Christmas in Romania

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December 25th 2011
Published: December 27th 2011
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Bucharest, Romania has cheap flights leaving Istanbul Friday after work and returning Sunday evening. That’s just about the only criteria I have for weekend trips. I have never been to Romania before and really didn’t know much about it, but when another teacher told me that there was a deal on airfare and several others were going there for the Christmas weekend, I jumped on board.

Istanbul has two great airports with flights all over the world. I live and work on the Asian side of Istanbul, so I keep an eye on cheap flights from the Sabiha Gökçen airport. Now that I feel like I’ve seen most of the sights in the city, I’m looking for ways to see more of the region. There is no Christmas vacation in Turkey since it’s a Muslim country, but Christmas was on a Sunday this year so at least I got both Christmas and Christmas Eve off work.

After I bought the ticket I found out that Transylvania is in Romania. I feel silly admitting that, but since I’ve never traveled Eastern Europe I guess it’s not too embarrassing to not know much about Romania. Fortunately, I happened to have Bram
Monastery StavropoleosMonastery StavropoleosMonastery Stavropoleos

Bucharest has beautiful churches. This ancient Greek church and monastery is tucked between modern buildings right downtown.
Stoker’s “Dracula” on my Nook, so I started reading that to get myself ready. I have always loved Halloween and saw Tim Burton’s “The Nightmare Before Christmas” when it first came out in the theaters, but I never thought I would spend Christmas in the country of Dracula.

My parents thoughtfully sent me supplies even more useful than an old British novel. Along with my snowman socks and assorted holiday gifts, I got custom-moldable plastic vampire teeth, bandaids for my bitten victims and a short book on the history of the real Dracula (truth is much stranger, and scarier, than fiction). I learned enough that I almost didn’t want to go. At least not until summer when the nights are shorter and less ominous. But I really needed a break from Istanbul and I am so glad I went. Bucharest was every bit as gray and bleak and cold and deserted as I had expected. Even the tour guide brochures say it can be a “curse.”

The holiday season created pockets of cheer in the desolate city and my favorite was in Cişmigiu Park. There was a whole village of little wooden cabin-shops, set up for a
Winter WonderlandWinter WonderlandWinter Wonderland

Everything about the Christmas village was quaint and picturesque. Note the bear watching Santa.
Christmas market. They had gingerbread cookies, woolen mittens, fur hats, candied apples, hand carved kids’ toys, beeswax candles, fresh roasted chestnuts and lots of hot, spiced wine. I loved it.

At the center of the village was a giant Christmas tree surrounded by bears, reindeer and an igloo, all made to light up at night. The village also had a little home for Santa Claus, shaped like an elf hat. It was tended by lot of elves in woodland outfits that looked perfect for the bitter cold. They also had a bear guarding Santa. I saw a lot of bears in Bucharest and I’m sure that’s something cultural and historical that I’m missing. Maybe they used to have real bears, but I just saw people dressed in bearskins. They usually were on a leash, lead around by dancers. Friday night I went out for dinner with the group to a restaurant that had a great band playing traditional music with folk dancers. The last dance had a guy in a bear costume.

The highlight of the Christmas village was the ice rink. I haven’t been ice skating in at least twenty years and was so excited when I
Puppet TheaterPuppet TheaterPuppet Theater

The red cart plays music when a crank is turned. The parrots sing along and one side opens for marionette puppet shows.
saw it. My first time around I clutched at the wall and thought my feet would slide out from under me at every step. I wasn’t really skating and definitely not gliding. So it was very gratifying when I realized that after a couple times around I remembered how to skate. I wasn’t trying to do anything fancy, but I got better every time around and by the time I was done I felt like I was really skating. Bucharest was very cold, especially compared with Istanbul, but I skated till I was overheated and my legs were about to give out. It was so much fun!

There were a lot of very good skaters who were entertaining to watch, especially the punk teenage boys who raced each other and did tricks and behaved as if it was their personal rink. I saw them fall down a lot but never crash into other skaters. They might have been showing off in part for the cameras. A news crew was in the park most of the day, filming kids on Santa’s lap and people skating.

A group of Santas on bikes invaded the park for a while, giving out
Woodland ElvesWoodland ElvesWoodland Elves

The elf costumes were so realistic, if you can call anything to do with Santa realistic.
gingerbread cookies to kids. I’m sure the news crew was thrilled. I talked to one of the cyclists, a woman in striped red stockings and a red skirt, with white wig braids to match her white Santa beard – topped off with a traditional Santa hat. She said it was a random facebook invite from a Bucharest biking group and that she didn’t know any of the other Santas. They were obviously having a great time but I couldn’t figure out how to swap my ice skates for a bike to join them.

I would love to go back to Romania and actually see Transylvania some day, preferable in the summer, as I mentioned. I met a cyclist who told me how beautiful the countryside is and gave me his blog address. Watch the first video “Fără mâini pe aici.” It’s an amazing place for mountain biking.

Christmas was a lot of fun this year, which helped me not miss my family too much. Everybody I met was very nice and some wished me Merry Christmas in English. I found quite a few people who spoke English, but even more who spoke French. I hope my students
Touring SantasTouring SantasTouring Santas

These Santas were so jolly I wished I had a bike to join them.
read that line! Bucharest is full of surprises and I’m so excited to see more of the cities and countries in this part of the world.

Additional photos below
Photos: 10, Displayed: 10


Christmas sockingsChristmas sockings
Christmas sockings

Our group was so big we rented the whole hostel. We totally took the place over and made the stairwell our own private hearth for stockings.
Christmas breakfastChristmas breakfast
Christmas breakfast

Mike and Hilary were part of the group that had Christmas breakfast at the Rembrandt. It had the most amazing waffles. I recommend the cinnamon and orange or honey and raisin.
Bear ParadeBear Parade
Bear Parade

This drum group was playing the streets around noon on Christmas day.
No Walkmans on PegasusNo Walkmans on Pegasus
No Walkmans on Pegasus

We flew on the budget airlines Pegasus, which has some slightly outdated aspects. The picture on the left looks like a cell phone, which is reasonable. I think the others are a walkie-talkie, boombox and walkman. Who still listens to cassettes?

27th December 2011

Merry Christmas!
Heather You are giving wonderful lessons on world traveling. I enjoy your sorties and envy your lifestyle. Laff
29th December 2011

Merry Christmas to you too!
Hey Laff, it's good to hear from you. Aren't you retired? That's the lifestyle a lot of people would like. I envied your flying lifestyle growing up and I always enjoyed your stories, even if some of them seemed a little farfetched. Didn't you once pick up a wolf from a fire and the tranquilizers started to wear off while she was still in your plane? Or were you flying a helicopter?
3rd January 2012

Hi! How are you?
Hi! I'm very glad that you liked what Bucharest had to offer, though I suppopse it wasn't a lot... I went to Paris and I could almost cry because of how beautiful the bike lanes and traffic were, especially in respect to a cyclist's life, habits and other key aspects which contribute to a civilized living! I felt really nice and now I'm making savings so I can return on my own (it was my mother's gift for my birth on the 1st of January). I would really love to hear from you until the end of the month, because as far as I can recall, you said you'll be back in Paris around the end of January. I would be very happy to meet you, especially in a parizian bacground! Thanks for forwarding visitors to my blog, I appreciate! The title “Fără mâini pe aici" means "Handsfree or no hands through here, through this segment...of the path :D" So, I would like to talk to you soon. I'll be waiting. You can contact me on Facebook at Mircea Vasile Petrescu or directly on Thanks and really nice article by the way! I will be glad to inform you in the future about other place that are really worth visiting! Hugs and kisses, looking forward to hearing from you!

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