May 27, 2023
Several people we met suggested that if we were going to see castles in Romania, we really needed to see Peleș Castle, and with a little research, we agreed that it looked beautiful. But after Bran, we were approaching Castle Burnout, and we decided that we would ride up to Peleș Castle, admire it from as close as we could get without paying an entrance fee, snap a few photos and then get back on the road.
Peleș Castle is even more beautiful in this photo taken from Wikipedia.
So we left Bran and headed towards Brasov before turning back south towards Bușteni. Entering Bușteni, I noticed a large building off to the left that looked vaguely familiar. And then it hit me: having recently watched the first twenty or so minutes of the Netflix series Wednesday, I recognized Nevermore Academy. I had no idea it was in Romania, or that we would ride past it. In reality, the building is Cantqcuzino Castle, completed in 1911 for Prince Cantacuzino. Apparently the Netflix show was filmed mostly at a Romanian studio in Bucharest, but this private residence (now open to the public) and a few other buildings around Romania were used as well.
Nevermore Academy as seen in Netflix’s Wednesday.
Nevermore Academy, aka Cantacuzino Castle, as seen from the road through Bușteni. Yes, it is the same place, even though it looks very different.
Within an hour of leaving Bran we were turning off to begin the climb up to Peleș Castle. A mile or so later, we began to see signs of what was to come: the density of tourists on foot increased. We were thankful to be on two wheels and able to snake through the people and make additional forward progress towards the castle. We passed multiple signs for parking areas, and the GPS was telling me to take one, as we couldn’t get closer. But we were on a bike, and there were still open streets, albeit packed with foot traffic, so I kept going.
Eventually it felt like we were riding through the crowd walking up Main Street at Disneyland. We had long passed the last tour bus, and aside from a couple of cars coming in the opposite direction, we were the only vehicle on the street. We were directed into a parking lot, and the parking attendant nicely pointed to a premium parking spot, right at the front of the lot and in a great location, IF we were planning to park and walk another half a mile or so, which we just couldn’t quite work up the enthusiasm for. The castle was nowhere in sight, but the hordes moving in one direction made it clear which way we had to go if we were going to the castle. I can’t imagine what this place (and Bran) are like in another month when it’s actually tourist season.
With the our castle burnout and the somewhat sour taste of Bran Castle still remaining, we made a quick decision to turn around and head back down the mountain. Perhaps if we were tourists in a car, or on a bus, or with less of a “schedule” (there’s that dirty word again), we would have stayed. But we hadn’t planned to go inside the castle, or pay to see it, so we rode away and back through the crowds to the highway, heading south once more.
We once again looped around Bucharest, this time on the east side, and continued to the border. We had originally planned to spend a couple of days touring Bucharest, but Florian, whom we met at MotoCamp Bulgaria, and who is a resident of Bucharest, convinced us to skip the city, especially after we mentioned that we really aren’t big-city-tourist-types anyway. We rode in and out of rain for a while until just short of the border.
Self-Inflicted Border Crossing Screw-up Number Two
As we approached the border crossing at Giurgiu, I once again made sure I had both of our passports ready, as well as my phone opened to the photo of the license plate for the bike, hoping this time that I didn’t swipe it to a dog photo as I handed it to the Border Officer.
We pulled up to the first (Romanian side) window, and the officer asked for our documents. I handed him the passports. He opened my passport, immediately closed it, and handed it back to me. My first thought was, “that’s weird. He didn’t stamp my passport.” He then stuck his hand out again and, with a stern look, said “Passport”. I reached out to hand it back to him. He shook his head no, and mimed opening the passport.
Now I was confused. Does he want it or not? Perhaps, I thought, he wants me to open it to the photo page and then hand it to him. So I opened it to the photo page. Which is when I realized that there was cash in my passport. Somehow along the way, I had stuffed some folded bills into my pocket, and they had found their way into my passport. We usually carry our passports in a waterproof pouch, but since we had used them numerous times in the last few days — crossing the border, checking into hotels, etc — I had just stuffed them in my jacket pocket in a hurry. The officer thought I was passing him a bribe when I first handed him my passport. This was not good. I immediately withdrew the cash, apologized profusely, and handed him my passport. His mood didn’t improve, but at least we weren’t surrounded by border guards and handcuffs.
The rest of the process went smoothly, both at the Romanian and Bulgarian windows, and we rode off across the Friendship Bridge over the Danube River and back into Ruse, Bulgaria. I had once again been reminded to be absolutely sure what you are handing to an official before you hand it over.
The line of large trucks waiting to cross the border is a little under two miles long on the Romanian side. This photo was actually taken as we entered Romania from Bulgaria a few days earlier, but it was the same as we approached the border on the return. Fortunately we were able to ride past all of them and right up to the border, where there were only three cars ahead of us in line.