As my series of posts on the Transylvania Long Weekend came to an end, I reflected about my short stay in Romania. As it is always the case when I travel, I found a few things that surprised me at my destination. This is one of the best things I like about travelling; discovering new aspects of culture, geography, food etc. for yourself. So, here are a few things that I found surprising in Romania:
1. How Similar it is to Sri Lanka
We spent 3 days out of the 5 day tour in Transylvania. As soon as the mini-bus left Bucharest and took us to the countryside, it felt like I had gone to Sri Lanka (which is where I was born and brought up). Things looked so similar – starting with walled plots of land, gated entrances, 1 or 2 storey houses in various shapes and sizes, with verandas, large windows and tiled roofs. Gone were the neat rows upon rows of houses I was used to seeing in the UK (or anywhere in Western Europe), the big shopping centres or the uniform roads. The resemblance was uncanny to Sri Lanka. Plus, everyone was driving like crazy!
2. Carpathian Shepherd Dogs
Without a doubt, Carpathian Shepherd Dogs were my favourite discovery from Romania. They have been bred in the Carpathian mountains as a working dog, to help farmers with herding sheep and cattle, as well as a guard dog capable of fending off predators such as bears and wolves.
They are large dogs, with thick coats (suited to outdoor living). But I also discovered that, they are well-mannered dogs, gentle, affectionate and above all, loyal. They are intelligent and independent, so they need to be kept busy as well as being handled with a firm hand. We saw many Carpathian Shepherd dogs as family pets, but unlike in the UK, they were all tethered outside. Romania also has many stray dogs, many of which were very friendly. In fact, many Romanian rescue dogs are being re-homed in the UK, so my search for a family pet has started 🙂
3. Lack of Tourism
Compared to many other former Soviet block countries I have been to (Czechia, Poland, Estonia), tourism is quite under developed in Romania. Brașov for example, was very similar to Tallinn, but a whereas Tallinn had converted every guard tower on the city walls to a into a cafe or a gift shop, in Brașov, they were, well, closed.
The absence of large tour groups was also notable. The towns were also not over-run with souvenir shops and everywhere felt a bit more authentic.
4. Dracula’s Castle
Bran Castle, famed over the World as Castle Dracula in Bram Stokers Dracula, is one of the biggest tourist attraction in Romania, if not the biggest.
The book describes the castle as thus:
I went out on the stairs, and found a room looking towards the South. The view was magnificent, and from where I stood there was every opportunity of seeing it. The castle is on the very edge of a terrific precipice. A stone falling from the window would fall a thousand feet without touching anything! As far as the eye can reach is a sea of green tree tops, with occasionally a deep rift where there is a chasm. Here and there are silver threads where the rivers wind in deep gorges through the forests. (Dracula, Chapter 2, Jonathan Harker’s Journal, Entry for 8 May)
The castle was built on the corner of a great rock, so that on three sides it was quite impregnable, and great windows were placed here where sling, or bow, or culverin could not reach, and consequently light and comfort, impossible to a position which had to be guarded, were secured. To the west was a great valley, and then, rising far away, great jagged mountain fastnesses, rising peak on peak, the sheer rock studded with mountain ash and thorn, whose roots clung in cracks and crevices and crannies of the stone. (Dracula, Chapter 3)
And when we arrived at Bran Castle, this is exactly what I found. The castle is on top of a small cliff, with sheer drops on all sides. The jagged towers and turrets of the castle stretched out towards the sky and the castle looked impregnable.
The novel also paints a picture of a grand and luxurious interior:
The table service is of gold, and so beautifully wrought that it must be of immense value. The curtains and upholstery of the chairs and sofas and the hangings of my bed are of the costliest and most beautiful fabrics, and must have been of fabulous value when they were made, for they are centuries old, though in excellent order.
I had imagined large looms, high ceilings, stone walls and large fire place. However, what I found was very different; white-washed walls, low ceilings, rickety stair-cases and low archways. The interior of the castle is a lot smaller than what I imagined it to be. The interior decor and furnishings were comfortable, but no luxurious. The reason for this is that the castle is decorated as it was in during the time of Queen Marie of Romania, whose family inhabited the castle until 1948, as opposed to the imaginary Count Dracula.
5. Run Down Buildings in Bucharest
As we went on our walking tour of Bucharest, one thing stood out – a lot of very nice, grand old buildings were marked with graffiti, and run down; it was clear that they were not well maintained. Our guide explained that this is partly because many of the old buildings were taken over to the government during the communist regime and after the revolution, the process to hand them back started. But many building still have a tussle over ownership, so nobody wants to pay for the upkeep of the building until ownership is resolved.
So, there you go. 5 things that surprised me about Romania. Have you got any interesting pieces of information about Romania? Please leave a comment below and let me know.