ROMANIA: Journey to Cluj-Napoca and the Turda Gorges

In early June we took a road trip to another large city in Romania called Cluj-Napoca. Initially we planned to fly to avoid the six hour drive northwest of Bucharest. In the end we decided to rent a car and take in the country-side. I am so happy that we did. I was able to really understand what people are talking about when they say “the gorgeous country-side of Romania”. I had seen some nice views going to and from Brasov the numerous time I’ve been there. But this was like going to a whole new world.

I did my best to snap pics of the mountains and hills while we drove. Turned on the action setting to avoid making my husband stop too many times so we wouldn’t take forever to get there. Some of the views reminded me of images I’ve seen from China. Breath taking views that were worthy the switchback roads and locals passing too close, as if playing sideways leap frog.

Here are some of my favorite photos taken from the road:

Once we arrived we checked into our hotel, Hampton by Hilton. At the time it was rated 4.5 on TripAdvisor and I feel it lived up to it. Rooms were clean and comfy, bar downstairs was stocked well, and the breakfast was better than expected. We stayed there two nights and I expect we will be staying there again on our return trip.

After settling in we decided to explore some of the city center while on our way to our first Cluj excursion: The Dungeon, an escape room game. I detailed the experience at The Room in a previous post.

Cluj-Napoca is really beautiful. Cluj is the 2nd most populated city in Romania, with Bucharest being the first. Immediately the fabulous architecture reminded me of Budapest. We later found out that at one time the city was a part of Hungary.

In the city center, located at Unirii Square, is the 14th century St. Michael’s Church. The wonderful piece of architecture was named after the Archangel Michael, the patron saint of Cluj-Napoca.

Right outside the church was a number of nice restaurants. We had the opportunity to try out two: Corso Cafe Bistro and Nuka Bistro. Corso Cafe Bistro was okay. Nice set up and had a variety of lemonades to try. But the food was only okay and the staff not too attentive. If you are in the square and only have one shot at a good restaurant I suggest making Nuka Bistro your choice. It was very good food, wine, with awesome decor and service.

There were a plethora of college age people all around. Likely due to Cluj housing the largest University in Romania, Babeș-Bolyai University. There is a famous botanical garden there but we didn’t check it out on this trip.

On our second day we ventured out to see the main attraction of our visit, the Turda Gorge. The Turda Gorge (Cheile Turzii in Romanian) is a natural reserve on Hășdate River. Founded in 1938, the Gorge is a little over 9 miles (15 km) away from Cluj-Napoca. There have been 990 species of plants, 110 species of birds, mammals and reptiles. We drove up and went for a hike through the center. Hiking on rough terrain, crossing rickety bridges, walking on narrow ridges, and looking out for wildlife equaled one amazing and unique adventure. I hope to go back in the fall to see the landscape with the changing leaves.

There was one awkward moment when we passed a large group for the 2nd time. One of the women said “Please lady can you take picture?” I assumed she saw my Nikon and, figuring I might know what I’m doing, wanted me to use their camera and take a photo. So I said yes, at which time the group rushed up to pose WITH me!

The trip up north was well worth the journey. I hope to go back again soon for more gorgeous photo ops. And maybe a few hours farther north to see the painted monasteries of Bucovina. In the meantime, here are some pics from they long trip home. And I finally got my pics of some poppies.

Until next time, la revedere!


Istanbul… Not Constantinople

I know it’s cliche but I couldn’t help myself. I’m pretty behind on my blog posts of travels inside and out of Romania, so it’s time that I got back on track. What better way to do it than with our November 2013 trip to Istanbul, Turkey.

This wasn’t our first time to Turkey. In September 2010 we went on a Mediterranean cruise that stopped in Kusadasi. From there we did a tour that took us to Ephesus, Didyma & Miletus. We were only in Turkey for approximately 12 hours but instantly fell in love and knew we’d be back again to take in more of this beautiful country.

Istanbul is the largest city in Turkey and the third most populated city in the world. Istanbul straddles the Bosphorus Sea with city limits in both Europe and Asia. We only had two full days in the city, but we got around to many of the popular sights and enjoyed the food, decor, shopping (though there is some pressure sales going on here) and atmosphere.

Hippodrome and Obelisks

On our first day we took an 8 hour tour to the key locations in Istanbul. After the tour bus expertly navigated the narrow streets we were dropped off at the Hippodrome. It was once a circus that was the sporting and social centre of Constantinople. There were people selling trinkets, maps, guidebooks, and goods that circled the tourists. Shortly after our arrival the peddlers were chased off by the authorities.

The Blue Mosque

Next on our tour, a visit to the Sultan Ahmet Mosque, also known as the Blue Mosque. Completed in 1616, this example of classical Ottoman architecture has 260 windows and is decorated with over 20,000 tiles. Ladies, if you want to go inside you will have to cover your hair with a scarf and must be wearing pants or a long skirt. No worries if you aren’t dressed properly. They have coverups you can borrow.

Hagia Sophia

The Hagia Sophia name means “holy wisdom”. Originally built in 6th century A.D., it has played the part of cathedral, mosque and now museum. The Hagia Sophia is one of the greatest surviving examples of Byzantine architecture. The dome is slightly smaller than the Pantheon in Rome. We really didn’t spend enough time here. But with the short time we had I ran around on the main level and up to the 2nd floor and snapped as many photos as I could. Here is a shot of what it looked like in circa 1900.

Grand Bazaar

Next stop on our tour was the Grand Bazaar. It was cool but a bit too crazy for me to do any real shopping. We didn’t have a lot of time, being a part of the tour and all, but I snapped pics and took in only a small portion of the enormity that is this vast shopping bazaar. Over 3,000 shops call the Grand Bazaar home. There can be anywhere between 250,000 and 400,000 visitors daily. Another place where there are people trying to convince you to come in to their booth. I would have liked to go through the place again with more time but it wasn’t meant to be. Did snap some nice pics though.

Underground Basilica Cistern

This stop was one of the reasons I picked this specific Istanbul city tour. The Basilica Cistern or “Sunken Palace” is the largest of hundreds beneath the city. Like Hagia Sophia, it was built in the 6th century. The enlarged cistern provided a water filtration system for the Great Palace of Constantinople. The remaining pool of water is now home to many fish.

Topaki Palace

Topkapi Palace, the crown jewel of the Ottoman Empire, is said to be the largest and oldest palace in the world. Built between 1460 – 1478 by Sultan Mehmed, the palace was the primary residence of the Ottoman Sultans for approximately 400 years. The palace was also used for state occasions and entertainment. More than 4,000 people lived in the palace at one time. Now a museum, Topkapi has over hundreds of rooms and chambers, but only the important ones are open to the public. There are famous jewels on display, including the famous 86-carat pear-shaped Spoonmaker DiamondUnfortunately in all of the good spaces with cool items, photography was not allowed.

The Egyptian Spice Bazaar

On our last full day in the grand city we took a half day tour that included a stop at the Egyptian Spice Bazaar. Built in 1660, this bazaar is more low key in the pushy sales department and was no where near as crowded as the Grand Bazaar. Of course we got there right when it opened so that may have something to do with it. We didn’t have a lot of time to look around here. I would have preferred to do a different Bosphorus cruise tour and check out the bazaar on our own at another time.

Bosphorus Cruise

The cruise portion of the tour was approximately an hour. With option to sit on the top deck and listen to the description of sites on the European and Asian sides of the Bosphorus. It was relaxing and allowed for great photo ops.


Overall, we really enjoyed our short trip to Istanbul. The food was great. Our lodging was at the Hotel Seraglio—which included breakfast, wifi and was located right next to the Blue Mosque—was a great choice for the short stay. The Sabiha Gokcen Airport (SAW) is not the closest airport to city center Istanbul, but you will find deals for weekend travel. To close out my update on this trip here are some miscellaneous shots. Next up on the BnB blog: Sinaia, Romania.