Totally Frenched Out

From the blogger formerly known as Samdebretagne

Sunday, May 26, 2013

What comes to your mind when you hear Romania?

When I learned that I would be going to Romania for five days in May, I figured that it would be very similar to Bulgaria.  After all, they are neighbors and are the number 1 & 2 poorest countries in the EU.  Those of you who remember my Bulgaria posts know what an effect the country has on me, often leaving me deeply sad for several days after returning to France, so I didn't have super high hopes for this trip. And I don't know about you guys, but the only thing I had ever heard about the country was the whole Dracula/Transylvania thing in the US and all of the "thieving gypsies come from Romania" line in France.

So given all of that, I was expecting to see a lot of this:
And this:
But I actually saw a lot more of this:
And this:
The Romanian girl in my masters program told me before the trip that Bucharest was known as "le petit Paris" and I thought "Yeah, right".  But actually, there were remnants of Paris-style buildings and Hausmannian architecture everywhere.  Some of it was a bit run down, like this building:
But mostly, the city was beautiful and lively, with lovely cafés and tons of restaurants.  We also ventured out into the countryside, and came across towns that could have been straight out of the South of France or Italy:
Combine that with the 29°C/85°F weather, and you've got one happy camper.  There were also some pretty neat castles - we visited Dracula's castle, as well as this one below - which was probably one of the "busiest" castles I have ever seen.  The inside had so much going on that you didn't know where to look and I almost had a headache upon leaving:
There was also the Romanian Parliament building, which is the second largest building in the world after the Pentagon.  It was pretty crazy - it is 3.7 million square feet and on top of what we see above ground, there are also 8 floors underground, with only four that are in use.  Randomly, we also happened to run into the woman who designed the building during our tour, so we were able to chat with her for about ten minutes about her inspiration for it and how much upkeep it takes to maintain it.
I was surprised that a woman was chosen to build the building that was meant to represent the power of Romania, but one thing we heard over and over again during our trip was that Romanian women were extremely hard workers and they were very strong and independent.  The general message was that men were lazy and drank a lot, and that if you wanted something done right, ask a woman to do it.  So that was pretty cool to see so many empowered women.

We also met with French Embassy and the Chamber of Commerce, and learned all kinds of interesting statistics about the country.  Apparently there are roughly 20 million Romanians in the country and 4-5 million abroad. (The French ambassador joked that they were all in France).  Corruption is still very common, especially when it comes to taxes.  350€ is the average official salary, but mostly people get paid a lot more under the table, and the unofficial salary is suspected to be around 1000€ per month.  Which explains a bit more how people are able to pay what seemed like French prices in most grocery stores and shops.

This building seemed to be the perfect representation of the country - a mix of old and new all in one:
The food however left much to be desired...

The last thing I wanted to mention was the language - C wants to learn Romanian for a potential future project, so I paid particular attention to what it sounded like.  I couldn't really understand any of the spoken language, but the written stuff was often fairly easy to understand:
There was also a big Latin/Italian influence that you could really hear when certain people spoke. One of the most impressive things though was how well many of the aged 50 and up folks spoke French. Maybe with a slight accent - but still - I'm talking perfect, scholarly French, like you would expect from a French government official.  There were many-a-time where I was left with my mouth hanging open after listening to how well they spoke. 

So yeah - Romania: not at all what I was expecting!  I'd definitely recommend Bucharest for a weekend trip. The flights aren't that expensive, there are some reasonably-priced hotels, they have a good metro system & the drinks are cheap.  Just make sure you go in the summer when the weather is nice!

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Blogger Bossi said...

Really interesting post! Thanks.

May 26, 2013 at 11:35 PM  
Blogger Den nation said...

I've been a faithful reader for the past few years now. Your blog was the first blog I ever read!

I went to Romania a few years ago and I too was surprised at how advanced Budapest was. The countryside, however, was another story. The thing that struck me the most about the countryside was how many hitchhikers there were at town exits. And the hitchhikers usually paid their drivers, just like in a bus. A lot of the drivers would pick up numerous passengers.

And there were so few places to eat out in small towns; I realized then that the people were extremely poor.

Yeah, corruption is rampant. I remember trying to cross the Bulgarian-Romanian border by foot, but soon realized it was not allowed because the border police had some sort of deal with the taxi drivers to take you over for whatever price you could negotiate with the driver.

I will never forget the sight of the Romanian parliament building. It was so immense it was overwhelming. I felt so sorry for the people, it was a constant reminder of how much they suffered under Ceausescu. On the one hand, it should have been destroyed because it represents such suffering, but on the other hand, it is part of history.

The food... yeah, I agree.

May 27, 2013 at 3:01 AM  
Blogger Ksam said...

Den nation - thanks for sharing your Romanian experiences!

May 27, 2013 at 9:22 AM  
Blogger Animesh said...

Another amazing travelogue KSam, kudos! I am now adding Romania to my list of places to visit once AS arrives :).

And is there really an arc du triomphe and a Gare du Nord in Romania, or was that sign pointing to the Paris ones? ;)


May 27, 2013 at 3:02 PM  
Blogger jean laine said...

Romanian is a latin language like French Italian or spanish , that's why it seems so closed

May 27, 2013 at 5:53 PM  
Blogger Sara Louise said...

I spent a Christmas in Bucharest a few years back and I really loved the city. I do hope to go back in spring/ summer though because winter is Bucharest is freaking FREEZING!!!

May 30, 2013 at 8:55 AM  

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