Monday, October 12, 2009

5 places that tourists to Romania often visit but shouldn't really bother with

1. Bucharest. Let's face it, it's a dump. OK, it has almost certainly the best nightlife in the country, and great cultural events, and reasonable shopping (by Romanian standards), and nice people. But it's a dog's breakfast of a city (and is, in fact, a city apparently ruled by swarms of feral dogs). Ceausescu absolutely devastated it, to the point where the only really interesting building is the hideous monstrosity of the Casa Poporului, Old Nic's most ludicrous folly. The traffic is diabolical and the roads are awful. I've had more than one person tell me, when they hear I live in Romania, "I hear Bucharest is a beautiful city". Where did they hear this? Or more importantly when? 1927? [To be fair, I've also heard people describe it as Europe's ugliest capital. Of the ones I've been to, I'd have to agree - though I haven't been to Tirana, Minsk, or Chisinau, and I suspect one of those might come close]. Basically, if you want to come for Romania for nightlife, then Bucharest is probably the place to go. Otherwise, avoid it.

2. Bran Castle.
Bran castle is actually quite an attractive place, in a beautiful setting. But why people flock there in their thousands is beyond me. Romania has tons more and better things to offer than it, and Bran Castle as a tourist trap is mostly notable for being a triumph of marketing. Bear the following things in mind if you are thinking of going there: (a) There was no such person as Dracula; (b) the Romanian scenes in the book of that name take place nowhere near Bran; (c) Stoker based his character on a number of different historical characters, one of which may have been Vlad Ţepeş; (d) Vlad Ţepeş may, possibly, it is speculated, have spent one night at Bran Castle. If you want to visit a relatively attractive small castle in a nice mountain pass, then Bran might be for you (though Sinaia is much better, and easier to get to). If someone tells you that it's Dracula's castle, then snort derisively and tell them to spin that line with someone more gullible.

3. The Black Sea Coast.
Awful. Rubbish-strewn, over-priced, ugly, over-developed eyesore. Just skip it. If you are here and need to go the beach, hop over to Bulgaria.

4. The spas. There are a fair few spa "resorts" in Romania, but all the ones I've been to are really really run down. They need a lot more work doing than a lick of paint. The abundance of mineral water here means that one day Romania will be the envy of Europe with its spas, but that day is a long way off. For now, they're really only of interest if you are one of the people who enjoys the whole masochistic "medicinal" spa treatment vibe thing.

5. Cluj. I want to like Cluj, I really do, but it's really never grabbed me. It's got one or two nice things to see, but as with many cities here, the whole Communist project was fairly destructive, and has left behind the sort of city centre in which you end up looking round thinking "I bet this used to be really nice". For a city with an attractive Hungarian architectural style, which is less of a mess, I'd definitely recommend Targu Mures over Cluj any day.

20 comments:

Ken Wilson said...

Andy! I can't believe you haven't included Sibiu!!! I gasped with delight when I got out of the car in the main square and - somewhat surreally - went straignht into a shop and bought a black suit for the funeral I had to go to when I got back to London.
I think Sibiu is one of those unique places like Dubrovnik, that everyone should visit.

Andy H said...

You're saying that Sibiu is one of the places that tourists should visit, Ken? (Not one of the places they do, but shouldn't?)

Anyway, I have had my issues with Sibiu in the past: http://szekely.blogspot.com/2006/06/why-i-hate-sibiu-advice-for-tourists.html

And even all this aside, I'd still place it behind Sighisoara and Brasov.

Adina said...

Hungarian architecture style? (@cluj/klausenburg)... you don't really know your history, now, do you? I think you'll find it's predominantly german or sachsisch as some might say...
btw, i think you'll find sovata is doing quite well on the spa resorts list...
so i recommend you do more reasearch before posting that and im sure you could have found a better top 5.
suggestion: make a top 5 of places one should definitely visit.

Andy H said...

Hi Adina. I'm not convinced I'd say it was German/Saxon - it looks nothing like Sibiu/Sighisoara/Brasov for example, and a lot more like the swathe of Hungarian towns in the arc running from Cluj down towards the Szekely area. Austro Hungarian might be a better description, but I'll take your word for it.

Sovata is a nice place but is still really lacking in amenities. The lakes are great but the hotels etc still look like they've not been modernised since 1980.

I did a top 5 of places that you should visit. it was the post before this one. It's linked in the sidebar, and really not difficult to locate.

Samuel W said...

You forgot to mention the bloody mosquitoes in Bucharest as well (literally bloody, I have one splatted onto the wall by my bed which has left a hideous stain). At least we can avoid the dogs or shout at them.

April said...

i agree, the seaside is horrible...i was so disappointed (i grew up in California...).

Hunee said...

Hi Andy, fully agree with your post. For me the worst places are Cluj and Oradea. I can't wait to travel once on a highway from Hungarian border to let say Brasov, skipping this terrible cities.
My favourite places are Brasov and Szekelyvarsag /Hargita county/, but I have to mention Bucovina and the northern part of Transylvania /Maramures/. Generally speaking I also recommend to travel across Romania with no rush on a 4x4 car, with NO detailed plans, just using second class roads and decide adhoc to turn left or right at a junction. Skip Bucharest, start from any other direction you like and travel trough mountain passes during summertime.

Jonas said...

Yep. Bucharest is incredibly ugly and unpleasant.

Gadjo Dilo said...

Obviously I have to disagree about no. 5, Andy: the centre of Cluj was largely untouched by Ceasescu and his demolition team, it's pretty much as the Hapsburgs built it and very attractive too - did you spend all your time in Manastur?? We also have the biggest and most beautiful Botanical Gardens in South East Europe - fact, that is. Romanian spas are good and cheap, I don't see the problem. Sibiu looks like a dozen cities in Germany and I can frankly do without it, though the Brukental is worth a visit. Bucharest was by all accounts a thrilling place to be between the wars, but I'd have to agree with you on that now. Maramures is the place to go in Romania for my money.

Soj said...

Gadjo to the rescue for beloved old Cluj! Oy vey, the unkindest cut :P

And what about Timisoara and Iasi? Tons and tons of visitors there, are they "worth it" or not?

Pax

Paul Carlin said...

Well done.

I think Bucharest is good for those studying the architectural styles of communist block housing, or scientists interested in studying feral dog populations and the food chain that begins with trash left in the streets and ends with dog shelter concentration camps.

I’d like to suggest Galati for the worst place to breathe.

Andy H said...

GD: Ok, not destroyed, just really...faded, I suppose. I still contend that Targu Mures/Marosvasarhely is much more attractive.

Soj: If I'd done a top ten of places to visit, Iasi would have made the cut (I like Iasi a lot as I have said on here before. it did suffer greatly under systematisation though). Timisoara I've never really been that enamoured of, although Mrs Musings (who went to university there) loves it.

Molly said...

I had to laugh out loud because you summed up my observations exactly. I took the train from Brasov to Buchrest and I was utterly flabbergasted at the amount of trash lining each side of the river. We are talking 3-4 deep on either side. But the most devastating part of Romania is the fact that most people make $150 per month. Yet they are forced to look at billboards of Liv Tyler pushing Prada.

Gadjo Dilo said...

Thanks Soj, it's a pleasure! Though I don't fully understand the "unkindest cut" reference - can you explain?

I also quite like Targu Mures/Marosvasarhely, Andy, but it's FLAT, like Timisoara, not it's fault of course but it means there's no views to speak of.

Andy H said...

In what sense is Marosvasarhely flat? The centre of town is fairly flat (as is Cluj), but it has hills. And you can look down on the city from them too. Walk/climb up from the city centre to the zoo and then tell me it doesn't have hills.

Gadjo Dilo said...

Andy, my memory of TM/MS was of flatness, whereas Cluj has some steep roads rising north and south from the centre. But I'll give TM/MS another go when I'm next there - I'd recommend the Bolyai exhibits in the Teleki museum there to anyone with even a passing interest in maths.

Hunee said...

An addendum to this topic: a nice article about Bucovina in NYT.
http://travel.nytimes.com/2009/11/07/travel/07iht-GRUBER.html?scp=1&sq=bucovina&st=cse

Anonymous said...

Andy,please mention on your list the beautiful Szekelyudvarhely/Odorheiu Secuiesc. It has the luck to escape of Ceausescu's monstrous plans of modernation.
It is really pretty!
And the caky-shop in the city center has delicious mouth watering cakes.Yummy.......

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