Lily Rose Fox
Last summer, wanting to avoid a ‘yaah-I-went-interrailing-and-got-soo-messed-up-at-Outlook-in-Croatia’ experience (which incidentally I am probably going to do this summer…), being short of funds and always having had an interest in ‘Eastern’ Europe, two friends and I spend two weeks travelling around Romania, Bulgaria and FYROM. And Romania was my favourite country!
What made it such a great experience to visit this diverse country? It certainly helped that we spent a full 8 days there, so got to travel around various towns and see different regions, and also have friends there which made the trip a bit of a reunion. The youth hostels we stayed in were all very central, cheap and great places to meet other travellers. The food is fresh and I still miss our go-to drink when we were there – freshly made lemonade. We also got a bit of insider knowledge from the hostel workers, which often turned out to be invaluable!
Starting off in Bucureşti, we got to know the city by tour bus and on foot, exploring its parks (CVismigiu is especially pretty), museums, historic sites and of course restaurants and bars. I found the city to be busy, quirky (we had the best freshly made mojitos at Gradina Eden, a bar found amongst trees and hammocks in the courtyard of an old palace) and beautiful, decaying Parisian style architecture standing side by side with Soviet residential blocks and the occasional old, ‘traditional’ style church. One stormy day we took a bus to Snagov, and wondered why we hadn’t took the advice of our hostel receptionist and avoided this slightly bizarre (it was eerily empty) lakeside resort.
We then moved on to pretty Braşov, in Transylvania, where we took a cable car up to the Hollywood-style sign, explored the town centre, and took a daytrip to Cetatea Raşnov which was actually I thought more impressive than ‘Dracula’s castle’, a more developed tourist site at Bran. One of the trip’s many surreal moments was watching people being transported up and down the hill on a toy-like tractor pulling a colourful trailer with seating behind it.
After this we moved towards the coast, stopping off at Buzau where our friends live, seeing more of small town life. Here I witnessed a memorable example of the country’s extremes; the Romantic image of a man driving his mule-and-cart, piled high with hay, along the road outside our hotel, to be followed minutes later by a speeding tinted-windows black sports car. I don’t know much about cars, but even I could tell this one was definitely a nice one.
A long train ride, partly running alongside the Danube delta which was expansive and seemed fairly untouched, and a change at Mangalia later we were at the coast. Our last stop off point in Romania was Vama Veche, a bohemian, relaxed party town on the Black Sea Coast. Here we bumped into some friends we made earlier on in the week, and spent a great two days sunbathing, drinking fresh melon juice and recovering from one of the town’s probably nightly beach parties. Aside from being accused of losing our locker key by a suspiciously chilled out hostel worker from Bath (and running out of money) this was one of the best parts of our trip!
My overall impression of Romania was one of contrasts. Its various histories, lifestyles (closely linked to levels of wealth, urban or rural) and cultural elements (the Mediterranean and the Slavic, national pride) create a bit of a mix, which seems surprisingly different from the UK. Of course I can’t ignore the poverty of a fairly large part of the population, more visible than I was used to, and discrimination against Roma gypsies was particularly evident when speaking to people there. But our experience there was overwhelmingly positive, everyone we met being friendly and helpful, and all the spots we visited either being beautiful or significant places of interest from a historical and cultural point of view. I always tell people to visit, and will continue to do so myself.