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|Introduction to Romania
Romania has the majestic castles, medieval towns, great hiking and wildlife, and cheap skiing of much of the 'undiscovered' former Eastern Bloc. You'll be floored at how different it is, but you'll almost certainly see signs that it's chasing the dreams of the rest of the West.
Horse-drawn carts jostle for space against fast cars whose drivers are talking money on mobile phones; farm workers watch Baywatch on satellite in their medieval farmhouses. Romania is clawing itself forward, slowly and surely sloughing off the remnants of the Ceausescu era.
The transition is not easy, and for some it's downright painful. In the middle of the picturesque scenery and the headlong rush to development where the money is fast and the suits Armani, parts of the country are being left out.
Full country name: Romania
Area: 237,500 sq km
Population: 22.27 million
Capital City: Bucharest
People: Romanians (90%), Hungarians (7%), Roma (2%), Germans, Ukrainians
Language: Romanian, Hungarian
Religion: Eastern (Romanian) Orthodox (87%), Protestant (6.8%), Roman Catholic (5.6%), other
Head of State: President Traian Basescu
Head of Government: Prime Minister Calin Popescu Tariceanu
GDP: US$169.3 billion
GDP per capita: US$7,600
Annual Growth: -8%
Major Industries: Agriculture, manufacturing
Major Trading Partners: EU (esp.Germany, Italy, France), USA, Turkey
Member of EU: No
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Visas: Canadian, Japanese and EU citizens with valid passports have the luxury of being able to visit Romania visa-free for 90 days. US citizens and those from many eastern European countries can travel visa-free for 30 days. All other foreign visitors need a visa to enter, which must be purchased in advance. Visa requirements change frequently; check at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs before departure.
Health risks: rabies (This is a fatal viral infection. Many animals can be infected (such as dogs, cats, bats and monkeys) and it's their saliva that is infectious. Any bite, scratch or even lick from a warm-blooded, furry animal should be cleaned immediately and thoroughly. Scrub with soap and running water, and then apply alcohol or iodine solution. Medical help should be sought promptly to receive a course of injections to prevent the onset of symptoms and death), typhoid (Also known as enteric fever, Typhoid is transmitted via food and water, and symptomless carriers, especially when they're working as food handlers, are an important source of infection. Typhoid is caused by a type of salmonella bacteria, Salmonella typhi. Paratyphoid is a similar but milder disease. The symptoms are variable, but you almost always get a fever and headache to start with, which initially feels very similar to flu, with aches and pains, loss of appetite and general malaise. Typhoid may be confused with malaria. The fever gradually rises during a week. Characteristically your pulse is relatively slow for someone with a fever. Other symptoms you may have are constipation or diarrhoea and stomach pains. You may feel worse in the second week, with a constant fever and sometimes a red skin rash. Other symptoms you may have are severe headache, sore throat and jaundice. Serious complications occur in about one in 10 cases, including, most commonly, damage to the gut wall with subsequent leakage of the gut contents into the abdominal cavity. Seek medical help for any fever (38°C and higher) that does not improve after 48 hours. Typhoid is a serious disease and is not something you should consider self-treating. Re-hydration therapy is important if diarrhoea has been a feature of the illness, but antibiotics are the mainstay of treatment)
Time Zone: GMT/UTC +2
Dialling Code: 40
Electricity: 230V ,50Hz
Weights & measures: Metric
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Romania has a juicy calendar of folklore festivals. Numerous smaller ones remain unpublicised, preserving their authenticity but making them very difficult for the traveller to attend. The Whit Sunday Szekely Pilgrimage, the largest traditional Szekely folk and religious festival of the year, is held in Miercurea Ciuc. The Fundata Fair, a traditional folklore fair originally held for shepherds to meet their future wives, is at Fundata near Bran in June. July sees International Chamber Music Festival concerts in Brasov and Bran. In August is Medieval Days, a two week medieval arts, crafts and music festival in Sighisoara, and the Hora de la Prislop, a wild dancing festival on the Prislop Pass. The Sambra Oilor is a major pastoral festival to mark the sheep herds coming down from the mountains, held in and around Bran in September, and in December there's the De la Colind la Stea Christmas festival in Brasov.
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|Best time to Visit
May and June are the best months to visit, followed by September and early October. At these times, you can visit the medieval painted monasteries in southern Bucovina, and enjoy them minus the tourist hordes. Spring and autumn are also the best times for birdwatching in the Danube Delta. Romania has harsh winters, when tourism is centred on the ski resorts like Poiana Brasov and Sinaia. Snow lingers as late as mid-May, and the hiking season doesn't begin in earnest till June. The resorts along the Black Sea coast start filling up in late June and stay packed until mid-August.
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|Currency / Costs / Approx. Spending
Currency: Romanian Leu
Accommodation will be your biggest expense in Romania. Cheap accommodation is scarce in Bucharest. Expect to pay at least US$25 for a double room with shared bath in any hotel within walking distance of the centre of most Romanian cities and towns. Accommodation in private homes in the countryside starts at US$10 a night, including a home-cooked breakfast.
The cost of dining is rising - Romanians can't afford to eat out, so most restaurants are geared to 'rich foreigners'. In Bucharest it's tough to eat for less than US$5 per head, not including alcohol. Eating out is cheaper elsewhere, and a bottle of good Romanian wine can be as little as US$1.50. Seeing a film or play costs about US$1, and entrance fees to museums are about 20 cents. Public transport is dirt cheap by Western standards. US$3 will take you approximately 100km by bus or comfortable express train. Petrol is around 45 cents a litre.
It's easy to cash travelers checks in Romania, but not very easy to replace stolen ones. Only American Express has an office that issues replacements in Bucharest. Cash-dispensing ATMs accepting Visa, MasterCard and plenty of other plastic are becoming increasingly widespread in Romania. Credit cards are widely accepted in hotels, restaurants and shops. They are essential for hiring a car, unless you want to pay cash up-front. Marked, torn or very used notes will often be refused at exchanges. Ensure whatever currency you bring is in good condition.
Tipping is not common in Romania, though you should always round up the bill to the nearest 500 lei. Some bartering, but not much, goes on at flea markets. Taxi drivers drive a hard bargain, so always haggle.
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Romania's capital lies on the Wallachian plains, between the Carpathian foothills and the Danube River. In the 1930s it was known as 'the Paris of the East'. Since then, earthquakes, WWII bombing and Ceausescu have combined to destroy much of its prewar beauty.
The focal point of what locals dubbed 'Ceausima' is the enormous 12-storey Palace of Parliament, intended to be the largest building in the world (it comes second to the Pentagon). Central Bucharest has some classic beauty, a 16th-century Old Court Church that contains stunning preserved frescoes.
Surrounded by verdant Transylvanian hills, Brasov is one of Romania's most visited places. The first public opposition to the Ceausescu regime occurred here in 1987, where thousands of workers protested harsh food rationing. Ceausescu's response left three people dead and rations were cut further.
A medieval Saxon town, Brasov's main attraction is the Black Church, said to be the largest Gothic church between Vienna and Istanbul. Many people use Brasov as a base for visiting nearby attractions, most notably Bran Castle, commonly known as 'Dracula's Castle', 30km (18.6 mi) south of town.
Sighisoara is effectively another Brasov, but is more beautiful and less hyped than its twin. It has more preserved medieval buildings in better nick and a Dracula connection that pulls in the tourists. You'll find the Dracula House in the medieval citadel, birthplace of Vlad 'the impaler' Tepes.
Other worthy sights inside the citadel walls are the clock tower, a history museum, and the Church of the Dominican Monastery, which became the Saxons' main Lutheran church in 1566. The 172 steps of the covered stairway to the Gothic Church on the Hill offer a good climb.
The Black Sea Coast
In Spain it's Benidorm, in Australia it's the Gold Coast - and in Romania the sun-sea-sand-and-sex brigade heads for the Black Sea coast. Constanta, Romania's largest port and second largest city, is the main transport hub for the Black Sea coast, and the gateway to other resorts.
The beaches are dirty and crowded, but the town itself is picturesque and has some excellent museums. If you like lying on overcrowded beaches listening to blaring pop music head to Eforie Nord, Neptun-Olimp or Costinesti. Still, Ceausescu speeches were the order of the day until the revolution.
Timisoara, in the Banat region close to the Hungarian border, is world-famous as the birthplace of the 1989 revolution. Numerous memorial slabs to those people who died in the fighting are encrusted in walls on streets around the town. Most are still honoured with fresh flowers and lavish bouquets.
The Tokes Reformed Church, the flashpoint of the revolution, is south of the town centre. Other main sights include the Roman Catholic Cathedral and the Serbian Orthodox Cathedral, which are in the town centre on opposite sides of Piata Unirii, Timisoara's most picturesque square.
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