The Last Balkan Post.

I write this post as we stand in the check in line at Athens Airport. With a belly full of cheap moussaka and rose that we made a brunch of before our cab arrived and with heavy hearts. Jesse and I just love Greece! Absolutely not ready to come home but the past 5 days have been massive.

After the Transfagarasan we went to a great zoo in Pitesti. It cost the family a grand total of $8.50 AUD and included tigers, bears, an amazing array of birds and a fantastic playground!

From here we headed on to Turnu Magurele which was just a stop to break up the trip to Sofia Airport where Jesse was dropping myself and the kids off. Checkin was a total rigmarole. The host didn’t respond with our lock box code so we were stranded outside. I took to asking other residents coming and going from the apartment building if they knew the woman who was hosting. Eventually a lovely gentleman told us that she owned a fuel station somewhere in town and insisting on driving there ahead of Jesse to show him the way. The staff then called her and she gave us the checkin code.  The kids had a great time in the park enjoying the fountain lights.

The next morning was Sunday but there was no Roman Catholic Churches within hour of driving so we attempted our first orthodox liturgy. It went for 2 hours. I had no idea what was going on. People kept coming and giving the kids food to eat. By the end of two hours we had acquired

1 loaf of bread

4 cheese pretzels

6 snack bars

2 pieces of slice

2 bottles water

1 banana

2 apples

2 holy cards

1 bracelet

60 lei (20AUD)

We left with sore feet (there was no chairs) and quite confused about what had just happened!

From here my itinerary said we should have 3.5 hours drive inclusive of a ferry ride to cross the Danube. Jesse did some research and decided the ferry crossing might be slow and unreliable so found an alternate route just an extra 40 minute drive. Problem was he failed to confirm that the alternate route didn’t also include a ferry crossing . We arrived to close boom gates and 2 Romanian codgers informing us that the ferry was broken and we should have to carry on an additional 100k to cross the bridge into Bulgaria. This meant our drive time for the day was 7.5 hours and allowed no time for stops in order to get myself and the kids to the airport in time for our flight. The tension was now very high!

Once we arrived at the Romanian/Bulgarian border the security guard told us we owed 700 euro for driving more than 500k on Romania roads. A rule that was never made clear by any other authorities or even any of the dozens of travel blogs I had read in my research.  He sternly told us he would let us off “because of the children!” And then later because “Australians are bad at the Rigby (rugby)”

I wish I could have enjoyed the fascinating mix of architecture that followed a little more. As the sun was setting however I accepted our fate and enjoyed all of the amazing autumnal scenery.

It was about this time that Muse’s “Time is Running Out” came on shuffle…

We stopped 10 min from the airport to sort out our bags. The kids minded Amadeus on the front seat while we frantically packed as the pack of a dozen wild dogs closed in around us and the sun set.

Once inside the airport kids and I had enough time for a beer/ice creams and a round of airport soccer.

I wouldn’t recommend flying solo with 3 under 5 in all honesty – but people were so amazingly helpful and I made a lot of allys along the way. By the time our flight arrived in Athens at 12.30am Giovanni was behaving like a rabid dog. Noelle was in total meltdown due to her brothers relentless attacks. I managed to get them and all the baggage off the flight with the aid of an enthusiastic 10 yr old fellow passenger, his father and 2 air hostess. We didn’t find our pre booked driver before Noelle had had an accident all over the airport floor.
Thankfully when we found our driver Marcus he was very kind and accommodating and even tried to charge us 25% less than originally quoted. Admittedly his first question once we were safely in the car was “where is the father?!”

In the mean time “the father” was only just arriving in Macedonia after his second border crossing for the day where he got revved for more confusing unpaid fines which thankfully he only owed 108 euro rather than the eye watering 700 in Romania we were meant to have coughed up!

They carried out a full inspection of his car, made him drive over the pit and everything! Luckily the hosts in his bnb left him plenty of raki to help himself to help himself to as no doubt he would have needed it by the end of such a wild day!

I was grateful for the Greeks love of black out blinds after wrangling over excited kids until nearly 2am. We woke at around 9 and made our way – first the bakery and then the beach for a lazy day while we waited on Jesse to arrive late that night.

Discovered the biggest scoops of ice cream in Europe. Gio didn’t manage to finish. Noelle was reigning champion.

Smashing out some 100 piece puzzles while Arty naps.

Playground time after we took advantage of Jesse’s absence for a seafood feast!
I made a new friend here originally from Perth now living in Morocco. Hopefully a trip visit her is on the cards in the future!

Jesse arrived late around 2:30am after being charged double (50euro) for a 15 min taxi.

We then spent a lovely lazy day on the beach where we made friends with Kamil and Caroline and their wee son and daughter. A beautiful family from Poland who we think will become life long friends.

Our final day in Greece was beautiful . We spent an hour and a half on PT getting into Athens were we wandered up
to Mars Hill where St. Paul Himself preached Acts 17. The views of the Acropolis were excellent. We didn’t feel inclined to enter given we were in there less than 18 months ago. It was nice to forgo the long lines and crowds in favour of enjoying less frequented areas of Athens

We had time to explore the ancient agora and the Temple of Hephaestus as well as Hadrians Library. All of which we missed last time we were in Athens.

I had been on the lookout for some artwork all trip and found a lovely artist on the sidwalk just outside of Mars Hill.

Giovanni was very upset that I didn’t choose to buy the painting of a windmill in Mykonos that he really loved.  The artist Paola gifted him the piece he was so attached to ❤️.

It was an excellent day filled with delicious food and gorgeous sights. We explored the flea markets looking for a cow milk jug for my cousin Megg who had unsuccessfully acquired one on her own Greek holiday. Sadly we didn’t have any luck although we made a lot of friends in our efforts. One vendor spotted Arty and exclaimed “I LOVE YOU!!!” Never ceases to Amaze me how unlikely it would be for something like this to happen in Australia.

The type of second hand furniture my house would be filled with if I lived in  Greece.

Noelles face when we were crammed on the metro and she wasn’t allowed to get out of the carrier.

This morning Noelle spotted a very low lying airplane ( we are 15 min from the airport) she’s finally ready to go home (or at least to board a plane again)

Giovanni’s last swim. European style as I hate flying with wet clothing.

We are now just about to board. No doubt the flight home will be disastrous as we have a 6 hour layover in Singapore and the kids are over tired and spoilt on a terrible diet of predominately sugar. However the trip had probably been our best yet and no doubt we will be researching our next one in a matter of days! ❤️





Transfagarasan Highway

Noelle, Amadeus and I caught the last lovely sunset over Sibiu, after Mass, before we hit the road en-route to the Transfagarasan Highway.

The Transfagarasan Hwy was built in the 70’s, by the communists, as quicker road through the mountains in the event of an invasion. It’s widely believed that there was hundreds of deaths as a result due to the horrific working conditions. Mainly carried out by untrained workers and requiring more than 6 thousand tones of dynamite.

Jeremy Clarkson of “Top Gear” rated this the “best road in the world” which prepared me for all of the twisting and winding. However my interest was well and truly piqued so we scheduled it in regardless.

This was one of the days in our itinerary I was most concerned about as Gio and Noelle suffer quite sever motion sickness at the best of times. I dosed them twice with phernergan, armed them with buckets, kept the windows down and the tunes and snacks coming in thick and fast. Amazingly we got through the whole day without a single incident.

We were so glad we had taken the risk as the day turned out to be one of the highlights of our whole trip so far. The autumn leaves and melting snow were just so magical. The only thing we needed to complete our Romanian bucket list was some bear sightings.

Bear #1 caused quite a stir. The car in front of us had thrown it some bread.

Bear #2 was waiting patiently for us and very much enjoyed the apple I had for him.

We decided we had completely maxed out our luck and stopped in at a great place for lunch. Gio loved eating the head off my trout 😳🫣.


Noelle got to throw Bear #3 it’s apple.

Thankfully we found a Bear #4 so Gio got to feed it an apple as well.

All we needed now was one more bear for Amadeus. We were absolutely thrilled to come around the bend to a whole family of 3 bears making 7 sightings in total. We were all so stoked. I had the kids on alert for bear sightings since the very start of our holiday and I think they were starting to become a little disenchanted with the possibility.

Next up we found this incredible dam.

and weird statue on the hill.

huge haystacks



Beautiful sunrise over Sibiu’s main square this morning after Mass. Sibiu was settled in the 12th century by Saxons and has a very German feel to it as a result. It seems the weather must be too cool for most tourists now as we only saw a handful around the Old Town today.

After a slow start to the day, which was nice for a change! We set off to see the old walls and towers.

Gio and Noelle checking out Sibiu’s own “walk of fame” with plaques to any theatrical actor who has any form of tie to the town. The only person I had ever heard of was Denis O’Hare so it was a little lost on us.

We then made our way down Strada Nicolae Balcescue. Which is the main shopping strip. Dotted with dozens of gelato stands. Despite the freezing temps Gio and Noelle are always up for a scoop anytime they can convince us.

Stunning Holy Trinity Orthodox cathedral. Only 120yrs old and so beautiful.


Climbed the clock tower at the Lutheran  church for gorgeous views.

Loved this list of Organists and Cantors at the church for the past few hundred years!

Next stop was the Bruckenthall Palace which is now used as an Art Gallery.

Gio loved this depiction of a young St John the Baptist (his patron Saint)

All intrigued by the Elephant skull.

And Noelle found a Narwhale horn: if you know;  you know.

Back to the main square for an Aperol Spritz and some pigeon chasing.

Corvin Castle

This morning Arty and I started the day with another ripper weekday Mass for the Feast of St. Luke, this time at Holy Trinity Church in Sibiu.

After this we hit the road en route to Corvin Castle. Heralded as one of the most beautiful castles in Europe it definitely didn’t disappoint. The inside was quite stark and medieval as expected but the exterior was just beautiful!


Being the shoulder season there was a lot of repairs and maintenance going on in and around the castle. Gio (and the rest of us really) were quite mesmerized by the men doing the stonework on the square within the castle.

Turda Salt Mine and Sibiu

Another crisp Autumn day today! Summer is definitely gone here in Transylvania.  There was major road works going on so it took us a good 2 hours to arrive at the Turda Salt mine. We loved spotting these huge storks nests along the way! There must be hundreds, definitely the biggest nests I’ve ever seen.

The kids also love spotting flags and this “whoppin’ one” (as Noelle dubbed it) definitely caused a stir.

Historians have found it mentioned that salt has been extracted at the Turda Mine as far back as 1075. It was in use until 1932 and reopened in 1992 after a huge renovation to make it one of Romanias biggest attractions. There’s a small “amusement park” in the main hall. Really this was just a Ferris wheel (that sadly wasn’t working) some table tennis/mini-golf/pool tables. Luckily there was a children’s playground and “salt” pit so the kids were thrilled with that.

There was row boats available but only 3 persons per boat. Jesse is still recovering from his lantern boat experience in Vietnam with Noelle so he slipped away with Gio while she was making salt castles. We went down to watch them once they were away. No life jackets necessary as the salt concentration is 25%!

Gio must have splashed some water on his face while in the boat! His salty face matched his attitude most of the day so it was quite fitting.

Caught sight of the Moldoveanu Peak as we were coming into Sibiu. This is the highest point in Romania. We are driving through that way in a few days time so Jesse is getting a little anxious about the snowy conditions. May need to look into some chains.

A quick wander around the Old Town here in Sibiu before dinner. There’s a film festival happening in the main square.

Breite Oak Reserve and Sighisoara

When we arrived in Sighiosoara yesterday it was 24c. This morning was only about 4c when we arrived at the Breite Oak reserve. (Jesse and I are actually feeling a bit relieved we haven’t been dragging all this winter gear half way around the world for nothing.)
Some of the oak trees here were about 800 years old! Apparently the commies tried to turn it firstly info an airport and then later a Dracula themed amusement park. Thankfully the locals all protested and neither project went ahead. We didn’t come across another living soul while we were there. Although I’m still desperately hoping for a bear encounter before we leave Transylvania.

Back home to warm up with some delicious date scones before heading out to the Old Town again.

Sighiosoara was much quieter today due to it being a Monday and also the freezing winds.

Heres Gio checking out the “Tinsmiths Tower”

Blacksmiths Tower

“Say ‘Vlad the Impaler!!!”’

Bust of the man that inspired the myth, in the middle of the citadel.

Scholars steps completely empty!


Last morning in Brasov and we had the place to ourselves for an hour, after we checked out and wandered the old town before Mass at 9am.

Until we stumbled on a whole heap of race cars prepping for a big event this weekend.

After Mass at a beautiful Italian baroque era church we headed off for Sighiosoara. Driving through Transylvania is stunning. There was adorable villages and potential bear spotting opportunities (although we haven’t had any luck yet) at every twist and turn.

As soon as we arrived we headed out to explore some of the Old Town. We have had the most beautiful weather up until now but the forecast is showing wet and freezing conditions for the rest of our trip.

Beautiful vibrant and hilly Sighiosoara!


“Scholars Steps” built in 1642 to connect the lower to the upper parts of town. Namely the Church and School. Completely sheltered by a wooden canopy/walls to help protect from the elements. We counted about 160 steps.

At the top is a huge Lutheran church that we chose not to enter and decided to explore the beautiful old cemeteries instead. Jesse spotted a headstone with a burial date of 1802!

Behind Gio you can see the “Butchers” and “Tailors” Tower’s.

Jesse standing in front of the birthplace of Vlad the Impaler. More commonly known as the inspiration for Bram Stoker’s Dracula. His life story is quite terrifying in its own right. However museums like this are just cashing in on the Hollywood connotations so we decided not to enter (particularly with little ones in tow).

Beautiful 14th century clock tower is closed for restoration.

Enjoying the sound of the rain falling as I’m ready for sleep, but hoping it’s cleared for our hike by morning!





Today we set aside purely to explore lovely Brasov.

We have the most perfect location in the Old Town which made for a very relaxed day of sightseeing as we could come and go from the bnb as we pleased. First up we visted the Citadel. It’s closed for conservation work but the views are always great as they’re naturally at a strong vantage point and it’s still interesting to walk around the walls.

Pork Knuckle was on sale at the Kaufland so I pulled off my best Airbnb kitchen culinary feat to date with these crispy skin beer braised beauties! (Yes there was a ridiculous amount of leftovers. My husbands eyes are always bigger than his stomach) hopefully we don’t get sick of eating pork for a few days.

Next stop was the town square. There was apparently public executions here as recently as 1989! These days it’s just awash with tourists/day trippers.

“The Black Church”, named due to a fire during the 1600’s. Cool seeing a Gothic style church for the first time this trip. It isn’t currently in use though.


Giovanni was super impressed with “Rope Street” – one of the smallest streets in Europe. 135cm at its widest point and 80m long.

Catherines Gate. Oldest gate in the city and originally the only access point.

Family photo on the ‘White tower”

View from the White Tower.


View from the Black Tower – so called due to a lightning strike.

St. Nicholas Church. Dates back to the 1500’s

Noelle made a new friend at the park



Bran Castle, Rasnov & Valea Cetatii Cave

Kicked off my Friday with a ripper 7am Mass. literally just steps from our bnb was an absolutely stunning Italian built church. The church bells were clanging at 6.55am as Amadeus and I hurried across the square while the rest of the family snoozed. Possibly the first weekday mass I’ve attended that had organ and  singing (and amazing singing at that!) absolutely breathtaking and all wrapped up by 7:30 which was even more impressive! Below is the sunrise that greeted us as we left the church.

Went home to collect the lay abouts and then set out for Bran Castle.

Bran Castle has been immortalized as “Daracula’s Castle” which is fascinating given that :

a) Vlad the Impaler who Dracula was inspired by never set foot here.
b) Bram Stoker’s description doesn’t match Bran Castle at all.

Regardless this is it’s claim to fame and they’re definitely trying to cash in on it! The place was awash with tacky Halloween costumes and decorations.

I actually found the lives of its historical inhabitants far more interesting. Queen Marie (originally of Edinburgh ) who married King Carol 1sts nephew. Definitely worth a google to read about their remarkable achievements.

The fitout was a far cry from the opulence of Peles Castle yesterday!

From here we made our way to Rasnov which also has its name in lettering above the village.

It seems that maintenance on the tourist hotspots has to take place during the shoulder season as it snows so heavily during the winter. (At least I’m assuming so). As a result the fortress was closed, however we could still take the “ascendor” to the fortress to walk around the outskirts.

Really wish I could afford one of these on our driveway!


Jesse has been desperate to see the “red

forest” all trip. So here we are!

Next stop was a cave (for Jesse namely) it was actually pretty epic in the end. Probably better than we one we went to in Macedonia even .

Noelle complained as we were walking in that she wanted to get out of the carrier because “I never get to walk in “Cave-hes” So here is photographic evidence of her walking in a cave.

Had no idea it lit up.

Peles & Pelisor Castles and Brasov

This boy acting like he didn’t keep me up for 3

hours straight in the middle of the night.

En-route to Peles Castle. Kids in the back singing yet another rendition of “The Rattlin’ Bog”.

First sighting.

Here is where we  discovered how steep the entry was and purchased 2 of the cheapest possible tickets.

Here was where I decided to ask the lady (after a little more research) to swap our tickets for access to an extra floor.

Super glad we did as what followed was pure opulence. Possibly the best castle we have ever visited. Toss up between this and Ludwig’s summer residence in Bavaria. Really it was breathtaking at every turn, but of course the pictures just don’t capture it. It was the residence of Carol 1st, if you’ve been following along, he was the first elected King in Romania after the coup d’ etat.

Next up was Pelisor Castle which we only saw the outside of. It was commissioned by Carol 1st’s heirs.


From here we checked into our bnb in beautiful Braşov. After a day in the car of course we were keen on a hike. So we set off to reach the Hollywood-esque lettering we spotted well above the Old Town where our accommodation is conveniently situated. Once again it proved to be quite the adventure. I think perhaps the eastern Europeans are more into hiking than Aussies so what they class as a “gentle climb” is more what Australians would seem to be “moderate to difficult” level.

The journey back down was hurried as I was anxious to reach civilization before dark. The light coming through the trees was so beautiful but of course we struggled to capture it.

Nothing quite adds to the hiking experience as much as the risk of bears and wild cats that’s for sure. Really hoping we encounter one…. Once we have acquired some pepper spray!



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