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Trip Report P_M Roams Romania, Travels in Transilvania

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Hello everyone, I would like to share with you my trip to Romania. Pics are not posted yet, I hope to get a link to those soon. But in the meantime here is my Romanian adventure. I always start with a silly audio trailer to promote my report so here it is:

Now on with the show:

I had always wanted to go to Romania especially after reading Clifton’s wonderful trip report in 2004. I am thrilled that it finally happened this year.

The flights over were uneventful with one great exception. On my layover at MSP I met my longtime Fodor pal Tiff!! I had never been to Minnesota before and time was short, but Tiff and I made the most of it. She picked me up that the airport, we visited a glorious Basilica downtown Minneapolis, and then we went for drinks. We had so many laughs just as we do on the board. This is the first time a layover was ever a highlight of my trip.

Now on to Romania.

When traveling alone I usually go with a tour of some sort. I enjoy independent travel but I hate being alone so much. For this trip I went with a tour company called Imaginative Traveller. I chose this company because it was one of the few companies that offered trips with more than a day or two in Romania. Another reason I was impressed by IT is they specialize in small groups. This allows greater flexibility and not the rigid schedule and itinerary of a big bus tour. About a month before leaving they told me the group would have 6 people, but at the last minute 3 more signed up so we had 9. I really liked this tour company so if anyone out there in Fodorland would like to see Romania but not to have that group tour experience, then I recommend a tour with IT. By traveling with a small group it’s more like driving around with friends.

I arrived into Bucharest a day early in order to adjust to the time change before the tour officially started. This gave me a day on my own so the first place I wanted to see was the Palace of the Parliament Building. This is the largest building in Europe and the second largest in the world, behind the Pentagon. It was built by Nicolae Ceausescu who was the Romanian dictator under Communist rule. In order to clear space for this building, Ceausescu ordered the bulldozing of 50,000 buildings including thousands of homes, hospitals, churches and synagogues, etc. It was to be used as a government building but also as a very luxurious residence for Ceausescu and his family. Obviously this wasn’t a popular since Romanians were living in terrible poverty. So in 1989 Ceausescu was captured, tried and executed before the palace was ever finished. It is still used today by the Romanian Parliament.

Now here are a couple of other things to give you some perspective of how big this place is. My tour of the palace lasted just over an hour and the tour guide said we only saw about 5% of the palace. So if it were possible to see every room in the palace, it would take about 20 hours. We were told that in total volume this building is bigger than the Great Pyramid.

Visitors to the palace are required to go with a guide so if anyone reading this would like to see the palace, make sure to find out what time the English speaking tours will run. If you have time to kill before your tour, be sure to see the fountains and gardens on the boulevard leading up to the palace, they are magnificent. On the day I visited, it just happened to be a Romanian national holiday. The palace was still open to visitors, but it was very dark inside. Someone in our group asked why all the lights were off. The guide said that it’s a holiday so the person who turns on lights wasn’t working that day. It seemed very funny there was only one person employed by the palace who is capable of operating light switches. But this is one of many examples of how Romania is in some ways still operating in the old Soviet style.

Please allow me to digress for a minute as not everyone will understand what I mean by “operating in the old Soviet style.” Back in the days of Communism everyone was guaranteed a job. No matter how well or how badly you did your job, you would always have a job. Everything was owned by the government and there was no competition amongst businesses. So there was no incentive for anyone to do a very good job and no incentive for a business to try and streamline its processes and improve efficiency. I believe that Romania has come a long way in the 20 years since Communism, but here and there we would see examples of inefficiencies that would not be found in our world. The example I gave in the last paragraph about having only one person who can operate lights is exactly what I’m talking about. There will be more such examples as we go on.

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