What images come to mind when you think about Romania?
Thieves? Dracula? Castles? Poor, rural life? Country-side?
I’ll admit that before I went to Romania, I planned on watching my back around Gypsies, getting a hold of some garlic and holy water to keep the vampires away and riding on horse-drawn carts around the country.
Luckily, I didn’t get any bite marks, I held on to my wallet and I moved between cities quickly on Romanian motorways.
Not vampires, but Vlad the Impaler
A word of advice: vampires don’t exist, so stop worrying. Sorry, all you Bram Stoker and Twilight fans out there. If you do find one, let me know, but as far as I’m concerned, the legend of the vampire is just bringing a handful of tourists to Romania who could find more satisfaction on a Disney ride.
There aren’t many tourists in Romania to start with, but most of the ones who are there usually want to visit Bran Castle. Unbeknownst to them, the castle most likely wasn’t even known to Bram Stoker when he wrote Dracula, so it wasn’t even where the author imagined Dracula lived.
However, Vlad the Impaler did exist and he was quite a bad-ass. He seemed to have a fetish for impaling people. He would attach a horse to each of the victims legs and slowly and painfully forced a stake through their body (starting at the most unpleasant place you can think of). Once they were fulled impaled, he would display them out front like rotisserie chickens to scare off invaders.
It worked. Mehmed II returned to Constantinople in 1462 after seeing 20,000 impaled bodies outside Vlad’s castle. In a war, I think Vlad would be a good guy to have on your side.
Not Gypsies, but Roma people
The Gypsies are not what most people imagine. The Gypsy people are more appropriately called the Roma or Romani people and have Indian origins.
They have settled all over Europe, mainly in Eastern Europe. While some groups are migratory or nomadic, a few have settled in Romania.
The Roma people stay to themselves. For the most part, they don’t send their children to school and they stay ‘off the grid’. While some Roma people do work as thieves, most get their deals by bartering and genuinely being good at what they do.
I only saw one group of Roma people during my two weeks in Romania as they were leaving a local festival. I thought I would have to clutch my bag a little tighter, but then I realized these people were just normal like me and I had nothing to worry about.
During my time in Bucharest, a memorial opened near my host’s home. While we were visiting, I was approached by Peter Jacobi, the designer of the site, and learned that this was the first memorial centred on the Roma victims in the Holocaust.
Between 220,000 and 500,000 Roma were murdered. Only one million Roma live in Europe, so about half were killed by the Nazis. This is a tragic part of history that is often overlooked since the Roma people are generally looked down upon in Europe.
I hope attitudes toward the Roma people improve, because they have been the victims of many atrocities in the past and have put up with being the minority everywhere they’ve lived.
Have a look at my post on Romania’s Holocaust Memorial, recognising the Roma, Jewish and Romanian people persecuted during the Holocaust.
Not horse-drawn carts, but 80 mph motorways
The transportation image most people have of Romania is horse-drawn carts filled with hay. I’m not going to tell you there aren’t horse-drawn carts in Romania and I would be a fool to try to convince you that they don’t make a lot of hay. So, yes, they do have horse-drawn carts filled with hay. But it is certainly not the main mode of transportation.
The A-3 motorway is a nice 4-lane road stretching from the south all the way to the northwest and has speed limits of up to 80 mph (130 km/h). Trust me, Romanians drive faster than the limit.
Hitchhiking my way through Romania, I was never strapped for time as I always got there much faster than any Romanian bus or train would.
While the country does have it’s share of dirt roads, their recent entry to the European Union has improved things a lot, including their road system.
Romania is an amazing country. It has a fascinating history, beautiful landscape and hospitable people. I spent two amazing weeks there and Romania quickly became one of my favourite European countries.
Since it’s off the usual tourist trail, I had it all to myself, but I do hope that more people get to discover the beauty that Romania offers without clutching their wallet, checking for bite marks or worrying about how to ride on a cart.
See more of this beautiful country in my posts here.