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Grand European Cruise 2015

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Pre-trip: Transylvania, Romania

Discover the Transylvania region of Romania—a castle-dotted landscape whose well-preserved, Old-World character transports you back to the era of bygone, macabre figures both mythical (Count Dracula) and actual (Vlad the Impaler). Your home base will be the historic resort town of Sinaia, known for centuries as the "Pearl of the Carpathians."

It's Included:
Accommodations: for 3 nights at the Superior Tourist-Class New Montana Hotel or similar
4 meals: 3 breakfasts and 1 lunch
Included tours: Peles Castle, Brasov
Exclusive services of a Grand Circle Program Director
All transfers
Now included for 2015
Gratuities for local guides and motorcoach drivers on your extension and all optional tours
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    Depart the U.S. today on your flight to Bucharest. Please refer to your individual air itinerary for exact departure and arrival times.

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    Arriving in Bucharest on Day 2, you’ll be met at the airport by a Grand Circle representative and transferred to your hotel. Depending on your arrival time and hotel check-in policy, you may not be able to check into your hotel room immediately upon arrival at your hotel. Your Program Director will advise you of our check-in status and activity schedule for the day when you arrive.

    You have the remainder of the afternoon at leisure to relax after your overseas flight, or venture out on your own explorations. Get better acquainted with your Program Director and traveling companions over a Welcome Drink. Dinner this evening is at your hotel and is included as part of the main tour. Please note: If you have chosen this optional pre-trip extension, you’ll begin with the one day in Bucharest that is part of your main program. Then you’ll transfer to Transylvania for your optional extension. At the end of your extension, you’ll return to Bucharest to join your fellow travelers for your main program, beginning on Day 3 as you all board the motorcoach for Ruse where your river ship awaits.

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    After breakfast (which is included as part of the main tour), you take a tour of Bucharest. This is an old city that has served as the capital of Wallachia and later Romania since 1659. Today, it is noted for its broad, tree-lined boulevards, well-kept parks, and mix of architectural styles that combine Neoclassical structures with monumental 20th-century
    edifices (the latter built for the most part to satisfy the late dictator Nicolae Ceausescu). You’ll view the Arc de Triomphe commemorating the achievements of World War I soldiers and drive along Victory Avenue to Revolution Square, where recent events in history are inscribed.

    This afternoon, enjoy lunch and then transfer to Sinaia, one of the most popular resort destinations in Eastern Europe. With its sub-Alpine climate and its protection by the surrounding mountains, visitors to Sinaia have long been convinced of its ideal location for recreational mountain sports. The atmospheric pressure is low, the air is free of allergens and pollutants, and the water is rich in minerals. Some people even believe that the sunshine feels different here. This combination of natural curative factors and geographic beauty has helped make Sinaia the "Pearl of the Carpathians”—the historically favored destination of Romanian royalty and a region rich in palaces, luxury hotels, fine dining, and wonderful skiing.

    Spend the rest of the afternoon exploring Sinaia as you wish.

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    Before its most famous landmark, Peles Castle, was constructed, Sinaia was a quiet monastery settlement in the Prahova Valley. Afterward, it quickly became a booming resort town—with help from the subsequent creation of a direct train line from Bucharest. With the king in Sinaia to avoid the heat of the nation’s capital in summer, the nobility swarmed to this mountainside city.

    The day is yours to relax and to explore this exquisite resort community on your own. Perhaps you’ll visit Sinaia Monastery. Founded by Romania’s Prince Mihai Cantacuzino after a pilgrimage to Mount Sinai, this 17th-century abbey in turn lent its name to the town. Admire the gold mosaic paintings and gold-plated thrones in the Great Church here, as well as its collections of religious icons, books, and porcelain. You might also pay a visit to the Sinaia Casino, built in 1912 and inspired by the glamorous casinos along the Cote d’Azur.

    Or come with us on an optional tour to Bran Castle, often referred to as Dracula’s Castle. Prince Vlad Tepes, the son of Vlad Dracul and the person who inspired Bram Stoker’s 1897 novel Dracula, used this castle as headquarters for his incursions into Transylvania. This 15th-century ruler became known as “Vlad the Impaler” for his practice of impaling enemies of the kingdom, which was greatly threatened by the Ottoman Turks at the time. Stoker’s work of fiction drew inspiration from this bloody practice, the family name, and the castle-dotted mountain landscape of Transylvania.

    The castle was built in 1377 to protect nearby Brasov from invaders and also served as a customs station. In 1920, the people of Brasov, who owned the castle, offered it as a gift to Queen Maria of Romania, and the castle soon became her favorite residence. After an included lunch, you return to your hotel, arriving in the late afternoon.

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    After breakfast, join your Program Director for a tour of Peles Castle.

    Set dramatically in the hills above Sinaia, this 160-room palace, built in German Renaissance style, was completed in 1914 for the first Hohenzollern king of Romania, Carol I. The castle was the king’s attempt to imitate the styles of his former homeland, creating a Bavarian setting in the mountains of Romania. The castle’s sculpture terraces, art displays, and historic armories make it one of Romania’s most important and beautiful museums. The palace is ornately decorated, inside and out, with intricate woodcarvings and paintings of scenes from Wagner’s operas. Fortunately, as you’ll see, it is one of the best-preserved royal palaces in Europe. Please note: If Peles Castle is closed, we will instead visit Pelisor Castle.

    Then travel to Brasov, where a tour will introduce you to this fascinating city. Continuously settled since the Bronze Age, the region that is now Brasov has been enriched by people of many heritages—the Romans, the Saxons, and the Hungarians among them—as well as by the traders from all over Europe and beyond who arrived in this long-thriving economic center. You’ll see some outstanding medieval architecture in Brasov, which is not far from the geographic center of Romania and is the largest city in the Transylvania region.

    After lunch on your own, you have some time on your own to discover Brasov. Perhaps you’ll visit the Black Church. Built between 1384 and 1477, it is the largest Gothic church in Romania and one of Eastern Europe’s finest. Seeing this famed and ancient church, you might feel as if you’ve stepped back into the Middle Ages.

    The evening is yours to spend as you wish.

    Or join us for an optional evening excursion to the famed Azuga Wine Cellars. We’ll begin with a walk through the wine cellars, where an excellent sparkling wine is produced and bottled, pause for a wine tasting, and then tour the small wine museum. We then sit down to dinner in a dining room across the courtyard from the wine cellars.

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    • Meals included:

    After breakfast, you transfer to Bucharest to join your fellow travelers on the Grand European Cruise River Cruise Tour, following the afternoon activities of Day 3 of the main itinerary.