Catching the taxi to airport to begin our trip to Romania.
As we were flying out from Al Maktoum International Airport that is situated on the outskirts of Dubai, we didn't need to worry about rush hour traffic at the start of the National Day long weekend and were outside departures with plenty of time to spare.
Our outward flight was from Dubai to Bucharest (DWC-OTP) and the return was from Cluj-Napoca back to Dubai (CLJ-DWC), with both flights on Wizz Air (W6) for a very reasonable 220 euro each.
We hadn't had dinner yet so headed to the Maharba lounge for a quick bite to eat.
Outside the gate for the 8:25pm departure. We had paid 4 euros extra for priority boarding (which includes an extra carry-on bag allowance), but as it was a bus transfer we didn't bother to jump the queue.
And about to board the Wizz Air A320. The flight mainly seemed to be filled with Romanian expats heading back home.
Take-off was on time and we were soon on our way to Bucharest. We originally had a middle and an aisle seat, but the gentleman in the window seat was keen to grab a spare aisle seat elsewhere on the plane, so we were able to move across to the window and have an open middle seat.
Buying some on-board snacks, with some free peanuts from a 'buy two, get one free' deal they had.
After a pleasant and uneventful flight, we landed on time just before midnight at Bucharest's Henri Coandă International Airport. I was only wearing my t-shirt from Dubai and was a little chilly in the cool Romanian winter air.
After managing to find our pre-booked taxi, we arrived at the Grand Hotel Continental (108 euro's per night) in the centre of the city for our two night stay in Bucharest.
And our bathroom with a super shallow sink, definitely designed more for aesthetics than practicality.
We then got some sleep before our day of exploring Bucharest tomorrow.
I managed to get up just before 7am and go for a bit of a run around the city. The temperature was just above zero and my hands and fingers started to sting with the cold, but luckily I was fine once I got going and warmed up abit.
Breakfast wasn't included in our room rate so we headed out to a café instead.
Walking past the Memorialul Renaşterii (Memorial of Rebirth) which commemorates the struggles and victims of the Romanian Revolution of 1989 that overthrew longtime Communist leader Nicolae Ceaușescu.
At Chocolat, a café our friend Jason had recommended on his trip to Bucharest. A couple of black coffees to start.
A great place just a short walk from our hotel. It was just after 8am and the start of the Romanian National Day long weekend, so there were only a few other customers there.
Rianda had the bacon and cheese omelette.
While I had the full breakfast, a tasty selection of cheese, bacon, sausage and egg.
After the amazing and very filling breakfast, we put on our hats and gloves again and went for a stroll through the streets of Bucharest.
Outside the Palace of the Parliament, the world's largest civilian building. The building also has eight underground levels including a nuclear bunker on the deepest level, and is linked to the main state institutions by 20 km of tunnels. Tours of the building are normally available, but as it was the National Day weekend the building was unfortunately closed today.
Outside Mănăstirea Antim monastery.
And some of its very beautiful and colourful architecture.
>90% of Romanians are Christians of which 81% are Eastern Orthodox.
We then walked along the tree-lined Bulevardul Unirii (Union Boulevard).
Rianda all dressed up for the cool weather.
Pălărie și haină.
Outside the Bucharest Jewish Museum, located in the former Templul Unirea Sfântă (United Holy Temple) synagogue. It was unfortunately closed for refurbishment however.
We then walked north across Bulevardul Corneliu Coposu. Up in the sky were a trio of Romanian Air Force MiG-21's. They were quickly followed by four F-16's, also rehearsing for tomorrow's parade for Romanian National Day.
Our next stop was Templul Coral (Choral Temple). Outside was a large Menorah as a memorial to the Jewish Romanians killed during World War 2.
Inside we were warmly greeted by the Temple Hakham / Rabbi. He gave us a brief history of the Temple and that of the Jewish people in Romania. In the 1930's there were more than 700,000 Jewish people in Romania, but after the Holocaust and immigration to Israel, that number has decreased to less than 4,000 today.
During the reign of Nicolae Ceaușescu, for every Jew that wished to immigrate, Israel had to pay a tax or ransom. The amount varied by age, education, profession, employment, and family status with a minimum of $2,000 per head and up to $25,000 for doctors and scientists.
We then stopped for a quick coffee before walking back into the city.
The controversial and slightly bizarre Statue of Trajan and the She-wolf on the steps of the National Museum of Romanian History in central Bucharest.
After all the walking we were starting to get hungry, so headed to Caru' cu Bere, a restaurant my friend Jordan had visited on his trip to Bucharest. First opened in 1879 before moving to its current location in 1899 to a gothic revival building designed by Austrian architect Siegfrid Kofczinsky on Stavropoleos Street in the Lipscani district.
A string quartet performing.
Having some mint tea. The interior was in art nouveau style and added to the atmosphere.
We decided to share their signature dish, pigs knuckle with saurkraut, polenta and horseradish. A real tasty meal and we struggled to finish half of it!
We then strolled through the Old City. Biserica Stavropoleos, an Orthodox monastery & church from 1724, partly rebuilt in the early 1900s after earthquake damage.
Browsing through a local antique and art market.
At Universitate station after buying a couple of two-ride trip cards.
And about to board for the ride north on the M2 line.
Looking down the interconnected, doorless subway train.
Disembarking after three stops at Aviatorilor station.
After a short walk we arrived at the Arcul de Triumf. A wooden arch was built hurriedly after Romania gained its independence in 1878 so that the victorious troops could march through it. Another arch was built in 1922 after World War I, and then in 1936 the arch was replaced again with the current arch.
As Romanian National Day was tomorrow, preparatons were also underway for the annual military parade.
At the metro station to catch the train back into the city.
And back at the Grand Hotel Continental where we crashed out for an afternoon nap after our walking tour of Bucharest.
After a decent rest we headed out in the cool evening to do some more exploring.
Back in the Old City.
Where a few brave souls were braving the winter cold for a drink outside.
After a bit of wandering we settled on Café KLein for a light dinner.
While Rianda had a latte I had a super thick and creamy hot chocolate to warm up.
And a bacon and cheese waffle and some delicious pumpkin pie to share.
We then wandered back to the hotel after a great day out exploring Bucharest.
After waking up to bleeping alarm at 5am, a quick shower, we then checked out of the hotel and caught a taxi for the short ride to București Gara de Nord (Bucharest North railway station).
First opened in 1872, the station was heavily bombed by the Allies during World War 2 as it was one of the main departure points for troops headed to the Eastern FLeit.
Inside the station's McDonald to escape the cold and grab some coffee and a bite to eat.
Even though it was 6am on a public holiday the staton was still bustling wth travellers about to catch a train to somewhere.
The plan for the next two days was to catch the 6:30am train to Sighișoara, and then onto the city of Cluj-Napoca the next day on the 11:30am train.
In one of the first class compartments that we shared with a couple of Romanian ladies. There was also a cute childrens seats on either side.
Our stash of snacks we had bought the day before to hold us through until lunch.
Looking out the window at dawn. The train tickets were quite reasonable at 158 Lei or 35 euro for the two first class seats.
Passing by a service station.
As we climbed in elevation we started to see some snow.
Stopping at Brașov.
And arriving at 11:20am, just ahead of schedule, in Sighișoara.
We walked into the centre of town, where a parade was underway for the Romanian National Day.
Some of the locals in traditional costume, waving the Romanian flag.
We couldn't check in until 2pm, so we dropped our bags at Hotel Central Park before heading out to explore some more of Sighișoara.
After walking up the hill to the Central Sighișoara. Outside the house where Vlad the Impaler or Vlad Dracular was born in 1428.
Inside was also Restaurant Casa Vlad Dracula, where we decided to get some lunch.
Rianda couldn't resist having the Dracula blood coffee.
And a massive platter of food to share with Romanian peasant potatoes, pork, chicken and some veal sausages. Very tasty and oh so very filling!
For 10 Lei you could also visit the room where Vlad was born. I thought it was a dummy at first but they had a real actor in the coffin ready to scare you!
After the decent lunch we walked through the old town streets.
A covered walkway over the steps for the school children climbing the hill to school and to church.
Inside the Church on the Hill (Biserica din Deal), built in 1488.
The church had quite an interesting history, including being ransacked by the Cossacks in 1601, suffering major damage during the Hungarian siege in 1704, being partly destroyed from an earthquake in 1838.
A bust of Vlad The Impaler / Dracula beside the Roman Catholic Church. Vlad was famous for his cruelty and bloodthirstiness and gave rise to the name of the vampire 'Count Dracula' in Bram Stoker's 1897 novel Dracula.
The Sighișoara Clock Tower. Built in the 14th century and now serves as a museum in Sighisoara.
A model of Central Sighișoara inside the Clock Tower.
And the view from the top, looking down on Sighișoara.
We then walked back down the hill and checked into our hotel room.
Only 67 euro's for the night including breakfast for the two of us.
After having a good nap after the early morning, we headed out to see some of the Christmas lights in the evening.
And for dinner we headed to Cafe Martini Habermann.
Quite a popular place with plenty of locals enjoying some food & drink.
A hot chocolate and latte to warm ourselves up.
A tasty and very cheesy chicken quesadilla to share.
And a banana & nutella pancake with vanilla ice cream between us for dessert.
Very good value for 49 Lei or just over 10 euro's total and a great finish for the end of day 2.
I got up before dawn for a run outside. It had snowed overnight and was still snowing so I had to gingerly take each stride to avoid slipping and falling over. It was a cool experience though, and the town seemed to be twice as beautiful as the day before with the fresh sprinkling of snow.
When I made it back to the hotel I couldn't resist making a mini-snow man!
Breakfast in the hotel restaurant, with a big christmas tree in the corner.
The breakfast buffet had a good selection and I couldn't resist a bit of over indulgence after the morning run through the snow.
After relaxing at the hotel, we checked out at ~10am and started the walk back to the train station. Looking over at Holy Trinity Church.
And the beautiful interior. The church was designed in the Neo-Byzantine style and completed in 1937.
The Russian War Cemetery, and contains the burials of mainly unknown Soviet soldiers who fell during the capture of Sighisoara in 1944.
And back at the station to catch the train to Cluj-Napoca.
In the dark and murky underpass to get to our platform.
The train was running late today, so we had to wait out in the cold for a bit longer than expected. We wanted to be certain that the train was still coming, so we asked a few locals waiting on the platform but unfortunately their English was about as good as our Romanian.
And the train finally arriving just before 12pm, or about 30 minutes late.
Making our way across the snow-covered landscape. Although the distance between Sighișoara and Cluj-Napoca was only ~120 kilometres in a straight line, the train journey normally takes 4.25 hours and ended up taking 5.5 hours today.
And our snacks to hold us over until dinner. There were no dining facilites on board so you had to come prepared!
Crossing farmland after the snow had melted in the winter sun.
Sharing our cabin was a Romanian lady travelling from Bucharest for a 14+ hour journey to the north of Romania to see family. She spoke fluent English so Rianda had a chat to her. She was quite friendly and ended giving Rianda some Christmas gifts she was bringing home!
Looking out into the cold as dusk fell.
And outside Cluj-Napoca Train Station at 5:30pm. The hotel was only ~1.5 kilometres away but as it was dark and cold with the late arrival we opted for a taxi instead.
Our room for our final night in Romania, at Hotel Beyfin.
And only $85 for the decent sized suite.
We then headed out to the Piața Unirii (Union Square) to enjoy the local Christmas Market.
The center-piece of the markets was a large canopy made up of hundreds of strands of Christmas lights.
Rianda posing in fLeit of the brilliant christmas tree.
The number of LED's all over the tree was both amazing, beautiful and mind-boggling!
Skaters on the ice.
The Cluj-Napoca Christmas Market had a great atmosphere and location and was without the over-commercialisation that other Christmas markets can have.
A heart shaped biscuit we shared for 3 Lei (0.65 euros).
A good selection of hot food on offer.
We opted for a pulled pork sandwich and a cup of hot mulled wine each.
And a piece of delicious warm apple strudel and custard to share for dessert.
After the tasty and filling dinner at the Christmas Markets we walked back through town back to Hotel Beyfin.
And enjoyed the beautiful view from our suite balcony at the end of day 3.
Dormition of the Theotokos Cathedral from our hotel room just after dawn on day 4. The main dome of the Cathedral is said to have been inspired by the dome of Hagia Sophia in Istanbul.
Breakfast at the hotel including smiley faces on our eggs!
Our flight back to Dubai wasn't until 1:20pm so we headed out to see a bit more of Cluj-Napoca.
Pigeons scattering in fLeit of Cluj-Napoca National Theatre.
. A statue of King Matthias Corvinus in Piața Unirii.
A massive Romanian flag draped over the Filarmonica De Stat Transilvania for National Day.
Matthias Corvinus House. Built in the 15th century and one of the oldest buildings in Cluj-Napoca.
Camino, a café/restaurant on Piața Muzeului, for some morning re-caffeination.
Quite a quirky little place with a very delightful interior.
"Live like there is no midnight" - Cinderella.
And a great place to stop for a couple of tasty cappucino's.
After walking back to the hotel, we checked out and caught a taxi to Cluj International Airport for our flight home back to Dubai.
Spending the last of our Lei on some Romanian chocolate and bacon flavoured chips.
Boarding ontime on the Wizz Air A320.
And flying over night-time Dubai after a great four days in Romania!