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Bulgaria, Black Sea, Transilvania Castles, Hungary

Tour of the Balkans: from the Black Sea coast in Bulgaria, passing the castles of Transylvania and the famous Transfăgărășan road in Romania, to Hungary in Budapest and Lake Balaton. Going down to Croatia between the Plitvice lakes and the blue sea, the Bosnian mountains and the beautiful Sarajevo, the unique landscapes of Montenegro and Albania.

Transfăgărăşan DN7C

Bulgaria: Varna and the Black Sea coast

Sunny Beach, Varna and Balcik

Our first stop is the Black Sea and Varna and to reach them we have to travel almost 700 km from Thessaloniki; for this reason we decide to leave one day in advance and break the journey by stopping in the evening after work in Haskovo. The road from the Makaza border is very beautiful, in the middle of the forests with curves and good asphalt .. nothing to do with the border of Kulata to go to Sofia. The cities are Soviet-style and the villages on the street are made up of a few low houses, with exposed brick and stalls of fruit or vegetables grown in the gardens behind the house. This area of ​​Bulgaria, however, gives the impression of being richer than the western part, perhaps thanks to its proximity to the sea and tourism.

Arriving towards the coast we are fascinated by the blue water of the Black Sea. We discover that it takes its name from the colors of the cardinal points that the Greeks and Turks used in ancient times: black for the North and white for the South (in Turkish the Mediterranean Sea is calls the White Sea).

We stop to see the famous Sunny Beach, an area of ​​perdition for young people with clubs, music, night clubs, beach parties.

We continue towards Varna and we find many water parks with slides for children and adults .. they are really so fashionable here.

Varna stands out in front of us with its huge seaport; it is the third largest city in Bulgaria and is called the capital or pearl of the Black Sea and fully deserves this title. The city is beautiful, very different from the rest of the country. We take the hotel in the historic center from which you can walk around the center or arrive in 10 minutes on foot at the beach. The buildings in the center are in Parisian style and recall the splendor of the past. Before the sea begins the long city park with flowers, flower beds, kiosks, attractions for children, theaters, free fast wifi .. all wonderful! Just a stone's throw away is the seafront with the establishments, the free beach and the restaurants where you can eat well without spending too much and admiring the sea. On the way back we also find the street food festival and try an exquisite sunflower seed ice cream with a crunchy and biscuit cone. Varna is the perfect city for a family beach holiday, staying well and spending very little.

FUN FACT: 1. An important battle took place here in Varna in 1444 in which the Turks defeated the Crusaders, thus starting the advance on Constantinople and creating the great Ottoman Empire. 2. Varna was one of the stops on the first Orient Express itinerary, leaving the city off the train and taking the ferry to Istanbul.

From Varna we continue along the coast towards Romania and we stop in Balcik, a very nice tourist resort with a small promenade and many restaurants. The roads are beautiful and along a promontory between sea views and lush vegetation.

Romania: the coast on the Black Sea

Costanza and Mamaia

We cross the border in less than 5 minutes, it doesn't seem real to us, it never took us so short! Costanza disappoints us a little, it could be a magnificent city, but we note that there has been no investment in the city center in recent decades. The historic center is dotted with ancient buildings in the style of the nineteenth century because it was a famous seaside resort at the beginning of the twentieth century, then in decline with the world wars and the advent of Communism.

The beaches are however very long and wide, with establishments and nice beach bars. The area where the Romanians are now investing is Mamaia, a long strip of land cut by a road where on both sides there are sea and huge hotels; Mamaia is also famous for its nightlife but we had found a festival in Constanta and we didn't check it out. In general we did not like Mamaia, but it is certainly suitable for those who want to spend a week a stone's throw from the sea.

The road to Bucuresti is on a plain of fields of sunflowers and corn, but we cross the Danube where there is the Anghel Saligny bridge, named after the engineer who built it between 1890 and 1895 at the behest of King Carol I to connect Bucharest to Constanta. Due to its structure it was considered for a long time the widest and longest bridge in Europe and the second longest bridge in the world.

Ponte Anghel Saligny

Romania: the Capital

Bucarest, the little Paris

We arrive in the city in the early afternoon and the choice of the hotel is perfect (Moxy hotel old town). The style of the city is reminiscent of a decadent Paris and we discover that at the beginning of the twentieth century it had won the title of Little Paris thanks to the buildings built by the first King Charles I of Romania. The language also seems to be a mix of French, Italian and Spanish and it remains very easy to read the directions and understand bits of sentences.

To visit Bucharest, we follow the advice of our friends who have lived in the city for some time.

The things to see are concentrated in the narrow streets of the historic center next to the Lipsicani street, the same ones that in the evening are transformed with loud music and young people dancing. We start from Strada Hanul cu Tei where you can see the old shops, which now welcome some artists.

Unique in its style is the Stravopoleos Monastery which exudes a great sense of harmony and beauty; on the same street the symbolic restaurant and brewery of Bucharest Caru 'cu bere with its incredible historical interior and a pork knuckle to fill even the most hungry (we worked hard but we could not finish it).

Near the CEC Bank building and the Pasajul Macca gallery, unfortunately closed for restoration. While returning to Lipsicani we arrive at Biserica Sfântul Anton and the house of Vlad the Impaler. If, on the other hand, you continue towards the Revolution Square Fountain, you can walk in the beautiful neighborhood around the Romanian Athenaeum.

Do not miss the parliament or Casa Poporului - del Popolo as it was called in the communist period, a very expensive building wanted by Nicolae Ceaușescu which boasts being the heaviest structure in the world and the second largest by extension. From the parliament a boulevard starts up to Piața Unirii where there are the dancing fountains that play color games every hour after 8pm in the evening.

Finally, the huge city park Parcul Regele Mihai I on Lake Herăstrău gave us a beautiful sunset (Funky Lounge area or David's House), even if the park is not properly maintained. Here you can also visit the Romanian village museum Dimitrie Gusti National Village Museum and the Arc de Triomphe.

Parlamento Bucarest

Romania: Transylvania

Transylvania of Peles Castles, Bran cwith Dracula and Corvino, Brasov, Rasnov, Sibiu

Transylvania, "land beyond the jungle", a land of history and mysteries, famous for its breathtaking scenery, fortified medieval towns, castles and vampires. Transylvania is a rich area that thrives on tourism, different from other areas of Romania, but even here it can happen to see real gypsies camped with tents in the trees and little families on horse-drawn wooden wagons.

Our first half in Transylvania is the Peles Castle, in German style, wanted by the first King of Romania Charles I and then also inhabited by the dictator Nicolae Ceausescu from 1975 to 1990. Little curiosity about the royal family: Charles I was the first King of Romania and was called to govern the country which at that moment was in chaos, he had to travel under a false name to reach Romania from Prussia and when he arrived in Bucharest they crowned him; from that moment on he took his role very seriously - it is said that he slept with the crown even at night - and stabilized independence and the economy.

The castle can be reached with a 10-minute walk uphill on an asphalted road in the woods. The castle has 160 rooms but only a dozen are open to the public, such as the monumental entrance with the Hall of Honor, the library, the Turkish style room for smoking, the Moorish style living room, the Florentine room, the dining room. lunch. Peles is the most beautiful castle in Transylvania and one of the most beautiful in Europe because it still retains all the original furniture and decorations inside. Makes you daydream!

We took the ticket only for the ground floor and it was great, for those who have more time the first floor is definitely worth it (here you have to queue for the ticket and you can't buy it online first). Next to it there is also the Pelisor Castle, the royal chalet.

Along the way and also at the castle you will find many farmers selling baskets full of blackberries and raspberries.

Castello di Peles

We follow the way of the castles towards the famous Bran Castle or better known for Dracula. Being one of the symbols of Romania, it is a very touristic place and is accessed from the square full of souvenir shops. Bran Castle is in medieval style with a very bare interior: from 1920 it became the residence of the royal family until in 1948 it was exiled from the country. You can admire the music room of Queen Maria and that of Princess Ileana, two great female nurses and soldiers who bravely represented Romania during the world wars.

In general we had too high expectations but it should still be visited. To evoke the sinister spirit of Dracula, ghosts and spirits of Romanian folk legends can be discovered in one part of the castle.

Fun fact: the Irish writer of Dracula has never visited Romania and was inspired by tales, legends about Vlad the Impaler and medieval descriptions of the nation. The "real castle of Dracula" would be the Poenari Fortress which however is a ruin at the beginning of the Transfagarasan.

Castello di Bran

Close to Bran, there are also the medieval towns of Rasnov and Brasov.

On the Rasnov hill, there is the fortified castle built to protect itself from the Turks and inhabited for several centuries until with peace, the town was born at the foot of the hill. The castle is under restoration and only the walls and the first gardens can be seen. To get there, the road would be short on foot, but you can breathe the smog of the 5 tractors pulling wagons (cost € 1.5).

Brasov is a beautiful, well-kept and historic town. The main square is surrounded by historic buildings of different colors and restaurants. Here is the famous Biserica Neagra - black basilica - built in the fourteenth century in Gothic style, it takes its name from the black foreign walls blackened by the great fire of 1689. Inside is buried a great Romanian intellectual who helped the transition from Catholic to Evangelical in the Five hundred. Furthermore, according to a popular legend, a child who disturbed a bricklayer criticizing him for his work was thrown by him from the bell tower. His body, to hide the crime, would have been walled up in a wall. (cit. wikipedia).

Sibiu is the town where all motorcyclists stop before or after the Transfagarasan. Elegant and well cared for, it has an historic center composed of two squares and beautiful colored houses that seem to have their eyes in the roofs.

Among the most famous attractions is the Lies Bridge, a lie detector and protagonist of 4 legends. 1. The first says that the bridge creaks and makes strange noises when someone crosses it is lying. 2. Place of first amorous encounters, the second concerns the broken promises made by the cadets of the military academy to the poor girls. 3. The third concerns the virginity of the novice brides with a dramatic ending off the bridge for those who lied. 4. The latest legend has it that the bridge exposed the fraudulent traders in front of everyone and is linked to the adjacent square Piața Mică, the center of all trade in Sibiu.

True or not, the inhabitants preferred to avoid crossing the bridge .. and how not to understand them!

Last stop, 1h30 from Sibiu, is the Corvino Castle, an important Gothic monument where it is believed that Mathias Corvino held Vlad the Impaler prisoner for 7 years. The castle is called Corvino, due to the nickname of the Hunyadi family that governs it, which had the raven as a symbol. The external structure is beautiful and imposing, inside you can still see some Gothic-style rooms and some Renaissance decorative elements made by the heir Mathias Corvino. From the towers you can see the surrounding city and unfortunately also the industrial companies that surround it. We do not recommend stopping to sleep in this city.

Transfăgărășan: among the most beautiful roads in Europe

Transfăgărășan is a must for motorcyclists. You climb up to about 2,000 meters of altitude between curves, hairpin bends and bears on the side of the road.

A bit of history: the road was built in the early 1970s by the Romanian military department and the work was very difficult due to the climatic conditions, the necessary dynamite and the young age and inexperience of the workers.

How to face it: we traveled it from south to north (from Curtea de Arges to Sibiu) and we visited Curtea with the beautiful Cathedral where the royal family was buried. To get from Bran to Curtea we come across the 73C and it is the worst road traveled of our entire trip.

The part from Curtea de Arges to the highest point has a road surface full of holes and dips and you have to be careful not to pull too much speed of the bike; the landscape, however, compensates with the lake, the forest and the bears (we were convinced that they did not come to the side of the road and instead they seemed amused to look at us). When you are about to reach the summit the view is incredible, with towering green mountains and sparkling waterfalls.

Climbing the pass there is an incredible chaos between stalls, food, motorcyclists, cyclists, tourists. We see Lake Balea and take the usual photos.

To go down from the pass to Cartisoara the road changes completely, the asphalt is new and you can really enjoy the curves and steep hairpin bends that go down.



Budapest and Balaton lake

We leave what is properly the Balkan Peninsula to make a stop in Budapest, which surprises us. In less than ten years the city has been revolutionized, it is modern, neat, clean and perfect… like being in Austria. We stay in a nice hotel in the center called T62, luckily with the parking we are lucky and find a place in front of the door.

We move on foot to see the center: we start from the Parliament and walk along the river to admire the buildings that light up at night and reflect their lights on the Danube. We photograph the "Shoes on the Danube Banks" memorial for the people killed during the 2WW by the fascist party. All this is in district V, a luxury district with bistros, restaurants and clubs where you can stop in the square in front of the Basilica of Santo Stefano.

Unfortunately, the Chain Bridge was closed for maintenance. We go to the other side of the river by motorbike to see Buda with the castle, the ancient citadel and the beautiful Fishermen's Bastion consisting of panoramic views and 7 turrets; the complex takes its name from the guild of fishermen in charge of defending this stretch of walls during the Middle Ages. Next to it the imposing Church of Mathias, named after the King who married here.

Outside the center, on the other hand, there are: the verdant island of Margaret between Buda and Pest; the Heroes' Square and the surrounding park; the House of Terror Museum which documents the atrocities of the fascist and Soviet regime in Hungary. And then if you are in the right time, the Sziget music festival.

We leave Budapest to go and cool off in Lake Balaton, the largest in Central Europe and a favorite destination for Hungarians and tourists from neighboring countries (especially for those who lived in Germany and Eastern Europe when it was still divided and under jurisdiction. of the USSR). The lake is 77 km long and on the south shore is dotted with beaches, kiosks, villages on the banks, beautiful cottages in the middle of the trees; we stop for half a day lying on the grass and bathe in the shallow water.

Then we continue to the rest of the Balkans ... Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Montenegro and Albania.


Helpful Tips:

-Navigator: use a tomtom or set routes on the smartphone in the hotel with wifi, because the internet does not always work even if they are EU countries.

- Currency: almost everywhere we paid with the card without having to withdraw (the only one is Romania in the mountain roads); in case it is better to go to the banks and not to the ATMs that have very high commissions. In Bulgaria there is the LEV (1 € - 1.95lev), in Romania the LEU (1 € - 4.86leu), in Hungary the FIORINO (1 € - 405f).

-Vignetta for Motorways in Bulgaria there is a vignette but only for cars, because for motorcycles the motorway is free. In Romania, however, the vignette must be paid within 24 hours of entering the country and can be paid at any petrol station (7 days 3 €), it is digital and connected to the license plate. Likewise in Hungary (minimum fee 7 days at € 7) it can also be requested immediately after the border and it can also be purchased for Slovakia.

- Borders: they were our biggest concern, but being on the bike we could move forward (without complaints from any motorist or truck driver) and being Italian in a few minutes we passed the control of the documents and the registration of the bike.

- Roads and dangers: in Romania they drive like mad and with great speed, we have seen many rear-end collisions so you have to be careful.

- Safety: we had no problem, the foresight is to park where there is passage and some rooms.

Must places:

Varna, Peles Castle, Caru cu bere a Bucarest, Sibiu, Trasfagarasan, Budapest


Click here to see the map or use it during the trip



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