Check your preconceived notions about Romania at the door. Your experience here will not be defined by encounters with street children, Gypsy's, or Dracula. While all three may very well exist, none of them accurately defines modern day Romania. We learned this first hand on our first trip here five years ago. In fact, so different was the Romania that we encountered from the one we had heard about, that we ended up coming back and back again until eventually relocating here.
Romania, in reality, is a vibrant and richly diverse country consisting of bustling modern cities, small town charm, Ancient European tradition, and stunning natural beauty. From it's majestic mountain ranges to it's expansive Black Sea coast line, Romania deserves to be defined by, more then anything else, it's raw untapped potential.
Romania holds much in store for the unsuspecting tourist. The last of Europe's great final frontiers it is the home of the ecological wonder of the Danube Delta, the Carpathian Mountains, an abundance of natural springs and some of the most pleasant resorts along the Black Sea coast. Romania offers you the opportunity to step between European city life and still-functioning village life, right out of the pages of National Geographic, all within a short drive. Romania, as it's tourism board puts it is indeed "simply surprising."
And, Romania is about to join the European Community. Likely projections put it's time of entry at 2007 or 2008. This means that the country is currently benefiting from intense modernization efforts and introduction of new facilities that are making the country easier to navigate and more pleasant to spend a prolonged period of time in. Today, Romania uniquely offers the opportunity to experience Europe as it once was and as it currently is - "Old" and "New" Europe at the same time.
This paradox of time is reflected well in the architectural styles in Bucharest. Buildings here vary wildly from ultra-modern to ancient, kitschy to ready-to-bulldoze. One single street here can exhibit all such forms of architecture.
Romania itself takes it's name from the ancient civilization of Rome of which it thrived under. Times have not always been so kind to Romania. However, that has, in the end, only succeeded in making her people all the more resilient, appreciative of freedom, and ever-committed to having a good time and enjoying life. The name of Bucharest comes from the Romanian word "bucuros" meaning joyful and the people here do their best to see that the city lives up to its claim.
Some Latins have taken issue with the assertion that Romanians are a Latin people. One thing, however, is certainly beyond doubt: the Romanians exhibit all the zest of life and passion for fun that so characterizes those of the Latin bloodline.
Bucharest, the capitol and undisputed heart of Romania, is a city that is alive, throbbing with happening night clubs, discos, pubs, and restaurants, that would exhaust even the wildest party animal from the West. One could say without exaggeration that Bucharest is the Atlantic City of the European continent. It is home to hundreds of casinos which are easier to find than gas stations. While a lesser quantity actually deserve accolades, a handful of world class casinos do exist. Recently, a friend of ours showed us how for 500,000 lei (15 Euro) you can go to one of these top-notch casinos, and if you know how to respect your limits, play all night long while you stuff your face from a tempting buffet, drink yourself silly and generally have a good time. Then you can go out the next night to a different casino and do it all over again, week in and week out, if you so wish. What's more, you even get the occasional thanks from the casino manager for your kind presence.
In Romania, the old maxim rings especially true "chance favors the prepared mind." We have heard of every scam in the book played out here and of every unwanted travel nightmare occurring to unsuspecting tourists. Likewise, your chance of enjoying and actually thriving in Romania is based on the extent of your understanding of how Romania works and how you can make it work for you. Once you learn these secrets, success here is yours. There are so many things we've learned over the past 5 years that we only recently have got to the point where we feel qualified to consider ourselves experts in the region.
Romania is a vast and naturally blessed land surpassing the quantity of natural resources and ancient landmarks found in a number of more popularized Western European countries. It would take well beyond the contents of this one small article to give justice to what Romania possesses and how it can surprise and bedazzle you. Suffice to say, we live in Bucharest and within two hours we can be in the heights of the mountains and in the midst of some of the most incredible scenery available on this fair earth, where pine tree forests, meadows, running dear, and mountain landscapes all blend together seamlessly. It leaves you with the impression that they were painted by the hand of the Divine. We can also go 2 hours to the south and vacation along the Black Sea Coast where Romania's pulsating passion for fun takes on new forms. There we can enjoy world class resorts or rough it for a few dollars a night in a wooden tent on the beach. One thing though is always guaranteed; a good time will be had. Romanian's wouldn't have it any other way.
The mountains and the sea are only some of the natural highlights of Romania. Romania is famed for the healing power of it's natural thermal springs and has developed spa resorts around them that offer full relaxation and recovery at a small fraction of the normal Western cost. Romania is home to a permanent ice cave and the ecological excursion of a lifetime at the mouth of the Danube Delta.
Nature though, is not the sole contributor to Romania's tourist appeal. The hand of man is revealed in it's painted monastaries, palaces and castles, medieval towns, and archaeological museums showcasing discoveries more then 2,000 years old. It is also home to the world's second largest building after the Pentagon, "The People's Palace." This mamouth building was once inhabited by Romania's modern day Dracula, Nicolae Ceausescu, who ruled over the people of Romania for more then 50 years. Eventually, the people successfully revolted against him in 1989 and ushered in the current period of democratic rule. The fact that the palace that was created and inhabited by a madman that held a country hostage for more then half a century is a now a museum is a living testimony to the Romanian spirit that will stop at nothing to live in freedom.
The Dracula of legend may have been invented by British author Bram Stoker but the character on which he is based Vlad Tepes (Tzepesh), or "Vlad the Impaler" is real. Tourists are often taken to the lackluster Bran Castle to see where this semi-legendary figure lived, although all historical records indicate that he never set foot there. In reality, the actual princely home of this former Prince of Wallachia (a Romanian providence) still stands, in part, today, protected by more then 1,000 stairs that keep the more sweat-hesitant tourists away.
One need not have a specific destination in mind in order to enjoy Romania. A simple drive in the countryside will yield it's own rewards. The producers of the Hollywood blockbuster "Cold Mountain" chose Romania as their filming location, in part, because of the spectacular, uninterrupted skylines found in much of Romania - they could not locate such scenery in America.
As a side note, the motion picture industry has found a new home in Romania. We've personally ran into Chevy Chase several times, as well as Wesley Snipes, Nicole Kidman, and others. It deserves mention that they seem to amply enjoy Bucharest's nightlife offerings and have shared with us positive comments about their experience in Romania.
For those who want to experience the charms and frills of European living without sacrificing 25% of their wealth at the airport exchange desk, as they convert their US dollar to Euro, and possess the thirst and capacity for a little added excitement than what is normally found in Europe, Romania should be their first consideration.
Romania is extremely expat friendly. Romania is very western-minded and especially pro-American. President Bush visited Romania in 2002 and was met by throngs of cheerful spectators, many of whom waved American flags. Romania is one of the few European countries that is a member of the "Coalition of the Willling," and is home to US troops stationed at the American naval base in the seaside town of Constantza. And, it deserves pointing out, that out of all countries where American troops are stationed, including tropical paradises, more enlisted Americans seek to stay on in Romania then at any other US Naval base in the world. Ultimately the reason behind this curious statistic is unknown. However, several of the US soldiers stationed here told us it had a lot to do with the laid back lifestyle and hospitality of the locals, the natural beauty inherent in the land, the availability of American goods and services, and more often that not, the Romanian women that they had met.
Unlike the majority of European countries, television programs and films are shown almost exclusively in their original language, which more often than not is English. This means cable television brings you 40 or so channels in English and you can take full advantage of modern cinema facilities during your vacation or relocation to Romania. This also means that Romanians have grown up with a closeness to the English-language which combined with excellent schooling, has resulted in a great deal of Romanians having achieved a fluency in the English-language. Foreigners will not have a hard time breaking the language barrier in most parts of the country. Romanian itself is the closest spoken language to Latin and resembles Italian, French, and Spanish, meaning that speakers of any of these languages will find Romanian a relatively easy language to learn with a little desire and tenacity.
Romania can offer you the luxury of American/Western living in it's custom built communities such as "The American Village" and "The French Village." Or, it can allow you to custom build your own lifestyle, perhaps taking elements of your old, familiar life and adding to it a new more appealing dimension. One Western European expat family we know of opened an inn in Transylvania. Every week they entertain guests from around the world and show them a slice of Romania that they fell in love with. An American expat family we know moved to a remote and economically depressed village in the northern part of the country and opened a soup kitchen and adventure camp for local children. They are making a difference and doing what they love. Yet other expats from America, Great Britain and across Europe have opened pubs and nightclubs that add a little air of familiarity from back home to the Bucharest skyline.
Romania, as a final frontier, brings with it the promise of the thrill of discovery, the excitement of going where few have gone before, and the opportunity to expand your horizons. It also presents the possibility of occasional frustrations and hassles. If you have something of the pioneer spirit burning within you and think you share to some level the Romanian joie-de-vivre (passion for life) then we can make no better suggestion to you then to come now and see firsthand why Romania is simply so surprising.