Imagine you’re in Engineering School. You just finished two full weeks of heavy exams after an exhausting quarter and you’re in desperate need of rest. What do you do? For most people, definitely including us, it is NOT starting a 12h journey just 3 hours after finishing your last exam, hastily packing for barren winter and going to a country where virtually no one in your close group of friends has been to. Dark circles? Check. No plans? Check. Forgot to pay rent? Check. Ready for it anyway? Oh you bet.
From Delft to Rotterdam by train, to Antwerp by bus (overnight stay at my place, yay!), to Charleroi city by train, to the airport by shuttle, through security with my pocket knife and leaving it without. (Yes, I’m trying not to cry). A bad coffee, stack of cookies and we’re ready to board, direction Bucharest OTP.
Ryanair is not known for its good service, but in the end we were eternally glad to have landed safely on a seemingly slippery landing lane.
The road between Bucharest and Brasov is like a real-life equivalent of a bad joke. As Romania is a member of the European Union, I had some very basic expectations regarding life quality or even safety regulations for , among other things, building materials. The opposite seemed to be true. The buildings, which were normal residence apartment blocks, were constructed with what seems to be a scrambling together with whatever concrete or metal-like material you could find.
The walls screamed communism. The pounding poverty on the side of the road screamed of its remnants. Dogs roamed the street and gypsies, also known as the Roma (not to be confused with Romanians) came begging as soon as you stopped the car somewhere.
Even though this sounds similar to a post-apocalyptic movie scenario, the surprises lie in little corners. Hungry after a 12h journey and with our food stacks completely depleted by a greedy Italian (yes Dario, admit it 😉 ), we sought for the closest restaurant-like thing along the road. It didn’t have to take us long, but with both a vegan and a gluten-intolerant person among us, things can get difficult quite easily, especially in a country where meat and bread are the staple of basically any dish.
We found a not-as-dodgy-as-the-rest restaurant with the typical, brightly-coloured flashing lights reading “deschis”, meaning open.
As soon as we entered, all eyes were fixed on us. Customers were silent and the waitress seemed surprised, in a rather skeptical sense of the word. It didn’t hit us until then that, by travelling with three Indians, it looked as if a bunch of gypsies entered the restaurant.
Romania, and to a lesser extent the rest of Europe, has a long and difficult history with gypsies, also known as the Roma People. They make up 3.3% of the country’s total population and are known to beg, steal and refuse to work. This is an obvious exaggeration as there are many examples of Roma people who made it to the top, just as there are Romanians who prefer the laid-back lazy life to the corporate one. Nevertheless, the difference between Romanians and Roma is apparent in the everyday street life. Romanians have a distinct hatred for gypsies and would rather see them leaving the country.
It was consequently more than understandable that Novy, Siva and Sahil were mistaken for Romani. Wrong and short-sighted in a way, yes, but in a country that has very little tourism from outside of Europe and very little immigration, Indians are a rarity.
To our surprise, the waitress’ English was outstanding and every menu had an indication of which dishes contained which allergens. Wow. Just wow.
Another thing that seemed peculiar, is that every Romanian restaurant tells you how big the portion is, measured in grams and sometimes even the amount of grams per ingredient. Would you say Romanian are greedy or portions scarce? Quite the opposite! I was personally not able to finish a single portion, but yet again our greedy Italian could chip in (or a hungry vegetarian for that matter) 😀
After a foggy, long and bumpy ride we finally reached Brasov, which was a world apart from what we saw before. Not only were we not anymore in Wallachia but in Transylvania, but every single aspect of the surroundings and general behaviour of people around us was different.
Read more about our time in Brasov and the history of the different regions in Romania in my next blog post!