Like many countries, Romania has been on our radar for years. I actually had a great opportunity to visit Romania in 2002, on the several month backpacking trip I met Bell, right after finishing university. At the time I was staying at a hostel in Budapest and a few people I met decided to catch a train together to Transylvania. I could have continued my journey through Bulgaria, with company, to stay with family in Athens. But on that trip I met a couple people who didn’t have the nicest things to say about Romania, and in travel forums, there were a few things frequently said that made us a little hesitant to pull the trigger on a visit. While Romania is the second poorest country in the Europe Union to Bulgaria, it’s a fascinating country in transition, and we’re happy to say that we can now personally dispel several things some people complain about.
1) It’s Hard to Travel in Romania with English
Some people complain that they found it difficult to travel in Romania while only speaking English. And perhaps this is perspective, because Bucharest isn’t Amsterdam, where everyone speaks English. However, 40% of Romanians speak at least a moderate amount of English. We didn’t partake in any organized tours in Romania and were fine organizing trains and buses ourselves on the ground. Most people who work at hotels and train stations speak a moderate amount of English and we found Romanians generally helpful. Is traveling in Romania more challenging with English than the Netherlands? Yes, but is it hard? Not really, because if one Romanian doesn’t speak English there’s a great chance the next person will.
2) Romanians Are Rude
Like anywhere, there are cultural differences and sometimes Romanians come off as being a little more gruff and less polite than English speaking cultures, but this doesn’t mean they’re rude. It’s not the custom in some cultures to interact with the same pleasantries as nations like the USA, Canada, England, Ireland and Australia, but approach people with a smile, respect their country and you’ll find most Romanians to be very helpful and nice people. We were even given free shots by a friendly bartender in Brasov who knew nothing about this website.
3) Aggressive Wild Dogs are a Major Problem in the Cities
4) Romanians Will Constantly Try to Rip You Off
The vast majority of Romanians are very honest people. In fact, after purchasing our first pastry in Bucharest, the cashier made a mistake and gave us more money back than she should have, which we were of course honest in returning. We even received an excellent currency exchange rate at Otopeni International Airport (and airports and train stations are notorious for giving terrible exchange rates). On a side note, the currency exchange booths in the departures terminal did give bad exchange rates, but the bank inside the airport gives an excellent one. During our week long stay, we didn’t have any transactions where anybody tried to short change us. Of course it could happen, but it’s definitely not prevalent.
Like many places though, we found taxis to sometimes be a problem when they didn’t want to run the meter. Taxi drivers at both Bucharest and Brasov train stations asked a flat fee significantly higher than the honest metered fare (we usually ask drivers to approximate before entering a cab). In those cases we just said no thanks and found taxi drivers who would run their meters, making taxis extremely inexpensive in Romania (we traveled 15 minutes from our hotel in the old town of Bucharest to the train station for the equivalent of $2 US). Sometimes we couldn’t find a taxi to run the meter so we just negotiated a fair price for both parties, around $5 for a moderate distance. Taxi drivers can be a problem everywhere, they certainly can be in our current home of Boston! While many taxi drivers are honest, you certainly can’t judge an entire nation by this profession.
With all this said, Bucharest is a big city, so you should take the same precautions here as you would in any city in the world.
5) Romanian Food Isn’t as Good as Many Other Countries
Romanian desserts are more hit and miss than Belgium and France but we found wonderfully fresh and delicious pastries from a couple middle eastern patisseries, and some of the Romanian patisseries were also very good. Sweet pretzels (covrigi) are one of the most common Romanian dessert, with chocolate filling and honey and walnut being two of the most prevalent flavors.
A lot of travelers also complain that Romania isn’t good for vegetarians as the dishes are very meat centric. While this is generally true, most restaurants in Bucharest and Brasov had a nice salad selection. To balance our meals we usually split one heavy Romanian meal and one salad main, comparable to a Greek salad. Of course, some vegetarians may want more than just salad, in which case, the selection can be limited.
We really enjoyed most of the food we ate in Romania, and we didn’t eat anything extremely expensive. We almost chose to visit Sicily instead of Romania because we enjoy food a lot and the island has a reputation for amazing food. While eating in Romania, we didn’t wish we were in Sicily instead. Now the cold wet weather in Transylvania, that’s another other story…
Are you interested in visiting Romania? Let us know if you have any questions and we’ll try and help!