This country’s certainly off the beaten path for most of the European travelers, but not all the bad rumors are true. And even those that are (such as the fact that most of the streets are a mess and Romanians are really lacking in infrastructure) don’t necessarily mean you have to change your plans. On the contrary, there are lots of things you’d love about the country and the very friendly people here.
1. The happiest cemetery you’ll probably ever see. Săpânța is the name of the tiny village in Maramureș famous not only for being quite a unique burial site, but an open-air museum as well. The Merry Cemetery, as it is called, stands out for the colorful wooden crosses carved in oak depicting scenes from the deceased’s life. Aside from this, the epitaphs are quite funny and sarcastic, and it’s known that only those with a high sense of humor are welcome here. Otherwise everything is going to seem discordant and in-harmonic with any kind of mental representation you’ve ever had about cemeteries. One of the most popular epitaphs says:
Under this heavy cross / Lies my poor mother in-law / Three more days she would have lived / I would die, and she would read (this cross). / You, who here are passing by / Not to wake her up please try / Because if she comes back home / She will criticize me more. / But I’ll behave ever so well / That she’ll not return from hell. / Stay here, dear mother in-law!
2. In Transylvania, you may find a Hungarian handbook very handy. Depending on the places you’re visiting, because of centuries of Hungarian and Austrian dominance, German and Hungarian (but mostly Hungarian) are widely spoken. Fortress towns were built here over the centuries during the Middle Eve as well as hundreds of churches. The Saxon architecture has survived almost entirely and you’ll be more than impressed by cities like Sighișoara or Sibiu (former European Cultural Capital). And if you’re not convinced to visit this place, you should know that since 1998 Prince Charles declared himself a fan of this land! Some place that has managed to please the royal crown of the UK could treat any other tourist royally as well.
Among many medieval fortresses and castles there’s Bran. You surely know about it thanks to the legend of Dracula. The truth is pretty far from the myth. But there was a prince of Wallachia named Vlad Țepeș (the Impaler). He ruled mainly between 1456 to 1462, during the first Ottoman attempts on the Balkans. His technique of impailing the enemies remained part of this landmark at the Bran Castle and his story was slowly transformed into the legend of a famous vampire.
3. Transfăgărășan. While Romania’s not quite the place famous for amazing highways (on the contrary – most of the roads are really pot-holed and highways barely exist), Transfăgărășan is the world’s most amazing road according to Top Gear presenter Jeremy Clarckson was constructed as a military route during the 70’s as a result of former communist president Ceaușescu’s order.
Unfortunately, during the cold season the highway’s closed because of the heavy snow. Being placed in a mountainous area the road zigzags over Făgăraș Mountains. While you’ll be passing across many beautiful places, Bâlea Lac is a beautiful lake that’s really worth visiting if you’re in the area.
4. Romanians have lots of reasons to be proud of who they are – and if they’re not making efforts to hide their identity in Europe, they’ll clearly speak of their inventors and writers. Romanian is the only Romance language in Eastern Europe although because of the accent you’ll be tempted to think it sounds more like Russian or Bulgarian. Other things you should know about are the 7 UNESCO heritage sites: the Churches in Moldavia (the north-eastern side of the country) the Dacian Fortress in Orăștie Mountains, the old town of Sighișoara, the Wooden Churches in Maramureș and the villages with fortified churches in Transylvania, along with the Monastery of Horezu.
But by far the most interesting of these for all the tourists equally is the Danube Delta known for being the best preserved delta in whole Europe. If you’re interested in observing raw natural beauties you can always make a trip here – You’ll feel like time traveling as well. There’s a high chance you’ll think you’re at the beginning of the 20th century, but it’s all so worth it.
People are pure and very helpful, their inner kindness makes them attract more visitors every year. You should be very careful at the mosquitoes, though – especially if you’re more sensitive to pinches. Along the Danube, near a city called Orșova, there’s a 55-meters high sculpture of Decebalus, the last king of Dacia.
Speaking of ancient trasures, Romania’s also the richest country in gold from all Europe. You’ll find the only gold museum in Europe in Brad, popular as Mineralogical Collection. The native gold – exposed as it was found in the mountains – is the most important exhibit of the museum, but every of the other two thousand ones has a special story to tell.
Timișoara is the first place to have had street electric lamps in continental Europe, thus becoming the first mainland with public lit lanterns. The influence of the Western countries on the Western side of the country is visible in terms of life style and facilities, while the eastern side, closer to Russia, is more of a provincial place – but truly worth visiting and highly rich in culture and all kinds of customs. What has really kept Romanians together is their incurable optimism, part of it being the palinca (the specific local tipple) speaking.
People’s House is the largest administrative building in the world and was constructed under the dictator Ceaușescu, well known for his excentric wishes. The model of the building copies a similar construction he saw in one of his visits in North Korea. Of course, the Romanian replication is the heaviest, largest and most expensive in terms of civil administration.
5. Brown bears. The largest population in Europe lives here, and you’ll be able to see them other place than at the Zoo if you’re curious enough and mountain climbing’s one of your passions. You’ll see that while you can visit the seaside and the admire the Danube in the delta, there’s nothing more beautiful than the Romanian mountains. They’re really worth visiting if you’ve got enough time and people say that you can even admire the sea from the highest peaks if you’re lucky enough to experience a beautiful weather with a clear sky.
6. The practical, non-romantic truths. Good shoes, perfect for walking are truly necessary and this because of two reasons: first, the roads don’t look too good and second, you’ll be visiting lots of places especially if you’re coming to see a friend or visit someone. And if you are, what you should know as well (but nobody’s going to tell you) is that Romanian people love small gifts to keep as souvenirs from the close ones or from special occasions (and a foreigner guest is always a special occasion).
Tipping’s a must in Romania, particularly if you’re going to some expensive place to eat/drink/have fun, but usually 10% of the check is the tip, as an unwritten social norm. Food’s a bit expensive for such a cheap country, but compared to the European prices it’s okay and you can afford to dine out at fancy restaurants. Safety’s not a huge problem as long as you don’t scream with every move that you’re a tourist – it’s better to be safe as it always is, but there are no specific measures you should take if you’ve decided to visit – generally if you’re going to be accommodated in a larger city there should be no problem whatsoever. Special tip: You can’t visit Romania without trying sarmale, the national dish. They’re delicious and you’ll see people serve them almost in every restaurant! And if you get to see Moldavia, ask for Poale-n brâu, a traditional pie. Food is the secret for anyone who wants you back to Romania!
Stray dogs. Anyone else but Brigitte Bardot believes that the dogs on the streets in Romania really represent a problem. Once in two or more years an awful accident happens when someone’s seriously injured by a dog and media makes a fuss about it – but that’s it. They’re no real danger, but it’s best to ignore them and mind your business if you happen to see 10 dogs passing by. Of course, if there’s only one cute animal and you’re a dog person, trying to play ith him shouldn’t be a problem, but temperance is the key.
Împinge means push and this is quite useful information if you’re planning on entering doors in public, and trage means pull – bu these are the details you’ll figure out yourself.
You’ll have one of the fastest internet connections in Europe and you won’t feel isolated while visiting, since there’s quite a large spectrum of international newspapers that you can find everywhere, particularly in the larger cities or at gas stations. Also, Romanian people are not only very friendly but quite educated as well in terms of foreign languages. It’s really easy to find someone who speaks either English, French, German or Italian anywhere and the people are known for their hospitality so you’re in good hands!