Romania had one hell of a way to welcome us. We had dragged ourselves out of the flight after 20 hours in transit, when 3 burly ashen-faced men stopped us the moment we stepped into the airport. Passport, they demanded. Confused and intimidated by these casually-dressed men, we dug around in our bags. A little police badge on their belt was our only solace. They examined us well, comparing our passport photos with our faces for what felt like an eternity, and finally let us enter a country that would stop us from judging people by their stern expressions and lack of smiles.
Fifteen minutes later, while figuring out how to get into Bucharest city, we saw the same men again. They were off work for the day, drinking beer, chilling. Want a ride? one of them asked! Still a bit shaken, we nodded no and headed towards the tourism information desk, where we found ourselves face to face with two people sitting in a completely dark cubicle. I mumbled a question, and was almost surprised to get an enthusiastic response.
When the bus finally dropped us in the city, we got into a cab to find the neighborhood we had booked ourselves into, but the dilapidated house at which the driver stopped looked nothing like our BnB. He quickly took our backpacks out of the boot and got back into the car, leaving us on a dark isolated street. A glance at us in his rearview mirror must have changed his mind. He returned and called the accommodation, sorted the directions, gave us a ride and charged nothing extra.
We gradually got used to people not smiling back at us. One of our Romanian hosts recalled that things had been different before the country fell prey to communism, because you were looked upon with suspicion if you were outwardly happy in those days. In fact, I distinctly remember one of my first conversations with Elena, who ran our BnB in Bucharest. When I told her that we had transited through Turkey, she sighed. Turkey is amazing, she told me. Romania was too, but then communism happened. People are different now. I smiled at her honesty then, but 20 days in Romania later, I want to write to her and tell her that she’s wrong. People in Romania are pretty darn amazing too.
We were rather unprepared for our first tryst with the Romanian countryside in Magura (Also See: Snapshots from Romania); we didn’t expect to see people work so hard on their farms, using scythe and pitchforks to gather hay, rearing sheep and chicken, living in a village with unpaved roads within a national park. We didn’t expect there to be no ATMs in the vicinity either. When time to came to pay at our homestay with a village family, we were short of lei (the Romanian currency) and asked if we could pay the balance in USD, of which we had enough. Some of our explanation got lost in translation, and our hosts, assuming we didn’t have enough money for the taxi ride and the rescued bears sanctuary we planned to visit enroute, stuffed my pocket with fifty lei. Just like that!
But it was the northern region of Maramures that absolutely blew us away.
In Sighet, the gateway into Maramures, we alighted from the bus on a rainy evening. There were no cabs in sight (cabs in Romania are really cheap, so we took them everywhere), so we asked the first local we saw on the sidewalk where to get one. He told us in broken French to follow him, and pulled out his own vintage car to ferry us and our backpacks to our hotel for the night.
In the traditional wooden home of a little village on the outskirts of Sighet, we were the first guests of our Romanian hosts to not have a car (thanks to a crazy rule for Indians driving in Romania). Adela and Teo went far out of their way to ferry us to bus stops and intersections we could hitch rides from, but more touchingly, they welcomed us into their lives with a love and honesty that we hadn’t yet experienced in the country. If it wasn’t for Teo’s passion for Maramures, a region that little has been written about, we would never have ditched the touristy steam train in Viseus de Sus and instead, journeyed on a rickety logging train with loggers, shepherds, sheep, axes and a lot of palinka, into remote settlements high up in the Carpathian mountains.
On the countryside of Maramures, we spent our days hitchhiking across villages with locals, in their ancient cars, trucks, even tractors, and though the norm is to leave them some gas money for a ride, they mostly refused ours, always saying cu plăcere, you’re welcome.
One Sunday morning, we found ourselves in the cemetery of a 14th century wooden church, attending prayers alongside the locals of Harnicest village. By the time we reached Sat Şugatag, women in their traditional dresses and headscarfs were out and about, catching up on the village gossip, while the men sat around drinking beer and playing folk music. One elderly lady came and sat next to me at the ornamental gate of the bus stop we waited at. I was too tired, so I tried to resist her attempt to small talk in Romanian by explaining that I spoke none. She flashed a rare smile, and didn’t stop talking. In broken French, Italian, Spanish, English, Romanian, sign language and laughter, we chatted for an hour!
On our last day in Maramures, we hurriedly made it to the bus stop in Sighet in time to catch a bus for our flight later that evening. As we waited anxiously, someone asked where we were headed. Satu Mare, we confidently answered. It turned out there were six bus stops in the little town of Sighet (phew!), and there were no buses coming to this one that day. The kind (burly) man made a few calls, found out where the next bus was to come, hailed a taxi to ferry us and told him not to charge us anything. Just like that.
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So Long, Turkey
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Welcome to my blog, The Shooting Star. I’ve been called a storyteller, writer, photographer, digital nomad, instagrammer, social entrepreneur, solo traveller, vegan, sustainable tourism consultant and environmentalist. But in my heart, I’m just a girl who believes in the transformative power of travel.
Wow. All of that sounds so amazing! One or two pleasant experiences can turn a nice journey into ‘fantastic’, but so many people going out of their way to be so nice?! Romania must be a special kinda place. 🙂 Glad you’re having a good time, looking forward to more!
It took me a while to figure out the country, really. So much kindness, such few smiles. It really teaches you a thing or two about life.
Extraordinary! This must have been a special place for you then, with so much kindness and grace bestowed upon you by the locals. Its always the people of a place, which makes the experience really memorable and you met plenty of them. Thoroughly enjoyed it. Sad to know about the loss of your camera.
BTW, how did you search for the hotels / bnb in these villages, away from all glitz of tourism? And how about the visa requirements for Indian passport holder?
Romania and Eastern Europe make for an exciting trip, still untouched by those hordes of tourists, I assume.
Every place you’ve made memories in is special, no? 😉
Thanks for the condolences for the camera.
I’m penning a travel guide on Romania to answer the rest of your questions. Stay tuned!
Eagerly wait for more love from Romania 🙂
hey! Romania sounds lovely! for how long were you there? and which is your next destination?
20 days, which really just flew by. I’m in Bombay now, heading up into the Himalayas soon.
Sounds awesome:) Had heard a lot about farm stays in Romania but never from another Indian. Unexpected kindness from locals does bring back faith in humanity, doesn’t it?
What an amazing, heart warming experience, thank you for sharing. In a few weeks I will be on the other side of the Carpathian mountains, in Poland. Planning a day trip from Krackau to the mountains. Is it worth it??
🙂 I haven’t been to Poland, but if the Carpathians on this side are anything to go by, I’d say YEAH!
You’ve just shown everyone that there’s still good will among humanity. Great exploring! Great writing!! Thanks for sharing!!!
Thanks Roberto. I think that’s the best part about travelling, you get to see how good the world really is (with some not-so-good elements too, of course).
To see how others go about their lives…What lovely experiences!
My first knowledge of Romania came when I was reading Dracula. Would love to go to this beautiful country someday ..
I know their entire tourism is based around “dracula”, but there’s so much more worth exploring in the country.
Wow! I am impressed with the kindheartedness of the locales 😀
I’ve a friend going to Romania to work for a year – I’m sure she’ll be thrilled! I’ve noticed people seem to be kinder in the country as compared to the city, but a lot depends upon how you behave too! If you seem cold, you usually attract coldness in turn…
I guess it’s a chicken and egg game in the cities; you tend to have your guard up sometimes without even realizing it.
While hitch-hiking in Ladakh, I once got a ride with a gentleman from Delhi.
He confessed that he would NEVER have given someone a ride in his car if this was Delhi.
I confessed that I would NEVER have asked for a ride if this was Delhi.
Woohhh, I would love to visit if I will get a chance. 🙂
Find the chance and go!
Have added Romania to my “places to go” list. Great post.
Thanks Pete, I’m glad it’s on your list now. Make it happen soon!
it is true that people are like this here, but for anyone interesed in visiting Romania be awere that taxies are cheap but if you are a foreigner, and not necesarely( mabe e romanian but not a local) they can charge you very much, the capital city Bucharest is beautiful city ,but you really need someone to guide you.We do have alot of dogs, and pickpocketers. If you like nature go to visit the country side,any place in the vecinity ot the carphatians,the danube delta.If you like to see feudal castels go to: Fagaras,Rasnov,Brasov,Cluj, Peles,Curtea de arges,targoviste, castelul Bran(dracula’s castel), castelul huniazilor,the capital of the Tracians: Sarmisegetuza Regie.You can also visit one of the most beautiful places in the world: Salina Turda.Transfagarasan.There really are alot of places to visit,it really is an amazeing country,but be awere of poor infrastructure and thiefs,
Thanks for the tips, Serban.
Incredible kindness! Restoring a little bit of faith in humanity, thank you.
Indeed Kara, travelling does restore your faith in the world.
My first visit out of India was to Russia followed by England and the third to Romania!!! My visit to Bucharest was on an official work trip from Air India in 1994 to service the aircraft of the then President of India Shankar Dayal Sharma. Got some lovely glass bells and a lovely porcelain tea set from the villages nearby where they manufactured the magnificent glass work. I also met up with some amateur astronomers at the local observatory there and am still in touch with one of them on Facebook. I had an unusual encounter with some fake cops in a small exchange bureau kiosk where I had gone to find out the rates for changing US Dollars to Lei and these four guys with ID cards flashing in front of my eyes started asking me for my passport and dollars as they said it was illegal to exchange money there. When they tried to snatch my passport and search me for dollars they could not succeed as I started shouting out loudly and suddenly they gave up and vanished. Have to have your wits about you in such places or you can be taken for a ride. A friend of mine was duped in one of these kiosks when he changed his 20 USD to Lei and when he found he was not given the amount promised he asked for his dollars back and he got back just one dollar which he did not see at that time and realised only much later in his hotel room!!!
Wow. Romania as the third country. I’m sure it was very, very different way back in 1994, technically just 4 years after it regained democracy. That’s awful about the money exchange kiosks. We changed money a few times in different parts and it was all pretty safe. I guess being part of the Schengen zone makes a big difference!
Yes, it was probably different then from now, but the Nicolae Ceaușescu effect had not worn off totally and people were still apprehensive about what was happening then and rightly so. We had a lovely time in the areas outside the city where we had gone for a picnic lunch and also to buy some glass, porcelain and crystal souvenirs from the manufacturers in the small villages.
I love the experiences you have! I must say I envy this life of yours <3
I met a few Romanians before I actually went there and I thought they were among the friendliest people I've met, which is why their lack of smiles was quite a shock to me when I actually got there! I had a terrible experience at immigration which put me off for quite a while, but, yes, beautiful place. I wish I could have explored the interiors like you did!!!
(If it makes you feel any better, apparently getting an Indian visa is a bitch process for them as well 😛 A man I met came here for his honeymoon or something and he complained all about the humongous form and the all-angles-se-photos they had to submit 😉 )
You’re lucky the can guy changed his mind though!!
Hey, you LIVE in Europe with all these experiences at your doorstep; I’m the one who should be envious 😉 What happened at immigration? I did hear about the Indian visa process for them, sucks. But I hope they’ll be able to use the new VOA scheme in India as part of the Schengen zone! Time for you to go Maramures. It was just SO beautiful and surreal.
I used to live there 🙂 Not anymore.
Romania is not exactly part of Schengen so the have this rule for our awesome passport which says we can only stay there for five days… Including the days we get in and out. I had a ticket in to Timisoara, and a ticket out of somewhere in Greece in 11 days, so I needed to make my way south in 5 days. Sounds easy and I had done that so many times in other countries I didn’t even give it a thought.
Well they stopped me as soon as I landed, made me stand aside while they let others through and I just stood there feeling utterly humiliated. This was not a EU/non-EU thing because I was in the non-EU queue. And THEN this scary looking man came and took me into the office and yelled at me and grilled me for a good twenty minutes before finally letting me go (and that was only because the check-in lady at immigration in Milan had already made me a buy a seat on a flight out of Romania, something that I couldn’t use)!!
Very long comment 😛 I should learn to shut up 😛
brilliant writing and an amazing article. your pictures are very vibrant. I was kind of hoping to see the castles though, but got to know about lot of other things to check during my visit.
Also did you check the option to go to Romania via Dubai for quite cheap as Wizz Air flies from there?
Hey Shivya – This is great work and brings out a diff perspective of Romania as a country . Keep up the good work
What a magical post! I am going to save to go to Romania some day. Your post really makes me want to go now 🙂 I loved the pictures and so sweet of that elderly woman who wanted to talk to you. Sigh…a beautiful smile.
You went in with low expectations, this made the experience better than other people might experience it. You picked the good spots to visit also. There is a lot to visit in Transylvania, apart from the Maramures region, Sighisoara, Cluj Napoca, the castles in Deva/Hunedoara region, or in Brasov. You should expect bad service from time to time, but overall there are more people who will be friendly and try to be helpful if they can understand you, than those who are rude or incompetent. Other than that, what goes for other countries as things to avoid, goes in Romania as well. Restaurant visited by lots of one time customers? You’d probably want to avoid that, as service is bad. Go to those places with good online reviews.
Hi Romania Sounds good. After reading your post. I am interested to visit romania.. Will see in coming days.. Thanks again sharing such a nice post
Met Nadia Comaneci?
Romania is really a awesome . Thanks for sharing this experience
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Wow…! Romania.. amazing place.. most amazing thing is to read so much from you through this post. Different place to go and have fun and different culture and people to meet and to know so much about them. It’s really fantastic.
that’s the beauty of traveling: you go somewhere you don’t expect much of, and then you discover you’re in for a treat!
I love your blog so much!!
Have you experience hoia baciu??
I was in Romania for 5 weeks, 3 years after Causencu was executed , deservably. I loved the people and places. – The monasteries and villages. The women were so good to me after hearing for months from my mother-in-law I would be hated because i was American and different. It was a revelation and rare gift.
Your photos are incredible. Thanks so much for sharing your thoughts and pictures about Romania.
Your post is very interesting, Romania looks like a good destination for visit; the photos are good.