DOS & DON’TS
What to Wear
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For More Information
Romania’s modern history is as haunting as its old Dracula legend: The brutal reign of dictator Nicolae Ceausescu ended in 1989, but the country is still plagued by a past of poverty and political uncertainty. Its capital, Bucharest, has come a long way in its post-communist hangover. Some of the massive potholes have been filled, and the roaming street dogs are gone, but now it suffers from the same polluting traffic as any other major European city. And yet Romania offers an entirely different culture from what you’ll find elsewhere in Europe. It has some of the most stunning mountain scenery on the continent, and many parts of the countryside seem untouched by modern history. For adventurous travelers, the eerie castles, charming medieval villages and painted monasteries hidden away in deep forests more than make up for the often-drab cities and the irritating bureaucracy that lingers from the country’s communist past.
The Carpathian Mountains run through the country in the north, and the equally scenic Transylvanian Alps run east-west through the center. The mountains, plus a lengthy Black Sea coastline, make Romania one of the most physically attractive destinations in Europe. Much of the country’s southern border is defined by Europe’s famous Danube River.
Ethnic Romanians, who make up 85% of the population, trace the nation’s history to the Roman colony of Dacia. Turkish and European influences are evident (the area was part of the Ottoman Empire until 1877), although the eight regions of the country remain characteristically very different. Perhaps because it’s composed of formerly independent parts, people identify with their local regions.
There is a strong Hungarian influence in Transylvania (once part of Hungary), which has only been united with Romania since 1918. And debate continues to this day over the future nationality of the area. (Saxon merchants moved in during the 12th century to defend Hungary’s eastern borders.)
In 1916, Romania joined the side of the Triple Entente in World War I, eventually overthrowing Communist leader Bela Kun in Hungary. However, the country’s government was unstable after the war, and between 1930 and 1940, there were more than 25 different administrations. Following World War II, the newly crowned King Mihai attempted to keep a broad-based government but was forced to abdicate in 1947 under pressure from the Communists. Romania then became a People’s Republic. Nicolae Ceausescu assumed leadership of Romania’s Communist party—and the country—in the mid-1960s. His administration was notorious for cracking down on dissent among the people, who were suffering from shortages of food, fuel and other basic necessities.
The country’s violent revolution of December 1989, which led to the execution of Ceausescu, left most of the ruling elite intact. Former Communist Ion Iliescu took the reins and, when he lost re-election in 1996, made history by being Romania’s first leader to leave peacefully without being deposed or shot. His successors have struggled to modernize the country, and foreign investment has finally arrived. Romania was invited to join NATO in 2002, and the country is actively boosting its economy via tourism. It became a member of the European Union in 2007.
The country’s main attractions are rural landscapes, medieval monasteries, wine country, sites relating to Count Dracula, Black Sea beaches, folk and classical cultural traditions, and skiing.
Romania will appeal to travelers who love haunting rural scenery, folk culture and outdoor activities. Be prepared to ride on winding mountain roads to get to some of the more interesting parts of the country. The country is not for those who demand deluxe accommodations throughout their stay.
If you peek into a countryside church and there’s a wedding going on, expect to be invited to join the festivities and share in the food and drink that are brought to the ceremony.
Romanians are serious about their health spas: More than 1,000 Romanian doctors specialize in balneology—the science of using mineral baths for therapeutic treatment.
Because Romanian is a Romance language, certain words may seem similar to people who are familiar with Spanish, Italian or French. For example, supa is the word for soup, and buna seara means good evening.
In 1884, Timisoara was the first city in Europe to have electric street lamps.
The film industry has taken off in Romania, so don’t be surprised if you are eating dinner next to a celebrity such as Nicole Kidman, Keifer Sutherland or Jean-Claude Van Damme.
Romania offers many excellent outdoor activities, ranging from hiking or hunting in the Transylvanian Alps to boating or bird-watching in the Danube estuary. Whether you enjoy horseback riding in pristine countryside, fishing in clear streams or clubbing in Bucharest, there is something for everyone to enjoy.
Those wanting a different type of recreation can find it in northern Romania, where there exists the unique opportunity to experience village life, complete with horse-driven carts and traditional clothing worn for church on Sundays.
Shop for ceramic dolls, crochet and embroidery (pillowcases, tablecloths, blouses), pottery, wooden boxes and painted wooden eggs. If you are interested in traditional artifacts, buy them from peasants selling them in rural areas. Official gift shops have mass-produced artifacts that are not genuine. Locally bottled wines and brandies also make nice souvenirs. The painted eggs in the northern Moldavia region make beautiful gifts and are made from real eggs; just make sure to pack them carefully for the trip home. Recordings of folk music are inexpensive. In general, goods that are imported into Romania are more expensive than those made locally, and the quality is poor as well. The price of local crafts will vary according to where you purchase them: Items bought in hotels and airports cost more than the ones you find in markets or smaller shops.
For diverse shopping in Bucharest, there are several large malls complete with supermarkets, restaurants, movie complexes and even bowling alleys. They are worth a stop only if you are interested in the typical mall type of shopping experience.
Try Calea Vicoria in Bucharest for designers (keep your eyes open for shops in small alleyways off the main street) and the Lipscani area for offbeat art galleries, hand-blown glass, antiques and funky designers.
Shopping Hours: Generally Monday-Saturday 8 am-2 pm, except in the malls, where the stores close at 8 pm. Some stores are also open on Sunday. Larger stores and shopping malls frequently open earlier and close later.
You’ll find a choice of restaurants in Romania’s towns and cities. Eating out may be a problem in out-of-the-way countryside villages, but in those areas you’re likely to be invited into a local family’s home for a traditional meal. Romanian cuisine isn’t bad; it’s just that variety and quality outside the capital are spotty—especially in winter. Be prepared to eat a lot of fried pork, greasy potatoes, salami, cheese, canned peas and pickled peppers. (Don’t be surprised if a waiter hands you a menu but then says the only available items are pork cutlets and pickled salad.) Always insist on being shown a menu with prices listed—otherwise you might be grossly overcharged. There are usually plenty of food choices in traditional restaurants. In addition to pork, other favorites are chicken and veal.
If you ever see it on a menu, order sarmale cu mamaliga, a dish of cabbage rolls and polenta. Chicken soup is served just like a Jewish mother would make it, complete with matzo balls (round dumplings). There are many varieties of mici (sausage) and cured meats, some served grilled and some served cold (chew the sausages made of minced meat carefully; some may have small bone fragments). Small dried fish may be served as snacks. There are several tasty local spreads: salate de icri, a fish-based one; zakuska, a roasted pepper combination; and vinete, a roasted eggplant mix. Soft sheep’s cheese and yogurt may be available for breakfast. Fish is often served near the Black Sea and fresh trout in the mountain areas. The food is tastier in Transylvania, where the Hungarian influence in cooking is still found. Try porkolt, a Hungarian pork casserole with paprika sauce and dumplings, or an authentic goulash.
Romanian beer is good, with Ursus (the bear) leading the pack. Regional wine also can be quite good, especially red wine from the Black Sea coast or white wine from Transylvania. Be aware that if a bottle of mineral water says it’s medicinal, it will taste like Alka-Seltzer. Ask for apa minerale to get carbonated water or apa plata to get the still variety. Tuica (plum brandy), the national drink, is good, but be careful—it’s strong.
There are unusual restaurants that should be visited throughout the country. They are often tucked away in old wine cellars or very old homes. Ask at your hotel for a list of local favorites. Traditional entertainment such as folk singing, dancing and real Romanian feasting can often be found in smaller towns.
Tourists should take precautions against pickpocketing, particularly in the cities and around beggars. This is especially true if you’re with a group—a prime target for thieves to get their hands on valuable U.S. dollars and passports. Some travelers report thieves posing as police: They display badges and ask to see a tourist’s wallet or passport. The tourist is then relieved of the item; if stopped by police, ask to go to the nearest police station to settle matters. It is very important to keep receipts for all your purchases to show to customs officials. Otherwise, they might ask for a bribe in order to allow you take the goods over the border.
For the latest information, contact your country’s travel-advisory agency.
Generally speaking, medical care is on a lower standard than that of Western countries; however, there are hospitals in cities, and medications are available. It’s still best to take along all prescription medicines you might need. Although no inoculations are currently required of travelers, it’s advisable to be immunized against hepatitis if you’re making an extended visit outside urban areas.
If you need urgent medical assistance while in a Romanian hospital, don’t hesitate to bribe the doctors and nurses. They are poorly paid, so extra money will help in getting you extra care.
Take insect repellent if you are planning on visiting the Danube Delta, particularly in late summer.
General sanitation standards vary across the country, with tap water varying in drinkability. To be on the safe
side, drink bottled water. However, at larger hotels, check with the management as the water quality may be good and the water fine to drink. Most hot, freshly cooked or packaged food is safe. Also, because of lingering effects of a cyanide spill in Baia Mare, do not eat fish caught there. Be sure to take along a pair of comfortable walking shoes.
For the latest information, contact your country’s health-advisory agency.
DOS & DON’TS
Don’t try to hitchhike anywhere in Romania with your thumb. An extended forefinger, not thumb, is the recognized symbol for hitchhiking there. Women should not hitchhike at all.
Do be prepared for difficulties in finding lodgings at the last minute, particularly in Bucharest and at the Black Sea resorts in summer.
Don’t plan to visit museums on Monday. Most are closed then.
Don’t expect international calls to go through on the first few tries. And be aware that public telephones only accept phone cards that you can purchase from street kiosks.
Do be careful with your personal belongings. Pickpocketing and thefts from tourists can occur, especially in larger cities, train stations and tourist areas.
Do expect to be delayed at railroad crossings. The gates come down when trains are scheduled to cross, and if the train’s late, the gate stays down till it passes. If you can avoid it, do not cross a railroad at all. There have been accidents in which the gates came up when the trains were supposed to cross.
Do take along toilet paper if venturing into rural or out-of-the-way places. Some public restrooms have none or are sparsely stocked. This is one of the signs that this is developing country. The lack of clean restrooms is rampant.
Don’t mistake men’s and women’s restrooms. Femei on the door indicates that it’s for women; barbati is for men. Do talk to locals. Many of them are friendly and curious, although a bit shy, and most of the younger ones speak English well.
Do give the Romanian language a try. Visitors who speak another Romance language have no trouble learning Romanian quite fast. Romanians get very excited when they hear a visitor trying to talk in their language.
Passport/Visa Requirements: Citizens of Canada and the U.S. need passports but not visas. Sufficient funds and proof of onward passage are required of all visitors. Reconfirm travel document requirements with your carrier before departure.
Languages: Romanian (official), Hungarian, German; also English is spoken, especially among the younger generation..
Predominant Religions: Christian (Eastern Orthodox, Roman Catholic, Protestant)..
Time Zone: 2 hours ahead of Greenwich Mean Time (+2 GMT). Daylight Saving Time is observed from the last Sunday in March to the last Sunday in October.
Voltage Requirements: 220 volts.
Telephone Codes: 40, country code; 21,city code for Bucharest; 257,city code for Arad; 263,city code for Bistrita; 268,city code for Brasov; 251,city code for Craiova.
In July 2005, the Romanian currency, the leu (L), was re-evaluated as the new leu: The new leu is the
equivalent of 10,000 old lei (the plural form). The new leu is divided into 100 bani. There are many legal exchage houses on the main streets and boulevards of cities; however, be sure to look at the commission rate and rate of exchange.
ATMs are numerous in the larger towns and cities, and even small towns will have one or two at the major banks. Be very careful when using an ATM: It’s easy to miscount the number of zeros and end up with 10 times the desired amount of cash.
Credit cards are accepted at larger hotels, restaurants and shops. Always check first. Cash is often better as many less-expensive places do not accept credit cards. Traveler’s checks must be exchanged for cash at a bank.
Note: Avoid changing money on the street because such operators may be professional thieves who will try to give you counterfeit currency or a packet of newsprint. Always go to a bank or legitimate exchange bureau to convert currencies.
Tip about 10% in restaurants if a service charge hasn’t already been added to the bill. A tip of up to 10% to any type of service personnel is considered normal.
Mid-May to October is the best time to visit Romania. The days are warm and the evenings cool. It can, however, be uncomfortably warm during July and August in Bucharest and other low-lying areas. October is chancy—the foliage is beautiful, but it can be cold and rainy. Winter can be very cold, with temperatures below freezing throughout the country during the day (and in some hotels, heat and hot water aren’t adequate).
The best time to visit the seaside and mountain resorts is June-September.
In the mountains, it’s always about 10 degrees F/5 C cooler, and there’s a tendency for fog, drizzle and mist much of the year. Along the coast, summers are more pleasant and winters more moderate. Most rain falls in the spring and fall.
What to Wear
The big cities have gone Western, so feel free to pack what you would normally wear in any large city. Restaurants for dinner tend to be fairly dressy. Don’t forget sunscreen, especially in the mountains and seaside. The mountain areas get chilly in the evenings, even if they are hot during the day.
Business meetings require business suits. Residents of the city are usually fashionably attired. Men should save their shorts for the beach, but women can wear micro-miniskirts anywhere, as Romanian women of all ages are not known for their conservative dress. Women who dress provocatively, however, need to be prepared for whistling and staring from men on the streets.
Pay phones are available and operate with a card. A better bet is to buy a Romanian SIM card and use it in your own cell phone, a practice that allows you to pay as you go. These cards are sold in many street kiosks. Cell-phone coverage is very good, even better than the U.S.; only rural mountain areas seem to be affected adversely.
In the major cities, Internet access is widely available in the form of Wi-Fi. Many trendy cafes and almost all hotels are equipped. Outside big cities, ask the locals. Romania is very Internet-savvy.
Mail & Package Services
For mail service, use a reliable carrier such as Pegasus, DHL or UPS. Romanian air mail is reliable as well, at least for regular letters. The bigger packages get to their destination, but it can be a bureaucratic hassle until one retrieves them.
Newspapers & Magazines
The best way to get oriented in Bucharest is to pick up a copy of In Your Pocket. Also, for local information both business and otherwise, try Vivid magazine. A magazine focused purely on business ventures is Business Review. These can be found in the magazine stand at any of the major hotels.
For clubs, theaters and current events, B-24 is the best source. Most cafes have copies available. Another good resource is the Web site http://www.sapteseri.ro (available in English and Romanian).
Bucharest Henri Coanda International Airport (formerly named Otopeni International Airport and still associated with the code OTP) is 12 mi/20 km north of Bucharest’s city center. This airport provides both domestic and international flight services featuring airlines such as TAROM-Romanian, Air France, KLM, Austrian Air, Lufthansa and others. The airport houses parking facilities, a post office and bank, currency-exchange bureaus, restaurants, car rental facilities, and duty-free and gift shops. For assistance, check with the tourist help desk. Additional airport information can be obtained by telephoning 40-21-201-4000.
Baneasa Airport (BBU) is on the outskirts of Bucharest and hosts both international and local flights. Rental car agencies maintain branches at the airport. For additional information, phone 40-21-232-0020.
Although the best way to see the country is by rented car, this method is only recommended for the experienced or adventurous traveler. Escorted/hosted tours are more relaxing, but choose one that uses ground transportation: It would be a shame to fly over such beautiful countryside. For the best of both worlds, prearrange a chauffeur-driven car: The drivers are usually happy to be guides, as well.
Rental cars can be somewhat expensive; however, check with major rental car agencies—Avis, Budget, Europcar and Hertz—for any special rates available. If you do rent a car, it may be best to also hire a driver. Driving can be challenging even in the best of times. Slow-moving vehicles, animals, bicycles and pedestrians use most highways. It’s especially hazardous on the mountain roads December-February. If you do get behind the wheel, know that driving is on the right and be cautious when driving after dark at any time of year.
Train service into Romania is excellent, but service within the country may be slow (especially to the most scenic sections). It is, however, reliable and fairly inexpensive. If you’re traveling around by train, try to take the fastest train possible. There are fast trains from Bucharest to the major cities that are reliable and up to international quality standards. For additional information on travel by train, see http://www.cfr.ro.
Intercity buses can be crowded during commute hours, and roads in Romania are not in the best shape. Buses do provide an inexpensive means of local transport, but you may be better off taking the train.
In Bucharest, buses, streetcars and the subway are inexpensive but crowded, and pickpocketing occurs frequently. Taxis are readily available in all the large cities and towns. However, make sure that you select a taxi that readily displays its company name and information and has the correct amount per mile/kilometer written on the side of the cab (inquire at your hotel as to what this rate is at the time). Otherwise, you may find yourself overcharged on fares. Some taxi drivers are notorious for overcharging tourists, so ask locally for advice about good cab companies to use.
For More Information
Romania: Romanian Tourist Authority, 17 Apolodor St., Bucharest. Phone 40-21-410-1262. Fax 40-21-411-2346.
Canada: Contact the Romanian National Tourist Office in the U.S.
U.S.: Romanian National Tourist Office, 14 E. 38th St., 12th Floor, New York, NY 10016. Phone 212-545-8484. Fax 212-251-0429.
Also, for North American tourists only, the following office is available: Romanian National Tourist Office, North America (RoNTO), 355 Lexington Ave., 19th Floor, New York, NY 10017. Phone 212-545-8484. Fax 212-251-0429.
Canada: Embassy of Romania, 655 Rideau St., Ottawa, ON K1N 6A3. Phone 613-789-3709. Fax 613-789-4365. U.S.: Embassy of Romania, 1607 23rd St. N.W., Washington, DC 20008. Phone 202-332-4846. Fax 202-332-4748.
Embassies in Romania
Canadian Embassy, Str. Nicolae Iorga 36, Sector 1, Bucharest. Phone 40-21-307-5000. Fax 40-21-307-5010.
U.S. Embassy, Str. Tudor Arghezi 7-9, Bucharest. Phone 40-21-200-3300. Fax 40-21-200-3442.
ucharest by Radu Anton Roman and Radu Lungu (Continental Sales).
Language and Travel Guide to Romania (Hippocrene Books).
Balkan Trilogy by Olivia Manning (Penguin). Fictionalized account of the author’s time in Romania before the outbreak of World War II.
Balkan Ghosts by Robert Kaplan (Vintage Press). The chapters on Romania are an insightful, though somewhat negative, account of the country in the early years after the 1989 revolution.
Romanian Conversation Guide by Mihai Miroiu (Hippocrene Books). A helpful reference to help minimize the inevitable hand-waving and gesticulating.
The Walls Came Tumbling Down by Gale Stokes (Oxford University Press). An analysis of the collapse of communism in eastern Europe, with a chapter about Romania.
Red Horizons: Chronicles of a Communist Spy Chief by Ion Pacepa (Regnery). This memoir was written several years after Pacepa defected from a top military position under Ceausescu.
Romania Redux: A View from Harvard by Dan Dimancescu (BTF).