After some wonderful times back in NZ with the family, we’re in the thick of winter again. And this time its Judy’s suggestion that we try somewhere that we can almost be certain will have snow!! Even if it doesn’t have snow we can be rest assured that it’ll be freezing cold and be a real mid winter experience!!
Its not a country we know much about, probably heard more negative than positive stories but have met some delightful Romanians on our travels who have been proud and passionate about their country.
So, as always, have been fascinated by what we’ve discovered and the people we’ve met. From the professional young locals on the flight over to our Romanian Airbnb hosts and those in hospitality etc we couldn’t have been better looked after.
Yes we did have extremely cold temperatures and plenty of snow. In fact almost too cold to take the gloves off and get some photos. So it wasn’t a particularly picturesque type holiday but more of a learning experience and fun time to catch up with David and Judy.
An opportune time to learn more about the Communist Era that this country has been through, thankfully it now feels more like ancient history for the Romanian people.
The first day we arose to inches of snow covering the neighbouring roofs and it continued to snow most of the day. Thankfully Bucharest, Romania’s capital, is packed with ‘hipster’ coffee spots. I gather its the influence of all the cultured graduates and young professional in the city that attract this type hangout. Perfect for the likes of us who are keen to while away a few hours in the warmth and not unlike Berlin and Copenhagen for its high standard of coffee.
Our hosts had been overflowing with local knowledge and suggestions of what to do in Bucharest so we took their advice for dinning at the city’s most famous beer hall, Caru’cu Bere. It was like stepping back in time in this magical old building, with the lively atmoshphere, traditional costumes and three piece orchestra. A total tourist trap, but with the food and drink definitely authentic local cuisine and plenty of it for next to nothing, it was a fun place to be trapped.
Bucharest has had its fair share of unrest and only two days before we arrived, the city had seen over 300,000 people demonstrating in Victory Square. They came to demonstrate peacefully, against a new law passed in Parliament the previous week that would decriminalise corruption. Over half a million people throughout the country were involved in similar rallies. Our young architectect friend, who we chatted with in the plane on our way over, was very vocal about it and he and many of his friends had been there. He assured us that it was not dangerous in any way and many of his friends had their children with them. He was adamant that the young professionals of this generation were determined not to stand by and allow this government and its politicians to abuse their power. To them corruption must be a thing of the past as this Romania is seen as a developing country. A country of almost 20 million people, an economy based on services, a producer and exporter of machines and electric energy and proud to be part of the European Union since 2007.
One of the largest cities in Europe, Bucharest, has a population over 2 million. It is a city with a complex blend of old and new. Once referred to as ‘Little Paris‘ for its elegant architecture and sophisticated lifestyle. The 1980’s saw over 80% of the old city, including centuries old churches, historic buildings, more than 30,000 houses and schools destroyed by Nicolae Ceausescu's plans of systemisation to create a Civic Centre. With of course his main construction being the vast Palace of Parliament, started in the 1984 it was only supposed to take to two years to finish but is still not completed, the second biggest administrative building in the world behind the The Pentagon. A monstrosity built as a symbol of his power, it’s the largest building in Europe, the heaviest in the world, nearly 4 million sq feet, with more than a thousand rooms but sadly 70% of the building remains empty!! A symbol of the Communist Era, when people throughout the country were being made to pay for this while food was being rationed and many starving. In the hope that this ego driven communist dictator would be revered throughout the world for his power and wealth.
Because of the recent demonstrations outside the building it was all closed down.
From Bucharest we headed northward on the train into Transylvania, to discover what myths about this place were true or not. We’ve heard that Prince Charles even owns a house in this region, so there must be more to it than what I first imagined. Within three hours we were in the midst of some wonderful scenery. The small mountain villages, woods and ski resorts were a glorious site with that layer of fresh snow on them. Young locals hoped off with back packs and ski’s on their shoulders ready for action.
The town of Brasov, where we stayed, turned out to be a top Romanian tourist attraction. There’s a strong German and Hungarian influence in the old part of the city with its Gothic spires and medieval gateways. We were treated to a hint of sunshine which made it that much more endearing, and another delightful host who insists on meeting us at the train station and throwing all four of us into his little borrowed car.
The city was once a key commercial and industrial hub but is now known more for being the base with which to explore the magical castles of Transylvania. But in saying this we did met a Scotsman who was based here in Brasov, freelancing, writing software for a multinational bank. We asked “Why Brasov?” He said "that the speed of the internet here was incredibly fast, compared to anywhere else in Europe", and perhaps the cost of living was a factor as well.
The next morning we caught a local bus heading to the heart of Transylvania in the hope of seeing Dracula's Castle, along with its blood thirsty vampires and howling wolves. Bram Stoker’s 1897 vampire novel was inspired by years of superstition and the antics of Vlad lll, Prince of Wallachia. Known as Vlad the Impaler, for his ruthless and barbaric methods of torturing and often impaling his victims while still alive and putting them out on display for others to watch die a slow painful death. He’s believed to have killed more 80,000 people during the 15th century, but within this area of Transylvania he was regarded as a local hero
And over the years this has developed into ‘vampire tourism’. It certainly attracts the tourists but sadly not a pretty sight when its become so commercial. But good to get out through some of the smaller towns and I can imagine in the summer , with the freedom of a car, there would be some Fairytale like castles and glorious countryside to enjoy.