Romaniiiiiaaaa will always be special for me because it is the 30th country I visited as part of my 30 before 30 challenge. Romania is exactly what I didn’t expect it to be. A former communist country added recently to EU and to makes things more interesting the country has three main regions all with different past.
Times before Romania was united based on language and culture, the country was part of Ottoman empire, Russian empire and Austro Hungarian empire. The province in South called Wallachia was ruled by Ottoman appointed ruler (Vlad the Impaler was one of them), Moldovia was the same but has had some Russian influence. Transylvania with its castles was part of Hungarian and then Austro-Hungarian empire. Things change quite rapidly when you move from one region to another and you can clearly see the difference between Bucharest and Brasov for example.
Romania still bears scars of the communist past and slowly and steadily it is coming out of the shadows and part of modern Western Europe. It is a beautiful country with gorgeous landscapes, endless opportunities in terms of things to do in every season and best of all it is super cheap!
I decided to go in Winter because I wanted to see the Bran castle covered in snow and also because it was off season and best of all I had never been anywhere as cold as this. (It was -17C at worst which I absolutely loved and hated at the same time).
The Racism Factor
Romanians are not friendly or warm people by any measure but they are not racist. I saw people going about their business all around me without any chatter or laughter almost in a mechanical fashion (reminds me of the scenes of movies shot for communist era) but I didn’t feel threatened because of the colour of my skin. There was a certain curiosity and inquisitiveness in the eyes of people which I quite enjoyed but again I didn’t feel discriminated against even in the rural areas or on the road.
The Gay Factor
Despite being part of EU and signing up for the Human rights charter Romania is quite conservative. I think it is the only country in Europe still building churches. Things are not so bad in Bucharest but other cities are still quite conservative and based on a conversation I had with someone they feel they shouldn’t be subjected to acceptance of LGBT equality because they don’t think it is right.
There are no dedicated gay bars and clubs. In Bucharest there is one clubs that does gay nights only on weekends. I have been told abut gay clubs in other cities but I am not entirely sure. There are a few gay friendly establishments but I don’t think I’d feel comfortable roaming around with a guy’s hand in mine especially outside the tourist centre. You have to be careful about being gay in this country and I wouldn’t go to Romania for its gay scene, not for another 2 or 3 decades at least.
Grindr on the other hand has guys and some of them are gorgeous and friendly and so does scruff and hornet so take your pick while you’re there..
Value for Money
Romania is cheap as hell. You need very little to do a lot. You can eat well, party and go around very cheaply. I couldn’t believe this country lies in Europe. A very good meal will cost you no more than £20 and we are talking the best restaurants in Bucharest. The road side places serve food for £2-3 with massive portion and good quality. Similarly accommodation is quite cheap and so is fuel and recreation (£8 for a manicure, eh!)
I spent 4 days in Romania, 2 days for Bucharest, 1 day to see Bran and Peles Castles and 1 day for Brasov.
Bran is in Bran city and Peles castle is in Sinaia. In the winter Transfigurasan highway is closed (It opens only from July to October) and in summer you can add another couple of days for that. Other famous towns to see are Timisoara, Sibiu and Sigisoara.
Romanian food is quite different to what I’d thought. I had a very Polish image of Romanian food owing to my ex who was Polish. The food leans more of Hungarian side and differs from region to region. It lacks fresh vegetables massively and is very pork based in typical Romanian restaurants which made it a bit of a headache but it was fine in other places. They do use veg in stews and soups though. Romanians like Hungarians love Paprika and you will feel the taste in pretty much all stews which were delicious.
There are quite a few places in the big cities that are introducing modern take on Romanian food and I just loved trying a few of them out. Apart from that I loved trying the sweet bakery cum shops. Around towns you will see the pastries and different pancakes in trays on display with a small window on the side and ladies baking things at the back. You can buy stuff here from a good variety. It is really good and very, very cheap. I had those rolled pancakes with jam in the middle for breakfast every day and they were really delicious.
Phone & Internet
Phone reception is quite good throughout the country and data speed much better than expected. I used my roaming but I saw plenty of places selling SIM cards. For details you can check here.
Internet on the other hand was another story, Wifi was quite slow and at times even painful so we relied on our data. It was a bit bizarre because Mobile data ran fine but Wifi crawled, I think they will catch up soon, who knows!
Cash & Cards
Romania is part of EU but they still haven’t switched over to Euro. The official currency is Leu and it is denoted by RON. Like I mentioned earlier, it is super cheap and all currency notes are plastic instead of paper. You will need cash at most places in Romania. While a lot of places take cards now and the number is rising but for majority of places (including the parliament) you will need cash.
Cash machines and exchanges are quite common especially around city centres and airports. You should be careful of exchanges though, someone was telling me about the scams that these guys can be involved in.
Fun Fact: Part of modernisation for EU inclusion meant a financial system upgrade. Someone suggested “You need to move to plastic” (meaning cards of course) but the government took it as plastic currency notes and they plasticized the whole currency notes. The locals still laugh about it, although they quite like it. They are much better than paper one’s for sure.
- Based on the weather you need lots of warm clothes or lots of sunscreen. Romania gets both winters and summers with quite high intensity.
- The old town in Bucharest has building at huge risk of collapse during even smaller scale earthquakes. Use this link to check the buildings by address before booking.
- Get a car, it is a much better way to see this beautiful country than train or busses.
- Romania has amazing ski resorts and if it is your thing, you are in luck with cheap hotels and great ski slopes.
- While taking taxis, always note the taxi number and text someone, I have heard some horrific stories of taxi drivers scamming people although I didn’t come across one who was nasty.
- You will need some extra time at the airport in Bucharest especially during the day.
- The queues at security were long and it took us 45 minutes to get through the security alone and almost missed our flight back.
- Gypsies are the biggest minority in the country and it is a sensitive issue to be called a Gypsy for a Romanian, be careful around the subject.
- The most comprehensive source of information on Romania is Romaniantourism.com, although it is for Americans, the information remains the same and it helped me a lot during the planning.