Traveling in Romania: some myths, some tips, and something about gypsies

Before I went to Romania several people warned me it might be dangerous, that I should look out. Oh man were they right–why just the other morning a calf escaped and took off down the dirt road with his new wobbly legs splayed all about with dad and granny chasing after him. I mean, who know what might have happened to us.

calfrun2

calfrun1

While I acknowledge that a couple of weeks in Romania does not make me an expert on it’s culture, I strongly believe in having my own first hand experiences and I want to share with you what I learned.

First some myths:

Romania is dangerous.  Close encounters with runaway calves aside, Romania is not dangerous to tourists.  Sure, the area around the train station in Bucharest is a bit dodgy, but no worse than in any other European city.  And just like in the rest of Europe, you should be vigilant about pickpockets.  The drivers seem to do a lot of passing on narrow streets, on curves and around blind corners–so, if like me, you’re nervous in cars, it’s best to take public transportation or hire a tour guide.  Otherwise, I’d rank Romania the second safest country I’ve visited, after Germany.

dog

Wild, potentially rabid dogs are running around in packs.  Many sources, including my guide book, led me fear I would be constantly dodging rabid dogs—didn’t happen.  There were some sad-eyed mutts about that broke my heart, but no scary dogs.  Well, there was this pup.  As you can tell, he scared the pants off of me.

john

Public bathrooms are disgusting pits.  As someone with a minor bathroom phobia, this one worried me the most.  I am relieved (pun intended) to inform you that this too is a myth.  While bathrooms were not omnipresent, we managed to find decent bathrooms almost everywhere.  I used the toilet in a train station in central Bucharest, bracing myself for a nose holding sprint, and to my surprise, it was clean and freshly mopped.  Bathrooms inside the trains themselves were not particularly pleasant, but no worse than in any other European country.

kitsch

Romanians are totally psyched about Dracula.  Dracula kitsch, as far as we saw, is confined mostly to Sighișoara.  (I’m sure that Bran Castle also has it’s share of Dracula cheesiness, but we didn’t go there.)  Bram Stoker’s Dracula is a literary character.  Romania’s historical Dracula is Vlad III, the one-time Prince of Wallachia, is often confused with his dad Vlad II Dracul.  At any rate, Dracula is a major tourist draw for visitors to Romania, but seems to be of little interest to actual Romanians.

And now, a few tips:

Use cash.  Romania is a cash economy.  While you can use a credit card in larger cities, cash is needed everywhere else.  Every time I hit up and ATM machine I wished I pulled out twice as much.

BWOT (bring your own toilet paper).  We brought several mini-rolls and used up almost all of our supply.

Stay in a guest house.  Guest houses are cheap, clean and ideal for cultural immersion.  If you have an option to buy breakfast or dinner at your guest house, do it.

soup

Choose home-cooked foods and grocery store delis over restaurants.  If you have a chance to eat a home-cooked meal in Romania, go for it.  These people know how to cook delicious, rich meals with locally produced ingredients.  Larger groceries have surprisingly excellent prepared foods at low prices.  We also had great luck with cafeteria-style steam table cusine–it was fresh, tasty and budget friendly.   The restaurants we ate at in Romania, however, were quite mediocre.

Be alert on the train.  Romania trains are affordable, punctual, and cover much of the country, but the stops are poorly sign-posted and the stations are not announced at the stops.  If you’re not paying attention, you could easily miss your stop.

maramures

motorbike

Meet people.  People are the keepers of their culture.  We found Romanians to be savvy, friendly and low key.  Also, their children are exceptionally beautiful.

And now some thoughts about gypsies.

There are a lot of Roma people (aka gypsies) in Romania.  They appear to live entirely apart from the rest of Romanians.  Having spoke with several Romanians about the Roma people, I have to say that there is a huge problem with racist discrimination against gypsies in Romania.  I am uncomfortable writing this, especially since I am from the USA and my country has it’s own dark history of denying civil rights to minorities.  Also, and this is even more difficult to write about, I have my own stereotypes about gypsies to deal with.  When I see gypsies while traveling, I often assume that they want to rob me, and I hold my bag a little tighter.  After several Romanians told me that the gypsies survive by crime and prostitution, we had an enlightening conversation with a British expat who has made Northern Romania his adopted home.  He told us that the Roma families have been living in the same villages for many years but are treated like outlaws.  They have little redress if a crime is committed against them by Romania people.  People feel free to shout invectives out the window of cars to gypsies who are minding their own business.

I would be curious to learn more about the lives of gypsies in Romania from people with first hand experience.  From my limited experience, gypsies are victims of institutionalized discrimination and a wide-spread denial of civil rights.  In the otherwise lovely country of Romania, this is troubling indeed.

 

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40 comments

  1. Yeah, racism towards Roma people seems to be the socially accepted form of racism here in Italy, too. Even just in little things – there are often Roma women on the bus I catch to work, and if the seat next to one of them is empty, it stays empty no matter how full the bus gets.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I curious where the kids go to school and about their access to healthcare.

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      1. Well, if you want some depressing reading, this piece mentions the stat that only 15 percent of Roma kids finish high school http://www.aljazeera.com/indepth/opinion/2014/04/unfinished-business-roma-inclusi-20144895951886264.html

        Liked by 1 person

    2. There is a joke in Romania that goes like this: “Ion and a gypsy were neighbors. They had the same amount of land and built identical houses. At some point Ion put his house for sale. Gypsy also put his house for sale but asked double the price and had double the visitors. Confused, one day Ion asked Gypsy “Țigane, we have the same amount of land and identical houses. Why do you ask double the price and how come you have double visitors?” Gypsy answered “You see, Ioane… nobody wants a gypsy as a neighbor”.

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      1. Thank you for your comment ssambodhi. Are you Romanian? If so, it would be interesting to hear your perspective on the integration of gypsies in Romanian culture. It is very difficult to understand as a visitor.

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  2. Sounds like the frighteners people try to tell you about Nicaragua….just like you, I prefer to see for myself.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. So what’s your report on Nicaragua Helen?

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      1. The first time we visited Granada an American expat in Costa Rica told us to walk in the centre of the road to avoid being mugged…apparently being mown down by a horse and cart was preferable…
        I love the country…

        Liked by 1 person

  3. waaww cool bike

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    1. Yeah, those boys are sure digging it.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Is that true

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  4. Yeah, it’s terrible the sort of discrimination that goes on against gypsies, not just in Romania, but elsewhere in Europe as well.

    A very reassuring, myth-busting post though! Now I know what I DON’T need to worry about if/when I go there.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I hope you do visit Romania vagabonder–the country is gorgeous.

      In a short trip to Budapest we noticed that the gypsies seemed a lot more integrated there. They kind of looked liked hipsters!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. WIll certainly go there some day. Isn’t it also considerably cheaper than some other parts of Europe?

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  5. Reblogged this on Sharing Maniak.

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  6. Vagabonder: yes, it is quite affordable to travel in Romania.

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  7. Great post! It’s definitely important to dispel myths through traveling and try to go into it with an open mind. In a cultural anthropology class I took this semester, we talked about how to travel more consciously and it sounds like you do a great job of it (taking public transit, talking to people, and staying away from the kitschy tourist route).

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you mjcolbert. That cultural anthropology class sounds fascinating!

      We did have meet some fascinating people on public transportation this trip and had some long conversations. On one bus, the driver came back, sat next to us and started asking a bunch of questions.

      Liked by 1 person

  8. Reblogged this on fashion.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Great tips! It’s true that traveling does help to dispel a lot of myths seen through our media filter. Romania is def. on my list!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you Louise! Sometimes I think the mainstream media is just there to scare us, sell us things, or promote a political ideology (this is why I support community media and of course, blogging). I’m happy Romania is on your list—I can’t wait to go back again!

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  10. Speaking of scaring people and promoting political ideologies, have you considered visiting Iran – a country very much misunderstood? I wrote a blog post about this if you are interested: https://notaclashofcivilizations.wordpress.com/2015/05/23/women-travelling-alone-in-iran/

    Liked by 1 person

  11. Yes, I have often longed to see Persepolis especially. I’ve relieved to hear that the security concerns are exaggerated!

    Liked by 1 person

  12. Nice blog! We can’t wait to visit Romania and it’s high up on our ever increasing list of places we want to travel.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks so much, Two Small Potatoes! Your blog is great too.

      Yeah, my list keeps getting longer….and longer as well. Good problem to have, that.

      Liked by 1 person

  13. Very well written and illustrated thank you.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hey thanks Simon!

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  14. I would like to high point that gipsies ARE NOT DISCRIMATED in Romania. Romanians people are very friendly with them. This is one of the reason that a huge gipsy community remained in Romania as they found here a lovely place to live. Otherwise they could make for themselves all the legally documents to get settled in Romania. They have the same rights with Romanian people, even more. The big problems are instead their behaviour. But this is not generally as I myself met honourable gypsy people.

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    1. Thanks for your perspective Sim!

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  15. Great points.

    As for Dracula: I grew up in Hungary and visited Transylvania several times, studied a great deal of folklore, and as the area used to be Hungary for many hundreds of years and there are still many Hungarians living there, we learned also about the history – but it was only as an adult, way after I started living abroad and meeting people from Western countries when I first heard about the Dracula frenzy…

    As for Gypsies: I knew a few Hungarian Gypsy musicians from villages around Cluj, they were great people (most of them already old men that time and not in this world any more). Now it’s their sons and grandsons who keep the music alive, that’s how it goes, traditionally it was very often Gypsies who would play music.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you Andrea—I’m so happy to hear that the younger generation is keeping the musical traditions alive. My husband’s grandfather moved to the United States from Hungary in his 20s and HOB would beg him to play his Hungarian gypsy record. His grandfather would play the records and walk around on his hands to the music!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Hahaha, on his hands? That’s not the very traditional Hungarian way to do it but sure is fun!

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  16. I’m glad you debunked some “myths” regarding Romania with your article and that you enjoyed your overall experice here. Unfortunatelt, I too think that the media is to blame for most stereotypes, not only regarding Romania but other countries as well. It’s best to make your own opinion about something than just assume the worst. Thank you for sharing!

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    1. Thank you Luminita–I’ve become a bit of a Romania cheerleader and I encourage people to travel there all the time. What an interesting country: Latin and Orthodox!

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  17. Just read this!! 🙂 Brings me back to my days in Romania! I remember how I disliked restaurant food as they were too salty. I was lucky enough to eat homemade organic Romanian food and it was the bomb! And with the Roma, I have even encountered people who told me not to look them in the eye! Because they might cast a spell on me or something. But they have such beautiful clothes, colourful too! I even saw some castles that they live in somewhere in Western Romania. It’s a pity I havent actually talked to one. Definitely safe for tourists!! (As an Asian, I got a lot of stares tho)

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Did you have any restaurant food in Romania where ketchup was used like a fancy, decorative sauce? I thought that was hilarious!

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  18. This seems really cool, I’m flying in soon on a business trip, I’ll make sure to check it out. I usually travel with http://bucharesttransfer.com/ I hope they will know how to get there, they have not let me down so far.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I hope your business trip allows you some time to see Romania Mike. It is one of my favorite all time countries and I especially loved the high level of craftsmanship that permeates all aspect of Romanian culture. And of course, the landscape is stunning!

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