The draw of Dracula’s Castle and the historic coup over communist tyrant Nicolae Ceaușescu was enough to fire up our curiosity about visiting Romania, but I didn’t quite expect how hard it would be to get out of my head.
Sometimes we travel to escape, and sometimes we travel to explore – our 4.5 day trip to Romania, staying in Bucharest and Brasov – was a combination of the two.
We were idly looking through the options for escaping to – not especially fancying anywhere in Europe but not really wanting to do a long-haul flight, and Romania popped up as an option.
Honestly, I didn’t know very much about the country, other than getting stuck in a lift with several of the national football team players in our hotel in Vienna, it contains Dracula’s Castle so I’d always wanted to visit Transylvania, that Prince Charles has a winter home there, and that their fresh tomatoes are incredible (a fact that a Romanian cab driver told me as his eyes got misty for his home before we planned upcoming his trip to New Zealand).
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But, when I mentioned Romania as a destination to Mr Kiwi, he began to tell me about the political history there: as a nation they were crippled by a tyrannical socialist leader and his wife, before revolutionaries staged a coup and overthrew the couple.
Then, at the same time, the lovely Shikha from Why Waste Annual Leave also booked a holiday there, and her enthusiasm for what they had planned was contagious.
So contagious, we simply booked our trip one evening.
It is certainly a country of extremes.
It was also the first countries that we have visited from behind the Iron Curtain. The same year that the Berlin wall came down, Romania had their revolution freeing themselves from the totalitarian government.
Known as the Paris of Eastern Europe, we visited without preconceived notions, a couple of booked day trips and a long list of recommendations that Shikha personally vetted for us.
It was the most challenging, un-tourist-polished place that we have ever visited, and I feel so different for having visited. We were made more than welcome by the locals (in a gruff Eastern European style, reminiscent of Prague nearly a decade ago – though I thawed a lot of people by learning to say ‘I’m from New Zealand’ in Czech) and visited some beautiful places that warmed our appetite for a possible Russia trip sometime in the future.
With the beautiful Carpathian Mountains in the north, beautiful castles in Transylvania and the busy city of Bucharest in the south, there is plenty to do.
And the churches? Oh, the churches.
I can’t wait to write properly on this country – but these are the reasons why I can’t get it out of my head. I’ve always wanted to travel to experience more of the world, help to understand cultures and obviously try their amazing dishes. In 4.5 days you can’t pretend to comprehend a society, but by dipping a toe in, you are given a window.
Some cities are amazing for relaxing in, and some are amazing for challenging your world view.
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