“Romania? What made you pick Romania?”
This is the first thing everyone asked me when I told them we were going to Romania.
“Why not Romania?” was my question back at them, smiling to myself because we clearly had picked a destination that is somewhat under the radar. That’s what I like.
To answer the question though, why Romania? It’s pretty simple. My son was reading Dracula at school around the time we had to decide pretty quickly about what to do in Europe prior to spending Christmas with family in Germany.
Dracula = Transylvania = Romania.
I quickly checked if the airfare was valid for flights into Bucharest and the decision was made. We didn’t think twice about it and it was decided. Too easy.
Before learning a bit more about Dracula and the people and places behind the story, we spent a couple of nights in the capital of Bucharest, the Paris of the East, as it is referred to. Anyone who has ever been to Paris will see the resemblance in an instant from the wide boulevards to its own Arcul De Triumf. It’s a city with an interesting history, with the old trams and trolley buses, a stark reminder of the more recent history and the years under communist regime.
Our local guide
This is where I would like to introduce you to Bogdan, alias Alex, our local guide during a 7 day stay in Romania and owner of Transylvania Discovery Tours.
He is about my age, grew up in Brasov, a city in Transylvania, not far from the capital Bucharest.
The distance from Melbourne to Brisbane is about the same as the distance from Bucharest to Munich. So, Bogdan and I grew up not all that far apart from each other, yet in two completely different worlds.
At the end of WWII, Romania changed to a communist state from the previous monarchy rule.
Bogdan was more than willing to share his memories with us about growing up under a communist regime. He recounted how he lined up at the age of about 14 to buy his ration of oranges and mandarins at Christmas time, even paying a friend to line up with him to get that little bit extra. It’s freezing cold in Transylvania at that time of year but heating would frequently fail or possibly it was rationed as the hot water for the heating was supplied by massive pipes from a central plant.
Around the same time, I would have been sitting in a warm lounge room with the much anticipated “Nikolausteller”, a German tradition at Christmas time. It’s a plate full of nuts and chocolates. We would indulge in the content starting with our favourite treats and often leaving the mandarins and oranges to the end.
1989 marks the end of communism in Eastern Europe but life is still very different. Bogdan just like many others now leave their country to work somewhere else in Europe to support families back at home. For many, this is still the reality today and for me this is a reminder of how very lucky I am and how important it is that we support local tourism in the countries we visit.
Bogdan had the idea of becoming a local guide offering personalised tours in his home country. He followed his passion even when it looked like it may not work out. He was almost tempted to give up on his vision and return abroad for work but he persisted and it paid off.
His passion about what he does shows and together with his wealth of knowledge, not just of Romanian history but European history as a whole, he is a great ambassador for his country and an inspiration to those around him.
Leaving Bucharest behind is an eye opener in many ways. Bogdan confirms that in many villages wood heating is still the only form of heating available and horse and carriage are still very much part of every day life. It’s a Winter Wonderland and I certainly don’t envy the many shepherds and their herds we saw in these harsh conditions
The Transylvanian landscape and the little towns are beautiful. I thought we would be driving through predominantly pine forests but we found ourselves surrounded by virgin forests of many different species of deciduous trees, all of which are bare during the winter months and now covered in snow. It’s spectacular. It must be absolutely stunning during autumn when the leaves turn into a mix of warm colours before falling.
If you like churches, Romania is a delight with countless fortified churches all over the place. We were more fascinated by the castles we visited and learned about Vlad the Impaler or Dracula as he is referred to. We also visited Vlad’s birthplace in Sighishoara.
However, don’t make the mistake of thinking he is the Dracula in Bram Stoker’s famous story of the bloodsucking vampire. Vlad and his brutal methods of punishment during his reign as well as many of the Romanian superstitious beliefs served as the inspiration for the story. But Bram Stoker never even left Ireland to write his book.
Romania has a rich history which emanates originally from the Romans around 2000 years ago. Bogdan’s insight helped us understand the different influences and the intervention of the Saxons around the 12th century. We only visited a very small number of these Saxon fortified villages in Transylvania, however we got a good perspective of life in the medieval times. Having a local guide, the knowledge was enhanced as Bogdan was able to convey stories from legend about various rulers. Information received this way cannot be underestimated.
As always, I was very interested in the local wildlife. Romania is home to about 60% of Europe’s remaining brown bear population. In Transylvania you will find the biggest sanctuary for these beautiful animals. As in so many countries all around the world, these wild animals were allowed to be kept as pets. With the introduction of laws, the problem could not be solved as there was no place for these rescued bears. With the generous assistance of a local council which provided a huge area on a long-term lease, dedicated conservationists were finally able to open a huge sanctuary in 2005. It is home to just under 100 bears which will roam freely here for the rest of their lives. A return to the wild is unfortunately out of the question as they are all rescued, traumatised pets and would not be able to survive in the wild. For more information on the sanctuary visit http://www.ampbears.ro/en
I can definitely recommend a visit to this part of the world and was very fortunate to have connected with Bogdan who turned our visit into a memorable experience and hands on history lesson. Money spent on a local guide who is passionate about showing his home country and sharing his wealth of knowledge is money well spent.
As a mobile travel agent I have the freedom to connect with locally sourced guides such as Bogdan and help my clients with their arrangements. This allows for a truly personalised service with very few boundaries.
Capital City: Bucharest
Population: 19,7 Million
How to get there: Romania has several international airports but the most convenient is Bucharest which is served by several international airlines. Contact me for the best suitable option for you.
Food: Bigger cities have a variety of different food options available but if you stay in smaller villages you will find that the local cuisine is hearty and includes pork, cabbage, potatoes and locally produced cold meats and cheeses. Eating out is very cheap with a meal for 4 costing little more than $80 including drinks. As Bogdan points out, vegetarians may find eating out a challenge.
Currency: Romanian Lei
When to go: Romania has something to offer during every season. It’s popular for hiking as well as skiing and the black sea could be inviting during the hot summer months.