Make Your Next Trip Extraordinary

I travelled to Romania on a last-minute graduation trip with my daughter, Amelia, from August 2 through August 11 2023. We have done numerous trips with Wendy’s WOW List agents before and knew that finding an agent through Wendy was the only way to go. Even the destination of our trip was inspired by articles written by Wendy. Since the trip was last-minute (before my daughter began her new career as an RN) and it was the height of tourist season, we wanted to pick a destination that was less travelled. We chose Romania and Wendy matched us up with Raluca and Ioana. We provided them with a broad description of what we like to do and they took it from there. We love to see beautiful landscapes and the outdoors, enjoy local culture, and not spend too much time indoors in churches and museums. Important to us was connecting with the local people and understanding the country.

Raluca and Ioana went above and beyond our expectations. They set us up with a local guide, Tavi, whose personality matched well with us, which was a good thing since we drove around Romania for 10 days with him. He was knowledgeable, charming, and funny and made adjustments to our plans as he got to know us better. We started in Bucharest, which was great for my daughter to learn what can happen to a country if you vote in a narcissist authoritarian as a leader and understanding what life was like under the latter parts of communist ruling. We had a university history professor give us a tour of an apartment frozen in time from the 1980’s under communist rule. We enjoyed wonderful restaurants, an amazing art exhibit, and historical sites in the city. When we left Bucharest, Tavi adjusted our route so we could travel the Transfagarian Highway. Being from Colorado we enjoyed the winding mountain pass and enjoyed Tavi’s stories of back country skiing the areas around the pass. For our first stop in Transylvania, we stayed in the corner barn of the Bethlen Estates. The bedding was wonderful, the food delicious and the staff was amazing. From here we enjoyed visiting the Cris Bethlen Castle which was literally down the road. It was particularly fun for us since one of our favorite horror movies, The Nun, was shot there. A local man who lives in town jumped in and gave us a detailed tour including side stories on the actors during the filming. We went on an amazing mountain bike ride (about 20 miles) primarily in the hills and forests with some fun single track as well. The mountain bike guide had helped to build the trails which will eventually connect a large portion of Transylvania for mountain bike tours.

We saw wonderful fortressed churches and cities throughout our trip, including the beautiful Sighisoara. Always enjoying them without crowds and with a random local who had the keys to let us in the church or describe some interesting tidbit of history through our guide as the interpreter. We met a local weaver whose family had been doing traditional weaving for generations and who rescued a loom headed for destruction. I introduced her to the Navajo weavers of the US and she was fascinated with their symbols and designs and was planning on reaching out to them. We enjoyed a visit with a local herbalist whose herb garden was expansive and her knowledge of remedies was sought out throughout the area. Here we enjoyed a dinner in her home, again understanding her story and her life and sharing ours. We enjoyed seeing the UNESCO site, Viscri, supported by King Charles and enjoyed the views from the fortressed church over the rolling hills. We moved onto Brasov, staying at the Schuster Boarding House with a good location for walking around town. Here we had a private tour of Bran Castle and after connecting with the guide, had the opportunity to climb into the highest turret to view the mountain pass that the lookouts would use in centuries past. When we expressed interest in a hike, Tavi took us up a mountainside where he helped a friend build a cabin. We met one of his friends, a local shepherd, and discussed bears threatening his flock and how the handling of these bears was different between Colorado and Romania. Again a full in-depth conversation with Tavi as our interpreter.

Bottom line our visit was filled with unique experiences where we connected with the people of Romania and attempted to understand their stories. Romania is a beautiful, relatively undiscovered country with rich medieval history and more recent history of the rise and fall of communism. It is not as restored as other places in Western Europe but its beauty, its history, and its people are wonderful to experience. The smaller crowds allow for a much more enjoyable visit than other European countries. We would not have had the same trip without the guidance of Raluca, Ioana and Tavi. I do not enjoy just visiting a place. I enjoy experiencing it and that’s what Raluca’s team did for us in Romania, they gave us unforgettable experiences. A final shout-out to Raluca, Ioana, and Tavi for coordinating the shipment of some art and pottery we purchased during our trip. They definitely went above and beyond the call of duty and we will have these beautiful items to enjoy and remember Romania for a lifetime.

We had begun planning our trip to Romania several years ago but it was postponed because of Covid. When we were able to depart this spring we found the trip to be even better than we hoped for. Raluca had worked very diligently, with frequent emails and an initial Zoom, to plan our trip around Orthodox Easter celebrations, small village and town stays, and the chance to see spring flowers in the countryside. We knew the latter would be limited somewhat because of early Orthodox Easter.

After landing in Bucharest we left the next morning for Brasov, stopping at Peles Castle on the way. The castle visit was the only crowded time of our whole 2-week trip but very interesting inside and out, and we began learning the complicated history of Romania from our excellent guide Andrei. Our accommodations in boutique inns in Brasov, Sighisoara, and Cluj were all excellent, with a unique combination of traditional furnishing and modern amenities and excellent breakfasts in all. One of our highlights near Sighisoara was an afternoon and evening in a small village with Emese and family, touring her herb gardens, good conversations about her familiy’s history, and having a delicious traditional Easter meal.

Our first small village stay was in Breb, in the beautiful Maramures region, with green fields with haystacks, and distant snow-covered mountains. Our stay in The Village Hotel, a small group of restored traditional cottages, was wonderful with the help of the owner Penny and assistant Andrada. Dinners in a villager’s home were excellent with everything self-sourced. We did not overall visit museums but the Museum of Communism in Sighetu was very powerful and worthwhile.

Next stop was Bucovina area for Orthodox Easter celebrations. We attended midnight service, which involved passing lit candles, walking in and out and around the beautiful painted monastery, and responsive singing, all very moving. Easter Day included more services, with traditional dress, and tradition of cracking painted eggs at breakfast with the words “Christ has risen” and response “He has truly risen,” along with traditional Easter morning and Easter dinner lamb dishes. Our stay was again in an individual restored cottage at Casa Cu Cerbi with unique traditional bed arrangements and furnishings. The painted monasteries including Voronet were another highlight.

Back in Transylvania we stayed in the very remote village of Valea Zanalui in King Charles’ cottage. A very informative walk with a local biologist to look for flowers and discuss the area’s natural history had been set up ahead and very worthwhile. Communication was more difficult here because of the small staff primarily Hungarian, not Romanian, speaking and without our guide and preplanning we would have been unaware of potential available activities in the area.

In our last village Viscri, where we stayed at the very comfortable Viscri 125, we had our best chances to meet local craftsmen including watching a Roma woman making boiled woolen slippers, a blacksmith visit, and a very educational time with a beekeeper who supplies King Charles with his honey.

Lastly Bucharest surprised us with its vitality, green spaces and wonderful old buildings.

Each area we visited was unique with differences in architecture, language, food, and dress due to the complicated ethnic and political history of the country. Because of this and the beautiful landscape, churches, cleanliness, and friendliness our visit was very rewarding and enjoyable.

We would not have been able to appreciate any of this if we had attempted to plan and drive ourselves or been part of a large group staying in nondescript hotels on the edge of town. All of our accommodations were exceptional and we know that Raluca visits them all regularly to reassess. Monica checked once or more daily to adjust the schedule for weather changes, restaurant closings, etc. and made sure everything ran smoothly. Our wonderful guide Andrei was able to determine our interests, physical limitations, and schedule very easily and was always pleasant, reliable, easy to talk to, and extremely knowledgeable about Romanian history and culture. He was also flexible so we could easily add or subtract activities not on our planned list.

We would without question recommend planning a visit to Romania with Raluca.

PANDEMIC TRAVEL  Have just returned from our first trip to Romania and wanted to say thank you to Raluca for a warm welcome to her fabulous country! From first contact we knew we were in good hands. A phone call helped Raluca determine what type of adventure we were looking for and from that moment on, everything ran smooth as silk! Recommendations for sights, restaurants and hotels were all spot on.
Our personal guide, Alex escorted us into the countryside for sightseeing, hikes in the Piatra Craiului Mountains, led a private tour of the magnificent Romanian Athenaeum in Bucharest, and even arranged access for us to services in the beautiful Choral Synagogue. By the end of our trip, Alex felt like an old and well informed friend!
Raluca kept in touch during our visit via email and phone calls just to make sure all was going well. COVID and seasonal changes threw a few obstacles into our plans, Raluca however was on top of everything and adjustments were made without having to miss anything on our agenda.
I cannot give enough kudos to Raluca and her team and look forward to planning our next trip to Romania!

Robert Rosenberg | October 25, 2019

Raluca and Roxanna listened carefully to what we had in mind and planned a magnificent trip, making a number of changes based on our comments to their first effort. They were in contact with our guide several times a day to make sure all was going smoothly. And the guide could not have been better–Andrei was extremely knowledgeable and, perhaps even more importantly, extremely easy to be with for almost two weeks. I cannot recommend highly enough/

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