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
media after the 1989 'revolution' much has changed for Romania's
The worst cases of poverty-stricken institutes have been eliminated.
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
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
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
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,
two articles written by an ethnic Hungarian friend. As a geographer I
the best way of learning about a region or country is travelling there,
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.
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.
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
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
between areas and people. Anyway, another reason for choosing this
was a picture I saw in a geography schoolbook. It showed a part of the
Curtain, that ran straight though Europe untill 1989 and still runs
the minds of lots of people. I was intrigued by the aggresiveness of
wall. Who the hell put it there? Why did they think others needed
against those living on the other side? What are these utopian states
there are walls around them? These questions are the basis of my
in the people living on the other side of the Great European Divide. In
years I have met and spoke to many of them, and have concluded that we
the same European culture, and that some of us simply got caught on the
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
peasant, who told me about his opinion on the Ingredients of a Happy
"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
"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
"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
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.