Romania & Moldova - June 2007
Trip Highlights:
Bucharest [Romania]

The city lies on the Wallachian plains between the Carpathian hills
and the Danube River, and was first settled by the Dacians as far
back as 70BC. Established under the rule of Prince Vlad Tepes in
1459 who made it his military and residential base, by the end of
the 17th century Bucharest was the capital of Wallachia and was
one of Europe's wealthiest cities.

This wealth continued through the 'Golden Age' early in the 20th
century when much of the city was re-modelled, taking
architectural inspiration from France, which saw the narrow streets
widened to broad, tree-lined boulevards. Much of this glory was
wiped out in the 1940s when Allied bombing in WWII and a strong
earthquake in 1940 brought much of the city down to rubble.
Another earthquake in 1977 and harsh redevelopment by dictator
Nicolae Ceausescu spelt the end for Bucharest's status as a 'Little
Paris'. For a small taste of the architectural delights that the city
was once known for, head to northern Bucharest and the area
from Piata Victoriei to Herastrau Park, where wide streets are lined
with trees and each beautiful villa is architecturally unique.

Amongst Ceausescu's ambitious plans for the city was the dream
to house the largest building in the world. His construction - the
Palace of Parliament, or more commonly, the Palace of the People
– was begun in 1984 and was intended to serve as the political
base and palace for himself, but before it was completed he was
overthrown and executed, leaving the impressive 3100 room
building to be used as the Parliament headquarters instead. The
largest building in Europe, only the Pentagon in the USA is larger.

Sinaia [Romania]

Dubbed the pearl of the Carpathians, Sinaia boasts not only
Romania’s hottest skiing, but also the country’s most fabulous
palace. Despite being Romania’s most popular ski resort, it has
retained an earthy elegance, a refusal to turn into commercial
kitsch. Floating at an altitude of 800-930m in the narrow Prahova
Valley and lying at the foot of the fir-clad Buccegi Mountains,
Sinaia seems to have sprouted naturally from its wooded nest.
The resort is alleged to have gained its name from a Romanian
nobleman Mihai Cantacuzino who, following a pilgrimage he made
to the biblical Mt Sinai in Israel in 1695, founded the Sinaia
Monastery.

Peles Castle – Sinaia [Romania]

Situated in the Prahova valley and overlooked by the spectacular
Carpathian Mountains, the Castle was constructed in a German
Renaissance style from wood, stone, bricks and marble and
comprises around 160 rooms. Building began in 1875, and this
Castle was the first in Europe to feature central heating and
electricity. It was built for King Carol I and work finished 39 years
later, just months before the King passed away in 1914.

Sighiasora [Romania]

Of all the dreamy spots throughout Transylvania that make you
feel like you’re floating through another time and space,
Sighiasora's citadel wins the prize by a long way. Sighiasora has
an enchantingly preserved medieval citadel as its core, and is
surrounded by beautiful hilly countryside. It tends to seduce
visitors’ hearts more than any other city in Transylvania. Nine
towers remain along its intact city walls, which encircle sloping
cobbled streets, lined with 16th-century burgher houses and
untouched churches.

Voronet Monastery [Suceava - North East Romania]

The last judgment fresco, which fills the entire western wall of the
monastery, is perhaps the most marvelous Bucovine fresco. At the
top, angels roll up the signs of the zodiac to indicate the end of
time. The middle fresco shows humanity being brought to
judgment. On the left, St Paul escorts the believers, while on the
right Moses brings forward the nonbelievers. Below is the
Resurrection.

On the northern wall is Genesis, from Adam and Eve to Cain and
Abel. The southern wall features another tree of Jesse with the
genealogy of biblical personalities. In the vertical fresco to the left
is the story of the martyrdom of St John of Suceava (who is buried
in the Monastery of St John the New in Suceava, p2&5). The
vibrant, almost satiny blue pigment used throughout the frescoes
is known worldwide as ‘Voronet blue’.

Humor Monastery [Suceava - North East Romania]

Of all the Bucovina monasteries, Humor has the most impressive
interior frescoes. Chancellor Theodor Bubuiog founded it in 1530,
under the guidance of Moldavian Prince Petru Rares. Unlike the
other monasteries, Humor has no tower and is surrounded by
ramparts made from wood; its traditional Moldavian open porch
was the first of its kind to be built in Bucovina.

Chisinau [Republic of Moldova]

This may be the capital of one of Europe’s poorest countries, but
you’d never know it walking its streets. In Chisinau (‘kish-i-now’ in
Moldovan, ‘kish-i-nyov’ in Russian), Mercedes and Jaguars line up
outside one fancy restaurant after another, and fashionably
dressed youth strut down boutique-lined avenues, Of course, ask
anyone working in those shops - or hanging out at one of the
cheaper cafes how much they earn, and the usual reply would be
about $70 a month. The jagged contrast between rich and poor
certainly doesn’t please the have-nots, but this vibrant, good-
natured city is so full of joie de vivre that it doesn’t get in the way
of what’s most important here: having a good time.

While photographs of Chisinau tend to show sprawling concrete
esplanades smartly bookended by concrete apartment blocks, this
is probably the cosiest of all the Soviet-style cities rebuilt after
WWII (it was totally destroyed by bombardment and a 1940
earthquake). Just a block away from the main drag you don’t feel
the concrete at all through the lush foliage that holds the city in its
embrace.