Visit the Bucegi Mountains and the Heroes’ Cross

The Bucegi Mountains are part of the southern Carpathians in Romania. They are where you can find the Old Ladies and the Sphinx. And they are also home of a Guinness World Record: the tallest summit cross at such a high altitude. And that altitude? 2,291 meters or 7,516 feet! The size of the cross? 39.5 meters or 129feet 7inches, including the base. And the cross? Well, it’s the Heroes’ or Caraiman Cross on the Caraiman Peak. Visible day and night – when it’s all lit up,  it has been standing guard over the Prahova valley for almost 100 years.

This massive structure was build between 1926 and 1928 to commemorate the Fallen Romanian Heroes of World War I. It was built at the initiative of Queen Marie and King Ferdinand,who were also responsible for building one of the impressive things to see in Romania, the Peles Castle. Wood, metal, and concrete building materials were carried to great heights either by oxen-drawn carts or by cable car, and this record-breaking cross was built.

Aside from witnessing this impressive, commemorative construction, a visit to the Heroes’ Cross offers a stunning view of the Prahova Valley, with the town of Busteni being directly below. It’s not for the faint of heart, but rather one of the many adventures in Romania. You will be standing on top of a cliff face, looking straight down to a drop of more than 1,000 meters.

It is not often than one can see such beautiful views in Romania without first hiking for hours up a mountain. The Heroes’ Cross is only an hour and a half from either the Busteni – Babele Cable Car or from the Piatra Arsa Cabin which can be reached by car. If you are an experienced hiker and are looking for an active day, you can hike up from the town of Busteni for about 5 hours, and see both the Heroes’ Cross and the Old Ladies and Sphinx rock formations before descending. But make sure to start early and go prepared, because it’s going to be a full day.

Best Things to See in the Bucegi Mountains – the Old Ladies and the Sphinx

Yes, you read correctly. The Old Ladies and the Sphinx! Yes, in Romania. At  2292 meters altitude, in fact.

Legends abound regarding how these rock formations came to be. They look like they just sprouted from the otherwise flat plateau. They are natural monuments, a witness to erosion, and maybe to human intervention. Yet, no one knows for sure. They have stood tall just as they do today for as far as anyone can remember.

Babele or the Old Ladies is the name given to a group of these rocks. Perhaps from a certain angle they look like old ladies hunched over. Or perhaps their name is a testament to the fact that they are ancient. And timeless. Then there’s the so-called Sphinx. Not identical to the Egyptian monument, but it’s not difficult to see why it has received this imposing title.

You can find these fascinating rock formations at the top of the Bucegi Mountains – part of the famous Carpathian Range which offers many attractions, such as the famous Transfagarasan Highway. The Bucegi are the closest mountains to Bucharest and they make for a great day trip if you are looking for things to do around Bucharest. You can reach the plateau by foot, by car or by cable car, most easily from Busteni Town, but also from Sinaia where you might be visiting the Peles Castle. Nearby there is also the Babele Cabin for overnight stays. And the view of the Prahova Valley from the Heroes’ Cross – stunning!

Experience Tradition in Romania – A Moldovan House

Today, let’s visit a village house in Moldova, one of the main regions of Romania, located in the north-eastern part of the country. It’s an important area where you can visit the painted monasteries, world-renowned vineyards, and try many types of traditional Romanian food cooked by its warm-hearted people. There’s a lot to tell you about this part of my country, but for now I’d like to give you a tour of one of my favorite places in Moldova – a traditional village house – built of clay and wood, looking cheerful even on a dreary winter day.

Maramures Romania – A Collection of Flowers

Monasteries in Romania are usually well kept, inside and out. And the outside consists of meticulously and tenderly groomed gardens, like at the Transylvanian Monastery – Sambata. In the spring they are brimming with flowers, every color and type imaginable, in harmony with the architecture around them.

Here is a collection of flowers from the Barsana Monastery in Maramures, Romania – just in time to wish everyone a Happy International Women’s Day!

Fagaras and Beyond Day 2 – Sibiu

From Alba Iulia we headed back to Sibiu. And, I have a confession to make. While the rest of our group visited the main attractions, I visited my baby niece. So I only have a few pictures that are hardly representative of this amazing town I love so much. I promise to make it up to you and Sibiu the first chance I get.

Sibiu, like Sighisoara, is one of the seven fortresses built by the Transylvanian Saxons during the 12th century. The old town still contains part of the the fortress walls, towers and squares. You can visit the Great Square, the Small Square, the Bridge of Lies and pass through the narrow Passage of Steps to go to the lower town, where traditional houses still stand.

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Fagaras and Beyond Day 2 – Alba Iulia

After a second night in Fagaras, our home-base so to speak, we had another full day planned: Alba Iulia and Sibiu. The drive was pretty impressive on its own. On your drive towards Sibiu you have the Fagaras mountain range following you on your left, as you pass through quaint Transylvanian village after quaint Transylvanian village. I’ve passed through countless times and yet I still try (hopelessly) to capture pictures from the car of tall fence-walls and gates that leave you imagining what is behind them. The best part is catching glances into the traditional courtyards of these authentic homes.

In Alba Iulia, the main attraction, the recently renovated fortress and old town, is hard to miss. There is plenty of parking near the entrance and you can already see the bridge welcoming you in. The bridge actually crosses what used to be the moat and what is now a beautifully kept round-the-fortress-walls bike- and footpath. A nice place for a stroll where even the locals might spend a Sunday afternoon.

Entrance bridge and walkway through the old moat

Entrance bridge and walkway through the old moat

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Ever wanted to walk in a moat? Well here you can take a stroll with the fortress walls towering over you

Ever wanted to walk in a moat? Well here you can take a stroll with the fortress walls towering over you (crocodiles not included)

Pass through the thick front gate and you will spot two churches. The Romanian Orthodox church on the left and the Roman Catholic cathedral on your right. Both are free to visit, as is access to this fortress. There are a few special tours and areas only available to paying public.

Two fortress' two churches

The fortress’ two churches

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The Romanian Orthodox Church

The Romanian Orthodox Church

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The Roman Catholic Cathedral

The Roman Catholic Cathedral

The Alba Iulia fortress and town has huge historical significance. Here you can find the intersection of more than 2000 years’ worth of histories: Dacian, Roman, Hungarian, Habsburg, Ottoman, Saxon, Romanian. A very important economic and military center for the Romans, Alba Iulia was the Roman castrum known as Apulum. Its ruins can still be visited today. Alba Iulia was the capital of the Transylvania Principality, the place where the three provinces of Romania got united – twice, briefly in 1599 and on December 1st, 1918, and the place of coronation of Romania’s first monarchs.

Looking out towards an entrance (or would it be an exit?)

Looking out towards an entrance (or would it be an exit?)

My brief description and the few photos I showcase here barely scratch the surface of the wonders of Alba Iulia. For more information you can check out http://www.visitalbaiulia.com. Or maybe you’ll just have to go visit the fortress yourselves.

Fagaras and Beyond Day 1 – Viscri

From Sighisoara we headed towards Brasov. In the village Bunesti we took a right towards the village of Viscri.

VISCRI

A village, like many others in this area, with a Saxon fortified church. Yet, unlike the many other such churches, this structure is part of UNESCO World Heritage, is often considered the most impressive of the churches in this area, and the Viscri village is the perfect place to stay a while. Many of the traditional Saxon houses and farms have been recently renovated, offering bed and breakfast type accommodation, renowned Romanian hospitality and delicious food made with locally grown produce. The church has also been renovated, offering a museum, a tour and a climb into the church tower. And if you’ve got your bike, there are bike paths over the rolling hills waiting for you to discover other picturesque villages.

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Fagaras and Beyond Day 1 – Rupea

RUPEA CASTLE

On your way from Sighisoara to Brasov, you will inevitably notice the Rupea Castle high up on a hill, inviting you for a visit. It’s been newly renovated. It looks great, but as no one lives there anymore, it feels a lot like a museum, an impressive one, nonetheless, with imposing fortified walls and towers.

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Fagaras and Beyond Day 1 – Sighisoara

SIGHISOARA

The Clock Tower is the emblem of the medieval town of Sighisoara. It contains a museum of the history of the city, which you visit on your way up to the balcony. From there you get a great view of the red-tiled roof tops of the old houses and the lush-green area surrounding the town. What makes this medieval town special, is that besides being a great tourist attraction: historical, mythical, quaint and colorful, it is alive, zooming with people who call it their home.

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