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:
But I actually saw a lot more of 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!
Labels: Romania, Travel