Romania is a Beautiful Country. Here Are Our Impressions.
If you’re thinking about travelling to Romania, this one is for you! It’s not a Penguin and Pia secret that we lived in Romania for a month in 2018. Why did we do that? What did we think? What was the country like? In this post, we’ll dive into what we thought before travelling there, what we experienced while in Romania, and what our thoughts are having left. Romania isn’t just castles, bears, and Dracula – there’s much, much more to discover. You’ll get the answers to all those above questions and more as we tell you about our thoughts on Romania.
If you want to read more about our time in Romania, check out these posts in the Romania Series!
- Brasov is a Great City – Here are a Few of the Best Things to Do and See in Brasov.
- Heard About Sighisoara? Read our Thoughts and Itinerary for the Famous Medieval Town.
- Need a Place to Sleep in Brasov? Here is our Guide on Where to Stay in Brasov for All Budgets.
- Learn About Romania’s Capital – Places to Visit in Bucharest on a Weekend Trip.
Why Travel to Romania?
That’s a great question to start with because it became apparent quite early on that our friends and family would consider Romania to be an “obscure” destination. Having moved over to Europe together, we chose Romania for a bunch of good reasons. The first of which is that we felt like Romania is still “untouched” and it seems with each passing month we see more and more blog posts or travel guides about the country. We wanted to see it before things changed too much and/or got too crazy with tourists.
The other reason we chose to stay in Romania is that we needed to minimize Eric’s time in the Schengen Zone since he was still on his Canadian passport awaiting a formal working visa for the Netherlands. For those wondering, Canadians (and Americans and a few other passports) can spend 90 days within a given 180 day period in the Schengen Zone. Since Romania is in the EU but not in the Schengen Zone (they are two different things), we could spend more time in Europe without having to go home or move around too sporadically.
While in Romania, we saw three main places: Sighisoara was the smallest of the towns we visited, Brasov was the bigger city we rented an Airbnb in, and we travelled to Bucharest, the capital, to catch a flight out to Budapest. We also landed in Sibiu but it was quite dark when we arrived and we had to catch the train to Brasov so didn’t get the chance to explore much. Apparently, the old town is really pretty – and we plan on checking it out the next time we are in Romania.
We’re glad we saw three very different sized places in the country since it gave us a pretty good perspective of the country as a whole. We did also take the train from Brasov to Sighisoara and stopped at literally every single small town or train stop (sometimes this wasn’t even a place) on the way there and back.
Romania is a Country of Contrast
For us, Romania was a country of contrast. One of the biggest things we noticed was the environment. Even in the middle of what seemed like nowhere, there was plastic. Bags, bottles, you name it. Plastic lined the riverways and creek beds. On the flip side, we took the train to Bucharest through the Carpathian Mountains. The air was crisp, the waterways were clear, and the trees were lush and snowy. We’re not shaming Romania for their waste removal methods or their cultural value of the environment – but compared to Germany, Hungary, or the Balkan countries we’re travelling through as we type this post – it was noticeable.
We’re not going to gloss over the fact that there is a contrast of class present in Romania. Yes, you’ll find ethnic Roma in many parts of the country. You might have interacted with them in other European centres like Barcelona, Paris or Rome. Travellers have developed horrible narratives of these people as “beggars and thieves”. Often times, that’s true – Eric even knows from personal experience in Venice. However, it’s important not to equate all people to the same ideals. You’re in Romania – there are “Roma people” who are different from “Romanians”. Many people we interacted with were pleasant and we discuss what we personally thought a little further down.
The Romanian Train Story
We also can’t write about our time in Romania, and the people, without telling the story of what happened on the train from Sighisoara to Brasov. In short, we had a really uncomfortable situation with some Roma. As the only tourists on the train and among the few local Romanian people running errands or heading home, we were an easy target for begging.
On two occasions, children entered our train compartment, sat down beside us, and began begging us for food. We literally had no food so we – as respectfully and clearly as we could articulate visually – said “we do not have food, sorry”. It’s clear that they were conditioned to force the issue – be persistent and, quite frankly, irritating until people break and give them food or money. I’m sure dozens of travellers before us had given in and they expected that we too would eventually give them something. But we had nothing to give – and we weren’t going to give money. We had been instructed not to give money as money only perpetuates the cycle of poverty.
In any case, it was really uncomfortable and difficult to be caught in between but we are glad we were because we can offer a real perspective of a country with highs and lows – like every other country. To go to Romania and say everything was just a fairy tale would be a lie – because it’s not. There are beautiful castles and nice people but the country is not without its difficulties as it grows and changes in the age of globalization.
This is also probably a good time to mention that, while we’re not Romanian, we’re not just “tourists chatting about a country’s problems”. Eric has his Masters Degree in Health Inequalities and Public Policy and he’s worked with marginalized populations around the world, including with Canadian Indigenous Populations in Northern parts of Canada. He knows a thing or two about understanding social and economic conditions with both a respectful and critical eye – and we hope that our commentary is as honest and respectful as can be.
Romania is a Country That’s Changing
It’s no secret that there’s a lot of beautiful history to draw visitors in the form of castles, old towns, etc. However, to really maximize the potential dollars that they can derive from tourism things will change/modify. There’s a lot of work to be done to infrastructure and rail transportation. It’ll be interesting to see what continued integration with the EU and a develop tourism industry does for the entire country.
In Romania, you can sometimes still see horses and wagons on the roadways. In the rural areas, people still seem to be living a very agricultural-driven lifestyle. In Bucharest, it’s the exact opposite. Towering Soviet-style buildings built in the mid-1950s mixed with beautiful historic houses are filled with working professionals in suits and briefcases. In Brasov, there didn’t seem to be a lot of younger people (our age). We had read that this was potentially because of the work opportunities (or lack thereof) available in the smaller towns versus the bigger cities in Romania or in Europe. Apparently, joining the EU caused a mass migration of the young working class to seek opportunities in other European countries. Once we got to Bucharest, we saw loads of younger people so we understand this to be more truth than myth.
Dispelling Romanian Myths
Having never travelled to Romania before deciding to live there for a month we did quite a bit of reading up on the country. Thinking back, it is interesting to remember just how many differing perspectives we received from online posts. “It’s safe or it’s scary, there are stray dogs or there are no stray dogs, it’s dirty or it’s clean” – there was just no consensus and we had even less of an idea what to expect going into it.
One of the biggest myths that we will dispel right now is the one about “stray dogs roaming the streets”. While it’s true that Romania HAD a problem with stray dogs in the mid-late 2000s, the government stepped up initiatives to curb this problem. In Brasov, we encountered zero stray dogs. The same could be said for both Bucharest and Sighisoara. The only time we saw dogs that might have been “stray” was from the train in the middle of nowhere close to smaller villages. It’s safe to assume these dogs belonged to people.
We had read that even in Brasov there might be the odd interaction with dogs and that you should be vigilant and perhaps have to stand your ground. Not once. Bucharest is a full-on big city so definitely not there either. Nor in Sibiu. The blog posts about “how to deal with the stray dogs in Romania” are largely outdated. There are dogs in every country that might or might not attack you. Just do the same thing you would in every other country and you’ll be fine.
Our Personal Thoughts About Romania
Overall, Lisa was pleasantly surprised about the country. Admittedly, she didn’t know a lot about the place and as a western European, you often only hear about the stereotypes that define and describe the newer EU countries. But isn’t this how it goes for any place or people we’re not familiar with personally?
In the end, we had different feelings about the people and the culture. We had lots of great interactions with shopkeepers, hotel receptionists, train conductors, our host’s parents who checked us in, etc. Lisa thought that, overall, Romanians were friendly. Eric, being Canadian, is used to an overly polite culture. He found Romanians to be very stoic – which isn’t at all a bad thing. He found the people to be very industrious and of a “no time for bullshit” attitude. He’s also Eastern European by descent so it’s a mentality he’s also accustomed to!
Should You Travel to Romania?
Yes – we definitely think you should. Romania is a beautiful country. There are strengths and weaknesses to every country – the same can be said for Romania. We’re fortunate to have gotten what we feel was a well-rounded perspective of the country given the time we were there. Our opinions aren’t just shaped by visiting only Bucharest or only Sighisoara. You’ll certainly find those castles and old towns you’re looking for, but expect Romania to change you and your beliefs in ways you never thought possible. It’s more than just Dracula souvenirs and cheap prices. We look forward to returning soon to explore and understand more of this great country.
What do you think? Have you travelled to Romania or are you thinking about travelling there soon? What have you heard or what did you experience? We’d love to hear the perspectives of other travellers or locals.
As always, Happy Romanian Waddlin’