Romania with car and driver

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We spent 18 days traveling in Romania in September ‘04 — a truly great trip. Our itinerary included UNESCO world treasures like the painted monasteries in Bucovina plus picturesque villages and dramatic mountain scenery.

We flew on LOT Polish Airlines from Newark to Bucharest (changing planes in Warsaw), where we were met at the airport by travel agent Costela Petcu and our driver. The driver spoke excellent English and was well informed and very careful.

We heartily recommend Costela and her agency AKS Tours, which we found through a contact on the Internet. She was completely professional, made reservations for us in good hotels and delightful B&Bs and, altogether, took very good care of us. She was in touch with our driver by phone every day.

On our last night in Romania, Costela took us to a program of dinner, folk music and dance at a nice, rustic restaurant in Bucharest, and when she and her driver took us to the airport for our return flight, she went with us into the airport to the passengers-only gate to be sure we had no problems.

For our 18 days in Romania, Costela charged a total of $3,920, of which $90 was for an extra night at a discount in an excellent Bucharest hotel for a final day on our own without a driver. The price included a car (with mileage of about 3,500 kilometers), a driver/guide, the driver’s meals and lodging, our lodging with breakfast, and admissions to museums and other points of interest.

We especially liked Costela’s payment schedule, with only $500 due up front upon our arrival at the airport and the balance paid at the end of the trip. That’s right: no advance payment from the U.S. months before the trip!

We chose to pay for our own lunches and dinners, but she does offer an “all meals included” option. We spent $19 a day on restaurant meals, which often included wine but not dessert. (Our desserts were good Swiss chocolate available at roadside service stations and delicious ripe plums and apples from town markets.)

Two of our favorite dishes were tochitura, a national dish composed of a scoop of mamaligia (polenta) surrounded by a stew of several different meats and topped by a fried egg, and roasted eggplant, which for some reason was listed as a salad.

We did wish that more whole-grain breads were available. The single restaurant that we found that served whole-wheat bread was Casa Iurca de Calinesti in Sighetu, and it was our favorite because the food and service were also top-notch. We had chicken livers and braised cabbage (enough for two people), a pork stew with potatoes, soup, tomato-and-cucumber salad, cheese and a second basket of that delicious bread for 370,000 lei (about US$12) plus tip!

Good wine was very inexpensive — try $5 a bottle! — and food portions were quite large. A dinner of soup, entrée and wine in a good restaurant usually cost only $12-$13.

On the eighth day of our trip we crossed the Carpathian Mountains into Transylvania and stayed in the marvelous, isolated (end-of-the-road) village of Botiza at a B&B in the home of the town’s Orthodox priest and his family. Botiza was one of our favorite places.

We were very pleased with Costela’s services and would definitely choose to work with her if we returned to Romania. And we loved Romania’s scenic mountain roads, historic castles, friendly small towns (like Botiza and Sibiel), farmers’ markets and country crafts.

Contact Costela Petcu at AKS Tours (phone +40 21 313 6338, cell phone +4 0744 294 373 or +4 0723 564 437, e-mail costelape04@yahoo.com or visit www.akstour.ro).

On our return, we stayed in Warsaw, POLAND, for two great days in a studio apartment in the Old Town before flying back to Newark. There was no extra airline charge for the layover.

In Warsaw, here are two agencies that handle apartment rentals: Warsaw City Apartments (phone +48 0 22 825 39 12, e-mail info@hotelinwarsaw.com, or visit www.hotelinwarsaw.com), with prices starting at €60 (near $81) per night, and Old Town Apartments (phone +48 22 887 98 00, fax +48 22 831 49 56, e-mail booking@warsawshotel.com or visit www.warsawshotel.com), with prices from €70 ($95).

MICHAEL & NANCY BUBEL
Camp Hill, PA

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We spent 18 days traveling in Romania in September ‘04 — a truly great trip. Our itinerary included UNESCO world treasures like the painted monasteries in Bucovina plus picturesque villages and dramatic mountain scenery.

We flew on LOT Polish Airlines from Newark to Bucharest (changing planes in Warsaw), where we were met at the airport by travel agent Costela Petcu and our driver. The driver spoke excellent English and was well informed and very careful.

We heartily recommend Costela and her agency AKS Tours, which we found through a contact on the Internet. She was completely professional, made reservations for us in good hotels and delightful B&Bs and, altogether, took very good care of us. She was in touch with our driver by phone every day.

On our last night in Romania, Costela took us to a program of dinner, folk music and dance at a nice, rustic restaurant in Bucharest, and when she and her driver took us to the airport for our return flight, she went with us into the airport to the passengers-only gate to be sure we had no problems.

For our 18 days in Romania, Costela charged a total of $3,920, of which $90 was for an extra night at a discount in an excellent Bucharest hotel for a final day on our own without a driver. The price included a car (with mileage of about 3,500 kilometers), a driver/guide, the driver’s meals and lodging, our lodging with breakfast, and admissions to museums and other points of interest.

We especially liked Costela’s payment schedule, with only $500 due up front upon our arrival at the airport and the balance paid at the end of the trip. That’s right: no advance payment from the U.S. months before the trip!

We chose to pay for our own lunches and dinners, but she does offer an “all meals included” option. We spent $19 a day on restaurant meals, which often included wine but not dessert. (Our desserts were good Swiss chocolate available at roadside service stations and delicious ripe plums and apples from town markets.)

Two of our favorite dishes were tochitura, a national dish composed of a scoop of mamaligia (polenta) surrounded by a stew of several different meats and topped by a fried egg, and roasted eggplant, which for some reason was listed as a salad.

We did wish that more whole-grain breads were available. The single restaurant that we found that served whole-wheat bread was Casa Iurca de Calinesti in Sighetu, and it was our favorite because the food and service were also top-notch. We had chicken livers and braised cabbage (enough for two people), a pork stew with potatoes, soup, tomato-and-cucumber salad, cheese and a second basket of that delicious bread for 370,000 lei (about US$12) plus tip!

Good wine was very inexpensive — try $5 a bottle! — and food portions were quite large. A dinner of soup, entrée and wine in a good restaurant usually cost only $12-$13.

On the eighth day of our trip we crossed the Carpathian Mountains into Transylvania and stayed in the marvelous, isolated (end-of-the-road) village of Botiza at a B&B in the home of the town’s Orthodox priest and his family. Botiza was one of our favorite places.

We were very pleased with Costela’s services and would definitely choose to work with her if we returned to Romania. And we loved Romania’s scenic mountain roads, historic castles, friendly small towns (like Botiza and Sibiel), farmers’ markets and country crafts.

Contact Costela Petcu at AKS Tours (phone +40 21 313 6338, cell phone +4 0744 294 373 or +4 0723 564 437, e-mail costelape04@yahoo.com or visit www.akstour.ro).

On our return, we stayed in Warsaw, POLAND, for two great days in a studio apartment in the Old Town before flying back to Newark. There was no extra airline charge for the layover.

In Warsaw, here are two agencies that handle apartment rentals: Warsaw City Apartments (phone +48 0 22 825 39 12, e-mail info@hotelinwarsaw.com, or visit www.hotelinwarsaw.com), with prices starting at €60 (near $81) per night, and Old Town Apartments (phone +48 22 887 98 00, fax +48 22 831 49 56, e-mail booking@warsawshotel.com or visit www.warsawshotel.com), with prices from €70 ($95).

MICHAEL & NANCY BUBEL
Camp Hill, PA