I wasn’t sure what to expect. Would I feel like I’ve stepped back in time to the 1970s? Would I see things that would shock me? Would there be terrible poverty?
In truth, none of that happened. Romania is working towards a full-EU membership and will eventually join the Shengen agreement. From what I saw, it looks like any European country. Lots of old churches, good food and a laid-back lifestyle.
The church (both Catholic and Orthodox) still plays a very prominent role in Romanian society, or at least in Transylvania, where I was. You can’t go more than 100 metres without seeing a crucifix. Romania is building churches by the dozens at a time when most of the Western world is turning its back on religion.
Many of the churches I visited were ancient to the extreme, but very beautiful. The orthodox churches were interesting, as they had no seats inside.
Transylvania offers a unique rural beauty. The Carpathian mountains dominate the region. Traditional agriculture is still practiced in Transylvania, with horse-drawn wagons still being used as a mode of transport.
Transyvania’s most famous export just might be Bram Stoker’s Dracula. I stopped by the Hotel Castel Dracula (not a typo). There were tourists from all over the world staying at this hotel, which featured all kinds of vampire-inspired art.
Another tourist attraction in the region is the Turda salt mine. Salt extraction began in medieval times and continued to the 1920s. Today the mine has been repurposed as an entertainment centre, with ping pong tables, bowling alleys and a small lake all buried hundreds of meters underground. The temperature in the mine remains steady year round at 12C.
Romania was an unexpected surprise. A beautiful country, with nice people, a traditional, laid back lifestyle and lots of historical sites. It’s also a country where the Canadian dollar goes very far. Eating out is very cheap and the beers are fantastic.
Romania was the wildcard of my trip. I really had no idea what to expect. Now that I’ve come and gone, I find myself missing it more than any other country on my six week tour. I will have to go back.