We took the tour in Mid October of 2022 on a bit of a whim after struggling to think of what to do with some extra annual leave in the colder months of Europe. We had been on two tours with Travel Talk being the Turkey ANZAC and Morocco tours which were a blast and highly recommended. So we took a chance on this relatively new tour. Below we outline our thoughts and reflections to give you an idea whether this is something for you.
From TravelTalk website: “Hop on an unforgettable journey through the lands of myths and legends that still continue to resonate today! Discover the timeless wonders and stories of Dracula as you explore Transylvania inside out, a most fascinating part of Romania. Starting off at the Romanian capital, Bucharest, soak in the unique culture reflected in the countless monuments of this magical city. Ride through the mystical forests, mountains and mists to reach the Dracula’s Castle. Travel back in time through gorgeous samples of gothic and baroque architecture from various eras of Romanian history. Uncover the hidden beauty of Bulgaria while discovering Ruse, Plovdiv and Sofia.”
Accommodation is advertised as 4 star hotels, and they very much varied in terms of quality and location. Generally, they were pretty good with the Bulgarian hotels being a bit more comfortable that those in Romania (some of the beds were hard and not the best air conditioning). For the price the quality was as expected. However, the unfortunate part of the hotels is the locations. Only Ruse offered accommodation in the city centre (or walking distance). This meant that once you were put on the bus to the hotel you were a little stranded without good public transport links. This was the main concern of the group, and impacted the nightlife and social side of the trip drastically. Each hotel had a buffet breakfast (standard fry ups and Continental) which was completely fine. Many others commented that the breakfasts were good (we just aren’t massive breakfast people). As mentioned quality was varied, and on more than one occasion we had to fix something in the room (drains not draining, ventilation not working, TV’s broke, Beds not sitting flat), however standards were good enough.
The hotels we stayed at were:
- Bucharest: Inter Business Bucharest Hotel
- Brasov: Cubix Hotel
- Cluj Napoca: Hotel Sunny Hill
- Sibiu: Mercure Airport Hotel
- Ruse: Dunav Plaza
- Plovdiv: Best Western Premier
- Sofia: Vega Hotel
Hotel Buffet Breakfasts are included and as you would expect from a 4 star hotel. On the arrival day a dinner location is organised (at your expense) in Bucharest which is a way to meet your follow travelers. Unfortunately the bus left 15mins before we arrived at the hotel so we didn’t get to experience this. The photos did look lovely though. All remaining dinners are up to you, so you will need to find a place that interests you. Our group had some real foodies who knew what to eat at the each spot and would head straight there, whilst the rest of us would find a place on our walks that looked nice and offered reasonable prices and good vibes. Lunches were unfortunately sporadic, and you were expected to just eat a sandwich from a Gas station or snack on the bus. This was a massive downside to this tour which we explain more below in the ‘Timetable’ section.
We traveled on the same bus throughout the tour. It was a standard travel bus and met the requirements just fine. It did not have anything flashy like USB chargers or better yet, a toilet. Given there was no toilet and the stops were mostly at Gas stations with only one toilet, this did become a bit draining and slow having to deal with 25+ people busting to wee but having to wait a few hours first then stand in a line for 30 minutes. Given we didn’t have a full bus we were able to spread out which really helped on those longer travel days. In some tours they force rotation of seats to ensure everyone gets a better chance of sitting at the front, however this was not done on this tour. The bus driver was exceptionally polite and helpful with bags.
A tour guide is make or break of any tour. We had phenomenal local guides in Morocco and Turkey with Travel Talk, however unfortunately that was not the case this time round. We had a non local guide who whilst was friendly enough did not meet the expectations of a guide in terms of planning, customer engagement, or knowledge about the areas. When we finished the tour, it was unfortunate to realize we did not take much more knowledge away about Romania and Bulgaria from when we had arrived a week earlier. We’re not sure whether we were just unlucky or this is the norm with this tour.
You see a wide array of places that I think many would never end up going, and for that it’s quite a unique tour. Granted, now that we’re home and writing this review many of the place have just merged together in our heads. Except Bucharest and Sofia, all the places were rather quiet and sleepy (especially on weekdays), so you won’t get much of a nightlife vibe. The drive itself was quite beautiful passing castles and churches in addition to rolling hills and autumn trees.
Each day excluding the big travel day from Romania to Bulgaria had some form of activity. The city tours were walking tours and usually only lasted 30mins-1hr. You would then have time to wander the town or city on your own and find things you want to do.
The best activity was the Salt Mine in Salina Turda. There was not much instruction other than go in and look at the massive underground mine. This was rather spectacular and unique.
Rose Valley was a waste of time in my opinion. Maybe it would have been interesting at the right time of year, but when we went in October when it was not rose season so there wasn’t a lot of roses to even see. Felt odd why we were there and paying to see a fancy building that houses a shop selling rose products.
In Bucharest we went to the National Village Museum. Whether you enjoy this depends completely on your own viewpoint. It was a large area with replica houses and workshops showing how traditional Romanians would live and work. There was also Etar Ethnograhic Complex this was basically the same thing as the National Village Museum but in Bulgaria. Given this, more than half the people didn’t even bother going to see it. Instead opting for a restaurant nearby. Having a nice sitdown lunch was not common on this trip, so many opted to take the chance when they could (including ourselves).
Castles and Churches…we saw a fair few on this trip. It’s sort of staple of Europe, so if you’re not wanting to see these, maybe look elsewhere.
Bucharest: City Tour, National Village Museum
Brasov: Visit to Peles Castle, Visit to Count Dracula Castle, Brasov Sightseeing
Cluj Napoca: Sighisoara/Targu Mures/Cluj-Napoca Sightseeing
Sibiu: Salt Mine
Ruse: Etar Ethnographic Complex, Rose Valley
Plovdiv: City Tour
Sofia: City Tour
It seems odd to add this section into a review, but honestly we must as this really caused many of our main gripes and downfalls with this trip. The timetable (which we assume is created by the Tour Guide) was just plain weird without much logical thought.
Every day requires you go be on the bus at 8am (excluding 1 day at 8:30). You will sort yourself out with breakfast etc before heading off which we soon learnt is a requirement (as you may go hungry not doing so). We never quite knew when we were going to eat as there was no standard timing throughout the trip. In many occasions around 12-3pm we were travelling on the bus and the only way to eat was at the Gas station or on the bus. This was a major stuff-up with this tour, as what started to happen was people would opt out of activities or sightseeing at the chance they could actually sit down and eat some local food. Food is a massive part of travelling, and it just didn’t seem to be registered by the organizers of this trip.
When we arrived the town or city we were staying at, we would be dropped off at a stop where a short walking tour would commence. After the walking tour you would have free-time before meeting back at the bus at 7pm. we would then drive to the hotel outside the town and check in and basically end the night prematurely. What this meant was that you had maybe 90mins to 2hours to do your own sightseeing and get dinner in the town. In Eastern Europe things don’t move that fast, so what resulted was everyone panicking about dinner and rushing through to make their way back to the bus on time. You must also remember to dress for the entire day correctly, as you’re on the bus at 8am and won’t be back to a hotel or private toilet until the evening. What should have happened was that we could have arrived to the hotel, checked in, took a dump, changed and then dropped off into the city without the worry of such time limits to enjoy everyone’s company and dinner.
Because of the above, we were all watching our watches and felt like we were commuting non-stop which became exhausting and boring.
The tour advertises between 12-42 people on the tour. During our trip there was a total of 25. The group was fairly mixed in ages and where people from. We predominantly a mix between Kiwis, Aussies, Americans, Canadians, Greeks, British and Chinese.
In terms of ages our the youngest on the tour was a 25 year old and oldest probably in the 70’s, with a majority falling between the ages of 35-60. If you’re a younger single traveler looking to party, i would not recommend this tour for you. We found the group split two ways with the older generation and the younger generation doing their own group things during free time and meeting up for dinners, which was completely fine. Overall we were fortunate with our group with everyone being very friendly and respectful to each other.
The price was dam cheap for a weeks worth of travel with an arrival pickup, hotels, bus, tour guide all included. You really can’t complain too much when it comes to the price. We paid £1185 in total (we’re a couple). If you were a single you would be paying around £692 where you will be put in a room with another single traveler. As single traveler you may get lucky if there is odd gender numbers, as this may result in a room to yourself (this happened to both a guy and girl on our tour).
Overall the trip has real potential to be something good. But it missed the mark for us and everyone we had spoke to about it. It really was a unanimous disappointment. I do however think it can be easily remedied and that can be done by having a guide that is engaged, listens to customers and organised the schedule around what a normal human would expect. I understand that many of the hotels are in locations that are cheap, but effort should be made to allow customers to enjoy the places that they are in.
Aside from the remarks above, there was moments of good and we met and had some awesome times with. I think if we didn’t have such cool people to talk to on those long bus rides and over a few beers when we had the chance, it could have been a much worse story.
I recognize that this review has come across as a bit rough, but honesty is the best policy. And because Travel Talk did such a great job with our tours in Turkey and Morocco, we really did have similar expectations for this. I’m hoping that feedback is taken on board and in the future this tour becomes the thing that it was envisioned to be.