Lost Girl’s Guide to RomaniaEurope, Extras, Romania, Travel Guides - Country Guides — By Mary on March 22, 2012 at 7:04 pm
By Ioana Popa Special to Lost Girls Country Overview
Romania – a mix between two worlds: a highly developed city-world and a wild, traditional country world. What surprises most people when they visit Romania is this striking dichotomy: in the cities you find all the culture, the technology, the business just like in a usual western society, while in some remote villages from the country side, people still don’t have electricity and they live like their
ancestors used to live a hundred years ago. Romania is a complex and evolving country and one that is sure to captivate the curiosity of any Lost Girl.
Best places to visit in Romania
If you are coming for the first time in Romania, the area of Maramureş is the best place to start your trip. Maramureş is the home of wooden churches, amazing landscapes and a people that embraces a simpler way of life; the villagers here are still preserving the old traditions and customs as much as they can. Be sure to stay at least one night at a local house, you will be impressed by the great food, the hospitable people, the traditional clothes— and after a couple of glasses of the traditional beverage you’ll even learn the local dances. Don’t worry about the prices, they are very low and you will get more food than you can eat.
The wooden churches are also a must; with eight churches on the UNESCO world heritage list, the most important of them is the wooden church of Şurdeşti – dating from 1721, this is the tallest wooden church in the world, measuring 72 meters.
Maramureş is also the place where you will find the most unique cemetery in the world – The Happy Cemetery in Săpânţa (Cimitirul Vesel in Romanian). What makes this cemetery so special is the fact that all the crosses are painted in bright colors with a portrait of the person that lays there; a little funny poem is written on the crosses to describe the type of life the person led. If you visit this cemetery be sure to take along someone that speaks Romanian, so he can translate these poems for you.
Bucovina – The Painted Monasteries
Built in the 15th and 16th century, these monasteries are one of the most beautiful works of art in Romania. The outside walls of the churches are painted with beautiful sceneries, depicting saints, battles against the Ottomans, and Biblical scenes. Each monastery has a representative color, Voroneţ monastery has the famous voroneţ – blue, Suceviţa monastery has a beautiful green, while Moldoviţa monastery has an elegant gold – yellow. Be sure to take a complete tour of a monastery – they usually last between 30 minutes and 1 hour, and they are quite cheap, but you will learn a lot of interesting and unique facts.
Stay a couple of nights in a pension in a little village and visit the area of Bucovina; this is a special place, with great landscapes, beautiful customs and healthy food.
This is not about Dracula’s Transylvania; this is about the fortified churches and v
illages with German heritage in the Transilvania (written in Romanian) area. In a picturesque land, with hard working people and colored houses with big gates, in the center of the village, you will find a medieval church, surrounded by thick walls to protect it. These churches where usually built in the 15th century in a gothic architectural style; now, six of them, are found on the UNESCO World Heritage List. Saschiz, Biertani and Viscri are some of the most impressive and beautiful churches.
Sighişoara is the best medieval town to visit; this is the only medieval stronghold from the south – east of Europe that is still inhabited. Some great visiting points are: the Church from the Hill – a gothic church, dating from the 13th and 14th century; the Clock Tower – this is a symbol of the town; it was built in the 16th century to guard the main entrance in the stronghold. Inside the tower you will find the History Museum, the Weapon Chamb
er and the Chamber of Torture. The entrance fee is about 5$, but if you want to take pictures inside the museum you have to pay an extra fee of about 3$.
The Medieval Festival takes place every year, with dances, games, singing, chevaliers, witches and beautiful maidens; this is how the town looks for a couple of days. If you intend to visit the town while the festival takes place, it’s good to know that the prices are a little higher than usual, so be sure to have some spare money with you.
The Carpathian Mountains
The Carpathian Mountains cover about one third of Romania’s surface, so it’s understandable why they are an important part for this country. The mountains are not very high, but they are quite beautiful, with great sceneries, many forests, glacial lakes and forgotten villages. Even if there are a couple of ski resorts in some parts of the mountains and there also are some spas spread around, all in all, the Carpathians are
wild mountains, with lots of national reservations and parks to protect them. Some of the most beautiful mountains are the Retezat Mountains with the Retezat National Park, a protected reservation. The reservation has 80 lakes and altitudes that range from 1400 to 2500 meters.
The Apuseni Mountains with the Apuseni Nature Park are another impressive part of the Carpathians. The Apuseni Mountains have smaller altitudes, ranging from 800 to 1800 meters, but they have a lot of wonderful gorges and an impressive number of caves – 400.
Things to do
Bird watching in the Danube Delta
The Danube Delta is the largest delta in Europe and is the home for 320 species of birds, 65 species of fish and 98% of the aquatic fauna of Europe; this is a paradise for animals and a reason why The Danube Delta is a protected reservation. If you enjoy fishing this is an ideal place, but be sure to read about the fishing regulations in the area.
Ride the Mocăniţa train in Maramureş
The Mocăniţa train and railway was built after the First World War and at first it was used to transport fir wood from the forests in the Carpathian Moun
tains. In the last years, the train has been used for the transportation of tourists, being a great attraction because the Mocăniţa train is a steamy train. The railway has 60 km and it crosses the wonderful Vaser valley, which is like a smaller canyon, with thick forests, edgy cliffs and beautiful glades. You can ride this steamy train from April to October and the price is about 10$.
Take a ride on the Transfăgărăşan Road
The road has a length of 91 km and it crosses the Făgăraş Mountains. What is so impressive about it is the fact that it reaches an altitude of 2042 meters, that is why it is called the “the Road in the Clouds”. It is one of the most beautiful roads in Romania, with great landscapes and a lot of natural objectives to visit, like Bâlea Waterfall, Bâlea Lake, Vidraru Dam, and in the winter time the Bâlea Ice Hotel. If you’re in a good physical condition you can climb the mountains near the road until you reach 2400 meters, and believe me, it’s a great feeling up there.
Have a meal at “Caru’ cu Bere” in Bucharest (“Caru’ cu Bere” means Beer Wain)
This is a place where you can experience the old life of the capital of Romania. The restaurant was opened in 1879 and since then it never closed. This is a great way to experience the life of the beginning of the 20th century in Bucharest, also known in those times as “Little Paris” because of the great cultural and social life. This was the favorite place for Romania’s finest poets, singers, painters and in general for all important people of the 19th and 20th century. The prices for meals and drinks vary a lot, so you can buy something for a low budget or you can even try some Romanian fine dining.
May it be a castle, a palace, a stronghold or a manor, Romania has about 1400 of these buildings so you just have to pick one. The best castles to visit are the Peleş Castle, near Sinaia, which was built in the last years of the 19th century as a summer residence for Romania’s kings. It preserves all the rooms and objects as the former kings used to use; the Huniade Castle is a gothic castle built by the lord Iancu de Hunedoara in the middle of the 15th century and this is a typical medieval castles, with bridges, towers for defense and ramparts.
The Bran Castle is one of the most famous castles in Romania because of the stories about Dracula. The truth is that Dracula, or Vlad the Impaler never lived here, but no matter, the castle is still a very impressive one. It was built in the 14th century to protect a merchant road and it is still very well preserved. The Mogoşoaia Palace is also a great castle to visit; it was built in the early years of the 18th century in a Romanian architectural style.
Experience a local tradition
Romanians have traditions for every feast and a lot of these tradition date back for almost 2000 years; some of the customs are a mix between old pagan customs and religious customs. Apart from the customs of the important holidays, I would definitely recommend to anyone to go to a traditional weeding in Romania. The customs for a weeding are numerous: the preparations of the bride at her house and the songs and poems dedicated to this event; the test given to the groom to recognize his bride; the closing of the road to church; stealing the bride in the middle of the weeding; the importance of the godfathers, all are beautiful customs that are unique and can only be seen here.
Eating and Drinking
Romanians tend to eat a lot and eat well, so don’t think about diets when you come to Romania, it would be a shame not to taste all of the wonderful food. Everything is very tasty and it smells great. The local cuisine is different in the specific areas of the country, but no matter where you go you’ll find some types of food that are cooked all over the areas. So don\t leave without tasting “sarmale” (it is meat rapped in cabbage leaves), be sure to taste the Romanian “slănina” and the sausages, also try some traditionally cooked fish, and of course our “cozonac”, which is a sweet bread with all kind of filings like cocoa, or walnuts, or poppy seeds.
For the drinking part I would recommend a nice glass of wine, especially when Romania has so many great vineyards and also a lot of villagers grow their own grapes, making a really good and organic wine.
First of all be aware of stray dogs; in these times Romania confronts with a really big problem with stray dogs, so it would be a good idea to keep an eye out in remote areas; also pick pocketing is another problem like in many other countries. Thieves have developed all kind of methods to steal so be careful where you put your bag; also be very careful in very crowded places, like buses or trams because those are places that the thieves prefer; don’t take all your money with you, leave some in your hotel room in a safe place or in the hotel’s safe . For Bucharest I would suggest avoiding some bad neighborhoods from the outskirts; there aren’t any interesting things to see there so you would have no reason to go in those parts of the city.
If you come to Romania by car be careful while driving; Romanian young people tend to drive really fast and they put other drivers in danger by driving recklessly.
There aren’t many tips I can give you for saving money because for foreign tourists, Romania is in general cheaper than other countries. But if you are on a really tight budget this is what you should do: you can rent apartments if you are traveling in a group (unfortunately we don’t have so many hostels), also you can stay at pensions in villages – they are much cheaper, they have great food and they are very rustic. It’s a good idea to use public transportation – the metro for Bucharest is great. In other cities you can walk because the highlight of the city is usually in the central area. The taxi is also a good idea because it’s not very expensive – 1 km is about 0.50$.
You can also save money on food; there are a lot of fast- foods (don’t think of your local fast-food places, we don’t have those here, we only have the really big ones); and if you want to eat at a restaurant they offer a “menu of the day” – a good price for a good meal.
Don’t leave Romania without….
Without a lot of things, but to summarize all I should say don’t leave Romania without taking a trip in the mountains; you’re going to fall in love with the wild landscapes. Also don’t leave without visiting a little village – the people are very friendly and they will be very happy to show you their traditions and customs. Also don’t leave Romania without a shot of “pălincă” (a national beverage – resembles the whisky) or without a glass of fine Romanian wine.
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