Romania - Useful Tips for the Backpacker

Our Golden Rules and Pieces of Advice

Far from being a heavenly place where pink, golden haired angels fly around impeccably white small clouds in a light blue sky, Romania is a country which can be quite enjoyable provided that you are aware of certain things. Find here some of the basic things one should know, just to destroy any pre-conceived idea and any stereotypical image we all probably remember from some TV series:

  • No vaccinations whatsoever are required for travelers to Romania.
  • Despite recent changes due to the more and more expensive train tickets (e.g. the new van companies which have taken over some of the routes traditionally covered by trains), Romania is still a "train country", where most areas of interest can be reached by train.
  • A seat reservation is required for all fast trains, even if they run slowly; only the local trains make exception from this rule (the ones marked with P on railway boards).
  • An ISIC card will do you no good if you want a discount for domestic trains in Romania, only Romanian students can get it.
  • Both EuRail and InterRail (for European residents only) are accepted in Romania; though, you still need to buy seat reservations for the fast trains.
  • There are a few railway stations where it is recommendable to pay maximum care for both yourself and your stuff, among which Bucuresti Nord and Brasov.
  • Do not pay any "Environmental Tax" or "Tourist Tax" while in Bucharest North Railway Station, that is a dirty trick some bastards use to rip you off your money.
  • In Romania there is no such thing as a "Tourist Police", that is yet another trick used by some to get your money or documents; if they come to you, simply shout loud enough: "Politzia!", that'll make them run incredibly fast.
  • If you plan to come by car to Romania, do not take the new one you have just bought, as roads are not always what one would expect of them.
  • Yes, there are youth hostels in some of the cities of interest, such as Bucharest, Brasov, Cluj, Timisoara, Sighisoara, Busteni, Aiud, Praid a.o.
  • While in Bucharest, never trust any of the taxi drivers which hang around in the two International Airports "Henri Coanda" (formerly known as Otopeni Airport, which hosts both international and domestic flights) and "Aurel Vlaicu" (formerly known as Baneasa Airport, which hosts low-cost flights) or in the Bucharest North Railway Station; always only take taxis belonging to one of the trustworthy companies, such as: Confort taxi, Fly taxi, Cristaxi a.o. Always check if they have the price written on the front door and make sure the driver turns on the meter.
  • Henri Coanda International Airport lies only 16 km from Bucharest city center and a taxi ride should not go over the equivalent of USD 20. Aurel Vlaicu International Airport it is located 8.5 km distance from the city center and a taxi ride should not go over the equivalent of USD 10. A ride from Bucharest North Railway Station to the centre should not go over the equivalent of USD 10, disregarding of the route the driver chooses (except for the case where he goes via Budapest). Express bus line # 783 connects both airports to downtown Bucharest. Starting with April 2009, there is a train connection from the Bucharest International Airport to the main central station of Bucharest (Bucharest North Railway Station). Trains run every hour and trip takes 55 mins.
  • The museums are cheap if compared to Western tariffs in this respect.
  • Romania is covered quite well by several GSM mobile phone networks: Romtelecom, Vodafone Romania, Orange Romania, Cosmote, RCS&RDS / DigiMobil, Zapp; even in the mountains there is a good covering, on the ridges, in a clear day.
  • There are many internet cafes in the country, especially in bigger cities, and the rates vary widely, from USD 0.5 to USD 2 / hour.
  • A daily average budget of about USD 50 will be enough for both accommodation and transportation (even meals) in most cases; outside the bigger cities you'll be fine with less than that even.
  • Romanians are not too fond of the Hungarians and Bulgarians and vice versa, so, if you want good information about those countries, do not ask a Romanian; either, do not believe what people tell you about Romania in Budapest, as most of those telling stories have never crossed a Romanian border.
  • Hitch-hiking is wide-spread in Romania, yet sometimes one can wait quite a while; generally at the exit of the towns / cities, there are "special" places where people do it; it is considered to be kind of safe, but some drivers are also used to receive money for it (the equivalent of a train ride for the given route).
  • Do not expect most official clerks (train conductors, ticket sellers, police officers a.o.) to speak English or any foreign language, despite the fact that exceptions from this rule have been reported.
  • The Gypsy population of Romania are some of the poorest people you will encounter, consequently you need to keep your eyes open. Many of the Roma people are honest but some WILL try and rob you; exercise caution when you are out and about and stay on the beaten track. Wandering into the rougher parts of town with a naive desire to "do good" or to experience the "real Romania" might see you return to the Hostel with little more than your underwear.
  • Police officers are entitled to ask for your ID and your only accepted ID, as a foreigner tourist, is the passport. Bear the passport wherever you might go, but avoid to show unless you really have to.
  • Never, but never change money in the street, as that is both illegal and useless; there are many exchange offices and also most banks will change your money into Romanian currency when presenting a valid ID.
  • Some of the exchange offices in Bucharest charge you a commission (8-10%), therefore ask before changing.
  • Avoid changing money in either Bucharest North Railway Station or in the airports, as the rates in the exchange offices there are pretty bad.
  • Avoid to pay in hard currency; first, in some remote areas people do not have where to change it into Lei and then you can get tricked because of the changing rate.
  • ATMs are wider and wider spread, you can find them in most cities and towns; in smaller towns look for the BCR or BRD logo, these banks have the biggest number of offices all across Romania and generally they have ATMs which accept Cirrus, MasterCard, Visa, AmEx, Diners' etc.
  • Avoid to pay by credit card in a restaurant/ bar, it is more recommendable to take cash from an ATM and then pay in cash.
  • Travel Cheques are accepted by most banks and the commission varies; the best deals are done in BRD (Societe Generale), Banca Ion Tiriac and BCR (1%-1.5% commission, but not less than USD 2 per transaction).
  • Western Union and MoneyGram are represented in Romania; for Western Union look for "Banca Româneascã", while for MoneyGram, look for BCR ("Banca Comercialã Românã") or BCIT ("Banca Comercialã Ion Ţiriac"); Western Union is cheaper than the MoneyGram for smaller amounts of money (around 10%).
  • When invited for a drink in a peasant house, a refusal can be taken for mistrust; however be careful though on who invited you and whether there are no second intentions under his/her smile.
  • If invited somewhere and you want to bring the host some flowers, be extremely careful, as this is taboo: an odd number of flowers is OK, while an even number of flowers is only taken to funerals; one usually only gives a single flower to the girl he loves, therefore bring your host at least three or so, to avoid being misunderstood (or maybe that is what you want).
  • Only try the local brandy if you know what you're doing, as it can get pretty strong, but also quite nicely flavoured: if interested, ask for a "ţuicã" (S Romania), "palincã" (Transylvania) or "horincã" (N Romania), the last two being better than the "waterish" first one (at least locals say that, you probably won't); whichever it is, it can go as strong as 40-60% alcohol, so hold your pants on.
  • The Romanian food is generally of Turkish influence, quite similar to other countries in the neighborhood (e.g. Bulgaria, Serbia, Croatia, Macedonia), however it also joins other various influences (e.g. Greek, Russian, French); the greatest thing about it is the way Romanians put together all these influences in their cuisine; a veggie won't get around pretty well in this mainly meat-stuffed country.
  • Gay and lesbian travelers should be a bit discrete in public; despite the fact that the law no longer punishes gay and lesbian people nowadays, it is still against the law to have "homosexual acts" in "public"; the "public" issue is a matter of debate and some people still have problems with the old fashioned mentality, therefore avoid showing off.
  • Disabled persons will find it difficult in Romania, although the authorities are introducing some facilities (especially in Bucharest, yet not as fast or as many as there's need of); things like disabled persons elevators or adequate sidewalks are hard to find and few institutions have them (e.g. The National Art Museum, Bucharest).
  • As basic Latin people, Romanians like to shout and make a fuss around things, which doesn't always mean that they are necessarily mad or angry, it is sometimes just a way of expressing themselves.
  • Romanians smoke a lot and care less about those who don't, so either start smoking or leave your high standards and expectations at home.
  • Camping is free in Romania, except few areas in Retezat National Park and in Bucegi Reserve (Central - S Section); generally avoid to camp on someone's land unless you have his/her approval and also avoid to camp next to roads / railways / cities.
  • Mountain hiking has best conditions in Romania; mountain areas like Fãgãras, Bucegi, Piatra Craiului, Rodna, Ciucas, Apuseni have generally well marked paths, in the other ranges you need a good map, a compass and some basic orientation experience in order to find the sometimes old, sometimes lacking marks and sometimes unclear paths. Mountain ranges maps are available nowadays only for Fãgãras, Bucegi, Piatra Craiului and a section of Apuseni Mountains; for the rest contact us and we'll make a copy for you after our old prints.
  • In most mountain ranges there are few - if ever - huts and lodges. The only mountains decently endowed with lodges are Bucegi, Fãgãras, Piatra Craiului. In most cases it is recommendable to have a tent with you than to rely on a hut which generally only provides a poor bad and a thick blanket.
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