Can we begin with a creepy, exaggerated laugh of a villain?
I’ll be the first shmuck to admit that the reason that we visited Romania was to see Bran Castle– hit Bucharest, tackle some vampires, and get out. But Romania has a way of slapping around silly tourists with this inappropriate attitude. My favorite memories really had nothing to do with Vlad , castles, or blood sucking.
Folklore developed around the region when tribes fought to keep out invaders. The ruthless Vladimir, rather infamously known as Vlad the Impaler, went around mounting entire armies on sticks when they threatened his people. He became the most wanted man in Europe but his subjects actually really, really loved him. And he had a rather cool personal, real, story and family life . Much more interesting that the crap Bran came up with in Dracula, if you ask me. Vlad and his people took to the mountains to protect their way of life from all of these pests. If I lived in a place as beautiful as Carpathian Mountains, I’d purposely invent some scary arse stories to keep out pillagers too.
Some anomalies were evident on my trip to Romania.
Prostitution. Rural in a field of wheat, prostitution. I mean, you could be in the middle of beautiful countryside, heaven on Earth when some rough looking broad in denim shorts and spaghetti straps tries to seduce you through your windshield while she parades on the side of the road. It had me whipping my head around wondering, “Where did she even walk from?”. “I wonder if this farm-house up here on the left is hers?” Some stretches of highway had one of these ladies every two miles. I couldn’t imagine what life must be like for her waiting on the shoulder of the highway beside cows and sheep. Like, where do you go for privacy?
Not everyone steals. But I did have to call out a couple of gas station attendants who, I’m pretty sure, intentionally short changed me. They didn’t even fight me about it when I went back inside and got a little feisty. It appeared that this confrontation between customers and clerks happened often enough that if someone was brave enough and attentive enough to notice, THEN you got all of your money back, no problem.
Downtown Bucharest (despite being unchangeably beautiful and friendly) is run by like, a crazy mafia street people gang. We parked in a seemingly-normal-appearing free parking spot on the street. We got eyeballed, hard eyeballed, by a group that was being harassed by a cop. These people like looked straight through the police officer at us. We sensed something was up. We asked the friendly desk attendant at the hostel about what was going on. She shared that if you didn’t pay the “gypsies” (her word, not mine) to watch your car that they would deface it with either a really really long scratch or break your windshield. Upon hearing this news we instantly dropped our backpacks and ran, literally RAN, back to the car to park it safely in a garage.
I’ve been to [almost] every other Eastern European country and those were the things that made this trip a little different from the others.
The Flip Side
No other Eastern European country was quite as beautiful (Okay maybe Latvia was, but it’s a close second).
People like everywhere, seemed to enjoy their festivals, food, and celebrations. But Paprika Chicken explosion in your mouth? It’s like a whole new palate of tastes. The Roma family near our hotel got down to the sound of a fiddle out in their backyard until the wee hours one weekend. Even the farm animals seemed to be into it. And it was the norm.
There have been few, really few, things on the planet that have caused me to stop dead in my tracks. The sound of a classical musician pouring out their heart on a violin that echoes off of the street corners in Bucharest is one of the saddest and most beautiful things I will probably ever hear in this life. Here’s the closest thing I could find on Youtube (link).
The architecture. Need I say more?
The flowers dancing through the open window of a cottage is almost spiritual on a morning when your hair is dripping from a bath of handcrafted soap in a claw-foot tub. The rooster woke you first. Then you might attend a lavish countryside breakfast of homemade cheese, jam, and bread. You examined the sitting room china, the lace of the curtains, and listened to the gravel crunch as you took a walk along the picket fences of the village. Staying at the Botique Cottage Hotel: Conacul Brătescu may be my favorite thing that I did in Romania. Hell, it may be my favorite hotel. (Staying in a Japanese Ryokan was my other favorite). I could live there forever.
And forever is what you get when you visit Romania. Because that violin, the sun dancing in those wildflowers, the red tiled roofs, that homemade breakfast, the crunch of that gravel, those are what I sometimes visit when I need a break from mundane reality after leaving. Romania is something special to behold. And it’s a lot more than echoes of some silly vampire.