In the spotlight... Romania
Jeremy Burton, a member of the Travellers’ Century Club, recently went on a tour to Romania with Cox & Kings. Here, he shares with us a modern and enlightening perspective on the changes Romania has been through in recent years.
As a member of the worldwide Travellers’ Century Club for those who have visited at least 100 countries, I realised that Romania was now one of the few countries in Europe I had not found time to visit. Furthermore, my youngest daughter has made a number of working visits there in recent years so I felt the time had come to rectify the omission.
Evaluation of tours on offer indicated that the trip offered by Cox & Kings was likely to provide a broad picture of the country as not all companies included the lengthy extension to the monasteries. As a German scholar, I was already aware of the long-standing presence of German influence on Romanian history and so this, together with the famous monasteries in the north-east of the country, convinced my wife and I that this would be an absorbing experience.The trip was nicely balanced, broken into three geographical areas each with different characteristics:
- the castles and Saxon towns and rural villages of Transylvania province,
- the painted monasteries of Bukovina towards the Ukraine border, and
- the political and cultural centre of the country’s capital.
Amazingly the small group of 13 included three people with a Cambridge degree in German, which proved very useful in interpreting many of the signs in the fortified churches and indeed in communicating with the locals that still speak the language. Perhaps the highlight of the whole trip was the visit to ‘Dracula’s Castle’ at Bran early in the trip. Apart from the intrinsic attractions of the castle itself, the weather made it a really dramatic experience as the mother of all storms broke as we arrived: streets turned into raging rivers and were accompanied by the flashing and crashing thunder and lightning as the heavens opened. Universal Studios could not have created a more atmospheric setting. One of the advantages of travel in Romania is that it is not on the major tourist track, so there are not too many crowds at the sights, particularly advantageous in the peaceful settings of the monasteries and churches.There seems to be a major road construction programme underway, which will probably facilitate greater numbers in the future as the infrastructure improves. However, the ubiquitous roadworks do mean that there is extra time to appreciate the constantly changing countryside with its heavily forested rolling hills and pretty and ever-changing house style in the villages. The journey ended in the country’s capital, Bucharest, which seems to be overcoming the devastating impact of the Ceaucescu years with growing the cosmopolitanism of its hotels and restaurants.
Our professional and well-informed tour leader was anxious that we should see beyond the generally held prejudices with regard to her country, based on its appalling communist era, orphan children and the mixed impact of the Roma minority. Indeed, we all agreed with her that the relatively under-developed nature of the country made it a unique experience for the traveller looking for a refreshing alternative to the sophistication of much of the rest of Europe.