Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Why I hate Sibiu: Advice for tourists.

I hate Sibiu. It's officially my least favourite place in Transylvania, and possibly Romania. This is not because it is ugly - it is in fact very beautiful (or it will be when they finish messing with it).

There are 4 very good reasons to hate it:

1. It is constantly under construction. Because next year it is the European Capital of Culture it is just always being dug up. The main square Piata Mare has now been more or less finished (last year it was a total state), aside from a few buildings that are still being done up. The nearby Piata Mica, on the other hand, was a mess last year and is still a total mess now. Streets are closed, staircases blocked off, there is mud and sand and rubble everywhere. I'll be shocked if it is done by the turn of the year.

2. Connected to the above, it is a pain in the arse to drive in. There are no signs, roads are constantly being closed or blocked off, road junctions are chaotic, and basically getting from A to B can take you months.

3. It is by far and away the most expensive city in Transylvania. I suspect this is in preparation for next year when presumably the tourists are expected to flood in. "Why wait, fleece them now", seems to be the motto.

4. I got ripped off at a change place. This actually is quite important for people visiting Romania to know so I'll put in a few tag phrases in the hope that gogglers might find this info. Advice for tourists in Romania. Warning regarding money exchange in Romania. So, in Romania there are two places in which you can change money - the banks and these little change offices. The banks are pretty good, but it can take a lot of queueing and there is a bit more form filling involved in changing money there. The change places are quick easy and you usually get a similar rate to the banks. So many people use them (me included). In Csikszereda, and everywhere else I've done it, I have never had a problem and have found the system fairly easy and unstressful. However in Sibiu (and I have since learned that this practice is becoming more widespread) I was the victim of a scam. Outside the change office is a big notice with the exchange rate. In Romanian and English it says the rate at which they buy Euros/Dollars/Pounds/Forints etc and the rate at which they sell those currencies. All quite normal. However, look closely. There may also be a third column, or some smallprint which tells you a third rate. This one is not translated into any language other than Romanian. If that column says "Valute" on it, it is the rate at which they will exchange cash. The big-print rate is the travellers cheque rate and that only. Needless to say, the smallprint rate is terrible, and although there'll be a big sign saying "No Commission" you will be screwed. Big time. Be careful. If in doubt, change at a bank. They at least have to abide by a code of practice and will not try and screw you. I'm mad at myself for being scammed, and mad at the bloke who scammed me, but I know now it is becoming increasingly common in Romania to try and trick tourists this way. Don't make the mistake I did.

7 comments:

Michael Furey said...

Another trick used internationally (Italy, Spain, UK, Turkey...) is for these booths to have very good rates (better than the banks) at 'no commission', but in small print in the local language for it to have the level at which this 'no commission' applies. Typically this trigger level is for $2,000 or more. So almost everyone has to pay their commission which they only find out on receiving their cash. The commission is of course at a ridiculous level.

All that aside, it's been 12 years since I was in Sibiu. I can imagine the place must be completely different now.

Romerican said...

A wonderful young lady, and former Sibiu resident until recently, sitting across from me insisted that I share with you the update that Sibiu has been under this permanent state of construction since 2004 (despite my own memory being slightly different). Additionally, she felt compelled to express that the valuate also nails the natives as well (once again, I differ in agreeing with you that foreigners are the main target). So, apparently we can universally despise this cheap bait-and-switch trickery.

Troubles aside, Sibiu is dead gorgeous. I love all the big houses and the relatively lower number of apartment blocks. It's my second favorite city in Romania.

Anonymous said...

I was in Sibiu in July 2005, and it was very pretty then, though they were rebuilding the main square. I was getting around by train and foot so the driving wasn't so much of an issue. Lovely churches and great burgherlich houses.

I don't think I've changed money at a booth in Europe for several years now: I arrive with an ATM card and withdraw money in the appropriate currency. This was fine, except that I arrived in Romania the day that the currency was being re-issued -- thankfully I had a small number of lei obtained from a previous visitor, and Doug Muir lent me a million until the ATMs started working again.

Some would call it typically Romanian that, when the ATMs started working again, they dispensed the old currency.

Next time I go to Romania, I think I'll come in by train from Hungary, and see more of your side of the Carpathians - there are many nice things said about Sighisoara.

andrei said...

If you're curious about Sibiu you may want to take a look at the webcams installed there (http://www.sibiu.ro/ - in the bottom right corner of the page).

Romerican said...

Thanks for stopping by to imbibe. It was great to put a face to a blog! Hopefully, we'll get another go in a month.

Anonymous said...

I never like Sibiu either except that last time I was there, there wasa bakery in piata mica with the very best ham crossant concoction I had ever had. Not a that I eat a lot of ham derived concoctions but still.

Anonymous said...

You neglected to mention the Imparatul Romanilor hotel and the Brukenthal museum. Anyone who has had any dealings whatsoever with these two famous Sibiu institutions knows that they have no conception of customer service, or any other sort of cooperation with the outside world.