous for pottery, we stopped at a shop. Winding our way through the area, we stopped at an older nunnery,Manistirea Govora, where we saw more frescoes. Outside, we visited briefly with a nun who once visited her sister in Arizona.
Aurelian stopped at Trovanti Museum Natural Reserve, an area where huge concretions erode from an imposing sand cliff and litter the area below. These huge sculptural forms boggle the mind and more can be seen in the cliff above.
t far away was Manastirea Cozia, built around 1400 by Prince Mircea the Elder. A service was in progress with monks/priests chanting antiphonally. The place was crowded as there were a couple of tour groups there. We noted the impressive interior and then went to the museum which has two or three dozen well-displayed icons. After walking across the courtyard, through the old kitchen and onto a terrace above the Olt; we had a great view of the river below.
The remainder of the afternoon was spent driving alongside the river; most of the time the valley was only wide enough for the roadway, the river and a railroad track across the water. The river itself was wider than the roadway and railroad bed combined. There were few settlements and even fewer bridges; small hydroelectric dams occasionally provided access between riverbanks. About five o’clock we passed the ruins of the Red Tower, ancient border to Transylvania and eventually arrived in a wider valley. Reaching Sibiu, Aurelian drove us into the historic center and to the Levoslav House, our hotel for the next two nights.
Day 3
We began the morning with a walking tour of Sibiu. Founded by Saxons, it is also known as Hermannstadt and has a somewhat Germanic feel.
We began in the main square and went inside the Sf. Treime Roman Catholic Church built by the Hapsburgs.
Behind it is St. Mary’s Lutheran Church because the Saxons were Protestants.
We walked into the lower town and then toured the city in a leisurely two-hour-stroll.
We found the old fortification walls and towers interesting.
After stopping for ice cream, we returned to the hotel for the car. Not far outside the city is the Dumbrava Forest, a large park. Inside this park is the Museum of Traditional Folk Civilization, a collection of historic structures from various parts of Romania which were relocated for preservation. “Uncle Samuel” took us for an hour’s ride in a horse drawn cart and told us about many of the structures.
After leaving the park, we drove through more farming country; it’s haying season and we saw many farmers loading the cut grass onto horse drawn carts. We also saw farmers using horse drawn plows.
One of the villages we drove through had houses built in the Saxon style. Our next stop was the Fr. Zosim Oances Museum of Glass Icons in the village of Sibiel. A small building houses about 700 icons reverse painted on glass by ordinary people. During the winter, women created textiles and men painted the icons. We enjoyed the exhibition because these icons have a liveliness of spirit and faith lacking in the formal wooden icons. Here, too, we saw a copy of the first Bible printed in Romanian in the 1600s. Next to the museum is the Holy Trinity Orthodox Church; this village church has the aura of a house of worship.
As we drove back toward Sibiu, Aurelian took us through a very old village where almost every structure exudes character. We enjoyed seeing the craftsmanship and the continuity of village life. Not far away we passed through Christian or “Stork Village” which has many storks nesting atop poles along the highway.
Day 4
Our route took us from Sibiu toward Cluj-Napoca. We enjoyed the drive through a mostly rural landscape. More mechanized farming methods were in use here as fields were larger. Villages we drove through had European characteristics—some Hungarian, others Saxon. In one village many houses were shuttered and vacant but well-maintained. We stopped at Alba Julia where we visited the restored fortress
as well as St. Michaels Cathedral, the Hungarian Roman Catholic Church,  and the Coronation Orthodox Church which is dedicated to the Holy Trinity and to the Archangels Michael and Gabriel. In the Catholic Chur
ch we saw the tombs of Hungarian heroes: John Hunyadi, King John II Sigismund Zapolya (King of Hungary 1540-70), Queen Isabella.

In the Coronation Church we saw frescoes of King Ferdinand and Queen Maria.

From there we drove to Cluj-Napoca. There we saw the Hungarian Roman Catholic Church and the statue of King Mathias who was born in this city.
We enjoyed seeing the city’s architecture as we walked around.
In the Ethnographic Museum, we enjoyed the excellent collection of native costumes. An employee gave commentary which Aurelian translated. Everything about this was excellent.

From there we walked past the “Mirror Street” with the facades on each side matching.
A block away was the pedestrian area; many shops have moved to the mall. After ending our walk across from the Theater 
and at the foot of a park leading to the Orthodox Metropolitan Cathedral, 
 we returned to the car and settled in for the two hour drive to our hotel. The landscape changed and we saw less mechanization in the farming. As the day grew later, more horse carts appeared on the road. These villages were Romanian in style; each house had a yard with flowers and some also had vegetables. At Pensiuena Maria  where Aurelian treated us to a local specialty; it was sort of like a thin crust pizza with two crusts and filling in between. One had cheese; another had potatoes; the third had cabbage.
We enjoyed the pies and the rest. Before too much longer, we arrived in Baia Mare and checked into the Carpati Hotel. 
Day 5
We drove to the main square of Baie Mara where we walked around for about 30 minutes. The Stephen Tower, remnant of an early church, is impressive.
After leaving Baie Mara, our first stop was Sfintii Arhangheli Mihail Si Gavril, a wooden Greek-Catholic
church built in 1721. What an impressive site the 54 meter tall tower was! We enjoyed seeing the interior and visiting briefly with the priest’s wife and her dog. We walked around the cemetery. While it looked unkempt to us, the villagers believe in only cleaning/mowing once a year; they think the buried ones deserve to “Rest in Peace.”
We spent the day traveling through villages in this agricultural area. Many people worked the fields manually using rakes, scythes, forks and hoes. We saw lots of horse drawn carts.
We stopped in Budesdi and visited an old house inhabited by a woman in her 80s; her beautiful embroidery decorated the home. We also visited with her nine-year-old grandson.


At another old house, the 85 year old lady displayed her handiwork.
We made a number of photos of carved wooden gates; some of the elaborate motifs depict ropes, circles, flowers, crosses. These gates are a matter of pride for the homeowner.

Lunch was at Pensiune Ion de la Cruce operated by Onkle Ion and Tante Anna. Tante Anna cooked all the food from raw materials they produced. Onkle John, an accomplished violinist, entertained us with music and Tante Anna sang one song he played.
From there we stopped at Rozavlea, another old wooden church, but it has become a museum with scaffolding inside and all the icons removed; the interior painting was still there.  
Barsana Monastery, an Orthodox nunnery, sits impressively atop a hill. The tall wooden structures impress all visitors as they seem to stretch to the heavens. We made many photos.

More scenic country driving took us to Sighetu Marmatiei where we stopped at the Elie Wiesel Museum; he was born here and the museum is located in what was his father’s shop.
Then we went to our hotel, the Marmatia.
Day 6
Today was market day in Sugatag. Here we saw villagers buying and selling clothing; fruit; vegetables; farm implements; pots; pans; horses; cows; calves; pigs; chickens; harnesses; etc. Everyone was dressed in their “Sunday Best” and having a great time.
Today was Ascension Day and it’s treated like Memorial Day. We saw a village memorial celebration with school children in costume prepared to perform as soon as the procession from the church arrived.

We went to a mill where Onkle Danila and Tante Tatiana demonstrated all the functions: carding wood; grinding grain; washing wool. Most of the workings of the mill are wooden.
As we spent the day twisting and turning our way through the Carpathian Mountains, the landscape reminded us of Switzerland. We visited Ciscanesdi, a village with houses decorated in bas relief plaster, and saw the home of a 92 year old lady.
It was a long day of driving. We arrived at the hotel, La Roata. Our room was in a historic Romanian house with two rooms and a bath.
Day 7
Today was “painted monastery day.” We drove through the province of Bucovina making photos along the way.  
Sucevita Monastery, built about 1600, was our first stop. It was our first monastery to be painted on both exterior and interior surfaces and green is its predominant color. We were amazed to see the detail in the paintings, especially in the Paradise Ladder with its 30 steps. 

From there we went to see “the egg lady,” Lucia Condrea, internationally renowned artist in decorating egg shells using wax and dye; she called it “batik decoration.” Shelves holding hundreds of eggs she decorated filled one entire room. She demonstrated her method 
At Humor Monastery a nun was reading liturgy as we viewed the church dedicated to the Assumption of the Virgin. Red is the dominant background color here. This was our favorite church. 
At one point a nun walked around the exterior of the church hitting a board with a hammer—a tradition left over from the time they weren’t allowed to have bells. 
We stopped at the Arbore Church in the village and were allowed to take photos inside. Now only a museum, this one lacks any spiritual feeling. 
Because there were two tour buses at our hotel, we decided to visit Voronet  Monastery and were glad we did. We had the place to ourselves and thoroughly e
njoyed it. The church was both beautiful and spiritual. 
After returning to the hotel, The Best Western Bucovina, we ate supper in the dining. We saw several houses decorated with tin work cut and pierced to form intricate designs. Today felt cold with a temperature around 14C; yesterday it was around 23C. There was a little rain, but not enough to interfere with anything.
Day 8
Intermittent drizzle fell; the wind blew; it was cold. We stopped at Rasca Monastery, home to less than a dozen monks. Only one side of the church was ever painted here and it held both the Last Judgment and the Paradise Ladder. Because the day was overcast and there was very little light inside, the interior was very dark and we had difficulty seeing the frescoes.
We wound our way through more beautiful scenery as we made our way to Agapia Monastery, a convent, housing lots of nuns. We enjoyed seeing the structure and the beauty of the interior courtyard. The church, decorated in a more modern style by Nicholae Grigorescu, did not appeal to us as much as the previous ones.
Nuns worked at weaving carpets, making vestments and painting icons; and we were able to visit the workshops. The museum contained a number of old icons and other religious objects.

After touring the monastery, we took a rainy walk through the surrounding village.

We drove through more beautiful rural landscape and arrived at Bicaz Gorge where huge stone walls towered above us and a river of turbulent water rushed beside the twisting roadway. As the rain had stopped, we got out and walked a little to make photos.
We drove by Lacul Rosu, but weren’t impressed.
We enjoyed driving through the rural landscape and the towns and villages. At one point we passed the old border between the Austro-Hungarian Empire and Romania;
today it is the border between the provinces of  Transylvania and Moldova. We saw more Hungarian style villages and even some Saxon ones. In one where the people call themselves Sakile, we saw some carved wooden gates. Late in the afternoon we reached Sighisoara and our hotel, Casa Fronius, located in the citadel area.

Day 9

When we went for a walking tour of the citadel, there were few tourists around and we enjoyed the leisurely stroll although the cobblestones were huge and made walking difficult. We saw several of the medieval towers

and went inside the Evangelical [Lutheran] Church to hear the organist practice before service began at 10:00.

We also saw the house where the infamous Vlad the Impaler or Dracula was born.

After leaving Sighisoara, we traversed the countryside to visit three so-called “Fortified Churches.” These Evangelical [Lutheran] Churches were founded by the Saxon settlers; fortifying them was essential for protection from Turks and other enemies. The Lutheran Church in Germany provides support and pastors for those churches which are still active; services are in the German language. The first church we saw was the one at Malmkrog where the pastor’s teenaged son gave us a tour.

We saw many empty Saxon houses—abandoned when they emigrated to Germany in the 1990s. Many are now inhabited by Gypsies. We saw several Gypsies in various places.
The Biertan Fortified Church looks more like a castle than a place of worship.
The church in Richis contains carvings of a Celtic Green Man. 
< a style=”color: #de7008;” href=””>
As we headed for Brasov,  we had to take a long detour which meant that we went by the place known as the geographic center of the country.
After arriving in Brasov, founded by the Saxons as Kronstadt, and checking into the Bella Muzica Hotel, we walked across the street to visit the Black Church, a huge gothic structure. We toured the inside and were somewhat awed by the sheer size of the structure; it is 89 meters long and 39 meters wide. The oriental carpets hanging along the sides added color.
Along one side of the choir was an altar which had been brought from Marienburg for preservation.
Monday 2 June – The old city of Brasov is quite picturesque and we enjoyed seeing it on a walking tour. The view from the Black Tower impressed. We liked the old city walls and the remaining bastions.
Then we walked back across the main square and down the pedestrian street. We got in the car and drove from the city to Bran Castle, legendary prison of Vlad the Impaler aka Dracula. In reality it was the summer home of Queen Maria and is still owned by her descendants. Matei, someone who works in management, gave us a wonderful tour.
Vlad the Impaler’s Cell
The return to Brasov included a drive through a nearby ski area. We stopped at St. Nicholas Orthodox Church and went inside; it was very dark and we couldn’t tell much about it. Then we met the priest, a friend of Aurelian’s, who took us to the adjacent school. Begun in the 1400s, the Prima Scoala Romaneasca was the first to teach in the Romanian language. The Slavic language and Cyrillic alphabet were taught because this was used in the Orthodox Church. We saw a classroom as well as a treasury of old books.
Aurelian dropped us off at the main square at 5:50 so we could see and hear the six o’clock show.
Tuesday 3 June – Aurelian turned a “drive from Brasov to the airport” into a day of touring. On the outskirts of Brasov we stopped at Harman Evangelical Church, another fortified one. This one had thick walls around it with gunports; we climbed inside the walls, saw the sanctuary and a chapel in a tower.
Then we drove to Predeal, site of the the highest railroad station in the country; there are many resort towns in the mountains. At Siniai, we stopped at Peles Palace erected in the 1880s by King Carol I as a summer residence. The lavish palace is crammed with treasures, but we liked all the carved woodwork best. Huge Venetian mirrors reflect one room while adjacent ones have oriental themes.
It had begun to rain when we left the palace, so we chose not to walk in the gardens. Because we had extra time, Aurelian took us to Siniai Monastery which is home to about 10 monks. We saw the church but liked the old 17th century monks’ quarters and Chapel of the Domition of the Virgin more.

Then we headed for the airport on a four-lane road. It was a great last day of touring.”

From A Passion for Travel:

“The Travelers, Janet & Mike, are native Texans who have been married over 47 years. As retirees, and now senior citizens, they have traveled extensively since 1997. Having visited well over 100 countries and all 7 continents, they eagerly anticipate their next adventure. You can email them at [email protected]

See complete photos at A Passion for Travel.

To learn more about family travel or other excursions that Exeter International offers, including Private Shore Experiences, please visit our website or contact us by phone at (813) 251-5355 / (800) 633-1008. 


Read More Stories