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Romania is slowly emerging from the effects of being one of the most repressed countries under communism and having suffered the megalomaniac dictatorship of Nicolae Ceausescu whose rule left the country in the depths of poverty. Travel in Romania is rewarding yet habitually challenging as much of its charisma lies in the more remote regions, and optimistic plans are often frustratingly slowed down by practical realities. Despite this, Romania is rapidly regaining its identity as a popular tourist destination and has plenty to offer the international traveller.
The charms of Transylvania lure people with the imagery of haunted forests, medieval towns, vampires, turreted cliff-top castles, and the legends of Dracula. In addition to its medieval castles and enchanting historic towns, the region also offers the dramatic alpine scenery of the Carpathian Mountains with spectacular skiing and undisturbed hiking opportunities.
The country's geography is diverse: from mountains, rolling hills and rural farmlands to white sandy beaches and resorts along the Black Sea Coast. Dotting the natural landscape are rustic villages where local people live as they have done for the past 100 years. There is an abundance of religious architecture - including the exquisitely painted monasteries of Bucovina - and there are ancient churches and cities bursting with historic architecture. The capital city, Bucharest, is re-inventing itself following decades of neglect by the ruling communists and its damaged architecture is slowly being restored to its original glory. It has elegant restaurants, a revitalised nightlife and cultural attractions that are becoming integral to this new image.
A visit to Romania will leave few impassive, offering a refreshingly different culture to elsewhere in Europe. The mix of quaint medieval towns and castles, drab cities striving for Western modernism, and the diverse rural landscape seemingly untouched by modern history, offers a fascinating kaleidoscope of opportunities to explore. Romania appeals to visitors because it is so different. It has one foot firmly placed in the past while the other one is stretching forward in an effort to keep up with the progress of the modern world.
Romania has a myriad of sightseeing attractions on offer. Visitors can marvel at medieval villages and castles such as Brasov. Other popular Romania tourist attractions include Sighisoara as well as the Peles and Bran Castles. Bucharest's National History Museum, Stavropoleos Church and Monastery and the Palace of Parliament will keep visitors enthralled for hours, while tourists should definitely include the Village Museum on their list of things to do in Romania. The museum offers visitors a walk back in time with the multitude of open-air exhibits on display. Finally a trip to Romania would not be complete without a visit to the beautiful UNESCO Heritage sight of the Painted Monasteries.
Business can be quite bureaucratic and old-fashioned. The country adheres to an imbedded hierarchical structure and often it is the eldest who receive the most respect in business and social meetings. It is important to address each person according to their title followed by their surname; 'Domnul' for Mr. and 'Doamna' for Mrs. Romanians prefer a face-to-face approach and like to strengthen personal relationships. Appointments should be made in advance and confirmed. Although the visitor is expected to be punctual the host may be late to arrive. Meetings are often quite formal and a general 'Western' set of old-world manners applies. Business suits are appropriate for meetings. Romanians dislike an overt display of achievement or exaggerated conversation. Business hours are generally 9pm to 5pm Monday to Friday with an hour taken at lunch.
Romania has a temperate climate with four distinct seasons. Spring and autumn are cool and pleasant, making May and June, and September and October the best months to visit. Summers are hot from July to August and winters are harsh and very cold between December and March, with snow falling throughout most of the country. Spring and summer are the wettest seasons, but rain can be expected throughout the year.
The direct dialling country code for Romania is +40, and the outgoing code is 00, followed by the relevant country code (e.g. 0044 for the UK). There are numerous area codes applying to cities, towns and villages, for example (0)21 for Bucharest. The country is well covered with GSM 900/1800 mobile phone networks. Email and Internet are widely available in the cities and larger towns.
Homosexuality, although legal, is frowned upon. A small and still largely closeted gay scene exists in the Romania's largest cities, particularly in Bucharest, which has a few gay clubs. Photography at airports is forbidden.
Travellers to Romania do not have to pay duty on either 200 cigarettes, 40 cigars or 200g of tobacco. 2 litres of liquor, 4 litres of beer or wine and gifts to the value of US$1000 are also duty free. Valuable goods, such as jewellery, art, electrical items and foreign currency should be declared on entry.
Electrical current is 220 volts, 50Hz. Two-pin European-style plugs are standard.
Travelling within Romania is relatively easy provided the more remote areas are not on your itinerary. Romania has an extensive road and rail network connecting the larger towns and cities as well as connecting it with neighbouring countries. Travellers going to Romania should remember that they're in Eastern Europe, the trains won't always run on dead on time and the roads are slightly dilapidated, but the government is investing large sums of money on upgrading the country's transport infrastructure. Bucharest has a great metro system connecting all areas of the city.
Medical facilities in Bucharest are good, but poor in the smaller towns and basic medical supplies are often in short supply. There is a reciprocal health agreement with the UK and most EU countries, whose citizens are entitled to free or low-cost emergency medical treatment on presentation of a European Health Insurance Card (EHIC), but travel health insurance is strongly advised. There have been a number of Hepatitis A cases in Romania and visitors are advised to seek medical advice about inoculations before travelling. Tap water is safe to drink, although bottled water is widely available. Stray dogs carry rabies and should be avoided. Cases of Avian bird flu have been reported in the country, but no human incidences have been reported. The risk for travellers is very low, but visitors should avoid any contact with domestic, caged or wild birds and ensure that eggs and poultry dishes are well cooked.
Romanian is the official language, but English will be understood in Bucharest and other tourist areas.
The Leu (RON) is the official currency, which is divided into 100 bani. Money may be exchanged at banks, international airports, hotels or authorised exchange offices called 'casa de schimb' or 'birou de schimb valutar'. ATMs are available at large banks, airports and shopping centres in cities. American Express, MasterCard and Visa are accepted in the main cities. Travellers cheques, preferably in Euros, can be cashed in large banks, some hotels and certain exchange offices in Bucharest but commission is high. It is recommended to travel with some Euros in cash in case of difficulty using credit cards or travellers cheques. US Dollars are also accepted fairly widely.
All passports must be valid for period of intended stay. Visitors must hold all documents required for further travel, onward or return tickets, sufficient funds for period of stay, and proof of reserved accommodation. It is highly recommended that passports have at least six months validity remaining after your intended date of departure from your travel destination. Immigration officials often apply different rules to those stated by travel agents and official sources.
Visitors should take normal safety precautions in Romania; keep valuables safe and be aware of pickpockets and scam artists in major cities. Corruption is rife and visitors should be cautious of policemen demanding fines for spurious offences, or asking to see documents as a way of stealing cash; if approached in this way visitors should offer to go with them to the nearest police station before handing over any money or documents. Valuables, including passports, should not be left in hotel rooms, or near the window of a hotel room when you are there.
Local time is GMT +2 (GMT +3 between the last Sunday in March to the Saturday before the last Sunday in October).
Tipping is becoming increasingly common in Romania, and is now expected in all restaurants and bars. A service charge is often included in restaurant bills but a further 5 to 10% tip is expected. Though it is not always necessary to tip them, taxi drivers can be rewarded for good service.