By Michael Seckler
Looking at my last week, I feel like it’s time to face an inconvenient truth: Summer 2013 has left Amsterdam. For good. Lots of the unique Amsterdam-rain (coming from everywhere, never only from the above) are sending a clear signal: Flip-flops off, gloves on!
So what to do with this sobering realization? Basically you have two options, if you feel like escaping side-rain-mood for a moment: Looking back to the summer that has just passed or start thinking about summer 2014! In this article I will do the first so that you can do the latter. Here is why you should spend summer ’14 in …. Romania!
“Why Romania?” might be your first reaction. No worries, you’re not alone, in fact you are in good company with the Romanian people themselves. More than once I was asked by locals why I chose Romania of all things to spend my vacation. That is an especially surprising question when looking at what Romania has to offer to backpackers.
In fact, I’d say it is a backpacker’s paradise. First of all: you don’t have as much tourism around you. Sure there are tourists and like everywhere you’ll also find the prototypes with detachable pants and glasses with an elastic strap band. But with only a little bit of effort you can find the nicest places completely abandoned and left just for you.
Also important for the average backpacker: Romania is cheap, which means you can move around a lot without spending a fortune. Especially hitch-hiking is a good option because it is very common among local people. Instead of the – rather humble – ‘thumb-signal’ Romanians usually go for the ‘pat-the-dog-move’ (arm extended about waist high, palm down) and a ‘stop-already’ facial expression.
Once you stop a car like this, you still need to decide where to go. This is a tough one. At the danger of sounding like a cheesy tourism ad: Romania has it all: Mountains, Beaches, Culture. The Romanian version of this triad would be: Carpathian Mountains, Black Sea Beaches and old Saxon towns.
If you have to make these decisions, make sure you don’t miss the one place, that struck me as the most interesting part of Romania: Maramures!
This region in the north is famous for having the last real peasant society of Europe. Local people used to say that nothing has changed during the last 100 years: The people work on the field during the day and come home with their carriage in the evening. But even though you still see this (in the photo above), now the situation seems to be somewhat different: The 21st (or 20th) century has arrived in its weird selective way: Carriages are outnumbered by cars, flat screens are flickering behind the curtains of simple houses and occasionally you’ll see a kid playing with his smartphone while sitting on a pile of hay on a carriage. Maramures today is a bit like a building set in which someone combined elements of the 19th, 20th and 21st centuries.
A popular reason against a trip to Romania is the negative image of its capital. If Maramures is famous for being backward, Bukarest is famous for not being the most beautiful city in the world. Packed with too many cars and tower blocks it’s hard to argue against that. However, I would still recommend going, if only to see the palace of the parliament, the biggest administrative building in all of Europe. Walking through that palace with its 5100 rooms is like walking through the brain of the megalomaniac dictator Nicolae Ceausescu, who had commissioned the building in 1983.
Even though the devestating Ceausescu-era is anything but forgotten, a younger generation without personal memories of the dictator is there now. Romania is changing and it seems like you can see it on the streets.
So even if you’re vacation default settings normally drive you to the west or south of Europe, I reckon you make 2014 an exeception.