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Some colourful characters have graced Romania's long history. Vlad Tepes, a national hero in the 15th century, had the habit of eating dinner while the impaled heads of his enemies looked on. More recently, Nicolae Ceausescu, Romania's draconian dictator between the mid-60s and late 80s, has charmed the country with his belief in starving the populous as the ruler eats his fill.
Ironically, Romanians are a warm, inviting people. Widespread poverty mixed with corruption makes progress hard, but Romanians work hard at putting positive momentum back into their country. Traditional dance and gypsy music are still widely practiced and performed. Romania's list of attractions is steadily growing, as the nation's tourism industry slowly takes off. The Carpathian Mountains offer up cheap skiing, hiking and animal watching potential; Romania's small stretch of coastline along the Black Sea has been marketed as a hub for summer fun.
In ancient history the Romanian territory was inhabited by the Dacians, an Indo-European people with an original language, culture and religion. The prosperity and geographic setting of Dacia, not to mention rulers' intervention in external affairs made the Romans attack the state. After two tough wars, the first one between 101-102 and the second between 105 and 106, the region was conquered by the emperor Traian and became a Roman province.
Through a long, complex process, called romanization, the Romanian people was formed by mixing the two communities: the Latin-speaking colonists and the locals. Most of the Romanian language is inherited from Latin, including parts of the grammar.
Because of the waves of migrators, the Roman administration and army were retreated starting 271. Later, the first political forms of organisation started to be documented. The newly-formed people had to face numerous menaces; firstly, Transylvania was conquered by the Hungarians, while the other regions had to face the migrators. Two states were formed and managed to keep their independence: Moldavia and Wallachia, considered to be protectors of Cristianity as they fought heroicly against the Ottoman Empire (another smaller state, Dobrogea, was conquered by the Turkish). Some of the best-known rulers are: Alexandru cel Bun, Ṣtefan cel Mare (Stephen the Great), Vlad Tepeṣ, mihai Viteazul, Iancu de Hunedoara.
However, the balance of forces was far from helping the Romanian states, so they eventually entered the Ottoman sphere of influence and had to pay numerous taxes. Because of the Romanian struggle, for a while the two states were not allowed to choose a ruler, one being given to them.
The situation remained like that until the 19th century, even though the idea of unity and independence concerned everyone. In 1848, the revolutionary wave in Europe spread to the Romanian states, the need for change being clearly seen be the great powers of the continent. In 1859, these countries aggree to let Vallachia and Moldavia unite, but the proposed unification had hardly any unity in it. So, the Romanins took advantage of some specifications of the treaty and elected the same ruler in both countries: Alexandru Ioan Cuza on the 24th of January, who proved to be a great patriot and excellent statesman. However, the unity was threatened by other countries that had some interest in the area, so Cuza was replaced by a foreign king: Carol I of Hohenzollern. Part of a great dinasty, the new king had plans for his new country.
After the creation of one of the most modern constitutions of the time in 1866, he managed to obtain the independence of the state by taking part in the conflict between Russia and the decaying Ottoman Empire. The next step was to obtain the other regions back. The occasion came up during the First World War as Romania fought together with the Allies and in 1918, after a valuable contribution, managed to unify totally on the 1st of December, which is now the national holiday.
The years between the two world wars were some of the best in Romanian history as the country flourished politically, economically and culturally. The politicians did their best to keep what was established through the Versaiiles Treaty, but unfortunately, some countries had other plans. As the war commenced Romania was forced to let go of some of the territories and then chose to fight together with Germany in order to get some of them back. In 1918 Romania turned its weapons against Germany as the ruler Ion Antonescu was forced to give up power. At the end of the war, Romania only got a part of the territories back and became communist because of the settlement between Curchill and Stalin, wich sealed its fate.
However, starting with president Gheorghe Gheorghiu Dej and continuing with Nicolae Ceausescu, Romania started to have a different position from the Soviet Union. Romania was the only communist country not to take part in the Prague Spring in 1968. However, the conditions in which the population lived were getting worse and worse, so in 1989 the inevitable happened: a revolution in which unfortunately, a lot of people got killed. Ion Iliescu was elected to be the first decmocratically-elected president.
Now Romania is a democratic country, part of many world organisations including NATO and The EU, starting 2007.
Romania shares international borders with Ukraine, Moldova, Bulgaria, Serbia and Hungary. With a surface area of 238,391 square kilometres, Romania is the largest country in southeastern Europe and the twelfth-largest in Europe. It lies between latitudes 43° and 49° N, and longitudes 20° and 30° E. Romania's terrain is distributed roughly equally between mountainous, hilly and lowland territories. The Carpathian Mountains dominate the centre of Romania, with 14 mountain ranges reaching above 2,000 metres, and the highest point at Moldoveanu Peak (2,544 metres). These are surrounded by the Moldavian and Transylvanian plateaus and Pannonian and Wallachian plains. Romania's geographical diversity has led to an accompanying diversity of flora and fauna.
A large part of Romania's border with Serbia and Bulgaria is formed by the Danube. The Prut River, one of its major tributaries, forms the border with the Republic of Moldova. The Danube flows into the Black Sea within Romania's territory forming the Danube Delta, the second largest and best preserved delta in Europe, and also a biosphere reserve and a biodiversity World Heritage Site. Other major rivers are the Siret (596 kilometres), the Olt (614 kilometres), the Prut (742 kilometres), the Someș (388 kilometres), and the Mureș (761 kilometres).
Lakes and lake complexes have a low share throughout Romania, occupying only 1.1% of total land area. The largest lake complex in size is Razelm-Sinoe (731 km²), located on the Black Sea seaside. Glacial lakes exist in the Făgăraș Mountains, a result of quaternary glaciation, of which the largest are: Lake Avrig (14,700 m²), Bâlea Lake (46,500 m²) and Capra Lake (18,000 m²). Other notable lakes are Lake Sfânta Ana, the only volcanic lake in Romania, and Red Lake, a natural dam lake, both situated in Harghita County.
For administrative purposes, Romania is currently divided into 41 counties. It is however more useful for travellers to divide the country into the following regions.
The Budesti village is an ancient settlement, founded before the year 1361, at the foot of Gutai Mountains, on the valley of Cosau River, at approximately 30 kilometres south from the locality of Sighet, in the north-east of Romania.
The church dedicated to St. Nicolas, included on the list of the world patrimony of UNESCO in December 1999, was built in 1643 and was never modified or extended, being an example of typically architecture from the region of the historic Maramures. It is built on a small choline, dominating the central zone of the village. Here performed the assembly of the elders and were given alms to the poor families. The church has a high of 38 metres and impresses by the 14 fourteen pillars that support the roof. It is locked with a special lock made by the genial popular masters from Maramures. The popular mural paintings date since the year 1762.
Although the Danube Delta is not on the list of many travellers, it is one of the natural highlights in the country and can be a welcome relief from visits to cities. The waters of the Danube flow into the Black Sea, forming the largest and best preserved of Europe's deltas. As a result, the Danube delta is home to over 300 species of birds and also to 45 freshwater fish species , which live in one of many lakes and marshes. Therefore it is on the Unesco World Heritage List. Tulcea is the main gateway to the Danube Delta. The Danube Delta is a unique ecosystem in the world. It is the biggest wetland in Europe and the largest compact surface of reed on the planet. It hosts 98% of aquatic fauna of Europe - over 3,400 species, many of which are unique in the world.
The churches of Northern Moldavia (region called Bucovina – in German Buchenland meaning the Beech Country) are among the best-known tourist attractions in Romania and they definitely deserve their fame. Whether you are a believer or not, there are few other places where one can collect their thoughts, meditate and relax away from the maddening world without going to the middle of nowhere. All the churches have a long history, many of them being built by great rulers of Moldavia, which was an independent state at the time, struggling to keep its autonomy from the Ottoman Empire. Religion was highly important at the time, churches usually being built to celebrate a won fight or to serve as a burial place for the ruling family. Most churches are 500-years old or even more, and one of their most amazing features is their exterior paintings, which are just as amazing today. As a reward for these unique religious edifices the churches received the prize called Pomme d’Or ( the Golden Apple) from FIJET, later becoming part of the UNESCO World Heritage List. The apple is now being kept at Moldovita. The landscape is also a reward itself, so if you want to enjoy it and also a big chunk of history and spirituality, the churches are a must on your list. However, remember to treat both the places and the people with respect, and not to speak loudly as you can bother the mass being held at the time. Moreover, choose to avoid revealing outfits as they will raise many eyebrows, which is quite understandable.
The most important churches are:
Capital of Dacia, Grădiştea de Munte village, commune of Orăştioara de Sus, Hunedoara County. The citadel from Gradiste Hill is the biggest Dacian fortification. Situated on a plateau, at 1,200 metres altitude, the fortress was the strategic center of the Dacian defensive system from Orastie Mountains, including another five citadels: Blidaru, Luncani, Cetăţuia, Băniţa and Căpâlna. The plateau from the Gradiste Hill, surrounded by thick forests beeches and bordered by the abrupt slope of the White Valley, is the foundation on which the capital of the Dacian state was built. King Burebista (82 - 44 BC), the founder of Dacian centralized state, initiated the defensive system of fortifications from Orasie Mountains. King Decebal (87 - 106 AD) amplifies and completes this system, moving, at the same time, the capital of the state to Sarmizegetusa Regia. The citadel, with a surface of about 3 ha, was surrounded by strong walls of chalk blocks made after Dacian system (murus dacicus), with thicknesses of 1.5-4 metres and highs of 4-5 metres, monumental buildings with columns and roof, sanctuaries and urban works, also attested by the reliefs of Trajan's Column in Rome. The citadel also had a calendar.
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Along with Brasov, Sighisoara is one of the most popular and beautiful cities in Romania. The Historic Centre of Sighisoara is on the Unesco World Heritage list and the town which was founded by German craftsmen and merchants is a fine example of a small, fortified medieval town which played an important strategic and commercial role at the edge of central Europe for several centuries. Highlights include the Sighisoara Citadel, the Clock Tower, the Weapon Museum, the Covered Staircase and the Church on the hill.
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Transylvania might be known amongst travellers as the place where Dracula comes from, in reality it is a very large part of central and northern Romania. It includes medieval castles and towns, forests and even snowy peaks in the Transylvanian Alps in the north. The Transylvanian villages with their fortified churches in southern Transylvania are on the Unesco World Heritage list, while cities like Cluj-Napoca, Brasov, Sibiu, Sighisoara and Timisoara form the biggest cities, some of which have excellent preserved historical centres (see Sighisoara above). One way to get around this huge piece of land is to do the Transylvania Triangle Train Tour, a fantastic journey along many of the natural and cultural highlights in this region.
There are four distinct seasons with hot summers averaging 30 degrees (temperatures up to 40 °C in Bucharest and at the coast) and cold winters, around zero during the day (temperatures of down to minus 35 °C around Brasov). Weather is more unpredictable in the mountainous regions - they can be colder at any time of year. Winters are more temperate near the coast, where there is generally less rainfall throughout the year. Occasionally though, temperatures can also drop below -20 °C along the coast when the wind blows from the northeast. Most of the precipitation in the country falls in the summermonths though rain or snow is possible year round.
For most of the country, May and September are very good months for a visit, avoiding heath, cold and crowds.
The Henri Coandă International Airport (OTP/LROP) is located a short distance north of the city and is Romania's busiest airport. Most low-cost airlines fly into nearby Aurel Vlaicu International Airport (BBU), in Băneasa.
Numerous airlines serve these airports, from many European destinations and some cities further away, including New York. Tarom is the national airline with an extensive network. They also fly to several domestic destinations, including Timisoara and Constanta.
To/from Henri Coandă Airport
To/from Aurel Vlaicu Airport
The airport is situated 8 kilometres north of Bucharest city centre and is accessible by RATB buses 131, 335 and Airport Express 783, RATB tramway 5 and taxi.
There are several other international airports in Romania, in Timişoara, Sibiu, the George Enescu International Airport in Bacău, Cluj-Napoca and Constanta's Mihail Kogălniceanu. During summer months there are generally more (charter) flights to international destinations.
International sleeper trains arrive in Bucharest from to Venice, Vienna, Budapest, Prague, Bratislava, Kosice, Krakow, Belgrade, Sofia, Thessaloniki, Istanbul, Moscow, Kiev, and Chisinau. Train travel is generally slower than bus travel. See infofer and this website for train timetables and fares.
You can cross Romania from all neighbouring countries without much hassle. Have your documentationa regarding the car and yourself in order (including green card and driver's licence) and you will generally be fine.
Eurolines offers numerous connections throughout Europe. Destinations include Vienna, Paris and Budapest. Buses leave Bucharest but also other cities like Brasov and Sighisoara.
Direct buses travel between Bucharest and Chisinau in Moldova, but you can also get minibuses from Iasi in the north of Romania. Bucharest to Istanbul is possible as well.
Romania has a comprehensive train service (known as the CFR) and it is possible to reach most areas of the country by train. The network has recently received huge amounts of EU funding for upgrading so, currently, trains range from dated, USSR models to very modern ones. Staff are generally helpful and, in main tourist destination, speak some English. Tickets are available in advance from train stations (go to the CASA windows) or from 'Agencia de volaj CFR' offices situated in most cities and larger towns. The cost of the ticket is calculated according to distance travelled, class of seat and type of train (you will usually automatically receive a seat reservation printed on your ticket). Two classes of seats are available: 1st and 2nd. Four types of train are available: sleeper, 'Accelerat' (most expensive and nominally faster), 'Rapid/Expres' (the most convenient), and 'Personel' (slowest and usually oldest trains). Currently a second class Rapid ticket costs about US$20 for 200 kilometres.
Your train ticket will give a train number; departure and arrival times; wagon number and seat number. Platform number comes under the heading 'Linea'. Trains frequently experience delays - sometimes of over an hour - due to track rennovation and climatic conditions in summer and winter. Have a look at this website for inter-city train timetables and fares.
There are several local and international companies where you can rent a car and you will need an international driving permit or national driver's licence and a green card. The main roads are generally in a good condition but many secondary roads are in need of repair. Also, be careful when driving at night and look out for horse-drawn carts.
There are several highways where you need to pay toll.
There are a number of bus companies offering infrequent services between most major cities and towns. They are cheap but relatively slow and on most routes there are only a few buses a day.
There are no useful services within Romania regarding ferries, but if you want to visit the Danube Delta proparly you will need to get a boatride or join a tour.
If you are a European Union (EU) citizen, you may enter for up to 90 days without any restriction as per your EU citizenship rights. Although, since 2007, Romania has been a member of the EU, it is not yet in the Schengen zone. If you are not an EU citizen you will need to apply for a visa at the Romanian consulate in your home country. The visa they issue is usually valid for up to 30 days.
See also: Money Matters
Currency is the Romanian New Leu (RON), plural pronounced and written 'Lei'. In shops it is often written as 'L' or 'RON'. One Leu is divided into 100 bani.
Approximate street exhange rate (August 2010): 3.3 RON = 1 USD; 4.25 RON = 1 EUR; 5.2 RON = 1GBP
Romania is scheduled to adopt the Euro currency in 2014 and prices for accommodation, tours etc. are often given in Euros - although must usually be paid for in teh equivalent RON amount.
ATMs are available in most towns. Exchange offices are found near most stations and tourist areas.
Note that shop opening hours are usually 9:00am-6:00pm or 9:00am-8:00pm Monday to Friday. Most shops and services close early on Saturdays and almost all shops etc. are closed all day on Sundays. Tourist sites are open all week; museums are usually closed on Mondays.
Romanian is close to classical Latin - closer than other languages. It is a Romance language - like French, Italian, and Spanish and speakers of these languages will find some words of written Romanian understandable, although the pronunciation less so. Romanian used to use the Cyrillic alphabet, but now has a phonetic, Latin-based alphabet with 28 letters.
The local dishes are the delicious sarmale, mamaliga (polenta), bulz (traditional roasted polenta, filled with at least two kinds of cheeses, bacon and sour cream), friptura (steak), salata boef (finely chopped cooked veggies and meat salad, usually topped with mayo and decorated with tomatoes and parsley), zacusca(a yummy, rich salsa-like dip produced in the fall) as well as tocana (a kind of stew), tochitura (an assortment of fried meats, and traditional sausages, in a special sauce, served with polenta and fried eggs), mici (a kind of spicy sausage, but only the meat, without the casings, always cooked on a barbecue). Other dishes include a burger bun with a slice of ham, a slice of cheese and a layer of French fries, ciorba de burta (white sour tripe soup), ciorba taraneasca (a red sour soup, akin to bors without the beet root and using instead fermented wheat bran, with lots of vegetables), Dobrogean or Bulgarian salads (a mix of onions, lettuce, tomatoes, cheese, white sauce and ham), onion salad - diced onion served in a dish, tomato salad - diced tomato with cheese, sorici (pig skin - boiled and sometimes in stew), and drob (haggies) - a casserole made from lamb or pork liver and kidneys. Local eclectic dishes include cow tongue, sheep brain (Easter), caviar, chicken and pork liver, pickled green tomatoes and pickled watermelon.
Finding an accommodation in Romania is very easy, for any price. In all the touristic places, as soon as you get to the train station several people will come to you asking whether you need an accommodation, or you can book it in advance. Rural tourism is relatively well developed in Romania. There is a national association of rural guesthouses owners, ANTREC who offer accommodations in over 900 localities throughout the country.
Wine, beer and spirits are all abudant and the quality is very good in general. Murfatlar, Cotnari, Lacrima lui Ovidiu, Dragasani and Bohotin are some of the major wine brands.
Ursus is the main national beer brand, with both lager as well as dark beer as tasteful options.
The strongest alcohol is palinca, with roughly 60% pure alcohol and is traditional to Transylvania, the next is ţuica (a type of brandy made from plums), with about 40-50% pure alcohol.
See also Travel Health
There are no vaccinations legally required to travel to Romania. It's a good thing to get your vaccinations in order before travelling to Romania. The general vaccination against Diphtheria, Tetanus and Polio (DTP) is recommended. Also a hepatitis A vaccination is recommended.
If you are staying longer than 3 months or have a particular risk (travelling by bike, handling of animals, visits to caves) you might consider a rabies vaccination. Vaccination against tuberculosis as well as hepatitis B are also sometimes recommended for stays longer than 3 months. It is also recommended to have a vaccination against tick borne encephalitis when you go hiking and/or camping for 4 weeks or more in the period of March to November.
Finally, other possible health issues include diarrhea and other general travellers' diseases like motion sickness. Watch what you eat and drink and in case you get it, drink plenty of fluids (to prevent dehydration) and bring ORS. Tap water is safe to drink. 'Farmacias' (drugstores/chemist shops) are plentiful and well-stocked. What you can purchase can be limited if you do not have a local prescription but staff are generally helpful and may speak some English.
See also Travel Safety
Romanians are generally friendly, helpful people. Violent crime is uncommon. Pickpocketing is a growing problem in tourist areas (especially on crowded buses) and opportunistic theft also occurs from hostels and cheaper hotels. Beware of taxi drivers who may not turn on their meters/put a higher rate on their metres than is advertised on the car door/say they have no change for large denomination notes/take long routes to close destinations. If travelling around Brasov and in the Carpathian Mountains treat bears with respect and keep your distance: they will attack if provoked; every year one or two tourists are killed (due to their own stupidity) by bears in the Brasov area.
Internet cafes exist in most cities and towns. The number of internet cafes seems to be declining in bigger cities recently because of cheap availability of computers and the rising living standard here. Many restaurants and hotels also have WI-FI.
See also International Telephone Calls
Romania's country code is +40. To dial to other countries from Romania, dial 00 and then the international number usually without the first 0.
Public phones work well and are available in all areas. You must purchase a phonecard from a kiosk to use them. When dialing within Romania, dial 0 + three digit area code + six digit telephone. The main providers of mobile telephones are Vodafone, Orange, Cosmote and Zapp.
Posta Romana is the national postal service of Romania. Postal services are generally very affordable, reliable and reasonably fast. Post boxes are red and can be found near the post offices, along the street or in main train stations. Post offices can be found in even the smallest towns and the opening hours are generally Monday to Friday from 7:30am to 6:00pm and Saturday 8:00am to 12:00, closed on Sunday. You can buy stamps here or at kiosks. Prices for international mail start at around €0.55 and takes at least 3-5 days to countries within Europe. It's slightly cheaper and faster for domestic mail to be send. Intercontinental post is slightly more expensive but takes much longer. For more expensive but faster services you can also try international courier companies like TNT, DHL or UPS.
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As a Romanian involved in the tourism into the country, I have a lot of information I am willing to share with people thinking of visiting the country. Yes, for free :)
Romania's definitely worth a visit - and I recommend everyone interested, just ask. Advice is always free in Romania! (at least when it's about this humble advocate of the country :) )
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I have moved from UK to Romania, bought a house and now run an English Bed and Breakfast. If you fancy dropping in by E-mail please do, advice is free, If you drop in in person the tea is free too.
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I can help in any way! From general adivce ,to tips about safety and great places to be in Romania ,and Bucharest at good rates. I also provide a freelancer tour service in Bucharest and Romania for rates from 50-100 euro/day. Car and fuel included.
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