It’s known as “Little Paris” (it even has its own Arch of Triumph), but Bucharest doesn’t quite have the same feel as the city of lights and love—at least, not at first glance.
A modern gem, Romania has, in the past, been kept in the dark by the oppressive reign of Nicolae Ceauşescu (in power from 1965 to 1989); however, modern-day Romania is awakening from its slumber. Admittedly, the country has an unfortunate reputation for poverty and crime, which sometimes discourages foreign visitors, but travellers who dismiss Romania do themselves a disservice—it is a budget traveller’s paradise, rich in history, rustic beauty and hospitality. Romania’s fascinating legacy draws visitors to the horrors of Dracula’s dark castle and the famous frescoes of the Bucovina monasteries. Bucharest embodies modern Romania, but visitors to the capital can also explore the imposing remnants of Ceauşescu’s rule. Another Romanian treasure is the Black Sea Coast, whose resorts entice throngs of vacationers each summer.
Currency: Romanian leu (RON)
Government: Unitary Semi-Presidential Republic
DID YOU KNOW?
- The official language of Romania is Romanian, but Hungarian is also spoken by a portion of the population. Surprisingly, the main secondary languages taught at schools are French and English; it is estimated that five million Romanians speak some level of English, which makes getting around a bit easier for English-speaking travellers.
- In 1910, Romanian inventor and aerodynamics pioneer Henri Coanda designed and built the world’s first jet-powered aircraft, known as the Coandă-1910, which he demonstrated publicly at the second International Aeronautic Salon in Paris. Coanda died in 1972 at the age of 86, but his legacy lives on—Romania’s main international airport, Henri Coanda, is named after the great inventor.
- Romanian gymnast, and darling of the 1976 Montreal Olympic games, Nadia Camaneci got the first perfect 10 score in the history of gymnastics. However,the computer system that was in place was not set up to present the highest score, so it simply read “1.00”—the lowest possible score.
- Count Dracula, a fictional character in Bram Stoker’s novel, Dracula, was inspired by one of the best-known figures of Romanian history, Vlad Dracula, nicknamed Vlad Tepes (Vlad the Impaler), who was the ruler of Walachia at various times from 1456 to 1462. Vlad was made infamous by his penchant for impaling his enemies’ severed heads and torsos on large sticks, in an attempt to instill fear in all who would threaten his lands. His castle remains Romania’s top tourist attraction.
Romania has a temperate climate. The Summer is quite warm, with extended sunny days. The hottest areas in summer are the the lowlands in southern and eastern Romania, where 38°C is often reached in July and August. Temperatures are always cooler in the mountains. Winters can be cold, especially in the mountains. Abundant snowfall may occur throughout the country from December to mid-March.
Romania was settled in 200 BCE by a Thracian tribe called the Dacians. In 106 CE, the Dacians were conquered by the Romans and the emperor Trajan, and became a Roman province. About 160 years later, the Romans left the area, making Romania the first province that the Romans abandoned. For the next several hundred years, the area would be invaded by the Goths, Huns and Bulgars, among others.
In the Middle Ages, two major principalities emerged from the area: the principality of Moldavia and the Principality of Wallachia. In the 1500s, the regions were conquered by the Ottoman Empire, only to unite under Alexander Cuza in 1859 and gain full independence in 1878 under the Treaty of Berlin. The first King of Romania was Carol of Hohenzollern-Sigmaringen.
After World War I, Romania gained the area of Transylvania, but changed sides for World War II, joining Hitler’s Nazis and Germany. In 1944, the government was overthrown in a coup led by King Mihai. Romania then changed sides to join the allies against Germany.
After the war, the Soviet Union occupied Romania for some years and turned the country into a communist’s puppet state under dictator Nicolae Ceausescu. However, in 1996, the communists were removed from power, allowing Romania to join the European Union in 2007.
DRACULA’S CASTLE AND THE FAGARAS MOUNTAINS
Vlad Tepes was a 15th century ruler of Wallachia. His father was Vlad Dracul, which made Vlad Jr. “Son of Dracul,” or Dracula. Visit the authentic Castle at Poienari where he lived and re-live the macabre past of one of the world’s most celebrated villains. Although crumbled and beat down by time, you can still see how the majestic castle once stood tall and controlled the narrow mountain passage below.
Europe’s last remaining authentic peasant community, Maramures is one of the few places where rural European medieval life remains intact. Catch a ride on a horse-drawn cart and experience a trip back in time where peasants still live off the land. .
THE PEOPLE’S PALACE
The Palace of the Parliament in Bucharest is the world’s second-largest administrative building, after the Pentagon. Loathed by Romanians for its symbolic reminder of Romania’s darkest modern days, its original name was the House of the People (Casa Poporului), but it was renamed, first during the 1989 Revolution with the derogatory name of House of Ceauşescu, and then as the Palace of the Parliament. However, to this day, most of the Romanians retain the old name and call it Casa Poporului.
THE PAINTED MONASTERIES OF BUCOVINA
The painted monasteries are the jewels of northeastern Romania. Their interior and exterior wall paintings feature frescoes of a variety of Biblical scenes, including The Last Judgment. The monastery of Voronet features intense shades of blue and detailed imagery, while Humor is a smaller monastery, with its own reddish-brown shades that provide a contrast to the intense blue of Voronet.
Looking down ominously from the east is Mount Tâmpa, where Braşov’s original defensive fortress was built. Vlad Ţepeş attacked it in 1458, dismantled it two years later and, of course, proceeded to impale some 40 merchants atop the peak. Many visitors go via the Tâmpa cable car, which offers stunning views as you ride to the top—where you’ll also find a communist-era dining room. Go just for the ride up, or pack your gear and make use of the hiking trails that wait at Tâmpa’s peak.
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