My first visit to Romania was an unforgettable experience. It was a country that impressed and surprised me in many ways. I left with some great memories. These are memories I would like to share.
I think it is important to take a look at the history and origins of this nation. Romania was one of the poorest economies behind the Iron Curtain. Once called the “Barn of Europe” for its rich agricultural land, Romania became one of the poorest nations of the Eastern Bloc, with one of the harshest dictatorships. Romanians are people unique in their mix, descendants of the Dacians from that region who mixed with Roman, Turk, and Slavic invaders and immigrants. Due to their Roman heritage, they are very Latin and they are proud of it. They dress with Italian style, teach French at primary schools, they like to watch Latin American soap operas and there, are salsa schools across the country. Even though their language contains many Slavic words, the Romanian language has a Latin root and many say it is the most similar language to Latin. Despite having a hard past, Romanians are talented people; they have excelled in various fields including science, music and sports.
I did not know what to expect on my first visit to Romania. I think the uncertainty made my trip more exciting. People who had previously been to Romania told me to watch out for beautiful women and bad driving. Bucharest seemed chaotic at first. I’ve had a lifelong passion for history of Eastern European; therefore, I was fascinated with Bucharest, an open-air museum that tells its own story. The Romanian Parliament, also known as Casa Poporului or the “People’s House” is one of the largest buildings in the world. Its eternal hallways contain artifacts made by the Romanian people from carpets to hand-made glassware.
Despite being a dark city marked by the harsh Soviet and North Korean architecture, Bucharest has some gems hidden within the concrete. The Cişmigiu Gardens are a wonderful park downtown where people often go ice skating in the winter. There are also impressive monuments such as the CEC Bank Palace, the Romanian Athenaeum and the University of Bucharest.
Bucharest is full of surprises like the wonderful Caru cu Bere brewery built in 1879, or the Parhon Institute, with its controversial clinical studies to stop aging. Many famous actors and politicians went there in search of eternal youth.
During my stay I had the opportunity to see the Romanian province. The country’s main port, Constanţa, has an abandoned casino worth seeing for its particular architecture and its huge shell-shaped window. Romania is covered with vast forests and villages. The country owns the legendary region of Transylvania where you can see the castle where the English writer, Bram Stoker, based his famous novel Dracula. The cruel but beloved Prince Vlad Dragulea was the motivation for this story because of his brutal acts against the Turks while defending his kingdom.
I was fortunate to spend a Christmas up north in a region called Bukovina. This is a region in the mountains. Bukovina is known for its Orthodox Christian monasteries. The monasteries have the smell of incense, candles, paintings and crafts that have survived for hundreds of years. Romanians tend to buy wine made by the monks themselves to consume during the holidays. You can also buy liquor made from plums called ţuica, made only for the brave since it contains sixty percent alcohol. Typical dishes include sarmale (cabbage stuffed with pork) and mici (meatballs).
Let’s not forget that Romania is the home of the gypsies. While there are social conflicts between Romanians and gypsies, there is general acceptance of the gypsies’ great talents, like music, which is often heard on radio, television and at traditional marriages. You can see their presence in almost every aspect of Romanian life.
My experience in Romania was truly unforgettable. The striking contrasts and peculiarities I have told you about make Romania a highly recommended destination, even for a couple of weeks. It is a country that is growing and changing very fast, so you should visit before many of its charms are lost.
WRITTEN BY TYLER SCHAKEL