Like many countries, Romania had been on our radar for years. I nearly visited Romania in 2002, on the several month European 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 them, on my way to Greece. But on that trip I met a couple people who didn’t have the nicest things to say about Romania. In later years, there were a few things frequently mentioned in travel forums 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 an interesting country in transition. Let’s address 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
3) Aggressive Wild Dogs are a Major Problem in the Cities
There were a couple bigger wild dogs that approached us in the gardens of Bran Castle (Dracula’s Castle), but they weren’t at all aggressive. The occasional mean looking wild dog can be found almost everywhere. The problem isn’t as bad as many people say because during our week-long stay we never once felt threatened by a single dog. So this isn’t something that should put you off from visiting Romania, unless you have a serious fear of dogs.
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 (airports and train stations in western countries 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 rate. 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.
We usually ask drivers to approximate the fare before entering a cab. Taxis can be a problem when they don’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. In those cases we just said no thanks and found taxi drivers who would run their meters.
Taxis are very 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 in 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 food can be… amazing! Our recent nearly four week trip through Europe also saw us visit France and Belgium, two of the best countries in the world for food. But a couple of Romanian dishes we ate very much so competed for the best meal of our trip. One of which was a beef stew called Tocana de Vita with Mamaliga (polenta with cheese), which we ate at Hanu Lui Manuc in the old town of Bucharest. The dish had been marinating for 12 hours, and was definitely just as delicious as the wonderful stews we ate in Belgium and France.
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 story…
Where to Stay in Bucharest?
Consider booking hotels in advance with free cancellation. We stayed at the Europa Royale Bucharest. The location is great to bar hop in the Old Town at night. It’s great to not worry about having to catch a taxi at night if you do not have to. While it’s not an amazing stay, it is comfortable enough.
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