Romania is slowly emerging from the effects of being one of the most repressed countries under communism and having suffered the megalomaniac dictatorship of Nicolae Ceausescu whose rule left the country in the depths of poverty. Travel in Romania is rewarding yet habitually challenging as much of its charisma lies in the more remote regions, and optimistic plans are often frustratingly slowed down by practical realities. Despite this, Romania is rapidly regaining its identity as a popular tourist destination and has plenty to offer the international traveller.
The charms of Transylvania lure people with the imagery of haunted forests, medieval towns, vampires, turreted cliff-top castles, and the legends of Dracula. In addition to its medieval castles and enchanting historic towns, the region also offers the dramatic alpine scenery of the Carpathian Mountains with spectacular skiing and undisturbed hiking opportunities.
The country's geography is diverse: from mountains, rolling hills and rural farmlands to white sandy beaches and resorts along the Black Sea Coast. Dotting the natural landscape are rustic villages where local people live as they have done for the past 100 years. There is an abundance of religious architecture - including the exquisitely painted monasteries of Bucovina - and there are ancient churches and cities bursting with historic architecture. The capital city, Bucharest, is re-inventing itself following decades of neglect by the ruling communists and its damaged architecture is slowly being restored to its original glory. It has elegant restaurants, a revitalised nightlife and cultural attractions that are becoming integral to this new image.
A visit to Romania will leave few impassive, offering a refreshingly different culture to elsewhere in Europe. The mix of quaint medieval towns and castles, drab cities striving for Western modernism, and the diverse rural landscape seemingly untouched by modern history, offers a fascinating kaleidoscope of opportunities to explore. Romania appeals to visitors because it is so different. It has one foot firmly placed in the past while the other one is stretching forward in an effort to keep up with the progress of the modern world.
The Leu (RON) is the official currency, which is divided into
100 bani. Money may be exchanged at banks, international airports,
hotels or authorised exchange offices called 'casa de schimb' or
'birou de schimb valutar'. ATMs are available at large banks,
airports and shopping centres in cities. American Express,
MasterCard and Visa are accepted in the main cities. Travellers
cheques, preferably in Euros, can be cashed in large banks, some
hotels and certain exchange offices in Bucharest but commission is
high. It is recommended to travel with some Euros in cash in case
of difficulty using credit cards or travellers cheques. US Dollars
are also accepted fairly widely.
|RON 1 =||US$ 0.29||Â£ 0.19||C$ 0.30||A$ 0.28||R 2.47||EUR 0.23||NZ$ 0.37|
Note: These currency exchange rates are not updated daily and should be used as a guideline only.
Medical facilities in Bucharest are good, but poor in the smaller towns and basic medical supplies are often in short supply. There is a reciprocal health agreement with the UK and most EU countries, whose citizens are entitled to free or low-cost emergency medical treatment on presentation of a European Health Insurance Card (EHIC), but travel health insurance is strongly advised. There have been a number of Hepatitis A cases in Romania and visitors are advised to seek medical advice about inoculations before travelling. Tap water is safe to drink, although bottled water is widely available. Stray dogs carry rabies and should be avoided. Cases of Avian bird flu have been reported in the country, but no human incidences have been reported. The risk for travellers is very low, but visitors should avoid any contact with domestic, caged or wild birds and ensure that eggs and poultry dishes are well cooked.
All passports must be valid for period of intended stay. Visitors must hold all documents required for further travel, onward or return tickets, sufficient funds for period of stay, and proof of reserved accommodation. It is highly recommended that passports have at least six months validity remaining after your intended date of departure from your travel destination. Immigration officials often apply different rules to those stated by travel agents and official sources.
Note: Passport and visa requirements are liable to change at short notice. Travellers are advised to check their entry requirements with their embassy or consulate.
Romanian Tourist Office, Bucharest: +40 (0)21 314 9957 or www.romaniatourism.com
Foreign Embassies in Romania
The nation's capital since 1862, Bucharest is the country's largest and wealthiest metropolis. Tree-lined boulevards, classical buildings and extravagant public structures lie in juxtaposition to untidy, congested streets, unsightly Stalinist apartment blocks and incomplete constructions. It is a city that most people either love or hate at the first encounter.
Once considered the 'Paris of the East' for its long leafy avenues and grand buildings together with its distinguished social scene enjoyed by the extravagant Romanian aristocracy, the city's elegance and beauty soon deteriorated under the harsh era of communism. The notorious redevelopment project by Nicolae Ceausescu, leader of the Communist Party in 1965, was a scandalous affair; in order to create an imitation Champs Elysee, a Civic Centre and 12-storey palace for himself together with a parliament building, he demolished an immense area of historic architecture in the old city, including 26 churches. The parliament building was designed to be the largest building in the world. It is now known as the Palace of Parliament, second in size to the Pentagon, and has become one of the city's prime tourist attractions.
Bucharest offers a number of superb museums, galleries, exquisite Orthodox churches and architectural surprises and its political legacy provides a fascinating selection of sights where visitors can rediscover the events and emotions of its history. It is experiencing renewed vigour; historic buildings have been restored and there is plenty of nightlife and an increasing amount of cultural events. Traditional Romanian cooking can be savoured alongside international cuisine, and in summer festive beer gardens and picturesque parks are filled with cheerful crowds.
Transylvania is the most famous part of Romania, thanks to the legend of Dracula, conjuring up images of haunted forests and werewolves, medieval towns, vampires, dramatic mountains and turreted cliff-top castles.
Transylvania is not just about Dracula, however. It has splendid mountain scenery and alpine peaks, some of the country's best hiking and skiing, rural villages and a way of life that remains almost as it was in the 18th century. Historic towns are scattered throughout the region, with their stone medieval streets, defensive towers and fortified churches. The charming town of Sighisoara is the most striking introduction to Transylvania, the birthplace of 'Dracula' (a medieval prince, Vlad Tepes, who led the Romanian resistance against the Turks), along with the impressive castles and churches of Brasov and Sinaia, and the dramatic castle at Bran, also known as Dracula's Castle, that looks every bit a vampire's lair with its soaring turrets and dramatic setting.
The populace is a mixture of different characters and customs that have been shaped by years of colonisation and the coming and going of different groups, and includes Romanians, Gypsies, Hungarians and Germans. Despite the creeping effects of modernisation into the large towns, visitors to this region will be rewarded by its medieval charm and the traditional character of the people. Endearing images will linger, and memories of horse-drawn carts piled high with cabbages, driven by elderly couples with scarf-covered heads and rough hands; lively food markets, quaint cobbled streets, and hilly pastures nestled among the Carpathian Mountains will be the lasting impressions left by the charm of Transylvania.
Tucked into the northeastern corner of Romania, and the medieval principality of the Moldavian region, Bucovina lies in the easily-defended Carpathian foothills where the region's hero, Stefan the Great, fought back the Turks in the 14th and 15th centuries and then built churches and monasteries throughout Moldavia to celebrate his victories. There are 48 monasteries in total, some with fortified walls to protect against invaders. These unique monasteries and Byzantine churches with their exceptional exterior frescoes is one of the most fascinating sights in Romania. Seven of the painted monasteries have been included on the UNESCO World Heritage List.
The area is worth visiting, not only for its wealth of religious art and the beautiful monasteries, but also for the natural beauty and simplicity of the region with its rolling hills, forests and tranquil valleys. The countryside is scattered with picturesque villages and rural scenery as local folk go about their daily business; horse-drawn carts dominate the lanes, driven by people bundled up against the cold, outdoor wells and piles of chopped wood adorn the yards, and produce markets bustle with activity. These are some of the scenes the traveller will encounter in this fascinating region of Romania, a stark contrast to the frenetic pace and way of life shaped by the modern face of city living.
The largest town in the area, and previous capital of Moldavia, is Suceava, today the gateway to visiting the painted monasteries of Southern Bucovina. The town has a couple of places of interest, including old medieval churches, the Bucovina History Museum and its main tourist site, the Schaun Citadel, a fortress built to hold off the Ottoman Sultan Mehmed II in 1476.
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