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Rustic & Rural Romania with Ralph Velasco – August 2019 – Trip Full!


On this tour we’ll visit some of the most picturesque regions of Romania where an abundance of people, architecture, landscape, food, animal and other photo opportunities abound. We’ll fly into Cluj-Napoca, and after a short glimpse of this town, we’ll make our way to the region of Maramures, one of the last truly rural areas in Europe.

We’ve timed our trip to put us in this unique part of the country during the “hay season” so we’ll plan to see the locals, young and old, cutting hay with a scythe, piling haystacks many meters high, and transporting the final product by horse-drawn carts as has been done for centuries. This region is also famous for its wooden churches, some of which are UNESCO Heritage sites, so we’ll be sure to visit several of these architectural marvels.

We may also have a chance to witness the locals cleaning large blankets in a unique “washing machine” powered by the water of the local river. We’ll meet a man who makes traditional hats, and a craftsman building wooden gates that are seen throughout this area. In nearby Sighetu Marmatiei, we’ll visit a local market, as well as a Memorial to the Victims of Communism and learn how Communism came to Romania and the lasting impact that it’s had.

From Maramures, we’ll cross the Carpathian Mountains into Bucovina. In this region, we’ll visit the world-famous painted monasteries in Moldovita and Sucevita and discover the art of meticulously hand-painting eggs. The hills and winding roads of Bucovina offer breathtaking landscapes and are a great place to view and photograph the beginning and end of the day, and we’ll be sure you have several opportunities to do just that. On one of our evenings in this area, Ralph will schedule an image review and feedback session for the group so participants can share their images from the trip so far.

Next, we’ll explore the often-misunderstood region of Transylvania, where we’ll find charming medieval towns and villages such as Brasov, Sighisoara, Sibiu, and Viscri. One of the main reasons people travel to Romania is Bran castle, the so-called “Dracula castle,” which is in reality, a wonderful medieval castle set in a picturesque valley. (We’ll learn what is real and what is a legend.) We’ll not only get to visit the interior but also to shoot the castle from a nearby field with a commanding view from below.

This photo tour will wind down by spending time in a pleasant hotel set among some of Romania’s most beautiful nature. This area is surrounded by imposing mountains, rolling hills, lush forests, endless haystacks, grazing animals and, if the timing is right, people of all ages working the fields. We’ll have plenty of free time to explore this area on our own and as a group.  We hope you’ll join Ralph on what is sure to be a unique trip filled with beauty and impressive photo opportunities in Rustic & Rural Romania.


Day 1: (Aug. 25) Guests arrive into Cluj-Napoca and are transported to their hotel. In the early evening (7pm) Meet & Greet with fellow tour participants, tour leader, Ralph Velasco, and local tour guide, Daniel. During the meeting we’ll also discuss the itinerary and the trip ahead. Afterward, enjoy a welcome dinner together and spend the night in Cluj-Napoca.

Day 2: (Aug. 26) After breakfast, we’ll have an orientation walk in Cluj-Napoca, after which we’ll have an included lunch and then we’ll leave behind “Cluj” and drive to what is probably the last truly rural region in Europe, Maramureș (pronounced mar-a-MUR-esh). Along the way, you should have your first glimpse of people working the fields and locals traveling by horse-drawn carts and other traditional means. In the evening we arrive at a rural guesthouse where we will spend the next 3 nights. In each of these evenings, we will enjoy traditional, home-cooked dinner. Overnight in Maramureș region.

Day 3: (Aug. 27) After breakfast, we’ll head out to explore one of the charming valleys just after sunrise for some morning photography as the region wakes up. Next, we’ll move on to a nearby village where we’ll learn about and photograph the flourishing wool-fulling process, a man-made washing machine set to work in the current of the nearby river, and a man who makes traditional hats, called clop, often seen on the men in this region. Here we’ll be invited for a taste of the local apple, pear and/or blueberry brandy called palinka, which will surely whet the appetite for the lunch.

Around noon we head back to the guesthouse for lunch and a short siesta. In the second part of the day, we will discover one of the most traditional villages in the whole of Maramures where, if good weather, we will see people mowing hay, piling it in haystacks or loading it on horse carts to bring it home. We will be able to pick apples and pears right off the trees as we walk down winding, tree-lined lanes, meeting and photographing villagers as they go about their everyday lives. For dinner, we will have as a key ingredient the voluptuous porcini mushrooms which are widely available (if good weather conditions) and expertly harvested in this region by the ton at this time of the year. Overnight in Maramureș region.

Day 4: (Aug. 28) Today we’ll explore Romania’s communist past at the Memorial of the Victims of Communism. The museum is located in an actual prison which will help you understand how Communism first arrived in Romania and the damage it did to the country until 1989. Later, we’ll also visit the vegetable and cheese market in the town of Sighetu Marmatiei where we’ll get a taste of the local culture, what people eat, and how they trade.

We’ll have lunch in this area before returning to the guesthouse for a rest. In the afternoon, as the light improves, we’ll visit an 18th-century wooden church built at a time when local Romanian Orthodox people were not allowed to build churches of stone. In order to stay true to the law, churches were built out of wood. These churches stand to this very day. Many have been designated UNESCO World Heritage sites. Be ready for some low-light photography as we photograph in and around this unique and fascinating structure. The rest of the day we will explore more of the countryside and farming culture of the area by visiting a few villages and having a few stops as we meet locals working in the field. We’ll enjoy our last dinner at the guesthouse in Maramureș as the next day we will move to another region. Overnight in Maramureș region.

Day 5: (Aug. 29) After breakfast we’ll leave Maramures and head to the Bucovina region. On our way out, we’ll visit the imposing monastic complex in Barsana, a group of buildings entirely build of wood and with high-pitched gothic towers. There are also some interesting interiors here, and we may have a chance to capture the nuns leading prayer service in the church. Later, we’ll learn about one of the centuries-old occupations from this region, still in practice today.

We’ll meet a wood-carver who is known for creating many of the distinctive wooden gates for which the Maramureș region is famous; he is also the inventor of the process for making a chain out of one block of wood, which we’ll get to see. As we head to Bucovina region, our journey will take us over a high mountain pass and through one of the many ski regions in Romania. Along the way, we’ll visit the temporary camps of porcini mushroom pickers. Here, we’ll learn how these famous and delicious mushrooms are picked, sorted, sold and finally end up on plates at restaurants throughout Romania, and throughout Europe. Late in the afternoon, we’ll arrive in the town of Vama (it means “customs house”, and we’ll find out why), where we’ll spend the next 3 nights. Dinner will be at our hotel. Overnight in Vama.

Day 6: (Aug. 30) We’ll have an early start to capture the sun as it trickles through the fog during this very picturesque time of the day. Then it’s on to visit the UNESCO World Heritage site, the painted monastery in Sucevita (pronounced: SU-che-vit-za), the most impressive painted church in Bucovina, surrounded by a massive wall and towers. We’ll visit the interior grounds of the monastery and those who are interested can walk up the nearby hill for an interesting perspective of the settlement.

We’ll then have the chance to witness the local blacksmiths at work either in their fiery dens making horseshoes in the traditional way or putting on horseshoes, perhaps at a client’s property. Lunch today is very hearty and delicious and will be cooked by the local nuns. In the evening we’ll photograph last light in the valley. Afterwards, we’ll have dinner at our hotel. Overnight in Vama.

Day 7: (Aug. 31) Mornings in Bucovina can be really beautiful so we will set out after sunrise to capture the villages as they wake up to life, see the locals collecting milk by horse-cart, mowing hay with a scythe or machine and hopefully having some mist as well. Next, our itinerary takes us to the studio of a true artist, a woman who’s world renown for intricately painting eggs, a craft specific to this region.

We’ll have the opportunity to observe and photograph her working dressed in traditional clothes. We return to our hotel where we’ll have lunch and rest for a few hours before going out for a walk in the village to get a feel for everyday life. Finally, we’ll have dinner at the hotel, followed by a group image review and critique session in a private room reserved just for us. Overnight in Vama.

Day 8: (Sept. 1) Today we leave Bucovina behind and make our way to the magical, but often most misunderstood region of Transylvania. We’ll have lunch at a local winery, with wine-tasting included, and in the late afternoon we’ll arrive in the town of Sighisoara (pronounced: SIG-e-SHWA-ra), one of Transylvania’s many points of interest, where we’ll spend the next two nights.

The old town is a well-preserved medieval citadel enlisted as a UNESCO World Heritage site, and offers a great opportunity for participants to explore on their own, wandering the narrow cobbled streets and along the defensive towers and walls. Enjoy dinner on your own at one of the many nearby restaurants, and exploring the town at your own pace, after the tourist crowds have gone. Overnight in Sighisoara.

Day 9: (Sept. 2) The German Saxons inhabited Transylvania alongside Romanians and Hungarians for almost eight centuries. They left a unique and lasting heritage evident in medieval towns like Sighisoara, Sibiu (si-BEE-u) and Brasov (bra-SHOV). Another part is the many villages built by them in a very distinctive architecture, each of them having a fortified church, which was then surrounded by a wall to shelter the community in case of assault. We’ll head out today to explore one such well-preserved village, namely Viscri (pronounced VEE-scree), a short distance away from Sighisoara.

We’ll visit the fortified church in Viscri which was originally built in the 13th century and you’ll have some free time for a walk through this picturesque village to discover it on your own. While in the village we will also discover how a local bakery makes a very interesting type of bread: they make big loafs which they bake in a very hot oven until they’re burned on the outside. Then they remove the burned parts by beating it with a stick and polishing it. We’ll time our visit so you get to see as much of the process as possible. After a wonderful lunch in the village, we’ll head back to Sighisoara where you’ll have time to explore the city on your own. Overnight in Sighisoara.

Day 10: (Sept 3) From Sighisoara we travel to Sibiu and we will have two very special stops on the way. First, we will go to the home of a local gypsy family and learn about their origins and way of life. The man, the head of the family, is a coppersmith just like many of his predecessors and he makes alembic and other copper objects. You will see him at work and photograph the stages of making the copper objects. He lives together with his wife, children and also with his parents and they are all very welcoming and love interacting with visitors and being photographed.

The next stop will be a small organic farm where we will have lunch while sharing the table with our hosts. Once in Sibiu, after a couple of hours to rest, we’ll have a guided walk through the old town so you get to know the history and background of the place, then you’ll have plenty of free time to explore and photograph on your own. Overnight in Sibiu.

Day 11: (Sept. 4) Today will be dedicated to exploring the charming town of Sibiu, designated European Cultural Capital in 2007 and European Region of Gastronomy in 2019. In the morning you will have a photo walk with Ralph through the old town and its narrow cobbled streets with buildings even from the 15th century. We’ll have an optional visit to the nearby outdoor village museum which offers a very good perspective on the traditional rural architecture from Transylvania region.

For the rest of the day you will have time to enjoy this lovely town, named by many to be the most beautiful one in Romania. There are interesting art and history museums, lookout towers, churches, squares and usually there are also cultural events happening in the main square or some of the side streets. Overnight in Sibiu.

Day 12: (Sept 5) After After breakfast we’ll leave Sibiu behind and travel to the direction of Bran. On the way we will stop at a workshop where you will see how glass objects such as glasses or decanters are made by the traditional technique of blowing glass. You will see all stages from picking up the melted sand all the way to polishing and packing the objects. We continue with the wonderful town of Brasov, and upon arrival you’ll have time to explore the city’s old town and to enjoy lunch at one of the many nearby restaurants on your own. In the afternoon we’ll drive to visit the infamous Bran castle, the one which is often associated with Dracula. In reality it’s a fine-looking 14th century fortress most recently decorated by the Romanian queen Mary during the 1920s.

Here you’ll find out the true story, what is made up and what is real, in the highly misunderstood legend of Dracula. First, we’ll visit the castle itself which offers great photo opportunities of the interior and surrounding area. Then we’ll make our way to a nearby spot to have a photo shoot from the outside of this formidable castle, a former customs point, standing grand on a cliff in a narrow gorge surrounded by mountains. Later this evening we’ll drive up a short dirt road to the charming hotel where we’ll stay for the coming two nights of our tour. The property is peacefully situated in the mountains with wonderful views, plenty of hiking opportunities, and a nearby monastery that is out of a postcard. You can explore the area on your own or join Ralph for an optional photo walk on the ridge. Overnight in Bran.

Day 13: (Sept 6) We’ll have a full day to enjoy the wonderful nature of the Carpathian Mountains from our hotel. Ralph will organize optional early morning and afternoon photo shoots that should allow us to capture the locals cutting down, raking and gathering hay into piles to feed their cattle over the long, potentially harsh winter. The place is ideal for walks, hikes and landscape photography, or just relaxing as our trip winds to an end. Overnight in Bran. .  Overnight in Bran.

Day 14: (Sept 7) We will head to Bucharest, driving over the Carpathian Mountains before reaching the southern plains and the capital city.  Those departing today will be trasported to the airport for flights home.