If I tell you Romania, for most people here, this is not your dream destination. Very often, we associate Romania and poverty, but also Romanians to Roma, who are in fact two separate things, we will come back to that later, or even communism.
I actually discovered a country that is very different from the image that is conveyed, a very rich culture, delicious traditional dishes (very rich also haha), beautiful landscapes.
I have only visited a small part of it, but I want to make you discover this little piece of Eastern Europe, far from the clichés, and make you want visit it.
Bucharest, the capital of Romania, is located in the southeast of the country. This is a great capital that intrigued me a lot. Indeed, Bucharest is a huge architectural melting pot, where the beautiful art deco-style buildings stand alongside the austere Soviet buildings.
What strucked me in Bucharest is that all this beautiful heritage is absolutely not maintained or showcased. The walls are covered with graffiti and blackened by pollution.
Nevertheless I found that the contrast between the dilapidation of some edifices and the magnificence of buildings such as the Athénée or some small museums scattered everywhere in the city gave it a certain charm.
Speaking of museums, you have an amazing choice here in Bucharest: Museum of modern art, Museum of natural history, Museum of history of Romania, and many others. I personally went to the village museum, an open-air museum that recreates traditional houses from all over Romania through the ages.
Also do not miss Downtown Bucharest, with its cobbled streets and its bars and restaurants, perfect for a short break on a terrace or to hang out. I will give you all my good spots in a future post.
Other point of interest not to be missed, the Palace of Parliament, the fruit of the last Communist dictator, Nicolae Ceausescu’s megalomania. Its 1100 rooms and its surface of 350 000m ² make it the second largest administrative building in the world, right behind the Pentagon.
Finally, I also liked to wander along the Dâmbovitza, river/canal, near the National Library of Romania for a drink in its many cafés, sunbath for a moment or just watch people live their life.
Located in approximately 2hrs train ride from Bucharest, the small town of Sinaia is the perfect place for winter sports lovers, but also for beautiful landscapes and castles.
The Peles Castle, and his little brother, the Pelesior, constituted the summer residence of King Carol 1st of Romania (1881-1914). The Peles Castle is also the first castle in Europe to have electricity.
Inside, you can admire the rich decorations in rooms decorated with the style of several countries (French salon, Turkish salon, Florentine salon, etc.).
Brasov is the favorite city I visited. Sixth largest city in the country, Brasov is located in the heart of the Carpathian mountains and near the largest ski resort of Eastern European, making it a popular tourist destination in Romania.
Until the middle of the twentieth century, Brasov was a predominantly German-speaking city. You can also find the German name of the city, Kronstadt, the city of the Crown in many places and the city has preserved many Germanic influences. In the nineteenth century, the city was also attached to the Austro-Hungarian Empire, so there are also Hungarian influences, especially at the gastronomic level (do not miss the Kurtoskalacs) in Brasov.
Brasov and the 7 cities
In the middle age, German settlers established themselves in Transylvania to defend the Hungarian Empire against invaders from Central Asia.
7 cities were created, including Brasov, Sighisoara, Sibiu and Cluj-Napoca.
There are still German-speaking minorities in these cities, whose architecture safeguards the traces of the past.
After the Second World War, many Romanians of German descent emigrated to Austria and Germany.
In Brasov, I strongly recommend you to do the Free Walking Tour. This will allow you to visit the main points of interest of the city (the black church, the Church of St. Nicolae and the first Romanian school, the Catherine gate, etc.). You can also discover Europe’s third narrowest Street, the Strada Sforii, recently decorated by local street artists. Brasov is also known for its “Hollywood sign” on the hill overlooking the city.
Brasov is also an opportunity to wander around the streets with colorful house fronts and to stop in the many Romanian handicraft shops, easily recognizable to their “souvenirs” sign. You will certainly find trinkets for tourists, but also real typical handicrafts, such as the famous Romanian blouse, hand-embroidered.
Finally, during your stay in Brasov, you can visit the “Castle of Dracula” in Bran. I will disappoint you right away, Bran Castle has absolutely nothing to do with the famous vampire of Bram Stocker’s novel. Indeed, the historical figure that would have inspired him, Vlad III, the Impaler, would have only stayed there briefly. On the other hand, he was nicknamed “Draculea” (little dragon), and his father, Vlad II, “Dracul” (Dragon), because he belonged to the Order of the Dragon. Nothing to do with any blood drinker.
Personally, I found that the visit of the inside of the castle was not really worth it and was very expensive (40 Lei, so a dozen euros). Bran, is mostly a huge Disneyland for tourists, but I found it interesting to deconstruct this myth of Dracula, associated with the Castle. When you return to Brasov, you can also take stop at the fortress of Rasnov.
Approximately two hours by train from Brasov, the small town of Sighisoara is a little gem of medieval architecture. The old town is listed in the UNESCO World Heritage site since 1999.
You can go up the Clock Tower, which culminates at 64 meters high for a breathtaking view of the surrounding area, or take the stairs of schoolchildren, a covered wooden staircase of 175 steps. But above all, wander around its small cobblestone alleys and colorful houses (always).
Finally, if you are looking for souvenirs, go to the Romano-German cultural centre. You will find a small shop with lots of small objects made by artisans of the city, but also a nice gentleman painting wooden objects by hand.
The fortress is very small, so a couple of hours is enough to visit it so you have tie to get back on the train to visit the rest of the region.
From Sighisoara, you can go to Sibiu, elegant city in the heart of Transylvania. One thing that struck me when I arrived in Sibiu was how clean and well-maintained the city was.
Walk around the Piata Mare, visit the castle of Brukenthal, climb up the Tower of the Council, explore the Piata Mica, or the Piata Huet, all under the inquisitive gaze of its colorful houses, with small skylights strangely looking like eyes staring at you. Climb the many steps of the Evangelical church tower for a nice view on the city’s rooftops.
Finally, do not miss to cross the Bridge of Lies, but be careful what you say! The legend says that in the Middle Age, when the bridge was still in wood, it started to crack and squeak as soon as someone was lying. Another legend says that the mercants caught cheating their clients were thrown from the top of the bridge, just like the young girls lying about their virginity.
Romanians vs. Roma
The Roma or Gypsies are an ethnic group from India who emigrated during the Middle Age in the rest of the world and especially in Europe. Characterised by their nomadic lifestyle, they are victims of racism and persecussions everywhere, including in Romania. In Romania, the census of 2011 lists around 600 000 Roma, which is just over 3% of the population. They would actually be around 2 millions and form the second most important minority in the country, behind the Hungarians.
In France, Roma are associated with delinquency and begging, and the term “Roma” or “Romanian” is used in an undifferentiated way to designate these populations, which has the tendency to piss off Romanians, that differentiates themselves ethnically and culturally from Roma, which they often accuse of not integrating themselves and living on the margins of Romanian society.
Nevertheless, the media’s discourse in general would tend to give the voices only to the nationalists on both sides, forgetting that very often the interactions between Roma and Romanians exist and work.
Good to know before going to Romania
I realised shortly before my departure, that even if Romania has been part of the European Union since 2007, it is not part of the euro zone and therefore uses its own currency, the Leu (€1 = 4.50 Lei +/-). Life is between 20 and 50% cheaper than in Western Europe.
In Romania, you can travel very easily by train, however, these trains are slow, veeeeeery slow (85km in 2hrs), so it is often faster to do carpooling, and Romanians use Blablacar a lot. The bus is also another option.
Romania is often associated with poverty and underdevelopment. On the contrary, I discovered a country offering all modern comforts with charming towns and beautiful landscapes.
But Romania remains a country of contrasts and if the city centres of the places I visited were clean and nice, in the countryside you can see houses that seem to be about to collapse or people moving in a cart drawn by a horse.
Beyond material wealth, I found a a country rich with its history, architecture, culture and also nature with its majestic chains of Mountains.
I hope that this post allowed you to fo beyond your a priori on Romania and will make you want to visit this beautiful country.