Romania: The Good, the Bad and the Ugly

In the eyes of travelers looking for unchartered territory to explore, the countries of Western Europe are fading into the ho-hum category. The new bent of adventurous backpackers, baby boomers and senior travelers alike is to “go east, o’ traveler!” And when they do, there is so much to see that seems on the very fringes of what the “typical” American knows.

The beauty of Romania can be discovered in its unique landscape, its tremendous natural beauty and its slow movement into the 21st century, while hanging on to the traditional and folkloric that make it unique. The Romanian people are seemingly interested in foreigners and the new energy they bring to the country. At the same time, they have pride in their products and their way of life. It is for these reasons and more that the country’s tourism industry is rapidly developing and attracting a new breed of travelers.

While traveling through the countryside of Romania, it is not at all unusual to see a farmer in a horse-drawn cart chatting away on his or her mobile phone. In the cities, travelers can observe horse-drawn carts carrying building materials to construction sites. The old and the new live in harmony here, at least for the time being. And the citizens have a distinct appreciation for both.

Despite this seemingly beautiful marriage, there are some elements of an increasingly invasive modern lifestyle that don’t seem to mesh. For tourists more accustomed to traveling in Western Europe, there are common habits that may seem particularly ignorant and issues that would appear to need immediate fixes. Other issues are simply lifestyle choices that foreigners must respect or at least put up with.

* Roma, or gypsies, beg all over the country, particularly at train stations. Obvious foreigners are targets, as are women traveling alone. However, the beggars approach everyone asking for money and food or even cigarettes. A standard practice is to send the cute, sad children to beg. When they return to mom sitting off to the side somewhere, she takes the money and sends them away again. It is heartbreaking and anger inciting. The difficult part is knowing who is in true need and who isn’t. Ask the locals and they’ll concur. Some of the large Roma population are poor and are desperate for help of any kind. Some aren’t in as much of a need, but they beg anyway. Many Romanians are generous with them. It is common practice for people to give what’s left of their lunch or drink to children begging on the street.

* As you watch the scenic countryside roll by from a train, a horse and cart or a car, one of the first things many people notice is the tremendous amount of litter that scars the view. Littering is a major problem in Romania. There’s trash in the cities and in the forests. Educated Romanians understand that it is a major problem and citizens must be educated. Others don’t grasp the concept that democracy means each person has to care for the environment and the community.

* Rabies is one of the top health hazards in Romania. This is likely due to the enormous number of stray dogs that run rampant in the country. Many are visibly diseased; others don’t show it but still have health issues. The country is caught in a vicious cycle. While the government may realize they are a problem; it will not pay to have the thousands of dogs captured, put down where appropriate or spayed and neutered.

* Every developing country has its share of people who try to beat the system. As a country starts to see more foreigners, many native people begin to see dollar signs. You read about it in travel books about any country that attracts travelers. Romania is no different. It can happen on a train with a conductor trying to demand more money on a fully paid ticket and it can occur with a black-market money dealer on the street. Be informed and be aware.

As with visiting any country, these issues aren’t warnings against traveling. However, they do help to present a clearer picture of what to expect. There are incredible sites to see and places to explore in Romania. For anyone looking for a new out-of-the-norm traveling experience, Romania should be at the top of the list.


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