Tom & Shirley's Page -- 2017 Amsterdam & Romania
  Our 2017 summer holiday was a return to Amsterdam as the first leg of the trip.   We find that Amsterdam is a city very easy to love, easy to navigate, has plenty to do and see, is vibrant and we always feel safe no matter where we wander.   In addition, Amsterdam is a great base for flights throughout Europe and for this trip we intended to continue to Romania for a couple of weeks.  
  In Amsterdam we stayed for one week with the same people we rented from back in 2015, this time the larger upper apartment, which we really liked.   Renee and Ellen Rolf’s apartment is located in a quiet northern suburb of Amsterdam with a nearby bus connection to downtown (about 15-20 minutes’ walk/ride).   The nice thing is that they live in the same building and are always willing to provide suggestions for sightseeing, dinner, transportation, whatever you need.   This trip featured a day trip to the city of Delft by local commuter train where we caught up with tour guide John Rice whom we booked thru TourDelft.   This was a good tour as John is very knowledgeable as to the history and custom of the city and he tailored the tour to our areas of interest, highly recommend him.   Back in Amsterdam we took another HungryBirds tour, the Evening Experience food tour which was a blast.   We find their guides very friendly, knowledgeable and accommodating.   A real must-do to enhance the whole Amsterdam experience and we feel worth the cost.   We also did the VIP Heineken Experience tour which turned out to be quite nice as well.   So, after a wonderful week in Amsterdam it was time to leave and fly to Romania for a two-week adventure.  
  Bucharest!   Well, we weren’t quite sure what to expect when we booked an apartment in central Bucharest (just outside of the old town but walkable within 5 minutes or so).   After all, the old communist regime was notorious for their lack of concern for maintaining buildings or historical sites.   Preserving old neighborhood and cultures was not on their agenda; if it wasn’t functional then it wasn’t important.   We were pleasantly surprised.   Since democracy entered the picture in 1989 it is apparent there has been a sustained and concerted effort to restore the best of the past that did survive.   To be sure she has many scars.   You’ll see beautiful old churches sandwiched between communist era apartment buildings but offering a hint of what the neighborhood must have been like in the past.   Prior earthquake damage, in addition to neglect, riddle many of the neighborhoods.   A work in progress for sure. Despite what has been taken away we found the Old Town and surrounding neighborhoods thriving with nice family run restaurants and shops.   Night life abounds, tourism appears to be alive and increasing.   Our young guides were very well informed and interesting as well as interested-young people always give us hope for humanity.   We found the transportation infrastructure to be convenient and easy to navigate to all parts of the city.   Shirl and I were also impressed with the number and quality of green spaces throughout Bucharest.   There are many well maintained parks with playgrounds, small lakes, nice gardens, walking paths and interesting things to do and see.   In short, we really enjoyed our week in Bucharest; we felt it was a very safe, very affordable and should definitely be on ones’ bucket-list before it becomes ‘discovered’ and attacked by throngs of tourist busses.  
  Tips if you go to Bucharest:
  •  Bucharest Walkabout Free Tour offers a nice history recap, was interesting and highly recommended.
  •  Darkside Tour of Bucharest was informative & fun, also highly recommended.
  •  Buy a Bucharest RATB Multiplu card
  After a week in Bucharest we headed out for our next stay near the small rural village of Vale, in Transylvania.   Our destination was Casa Zollo which turned out to be quite plush.   Three bedrooms, two balconies with gorgeous views of the Romanian countryside, a full kitchen, cable and WIFI, a lovely common outdoor space in the back yard, it was much larger that we required but “what the heck”, we are on vacation after all.   And the rural setting was just beautiful.   Cows on the hillside, donkey hee-haws heard in the distance, scenic and quiet.   Might not be up everyone’s alley but after the hustle and bustle of a big city this was a welcome contrast.  
  We spent a week in Transylvania soaking up the local lore and visiting some of the Saxon villages and fortified villages in the area.   Sighistora was probably our favorite city enhanced by our guide from Wonderlust Tours.   That same day we had another guide, Nicoleta Ocneriu (nicoletaocneriu@gmail.com), for the Biertan area.   She shared an off-the-beaten-path picnic spot known only by the locals which we really enjoyed.   We ended our stay in this area with a lovely tour guide, Cristina Paraschiv, (Viator) in Sibiu.   Thoroughly enjoyed this tour as well and the city is wonderful.  
  We must say the people we met in Romania were very friendly.   Most everyone spoke either excellent English or enough to carry on a conversation.  
  Tips if you go to Romania:
  •  Hire a tour guide to show you around towns. The cost in Romania is fairly inexpensive and they enhance the experience so much with their knowledge of local history and lore.
  •  The roads in Romania are very good. But be careful of other drivers as they can be aggressive. Drive defensively.
  •   If you have the option to take the Transfagarasan Highway into Transylvania take it, as it is a great drive offering stunning views of the mountains and has many pull-off spots to take a break.
  •  If you do get to Transylvania do take a horse drawn cart ride into the hills.  They are very popular in that part of the country. Our ride was ½ day with a stop next to a stream for home-made goulash lunch cooked on the spot. Also took us to a monastery up in the hills where we were the only tourists within miles.
  This is a quick overview of our trip to Amsterdam and Romania.   Below are a just a few of the photos from this trip.   If anyone wants more detail or info on anything just email us at luvtworoam@yahoo.com   We always like to help other trip planners as many have provided help and good advice to us.  
    ~Tom & Shirley
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  And we're now officially on vacation! Our digs for a week in Amsterdam Nord. Even in downtown Amsterdam folks manage to find some outdoor space.
  Amsterdam. How the heck do they pull theirs's out of the maze? Heineken has a museum included in their tours. Us at the Heineken 'VIP' tour which was pretty good.
  This is Molen de Adriaan in Haarlem from 1778. Very cool. Take the guided tour. De Grote Kerk (spire circa 1520) dominates the Grote Markt in Amsterdam's Haarlem neighborhood. Typical canal view. This one in Jordann Amsterdam.
  Secret place revealed in Rick Steves Jordann Walk. We took a day trip to Delft. This is the magnificent Gothic Oostpoort (Eastern-Gate). Ca 1400. Now a private residence. Anybody happen to know what make/model this classic oldie is?
  We enjoyed and recommend Amsterdam Hungry Birds Street Food Tours. Our Amsterdam Hungry Birds Street Food Tour Group
  Bucharest, Romania
  My Shirley checking out things for todays adventure in Bucharest. I kind have a thing for these artistic and decorative manhole covers found in European cities. Vlad the Impaler (aka Dracula) is pretty big around here in Bucharest.
  Us and the Statue of Trajan and the She-wolf located on the steps of the National Museum of Romanian History on Calea Victoriei. Bucharest is a city of contrasts. Here the beautiful old Zlatari Church (1850 built by Roma goldsmiths) tucked between ugly communist era buildings. Bucharest has its own Arch of Triumph. Original was wooden and built in 1878 after Romania gained its independence. Demolished and replaced by this version in 1935.
  Bucharest is full of family friendly parks that include playgrounds, small lakes, nice gardens and walkways. The Memorial of Rebirth in Piata Revolution commemorates the struggles and victims of the Romanian Revolution of 1989, which overthrew Communism. The Romanian Orthodox Patriarchal Cathedral is an old church from 1658. Situated on a hill and surrounded by beautiful classical buildings, and with an unique view toward the central area of the town it is worth seeing.
  We enjoyed the Darkside Tour of Bucharest. Includes Bucharest's Bellu Cemetery. Here, The Lady with the Umbrella (aka Lady In White). Look her story up in Google. Bucharest has many beautiful old buildings that survived the communist era, like this former Bucharest Stock Exchange Palace, now the National Library of Romania. Us taking a break on Strada Lipscani in Old Town Bucharest.
  An example of the renovations that are happening now in Bucharest. Bucharest old Town at night has plenty to offer in dining, wining, and people watching.
  Transylvania, Romania
  We drove the Transfagarasan Highway when moving from Bucharest northwest to our next stop in Vale, Transylvania. It runs trough the Fagaras mountains a part of the Transylvanian Alps.. There are plenty of pull-off parking spots to admire the views along the Transfagarasan Highway.. Looking for Casa Zollo. Garmin says go this way, but sometime she lies. Wifey looking grim!
  We had actually driven past the entrance gate. This is Casa Zollo in Vale, Transylvania, Romania. View from one of two balconies at our Casa Zollo accommodation near the village of Vale. View from our second Casa Zollo balcony of the Transylvanian countryside.
  Vale, in Transylvania Romania is a very small village. We took a 1/2 day horse drawn cart trip into the Transylvania countryside with Nicu. Included was a river-side goulash lunch (and some schnapps) which was delicious. Sighisoara has 9 remaining towers, each built and defended by a different craft guild. This is the Clock Tower, tallest and most famous.
  Zoom into some detail on the impressive Clock Tower. We wished we could have spent more time exploring the pretty fortified Saxon medieval town Sighisoara, but we had booked another tour for later this day. Shirl with our Biertan guide Nico.
  Nico took us to her favorite off-the-beaten-tourist-radar spot in the village of Copsa Mare near Biertan. Now among our favorite spots too. Have to be on the ready to make sudden stops, like here in the remote village of Pelisor, north of Sibiu. The Great Square in delightful Sibiu old city center.
  View of Sibiu old town from Council Tower. View of Sibiu old town from Council Tower. A bit of Sibiu renovation using old fashioned muscle power.
  With Cristina Paraschiv, our wonderful Sibiu guide.