Bulgaria and Romania with Original World

This item appears on page 30 of the April 2012 issue.

My wife and I had visited most Eastern European countries in the past and were intrigued about the culture and history of Bulgaria and Romania, so we decided to go.

We went about planning for the trip in our usual style: studying as many guidebooks, maps and Internet articles as we could find, then arranging to fly to one of the capital cities, rent a car and explore the countryside on our own.

But our research quickly convinced us that driving on our own would not be a good idea, due to unmaintained roads in rural areas, poor signage, aggressive local driving habits, etc. (As it turned out, these warnings generally were true.)

So we signed up for a custom tour with Original World (Sausalito, CA; 888/367-6147), which we found through ITN. This was the right decision.

Our tour, July 26-Aug. 11, 2011, cost $3,185 per person and included 11 nights at three- and four-star hotels with breakfast; travel in air-conditioned SUVs; all site admission fees; transfer from Bulgaria to Romania, and guides and drivers in each country who were very well informed, delightful to be with and fluent in English.

Original World, working with local affiliates, expertly arranged every aspect, from the moment we landed in Sofia, Bulgaria, to our departure by overnight train from Sinaia, Romania, to Vienna. The train trip, itself, was a delightful experience, rolling through the dramatic mountainous landscape of Transylvania and the Carpathians.

A week-long trip in relatively small Bulgaria can cover most of the important sites and cities. By contrast, a week for Romania requires selecting from many areas, as distances between cities are long. To our delight, our itinerary required us to be on the go a lot, spending no more than two nights in each of the small, well-managed and spotlessly clean hotels we were booked into.

We found a sufficient choice of restaurants in even the smallest towns. Since agriculture is a mainstay of both countries, we benefited from being vegetarians, enjoying delicious fresh salads and vegetable dishes.

The tremendous political upheavals and conquests to which both countries have been subjected in the past few centuries have left their marks on their cultures and physical infrastructures. We visited many monasteries and walled cities of astounding beauty and serenity and found absolutely exhilarating not only the natural landscapes but the observances of local traditions by the people we encountered.

We had not a single “hiccup” or worry throughout our tour. We still break into smiles when we reminisce about this trip.

Potomac, MD