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Scriptie over Transylvanië (NL)
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So, what's special about Romania?

Romania is an amazing country. Most people imagine the country as rough, poor, violent, dark, or even asiatic. Dracula remains to be the first association with the word Transylvania, even though this fantasy-figure was invented by an Englishman who had never been there. After the horror-stories about orphanages and hospitals that appeared in Western media after the 1989 'revolution' much has changed for Romania's population. The worst cases of poverty-stricken institutes have been eliminated. Even so, the black images linger in the minds of people who never were there, and don't consider ever going there. Maybe these pages about this special Eastern European country will enlighten a few of you, and convince you that Romania is a country to be experienced. Travelling there is partly stepping into another concept of time. Things seem to go slower than in our hurried West, and some regions seem to have decided to stop altogether for a century or two. Still, Romania is not a large open-air museum; it is on the move, and sometimes more dynamic than we'd expect. Since 1989 the inhabitants have got acquainted with the concept of freedom. Even though lots of people I spoke to were worried about their economic situation, most were happy to be able to speak aloud again after fourty years of pretty awful repression.

I was in Romania for four months in 1995, and have  spent a lot of quality time there ever since. I was there with two guys called Renze de Boer and Berno van Dooren; we wrote our Human Geography thesis on the subject of transition in two rural regions in Transylvania ( available online in Dutch). Since then, I have returned many times - for trips like my bicycle trip (see below). In 1999, I moved to Romania, spending two years in Brasov and Bucharest, writing for In Your Pocket city guides. Since, I've moved to Berlin and now to Warsaw, but I've been back many times, most recently in summer 2002 to update the Romania chapter for the Rough Guides Europe 2003 book.

So what's on these pages?

On the travel page there's lots of first hand advice on travelling to and in Romania. There are some tips included on regions and cities, guide books, maps etc. Also, for the more adventurous, there's extensive info about cycling in Romania, culminating in the diary of my bicycle trip through Transylvania, Maramures and Bucovina . A special section is dedicated to the minorities of Romania. In my view, it's the minorities that make Romanian society so interesting and varied. In recent years Romania has acquired international respect for the way minority problems are dealt with, despite the difficult economic circumstances. In this section, I've included an article I wrote together with my University teacher on the pros and cons of territorial autonomy for the large Hungarian minority, and also two articles written by an ethnic Hungarian friend. As a geographer I believe the best way of learning about a region or country is travelling there, or at least looking around. That's the reason for the picture gallery with photo's from the areas I visited in 1995. For more information I've inserted scores of interesting links to other Romania-pages, tourism-sites, news sources, etc. Before you go, don't forget to learn a few words of Romanian on the language page.
Warning: the content on these pages was mostly written in 1997-1998; many things are the same, some things have changed a bit, some things have changed radically, and some links are dead. But if I correct or delete them, future internet archeologists will never be able to know what was once online.

Lees de afstudeerscriptie Transitie in twee rurale gebieden van Roemenië die ik samen met twee andere studenten Geografie over het Roemeense platteland   schreef, staat nu op het net. Lees alles over de effecten van (de-)collectivisatie, mechanisatie, systematisare, staatsmonopolies, ethnische verschillen en  dergelijke op twee plattelandsgebieden in Transylvanië. Lees de korte anekdotes eerst, om een kleine indruk van de  inhoud te krijgen. Of kijk alvast naar een samenvatting van wat je kunt verwachten in het beschrijvinkje van het Homorod-dal   en het Podeni-dal. 

A conversation with a Romanian peasant

  I guess travelling has made me aware of differences between countries and   the people living in it. Now I think my mobility was the main reason I ended up studying Geography; this science only exists thanks to differences between areas and people. Anyway, another reason for choosing this study was a picture I saw in a geography schoolbook. It showed a part of the Iron Curtain, that ran straight though Europe untill 1989 and still runs through the minds of lots of people. I was intrigued by the aggresiveness of this wall. Who the hell put it there? Why did they think others needed protection against those living on the other side? What are these utopian states if there are walls around them? These questions are the basis of my interest in the people living on the other side of the Great European Divide. In recent years I have met and spoke to many of them, and have concluded that we share the same European culture, and that some of us simply got caught on the wrong side of the wall. 

Although most people think that the West has won the Cold War, I believe we can learn a lot from the societies on The Other Side. As a kid I was mostly pro-Soviet and anti-American, but that's normal. But would you believe it if I said that Romanian peasants sometimes seem to be happier in life than rich urban Dutch white-collar workers? After all, what's most important in life; racing around in your lease-car making money, or living in beautiful and clean surroundings, working damn hard, but taking more time for being with friends and relatives?
Let me tell you a story. In Romania carts are a slow but interesting way of getting around. As in the West, it's usually the people in the cheaper vehicles who take you along and are more interesting. In the summer of 1996, while hitching a ride in a horse-drawn cart in Transylvania I spoke to a peasant, who told me about his opinion on the Ingredients of a Happy Life:

"Come on son, get in to the cart; here, sit on this rug."
"Gee, thanks!"
"Here, take a beer. Want a cigarette?"
"No thank you, I don't smoke"
"Aha! Then you are a happy man!"
"What do you mean?"
"There are only a few things in life that really count. The most important is good health. You don't smoke, that's good." (lights up his fag)
"So why do you smoke?"
"Well, I'm too old to change that now, lad. But you're still young, and have made the right choice."
"What else is important?"
"Friends. If you don't have good friends, you'll be lonely till you die, no matter how healthy you are or how much money you have. Do you have real friends?"
"Yes, I believe I have..."
"Well, that's good then. You're a happy man. Friends and relatives are very important. Are your father and mother still alive?"
"Yes, they are."
"Good, they are the most important people in your life. If you're in trouble, you should always be able to lean on them."
"Excellent. Take more beer, you don't drink enough. Also important is a good wife. Are you married yet?"
"No, I'm not. But in Holland we don't usually marry very young."
"Aiaiaiai, not so good. You need a wife."
"Hmm. What about a job, and having enough money?"
"Look at me! I'm just a farmer with two hectares. Under communism life was hard, but now it's OK. I don't have much money, but I have enough for myself. I live in a nice village, in this beautiful countryside, I have my cows and my land. Enough food for me and my family, and friends nearby. Do your parents live in the same village as you?"
"Well, no, we live in different cities..."
"Oh dear, that's bad. Why do you live in a city? Everything is expensive there. There's only bad air, and everybody's in a hurry. Here the air is clean, and the land gives me what I need."

All the time we are driving through a magnificent landscape with mountains towering up next to the road, a river sparkling
nearby, the sun shining. The beer is passed on and the horse calmly plods towards the next village, where everyone is greeted
by the peasant. At this point I doubt if I ever should return to Utrecht, or stay in a Transylvanian village.

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Last modifications: 14-2-2004