Romania, land of the… puny salads
People have it worse than I – it is such an effective way of making people feel better about their own situation, that it has weaved its way into the gene pool of our complicated society. It is at the root of the city v. village mocking, the East v West… it is used as a parenting tactic what is wrong with your purple sausage and green mush dinner?! There are children dying of hunger in… It inspires songs, for goodness sake:
Stay with me.
What does that have to do with Romania? Well, Romania was one of our feel good Balkan neighbors, Albania being the other. We may have been squished under the iron fist of communism, but they had it worse. They had Ceausescu! – ahhhs and gasps fill the air. We may have been poor, but they were that little bit more in lack of money. And this was the extent of my knowledge really. I am guessing any more might have threaten to pop the bubble of feel good we were bouncing on. And if you knew how bad life was in Bulgaria before I left, you will be awe struck by the low expectations I had for the country.
Romania is beautiful. The whole of Transylvania is filled not with concrete jungles amidst abandoned crumbling statues, but with views like that:
Development following years of communism has not ruined the charm of the old cities. Nothing is over commercial yet, at least after you go out of Bucharest.
The Carpathians are a balm for the eyes, be it on a rainy day or through the warm blanket of the shining sun.
There are plenty of things to see.
Old and new churches, intricate architecture, magnificent castles or imposing forts, lush green parks for the children to play in, mountains and hills to climb or peaceful squares surrounded by colorful buildings and rustling under the sound of a fountain, it is all here.
And yet, we left underwhelmed.
I was not sure if our feelings were a bit bias after spending almost 3 months in Bulgaria, where I speak the language, know the customs and were surrounded by friends. But the moment we stepped into Serbia and walked a little bit through Belgrade, we knew it was not a fluke.
I found in Romania everything that I did not expect, but it failed to satisfy the basic needs of my traveling soul. It felt distant. Villages seemed empty behind closed doors. There is no street food or cafe culture outside of the fancy cafe’s selling overpriced fare. Places turn into ghost towns as soon as you venture a little bit away from the central square, housing the expensive establishments I mentioned. Elderly people must be locked behind those village doors, because you don’t see many of them around.
I am sure there is life in Romania, we had the good fortune of being guests in a house that was buzzing with it. We have also managed to chat with a few of the locals, who seem full of it. But it is not easy to access. Life is hidden it seems and that left me wanting. I left without really feeling what Romania is, because it is not architecture and views that define a culture and people.
We loved all the Saxon buildings and the beautiful nature of Transylvania. We consumed too many of the delightful Romanian covrigi, which is not your average round bread, it has a sweet tasting crunch outside with fluffy innards that leave you wanting more.
And the only other staple you can find on the streets kurtos, which is dough rolled on a fat stick and baked like that. It comes with different toppings – caramel, sugar, nuts, cocoa and without. It is delicious, but expensive for what it is – super hollow bread that disappears in a split second (around $4-5)
The squares in the towns are fun, although on a hot day you need to find cooling tactics, as trees are rare.
The mountains? Magnificent even when they are just a background to a drive to your next destination.
And we loved the sleepy eyes that followed us around in Sibiu.
So what can Romania do to keep travelers like us happy?
At least fix the salads. After Bulgaria’s huge generous and cheap salads, the local offerings seemed like a horrible mistake. For the same price that you will get a bowl of shopska in its Southern neighbor, in Romania you will consistently be served half a tomato and almost a quarter of a cucumber and it will be called a salad.
We just passed through joked about the salads and left, but I cannot stop the nagging feeling that behind the beautiful facade, life in Romania is not as picturesque. Economically it is definitely not the straggler that it used to be, but maybe all the years of hardship have left some mark on its people that is hard to grasp. Maybe they are just more private people. Maybe I am just leaning on old habits and seeing it as worse off, but in a new area.
Only this time it is not making me happier.
Thank you Romania and all the best.