Had the good luck to be invited to try out Romania this year in March 2012
As I jammed my nose up against the Business Class window – yes, flew Business Class thankyou Qatar! – I was alarmed to see not a lot else but miles of white snow as we came in to land at Bucarest. Before I’d left Melbourne WorldWeather.com had told me it would be 13 -24 degrees in Bucarest so I had piffed out the fur-lined boots and thermal underwear and replaced them with T-shirts and thin socks. I needn’t have worried though. It was snowing the first day and by the end of the week was 24 degrees. It is a hot country in Summer – very hot
To describe much of Romania – it is like I had landed in Hansel and Gretel in Calcutta-land. There are magnificent extraordinarily beautiful castles, monasteries and houses, churches etc and then every few km’s there is a half abandoned house that has been left to degenerate after the GFC crisis – evidently Romania was like Greece: they went mad on building and then the economy imploded. There are stray dogs wandering around because Ceaucescu forced people to leave their homes and move into grey utilitarian ghastly apartments in the 80’s and so they abandoned their dogs which have bred all over the place. He refused to let them have any painted buildings – only grey in their lives so since Ceaucescu was assassinated in 1989 the Romanians have gone mad with colour.
Wherever you go there are red and blue rooves, pink houses with orange trim and lime green apartments. Some of the houses are so prettily carved – but painted orange. Weird.
Some of the ancient houses look like only hobbits could live in them. They are about the size of a cubby house. But I’ve seen peasants appearing from them so I know they are actual habitable houses.
It is a real mixture of peasants on a wooden cart drawn by a mangy horse to Volvos, rusty cars from the 70’s and then tourist buses. Real Borat country.
Most of the houses outside the cities have no running water so they use wells in their front gardens. The cities have ghastly Ceacescu-ordered bleak grey crappy, stained, dilapidated concrete housing commission apartment blocks. The average person earns about 300 euros a month and pays 200 of it to live in these shitholes.
On the bright side – our meals are cheap. Paid $10 for a schnitzel, chips, cucumber and a bottle of wine last night.
Yesterday we saw Bran castle – where Vlad the Impaler visited on one of his campaigns. Vlad apparently restored law and order by ramming sharpened stakes up naughty people’s arses. Enormously effective I hear. He did it to 1,000’s of people and would keep them alive for days slowly pushing the stake further in. Fascinating.
We woke up yesterday to heavy snow falls which was so beautiful. We then had fun climbing up to castles in thick snow and ice and falling down on our botties. Hilarious.
Food is very much based on potato. Yesterday had a cucumber for greenery. Romanian women over the age of 30 all have the body of Russian babushka dolls – the wooden type – and the men too. The peasant women all wear head-scarves tied at the throat.
The younger Romanian girls tend to dress a bit trampily. Saw quite a lot of stone-washed jeans, mocassins or the Ivana Trump lycra and heels look in the cities.
There are lots of gypsies around. They look and behave exactly the same as the gypsies in France. Darker-skinned, dodgy, begging. Apparently they may have originated in India hence their slightly different colouring and look. Our guide strongly advised us not to be sucked in by the filthy urchins who beg pitifully beside you – they are trained to bring back all the money to the parents who are sitting in a café round the corner like pimps. Apparently they earn more than the locals from begging and paying no taxes.
The Carpathian mountains are breathtaking. Immense, majestic and snow-covered.
Today saw a 600 year old monastery with original frescoes all perfectly intact and untouched for 600 years. Saw Peles castle yesterday – better than Versailles and we had it all to ourselves. We are the only tourists in Romania I think.
Great time of year to come. Cold –ish but sunny clear blue days.
On the other hand, they are such a warm people for whom nothing is too much trouble for tourists. They treat you like celebrities, they do not rip you off, shopping is dirt cheap and their 4 star hotels are as good as Western ones and a third of the price.Like India, you have to be somewhat prepared for the ugliness of poverty. Parts of Romania do look like Calcutta with rubbish and abandoned factories and dilapidated buildings. But that is understandable in a poor country isolated from the West and ruled for decades by dictators. Even today their “democratic” leaders are corrupt so not a lot has happened in 20 years to change their standard of living.
The countryside is superb and although most people are very poor, they grow their own produce and the whole country is largely organic. So the food you eat is cheap but organically grown and very tasty.
Romania has 290 days of sunshine and is a hot country even though it is partly on the Black Sea. We had brilliant blue skies every day we were there.
Just pick the time of year (avoid the heat) and the route you take