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Published: November 17th 2006
Many people we met couldn't understand why we'd want to go to Romania at all. We'd heard all the horror stories such as 'gypsy women' throwing their babies at you so that their older children could fleece you as you reach for the flying child. We'd also been warned of all the usual dangers such as pick pocketing and scams and were mentally prepared for a very difficult time.
We touched down in Bucharest early on the 16th of September and jostled through the desperate taxi drivers looking for our guesthouse pickup. Our Colo High classmates will understand our fear that Christian Soare would be waiting at the airport with his friends and family to exact revenge for his time spent as an exchange student at our school (poor kid). Our guesthouse owner, Reiner, turned out to be a German ex-pat who had moved to Bucharest with his Romanian wife and was full of helpful tips. "There are no road rules in Romania," he told us as he cut in front of a horse drawn cart carrying a few drunk guys at good speed, yelling German obscenities at another driver after cutting him off and again shouting 'fick dich'! "They
The People's Palace
the second largest building in the world (after the Pentagon in USA).. not particularly interesting in itself but friggen huge!
just do whatever they want!" he explained. On the way into town Reiner gave us an interesting insight in Romania's current situation. Apparently Romania is in a pretty bad state and on the verge of economic and social collapse. Every second shopfront in Bucharest is either a bank or credit company and personal debt is astronomically high. Romania seems to have fallen especially hard after the collapse of the Soviet Union.
Bucharest didn't really do much for us as far as cities go, despite having been hyped up by our guide book as the 'wild wild east'. There were plenty of non-descript old buildings but we failed to find anything particularly exciting other than the second largest building in the world, the People's Parliament, commissioned by Romania's former communist leader Nicolae Ceauşescu.
We quickly made our way out of Bucharest and up into the region called Transylvania, land of the beautiful Carpathian Mountan range and the legend of Dracula. First stop on the vampire highway was Braşov, complete with its own 'Hollywood' style sign atop the hill overlooking the town (see photos). Braşov's old town square is charming, with lots of cool pubs and restaurants and a vibrant
fruit and vege market down the street. The town is surrounded by hills with great hiking trails and reportedly a large number of bears (Romania has half of Europe's remaining bear population). We were almost tempted to join the 'bear watching tour' offered by our hostel until we asked where they actually take you and decided that watching bears forage through rubbish at the local tip wasn't our idea of experiencing bears at their best, nor something we wanted to support, though sadly this is their new environment in many places. The next morning we noticed one of the guys who had joined the tour using the communal internet terminal to research his options for suing the tour organisers for negligence after he had broken his arm tripping over rubbish while attempting to photograph the bears. We're pretty sure that if he won his case he'd be paid in 'IOUs' or credit notes.
From Braşov we took the local bus to see Bran Castle, widely billed as the residence of Vlad Ţepeş, aka Vlad the Impaler (Dracula). While the castle itself is worth a visit, it's unlikely that Vlad ever set foot there, though you can't blame the locals
for trying make a buck from the story.
Next stop on the vampire superhighway was Sighişoara, another medieval town in central Romania. This was the birthplace of Vlad Ţepeş and his house has been turned into an exceedingly kitch and overpriced restaurant. By this stage we'd seen most of what we came to see and were a little unsure of where to go next. Romania is not very accessible to independent travellers and we found it difficult to find info and get around. We headed south to a little skiing village called Sinaia. There we hiked the remaining time away and fought off the flu while counting down the days to sitting on a sunny beach in Croatia.
Despite the warnings and fears that maybe we shouldn't be going here, we didn't have any problems at all, didn't really feel unsafe at any time and the people we met were friendly and honest. Many people here still live a traditional lifestyle farming and raising livestock and it will be interesting to see how integration into the EU affects the people of Romania. Hopefully it will bring greater stability and happier times.
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