Romania is a fascinating country, Transylvania itself evokes imagery of Romanticism and stories of Grimms' Fairy Tales. Yet, like every country or city it has its unique quirks and pitfalls that any adventurer or traveler must familiarize themselves too. Backpacking through Romania for a better part of a month and a half, I stumbled across three of these obstacles. Here they are in order of quirkiness, if not absolute bodily harm.
Gypsy women in Sighisoara, Romania. Creative Commons Photo By Adam Jones Adam63
Over Eager Permanent Nomads
You have them in New York City, Chicago, Dublin, Split and most anywhere a large number of people co-exist. Whether through misfortune, vice or decree of the almighty people exist on the fringes of society and find ways in which to cope. This relationship with the normalized herd can either be parasitic or mutually beneficial.
Romania is uniquely situated in history and location, to have been the birthplace of the modern day embodiment of this concept. These individuals are known as known as Gypsies or Roma to many. They are a misunderstood group who are rich in culture, with a fascinating history and lineage. A lineage which has only begun to be understood, thanks in part to the scientific findings of mapping the Human Genome.
The craftiness and improvising nature of the human mind and spirit cannot be overstated, so you should keep some general safety tips in mind.
Crowded shopping districts, tourist hubs and public transportation networks are ideal locations for unsuspecting travelers to be taken advantage of. When I arrived in Targu Mures on the train, it happened just as I had been warned. I was approached by a child and a man dressed, in what I am surmised to be traditional cultural dress. One asked for a cigarette (not the child), the other sought money. This is a scenario where your attention is drawn away in one direction or another, while your wallet or any other easily lifted possession takes a walk.
Keep your money and important documents stowed away deep in your backpack. Have a separate reserve stash of cash somewhere on your person. This might be a good time to point out that exchanging your currency for that of the destination, before arriving is a marvelous idea.
A late night in Brasov brought me an chance encounter with a self described Gypsy (as far as I could tell with his broken English). While he did not relieve me of my possessions, I did run into a clever little scam of his on a visit to a nearby grocery. We went to pick up some party liquor for our evening jaunt around town.
A trusting person by heart, I allowed him to pick out our nights beverages along with extra smokes. Although when it came time to pay, to my surprise he had no money. So I ended up paying. Perhaps it was stupidity. Perhaps it was the excitement of the night. I could have walked away, but it was too much fun. The lesson to take away, don't unsuspectingly enter into a businesses dealing with someone who lives on the streets. Maybe I'll see him next time I'm in Brasov.
Romanian stray dog staring you down. Creative Commons Photo By AlexisMartin mb
Wild Romanian Dogs
Wild packs of dogs roaming the Romanian countryside and streets of its cities is a real danger. The SofiaEcho reports there may be as many as 250,000 stray dogs in the capital of Bucharest alone. Certainly something to cause alarm. One might think Wandering Earl faces danger each and every day he steps out his front door.
While visiting Romania nomadic dogs were not as big a problem in Bucharest as I encountered in Brasov and Targu Mures. Perhaps this was because I stayed in the city center. These nomadic dogs are a real threat that should never be taken lightly. Stay on the lookout and steer clear of them. A simple Romanian solution is to throw petardes at them. I don't know what these are, Fireworks, bags of rocks, smelly sacks of rotting meat, your guess is as good as mine. I have read that they are sold by the local Roma.
A friend of mine from Romania has a rather harrowing tale, where he was chased down the side of a mountain by a pack of nomadic Romanian dogs. I hope to have him share this tale with us in the coming weeks, along with some advice on how to stay safe when encountering these ferals of the streets.
Fear The Maxi Taxi
For dramatic effect. Fear the Maxi Taxi. These are a great option in regards to cost. They are cheap, super cheap. Though much like everything else in the universe, there exists a balance of Ying and Yang. With the logarithmic yang of cheapness comes the exponential increase in the yang of death.
Never before in my life have I been so afraid. Even buzzing along on the Connor Pass in County Kerry with speeding Irish drivers through the fog was a cake walk. I don't remember which route it was, though it was the situation and immanent death that left the impression in my mind. A two lane highway, snowing, freezing conditions with ice on the road, darkness and oncoming buses and trucks. I never so tightly gripped the seat my entire life, never came so close to peeing my pants.
Never again Maxi Taxi, never again.
I'm not trying to scare you, just tickle your fancy with some reasons to adventure to this great country, while highlighting some safety concerns you might want to take note of.