This is a country that although many people will find intetesting or at least curious few know anything about. In a pub quiz on Romania it is unlikely many could name the capital city Bucharest and even fewer the currency , the Leu. For a country of around 20 million inhabitants this can be considered surprising. Even fewer people might know geographically that Romania is bordering the Black Sea, Bulgaria, Ukraine, Hungary, Serbia, and Moldova, and geographically is the twelth largest country in Europe. Bucharest is the largest city with almost 2 million inhabitants.
1 Bucharest 1,883,425
2 Cluj 324,576
3 Timișoara 319,279 13
4 Iași 290,422
5 Constanța 283,872
6 Craiova 269,506
The last piece of history that might be relevant is that modern Romania emerged within the territories of the ancient Roman province of Dacia, and was formed in 1859 through a union of the Danubian Principalities of Moldavia and Wallachia. Romania has been a member of the EU since 2007.
By default there is a certain degree of chaos that seems inherent in Romania. On arrival at the airport it is complex to fathom where exactly to go to escape . Unusually for European airports the queues at passport control , if they can be described as queues, more a random collection of people looking where to head, were long and on arrival at the passport desks passengers were met with strange inquisitive looks before being dismissed.
The country is for a Western European frighteningly cheap. It seems that there are around 4.5 Leu to the pound . Sitting at a nice outside cafe in the centre of Craiova having a nice lunch the total cost of lunch and drinks came to 105 Leu for Four people. Nice food and drinks too that included a raspberry smoothie . The currency symbol is “lei”.
Romania is not an easy country to traverse. There are few highways and even these are two lanes. So road travel may be slower than anticipated . On the positive side an app called Waze was excellent in not only providing an accurate route but also informing whenever the police might be ahead waiting. Judging by the number of police cars seen the per capita police numbers may be the highest in Europe. The police also do some curious jobs like policing closed roads when closed for resurfacing . The roads are far from perfect with plentiful potholes and craters even in main roads.
The food and drink in Romania was excellent. Very difficult to describe a style. Some restaurants advertising Tapas in fact served food about as related to Tapas as KFC. Apart from the low cost generally of food as exampled by a lovely chicken breast with tomatoes and spinach in a nice restaurant for less than £4, the nice surprise was the excellent quality of Romanian wine. Either I got lucky with a clever wine choosing host or both the white and Rose wines were superb and cheap. On a minor negative side draught beer was not easily available and when it was , Heineken was the only and thus default choice .
The Romanians are not a quick population and in fact rarely have I observed a more slowly ambulant cohort. In keeping with this service although good everywhere was never quick. So the concept if a quick meal will not easily exist here. But where they win is in terms of natural beauty and I am not sure if there is a more naturally beautiful race in Europe.
It took me maybe almost a day to notice that there were few overweight or obese Romanians.
There are of course some negatives in this beautiful country. Wiring is clearly not a strength. It is unusual to observe such painfully complicated wiring that makes one wonder about the mental health of anyone who might want to untangle even some of the wires. In Bucharest however it seems there is a project to make the city wireless. Nothing to do with Wi-Fi. Literally to bury the many thousands of miles of wires underground. This project however has not necessarily extended to Craiova the other city I visited.
Although my views of Craiova are for a separate article it is fair to comment that the graffiti art there ranks amongst the best I have seen in Europe and maybe worldwide.
Taxis are both plentiful and cheap in Romania and Dacia is a common Romanian car brand. Although I had seen Dacia cars in UK my perception was that these were Korean cars. Clearly these have progressed enormously from the communist era.
Was there anything I did not like about Romania? Not really. The country is a very raw country and to some extent ripe for exploitation from Western Industry. Parts of it reminded me of Prague before the Velvet Revolution. There are huge spaces in the country that could be filled. The airport could be improved both structurally , organisationally but most importantly with more connecting flights. There was little real choice in flights from UK. Maybe this is protective. Romania is a small country and maybe has only six cities of reference. It is not a rich country but despite that there was far less absence of overt begging than recently observed in London, Madrid and Gothenburg. Even amongst those clearly devoid of money they cleaned car windscreens at traffic lights in Bucharest. My initial unfair reaction was of annoyance but on reflection this was a fair if not semi-dangerous attempt to earn a living. I promise that the next time someone does this for me in UK and in the area I live in does have a strong Romanian population , I will give them money.
My two key takeaways are that I like Romania and its people and that I will be back . Until I do I would advocate interest and visits to this intetesting and in many ways underdeveloped country