The journey started from our VIP home pick up then we travelled to our chosen airport to fly to Budapest. Our tour director met us at the airport and a taxi took us to the 4-star Novotel Hotel.
This amazing city has a surprise around every corner. Beautiful buildings and so much to do. The first afternoon was free and we visited the famous spa, what a treat, watching the older residents playing chess by the side of the pools and people taking advantage of the 10 thermal pools.
We all arrived on time at the coach for the first part of our journey with people from all over the world; Canada, America, New Zealand, and Great Britain all waiting with anticipation and excitement for our Balkans and Transylvania tour. Our luxury Cosmos coach was ready to take us to four Eastern European countries, a trip that was steeped in history and intrigue – time to sit back and enjoy the ride!
Transylvania with its ‘ghoulish’ stories of Dracula and Vlad the Impaler was on our itinerary. The Hungarian capital of Budapest, Belgrade known as Gibraltar of the Danube (without the monkeys – well I didn’t see any!), Sofia, with its close proximity to Rila Monastery, Plovdiv, Bulgaria’s second-largest city, Bucharest and finally Brasov.
This amazing, beautiful city is full of surprises around every corner. Visiting the Hungarian capital on the first day included a guided tour to see all the interesting sites of this city. A local guide is on board for this city tour. Cosmos do use local guides throughout the trip to give you the best possible ‘flavour’ of each city you visit.
Budapest has old and new buildings sitting side by side comfortably, modern shops and beautiful squares, the plaza of the Heroes Square with its history and towering statues. The tour takes you to the Buda side of the river to see Buda Castle and the Fisherman’s Bastion then back over the Chain Bridge to the Pest side to see the world-famous Parliament Building and views of Margaret Island.
Budapest sits on the banks of the ‘Blue’ Danube – not very blue more a muddy grey. It is a very popular stop for many river cruises. If you want to have a ‘taster’ cruise, why not hop on one of the many day or evening cruises that go up and down the river for approximately 12 Euros.
We had an afternoon of leisure so visited the world famous Szechenyi Spa, baths and swimming pools. The spa with its 10 thermal pools and two outdoor splash areas plus an olympic size pool is well worth a visit but this is only one of the many spas in Budapest with its world famous thermal springs.
Our coach tour started early the next morning as we made our way to Serbia. After a good night’s sleep at the Novatel Centrum Hotel we were refreshed and ready to join our fellow travellers on this adventure.
Cosmos Coach tours arrange comfort stops during your journey but in case of emergency there is a toilet on board the bus.
Travelling to Belgrade was very pleasant with lots of excellent information from our tour director. We had a short stop at Novi Sad which is famous for its Petrovaradin Citadel, the fortress known as the Gibraltar of the Danube.
Belgrade translates to the White City but it isn’t – it is a busy cosmopolitan city with lots of cafes and night life. The remnants of the past mix with the Art Nuovo of the present and ‘sitting’ on the River Danube has the added bonus of having lovely restaurants and bars for the city to enjoy the leisure and night life. We stayed at the Best Western Hotel M.
All of the Cosmos hotels are between 4 and 5 stars they are all of a good standard.
The Border crossing to Bulgaria can take a little time depending on the traffic, so be prepared to have a little time on the bus whilst waiting.
Sofia is the capital of Bulgaria and is a very interesting city with wonderful cathedrals and a medieval Bulgarian church. We joined our local guide to tour the highlights of this lovely city. A trip to Rila Monastery with its colourful frescoes located inside a nature park is included. Cosmos do include optional excursions like the Folklore evenings if you wish to go but, there is no pressure it is entirely up to you. We had a 2-night stay at the Crystal Palace Hotel and it was situated in a beautiful, convenient part of the city. There are bars and cafes in abundance.
Many people miss the delights of Sofia as during the winter months people head for the slopes of Mt Vitosha for skiing and hill walking.
As we headed eastward to Plovdiv, Bulgaria’s second largest city located on the banks of the Maritsa River, we made a stop to visit the charming old town and see the Roman amphitheatre.
We crossed the Border into Romania to Bucharest.
There is only one word for Bucharest and that is ‘busy’. The roads are busy, the pavements are busy the whole town is alive and very, very busy. We stayed at the Sheraton Bucharest Hotel which is about a 15 to 20 minute walk to the old centre, or take a taxi from the hotel, but believe me it is quicker to walk! The old town is a pedestrian area and is lively with lots of bars and shops plus street theatre and interesting buildings.
Bucharest has wide tree-lined boulevards and with flower filled parks and gardens. Cosmos again provided a local guide for our city tour. The guide gave us lots of history which most of the coach passengers could relate to; the era of Ceausescu the President that ruled from 1965 to 1989. We visited the Palace of the Parliament, a stunning building with the grandeur you would expect from such an imposing building.
Bucharest is a perfect mini break city and there is so much more to explore, but remember good walking shoes! We had two days in Bucharest then set off for a stop to Sinaia Monastery and Peles Castle, considered to be the most romantic in the world.
This is a lovely, medieval town famed for its town square and surrounded by baroque architecture and outdoor cafes.
Our stay was at the Aro Palace Hotel, a modern well-situated hotel near to the main pedestrian street and all the shops and bars. The town square is a focal point for any visitor and the cable car gets you some wonderful views across the town. This is a good walking area and many paths meander around this lovely valley. The Black Church – which isn’t black – is a medieval church that is near to the town walls.
Bran Castle, Romania
The excitement was mounting as we set off for Bran to visit the Castle of Vlad the Impaler now better known as Count Dracula.
Be aware that it is a very busy place, lots of coaches and lots of tours. It is a short walk through a market area that is selling Dracula masks and t-shirts but you can easily get lost in this ‘tangle’ of stalls, bars and people. Our guide was very keen that we remembered the way back to our coach.
The imposing castle is fantastic and does not disappoint, we had a funny, interesting guide. If you have any walking difficulties this is rather a difficult place to negotiate. Steps take you up to the main castle then more steps to get to the turret of the castle.
The castle’s ‘secret’ staircase is where it is said that Dracula used to let his guests sleep in the bedroom below and then creep down in the night to drink their blood, not a recipe for a good night’s sleep!!!
The history of Vlad the Impaler and the fiction surrounding Dracula – thanks the Bram Stoker, the author of Dracula – means that this area has become very popular and it is a ‘not to be missed site’ on the tour of Transylvania. For Harry Potter fans our guide book told us that this castle and some of the surrounding areas were used in the Goblet of Fire Film, sadly the vendors that sell the Dracula memorabilia have not started selling Harry Potter gifts – yet!
According to the legend Sighisoara was the birthplace of Vlad the Impaler (Dracula). This tranquil village set within the stone city walls and cobblestone streets with 11 towers and ancient houses and churches – it is one of Romania’s prettiest towns.
Cluj is said to be the film capital of Romania, another beautiful town with large churches and buildings, this was an afternoon stop off so with our fellow travellers we sat in this beautiful square and enjoy a refreshing aperitif before going to our hotel The Golden Tulip, for our last night in Romania.
Glyn’s tip: Long coach journeys are like long flights and you may find that your ankles will swell up – pack a pair of flight socks.
Back to Budapest after covering four countries. People who started as strangers where now friends. A coach tour is not for the faint-hearted, it is early mornings and you can have long days on the coach but overall it is interesting, fascinating and a wonderful, comfortable way to see the world and Cosmos helps you see the world through their eyes. People from all over the world see all over the world with Cosmos.
For more details of this tour, visit Treasures of the Balkans & Transylvania
Silver Travel Advisor recommends Cosmos