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Romania

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Romania

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[[File:noframe|250px|frameless|Romania]]
Location
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Flag
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Quick Facts
Capital Bucharest
Government republic
Currency leu (RON)
Area 237,500 sq km
Population 22,317,730 (July 2002 est.)
Language Romanian
Religion Eastern Orthodox 87%, Protestant (mostly Calvinist, Unitarian and Lutheran) 6.8%, Catholic 5.6%, other (mostly Muslim) 0.4%, unaffiliated 0.2%
Electricity 220V/50Hz (European plug)
Country code +40
Internet TLD .ro
Time Zone UTC +2

Romania (România) [1] is located in between Central and Eastern Europe. Regarded as a relatively backward tourist destination until the 1990s, Romania has recently begun to reinvent itself as a diverse and unique European destination, boasting stunning mountain scenery, historical cultural sites such as the Painted Monasteries, beach resorts, and medieval towns.


Regions

Map of Romania

Cities

Besides Bucharest, other cities attract a good deal of travelers to Romania:

  • Braşov - located in south-eastern Transylvania, its main attractions are the well kept medieval downtown, the nearby luxury resort of Poiana Braşov and the proximity to Bran Castle.
  • Sibiu - one of the most beautiful cities in the region, it has the best preserved historical sites in the country, numerous museums and exhibitions, proximity to the stunning Făgăraş mountains, for which reasons it became the 2007 European Capital of Culture [2].
  • Sighişoara - the city's downtown area, the Sighisoara Citadel, is the last inhabited medieval citadel in Europe and one of the best preserved.
  • Cluj-Napoca - the largest town in Transylvania, is a major economic center and also a very youthful city, as it has one of the largest universities in Europe.
  • Constanţa - it's Romania's main Black Sea port and one of the major commercial hubs in the region. The northernmost district, Mamaia, is one of the best Black Sea resorts.
  • Iasi - the second largest Romanian city, it was the capital of the Moldavian principality until 1861 and briefly capital of Romania. Today it remains one of the major economic and cultural centers in the country.
  • Suceava - the main city in Bukovina and the medieval capital of Moldavia; it can be used as starting point for visiting the Monasteries in the region.
  • Timişoara - the largest town in the Banat region, it's one of the most prosperous and modernized cities in Romania; it was here that the 1989 Romanian anti-communist revolution began.

A few smaller cities are important entry points for tourist areas:

  • Gura Humorului - the usual starting point for visiting the monasteries in Bukovina.
  • Tulcea - the starting point for trips to the Danube Delta.


Other destinations

Itineraries

The following are some possible itineraries for Romanian traveling:

Understand

With a Black Sea coast to the east, it is surrounded by Bulgaria to the south, Serbia to the southwest, Hungary to the northwest, Moldova to the northeast and Ukraine in both the north and the east. While its southern regions are usually seen as part of Southeastern Europe (Balkans), Transylvania, its largest region is in Central Europe.

The country - which joined the European Union in January 2007 - is currently enjoying its highest living standards since Communist times, with foreign investment on the rise and one of the fastest growing economies in Europe. This has given way to a series of technological developments. Therefore, we can see a fast-changing, booming Romania, and you will be amazed at how civilized, advanced, clean and of quality it is. Of course, along the way, you will be met with experiences that you are sure to remember for a long, long time.

History

In ancient times the territory of present day Romania was inhabited mainly by Dacian tribes, which were a remarkable, although not very well known, culture. The Dacian kingdom reached the height of its power in the 1st century BC, when their king Burebista ruled from his power base in the Carpathian Mountains over a vast territory stretching from Central Europe to the Black Sea. The intriguing network of fortifications and shrines built around the Dacian capital Sarmisegetuza, in today's south-western Transylvania, has been relatively well preserved through the ages and is now a UNESCO World Heritage site [3].

In 106 AD the Dacians were defeated by the Romans and most of their homeland became part of the Roman Empire. Being very rich in natural resources (especially gold), the region prospered under the Roman administration: cities developed rapidly, important roads were built and people from all over the Empire settled here. That's why, despite the fact that Roman rule lasted less than 200 years, a population with a distinctive Latin character and language emerged, which was however very strongly influenced by the Slavic peoples to whom it later came in contact.

In the Early Middle Ages Hungarians began to settle in the area today known as Transylvania, which would eventually become part of the Kingdom of Hungary. Germans also settled in that area (in several waves), some coming as early as the 12th century. In order to protect themselves from the frequent Tartar and Turkish invasions they set about building fortified cities and castles, many of which remain to this day. South and east of the Carpathians the principalities of Wallachia and Moldavia were created in the 14th century. Starting with the 15th century, both of them (and for a while Transylvania too) fell under the domination of the Ottoman Empire.

A Romanian national revival movement started in Transylvania in the late 1700's and swept across the Carpathians, inspiring the 1859 union of Moldavia and Wallachia, thus creating modern Romania. In 1917-1919 Transylvania and Eastern Moldavia (present day Moldova) were united with Romania.

Soviet occupation following World War II led to the formation of a Communist "peoples republic" in 1947 and the abdication of the king. The decades-long rule of dictator Nicolae Ceausescu, who took power in 1965 and his Securitate secret police became increasingly oppressive and draconian throughout the 1980s. The dictator was overthrown and executed in late 1989. Former Communists dominated the government until 1996, when they were swept from power by a fractious coalition of centrist parties but after failed reforms were replaced by the Social Democratic Party. The 2004 elections brought to power an alliance formed by the National Liberal and Democratic parties. They currently govern with the support of most minority parties in Romania. Compared to other countries in its region, Romania might seem to be quite well, with low unemployment and a higher standard of living than Ukraine,Bulgaria or Serbia. However compared to Western Europe, Romania is still fairly poor.

Get in

Getting to Romania is easy from nearly all parts of the world, due to its position, as well as the fact that it is served by an array of transport types and companies.

Entry requirements to Romania in the past few years have been liberalized, and consequently, citizens of the European Union, United States of America, Canada, Japan, Switzerland, Australia and New Zealand can stay up to 90 days with no visa. Nationals from Turkey can stay up to 60 days in Romania, while those of most former-Communist Eastern European countries can stay up to 30 days.

To make sure, check the official visa information provided by the Romanian Ministry of Foreign Affairs mae.ro before you travel.

If you do need to obtain a visa from outside your own country, try obtaining it from somewhere else beside Budapest, where it can take 3 to 4 days. From Ljubljana the process can sometimes be done in a day because they are not so busy.

By plane

Romania has 17 civilian airports, out of which currently 9 are served by scheduled international flights. Bucharest's Henri Coanda (Otopeni) Airport is the largest and busiest, but its Aurel Vlaicu Airport also fields some flights, and there is also direct service to Timisoara, Cluj-Napoca, Oradea, Satu Mare, Sibiu (Transylvania), Constanta, Bacau, Iasi, Suceava, Targu-Mures and Baia Mare.

There are two important Romanian airlines:

  1. Tarom , the Romanian flag carrier, based in Bucharest Otopeni
  2. Carpatair , based in Timisoara, connects this city with eight Italian and three German destinations, and also has collector/distributor flights to the following Romanian airports: Cluj-Napoca, Bucharest, Constanta, Oradea, Sibiu, Iasi, Suceava, Satu Mare and Bacau

There are several flights a day from Dusseldorf, Frankfurt, Munich, Vienna and Zurich offered by Austrian, Carpatair, Lufthansa, Swiss and Tarom.

In recent times Romania became increasingly attractive for low cost carriers. A Romanian low-fare airline Blue Air is serving various destinations in Europe from Bucharest (Aurel Vlaicu Airport), Arad, Targu Mures and Bacau airports. A Hungarian budget airline,Wizz, introduced direct flights from London Luton to Bucharest in January 2007. Several others ( Wind Jet, MyAir, Sky Europe, AlpiEagles are already operating flights in Romania or starting spring 2007.

By train

Romania is relatively well connected with the European rail network. There are daily international trains to Munchen, Prague, Venice, Vienna, Budapest, Zagreb, Belgrade, Sofia, Thessaloniki, Istanbul, Chişinău, Kiev and Moscow. But due to the poor quality of rail infrastructure in the region train travel on long distances takes a considerable time.

Nonetheless, trains are the ideal way of reaching cities in western and central Romania such as Brasov, Sighisoara, Oradea or Cluj-Napoca coming from Central Europe.

International trains to Romania include EuroCity trains which are of a relatively high standard and night trains. Romania is part of the Eurailpass offer.

By bus

Even though Romania has not been traditionally seen as a 'bus country', buses are becoming a more and more popular way to reach the country from overseas, especially from the Balkans and the former USSR, but also from Western Europe, e.g. Germany and Switzerland. Even though trains are still the most popular way of getting to Romania from Central Europe, due to good service, train services to the Balkans and former USSR are of a considerably poorer quality and are less frequent (mainly because railway infrastructure in these countries is a lot poorer than Romania's infrastructure). For this reason, a slew of private bus operators now provide quicker and arguably more comfortable coach services to and from cities such as Chişinău, Kiev, Odessa, Sofia and Istanbul.

A general rule of the thumb on whether you should use bus or train is this: if trains are available just as frequently, and at around the same price, and take around the same amount of time, then definitely use them. Otherwise, consider the buses.

By boat

Cruises on Danube are available, very expensive though, starting from Passau or Vienna and having a final destination in Danube Delta. These cruises will stop in every major port along the road, in Austria, Hungary, Serbia and Romania. There you can travel by rapid boats, fisherman's boats on endless channels to watch huge colonies of pelicans, cranes or small migratory birds. You can enjoy a local dish, fishermen's borsch, prepared using different species of fish, but take care, they use the Danube's river water! It is the only way to travel around the Danube Delta, and the only way to get to the city of Sulina.

Get around

Getting around Romania is relatively quick and efficient for the great distances that have to be covered in this country (this is after all, the second-largest country in Central Europe, after Poland). The transport infrastructure has been improving quite significantly recently, even though roads remain a weak point. The national roads have been upgraded but is far way till the highways that are still in project will be completed. Train travel, however, has improved dramatically.

By train

The easiest, most comfortable and most rewarding way of traveling between cities is by train. Romania's railway network is one of the largest (the 4th in Europe) and most dense in Europe, with trains servicing every town and city in the country, and the many villages. Usually a train station is no more than 10km from a village, in the vast majority of cases.

Most trains are run by the state carrier, Caile Ferate Romane, abbreviated as CFR [4]. You can get tickets at the railway station or at a CFR agency, which can usually be found in the city center. For trains which require reservations (e.g. InterCity, Rapid) you can get the ticket for the same day only at the railway station and not earlier than 1/0.5 hour before the departure of the train. Tickets for train services on a future day are only available at the CFR agency, not at a railway station.

In recent years CFR has been leasing an ever increasing number of secondary lines to smaller private railway companies. So far they have the same tariffs as CFR and use mainly second-hand Western European DMU's.

CFR offers four main types on trains in its route network.

"P" Personal:

slow trains, stopping in every stop on the rail line (including some in the middle of nowhere); extremely cheap. (Bucuresti-Brasov, 166km, 13.2 RON (4 EUR), app. 4 hours)

"A" Accelerat:

semi-slow trains, often cross-country routes, stopping in all towns, but not villages; cheap, but twice as expensive as Personal; same conditions as P in most cases. (Bucuresti-Brasov, 166km, 2nd class: 24.7 RON (7.5 EUR), approx 2 hours 45 minutes)

"R" Rapid:

better, more comfortable, faster trains used on trunk routes from Bucharest (few interregional services); more expensive, albeit same speed as Accelerat in most cases. (Bucuresti-Brasov, 166km, 2nd class: 30.4 RON (9 EUR), approx 2 hours 45 minutes)

"IC" Intercity:

the best of CFR's network; very comfortable, although cheap for Western standards; very clean almost all of the time; same speed as Rapid and Accelerat. (Bucuresti-Brasov, 166km, 2nd class: 33.7 RON (10 EUR), approx 2 hours 45 minutes)

Other Information about trains

All CFR train services, except the "Personal" trains, which stop at every station and are awfully slow, are of a relatively high quality. The "Personal" trains stop at every station and are the only option when traveling to small villages. Even though they do make for very original and memorable experiences, they're usually not so comfortable and very slow, albeit very cheap. The other train types, which are, in order of speed, "Accelerat", "Rapid" and "InterCity". Accelerat is quite uncomfortable (sharing some rolling stock with Personal), with old, unmodernized cars, albeit somewhat faster than personal. Rapid and Intercity are usually of a high standard - however, some Rapid trains should be avoided because of bad rolling stock (usually Mangalia - Oradea and Mangalia - Baia Mare, both using Accelerat-type stock). If you can, use InterCity trains, which connect the hubs in Cluj-Napoca, Timisoara and Bucharest to other major cities. These trains are of a Western European standard and are incredibly clean and modern, with automatic doors, futuristic ecological toilets, air conditioning, ergonomic seats, free newspapers and all the other amenities. Also, they are reasonably cheap and are increasingly used by Romanians (and tourists) on most trips. They are only marginally more expensive than Rapid trains (usually only a few euro cents more expensive). The "Rapid" trains should be your second choice - they stop at more stations, but serve more destinations, and, although being a little bit more traditional, are still comfortable. "Accelerat" is a third choice, with little comfort in second class. Only train type where a 1st class ticket is worth it (considering CFR's decision of very limited 1st class on Personal-10th Dec) If presented with a choice of Intercity trains (Classic or "Sageata Albastra" - The blue arrow) it is advisable to choose Classic, as these are faster, more comfortable trains. Sageata Albastra are small 2-car diesel trains with slower service (120 km/h top speed in regards to 160km/h). The difference in price between 1st and 2nd class can be as much as the price of a 2nd class ticket, if not more. However, the difference in comfort is not huge, and it is even possible to get worse seats in 1st class than in 2nd class (this is very common on Rapid trains heading for Iaşi, Botoşani and Suceava). Sleepers and Couchettes are usually clean, and quite modern, even on accelerat trains. In winter due to harsh climatic conditions(snow storms) huge delays are possible so avoid traveling by train or at least watch the weather forecast (note that during the snow storms, trains are usually the only way of transport, with roads becoming blocked and airports closing down). In summer the trains and cars can run slower because the rails can be deformed by heat but delays are rather insignificant. The country is investing in upgrading its railways and railway stations. In some mountain cities the rail fans can travel by a small gauge rail train, but these trips are only available for small groups and not for individual tourists (an exception is Valea Vaserului in Maramureş, a scenic mountain railway, which offers trips with a narrow gauge steam train to individual tourists during weekends - note that you may be able to get a ride during the weekdays, but you will either ride in the steam-engine itself, or on the logs in the open carriages, as the line is still in industrial use). Groups can also rent the former Romanian king's personal train or Ceauşescu's private train but these trips are rather expensive. Trains are usually on time, with delays only caused by weather or heavy modernization involving serious infrastructure work such as the one currently in progress on the Bucharest - Constanţa line.

Since the 10th of December 2007, CFR has introduced a new service, Business Class, with two subdivisions: standard and exclusive. Standard has plush armchairs instead of leather, as exclusive does, but is around 20RON cheaper. For the beginning, they only operate on Bucuresti-Craiova-Timisoara and Bucuresti-Brasov-Cluj-Oradea routes. As more rolling stock is introduced, most trunk routes will have this service (Suceava, Iasi, Constanta, Arad), although some (Suceava, Constanta) only standard Business Class. The Business Class service has Personal TV's and Wireless internet access. It is 50% more expensive than regular InterCity services.

If traveling by rail with a rail pass in Romania, it is mandatory to purchase a reservation on all "InterCity", "Rapid" and "Accelerat". While cheap, they are only available starting 60 minutes prior to the departure time.

For up-to-date timetable information on CFR operated lines see CFR's timetable site infofer.ro. For timetables on lines operated by other companies check this.

By car

Traveling by car or coach is the easiest way and a vast majority, over 60 percent of foreign tourists use this way of transportation. The steering wheel is on the left and European driver's licenses are recognized by police. For Americans, a passport and valid US driver's license are sufficient for car rental.

Some Romanian drivers are very temperamental; they break many rules of driving in order to get to their destination faster. On the highways, there are often 3 cars per lane of traffic - one in the left side of the first lane, one in the middle of the first lane and one in the right side of the first lane. Essentially, many drivers find it necessary to behave aggressively because it can be the only way to pass semi-trucks (lorries) on the 2-lane highways. City traffic is also typically chaotic because faded paint makes it nearly impossible to determine street lanes and local residents tend to drive aggressively. First time visitors who drive cautiously may initially find it difficult to adjust to either highway or city driving.

The traffic in the center of Bucharest can be infernal and you may find it easy to waste time in traffic jams. While in Bucharest, seasoned travelers recommend walking, taxis, or the subway which has recently started a process of upgrading. The subway fare is still very cheap. Honking (tooting) is usual in Bucharest and other cities.

If you have a good car and you also like speeding be aware that Romanian police have recently bought very modern radars to catch speeding motorists. Speed limits are generally 100 km/h outside of a city and 50 km/h within a village. Some police cars are modern, while others are old Dacia cars. Although rare, some highway patrols have BMW bikes. On major roads, motorists in the opposite direction will sometimes flash their headlights to warn they recently passed a radar trap which may be just ahead of you. Highways and national roads can also be discreetly watched by Police Puma helicopters, produced also in Romania. (Note: Americans will notice Romania has substantially less highway patrol than the US.) Since December 2006, even small offences are downed by heavy fines by the traffic police (Politia Rutiere), they may even take one's driver's licence for an irregular passing. Policemen sometimes seem to be more lenient with locals, than with foreigners.

Many important roads were once wagon trails which go straight through the center of many villages. Passing while driving is the norm rather than the exception as slow moving trucks, slower moving horse drawn carts, and non-moving herds of cows often frequent the major roads. Travelers joke that if you haven't experienced a possible head-on collision then you haven't been driving in Romania. Road closures and traffic delays occur frequently due to construction, rock slides, car accidents and the return of the cows from pasture to the villages.

Types of roads

Motorways (autostrada)

  • A1 - planned to connect Bucharest with cities in southern Transylvania and then proceed to the western border; the only part completed so far is the 110 km long stretch between Bucharest and Piteşti.
  • A2 - by 2010 is expected to link Bucharest with the Black Sea port of Constanta; for now, out of the total 225 km length, only the Bucharest - Cernavodă segment (about 150 km) is completed.

Although no segment is yet completed the main motorway will be:

  • A3 - is supposed to cross Transylvania diagonally from west to east and then head south to Bucharest. The Bors - Brasov segment, also called the Transylvania Motorway [5], is currently the largest road project in Europe; it will connect the Hungarian / Romanian border with Oradea, Zalau, Cluj-Napoca, Targu Mures, Sighisoara and Brasov.

The speed limit on motorways is 130 km/h.

Expressways (drum expres)

The only completed expressway is the 60 km long Bucharest - Giurgiu road.

The speed limit on expressways is 100 km/h.

National roads (drum national)

In the absence of motorways the national roads remain the most important element of the Romanian transport system, as they connect the main cities in the country. They usually have 4 non-separate lanes, but some have only two lanes. Thanks to recent investments most of them are in reasonable condition, but they are frequently overcrowded and (as they pass through villages and cities) rather slow.

The speed limit on national roads is 100 km/h

Other roads

County (drum judetean) and rural (drum comunal) roads are generally in a poor condition compared with national roads (lack of signs, abundant potholes etc.).

The speed limit on these roads is 90 km/h.

By bus

Bus can be the least expensive method to travel between towns. In the Romanian towns and cities, you can usually find one or several bus bus terminals (autogara). From there, buses and minibuses depart for the the towns and villages in the nearby area as well as to other cities in the country. You can find timetables on autogari.ro.

Minibuses are usually very uncomfortable; some buses are old and slow. Schedules are not tightly followed, and delays of over an hour are not uncommon, especially for inter-city buses. Romanian roads are in a rather bad shape, with most of the trunk network being made of one lane per way roads (fairly similar with British rural roads), and only about 250 km of expressway. Most minibuses employed are small, crowded, 14-seat vans (some converted from freight vans), with some longer routes employing 20-seat mini-buses. For commuter and suburban routes, expect an overcrowded van (25 passengers riding a 14 seat van is quite common, with 40 passenger loads not being unheard of), with no air-conditioning, which stops several times in every village. Inter-city bus travel is only slightly better - most vehicles used are also converted vans, or, at best purpose-build minibuses, with only some being air-conditioned. Seating is generally crowded, and in most cases, there is no separate compartment for luggage. Most have no toilets on-board, calling for 30 minutes stops every 2-3h. All in all, the experience of traveling by minibus is quite similar to that of traveling in a Russian or Ukrainian marshrutka.

However, buses are the best solution for a number of routes badly served by the railway network, namely Bucharest - Piteşti - Râmnicu Vâlcea, Bucharest - Alexandria, Bucharest - Giurgiu and Piteşti - Slatina.

The comfort of vehicles is steadily improving, at least in Transylvania along the longer routes serving larger cities. You will find buses from respected companies (such as Normandia or Dacos) which offer punctual and reasonable, though not always sparkling, conditions, and on which a luggage compartment will always be available. Toilet stops still need to be made, but they happen usually in places where you can also buy food or drinks. Be aware though that on Fridays, Sundays, and close to national holidays such buses tend to be overcrowded, so a reservation by phone might be necessary.

Buses inside the cities are often crowded. This gives pickpockets good opportunities. The pickpocket problem seems to be not essentially worse than in any other European city. Please, pay attention.

By taxicab

Taxis are relatively inexpensive in Romania. It costs about 40 Euro-Cent (1,4 leu/RON) per km or slightly more, with about 1,1 leu/RON starting! Be careful to look at the cost posted on the outside of the taxi, and then to look at the meter to see that you are being charged the same fare. Be especially careful in Bucharest, where some taxis post 7.4 instead of 1.4, but the 7 looks very like a 1. Ask if you're not certain. The driver may try to cheat you if he sees you are a foreigner. Insist that he will use the meter, or have a Romanian guide with you. Don't negotiate the ride fee in advance, as it may be 2-4 times higher (even more) than the real fee (even if it would seem cheap to you). Check whether it is going in the right direction, follow the way on a map (if you have any!).

By plane

Air travel is still not very common in Romania even though the national carrier Tarom has dramatically lowered its tariffs on internal flights in late 2006 fearing competition from the newly arrived low-cost airlines.

Tarom serves major cities from Bucharest at least once a day: Timisoara and Cluj-Napoca 4 times daily and Iasi thrice daily, while smaller cities are served less frequently: Sibiu twice daily, Bacau and Suceava 6 times weekly and Oradea, Targu Mures and Baia Mare five times weekly. Normally fares range between about €60 Economy class and €170 Business class, although seats are the same, with few exceptions (the 737's have different Business Class seats, while the ATR's only have different service). But if you book in advance the prices are significantly lower: around €32 (all taxes included) for flights to Bacau, Baia Mare, Iasi, Targu Mures, Oradea, Sibiu, Suceava and around €37 for flights to Timisoara and Cluj.

Carpatair also flies internally from Timisoara to Bucharest and Iasi daily except Sunday, and every second day to Suceava, Craiova and Constanta. As of May 7th 2007, Constanta to Craiova is also operated by Carpatair [6] .

Note that airports tend to be fairly distant from the cities (for instance Bucharest's Henri Coandă Airport is about 20 km from the city center), so getting from the airports to the cities might be costly if there's no public transport available.

Talk

The official language of Romania is Romanian, limba română, which is a Romance language and the closest contemporary spoken language to Latin. Italian is the closest relative of Romanian, so speaking Italian would be of great help. Minority languages spoken in Romania are Hungarian, German, Turkish and Romany (the language of the Roma, or Gypsies). English is fast growing in Romania, and most people, especially the younger generation, use it with a considerable deal of fluency, both in speaking and writing. A well-educated Romanian who graduated from an average university can speak English and another European language. Prior to 1990, French was the most common foreign language known in Romania, so someone over 40 will most likely understand French. If you go out from the common touristic routes, you will hardly find somebody that can speak English, and the only way to ask some information is in Romanian. For example, in Bucovina where the painted monasteries are, foreign languages are very rare, in the train stations as well, so if you want to ask what time the train or bus are leaving, you have to do in Romanian. That won't be such a problem: learn some basic words and ask them to write the answers.

If you want to find out some common phrases/words in Romanian, see the Romanian phrasebook.

Buy

The national currency of Romania is the leu (plural lei), which, literally translated, also means lion in Romanian. On July 1st 2005, the new leu (code RON) replaced the old leu (code ROL) at a rate of 10000 old lei for one new leu. Old banknotes and coins are no longer legal tender (since 01-01-2007). Old banknotes can still be exchanged at the National Bank and their affiliated offices National Bank of Romania's site

Romania is relatively cheap by Western standards - one US dollar buys about 2.4 lei and one euro buys about 3.25 lei (exchange rate 22-05-2007) With this, you can buy more in Romania then you can in Western Europe and North America, especially local products. However, be warned that although you can expect food and transport to be inexpensive in Romania, buying import products such as a French perfume, an American pair of sport shoes or a Japanese computer is as expensive as in the EU or those respective countries. Clothing, wool suits produced in Romanian under German Steilmann brand, Braiconf shirts, Gerovital cream, cotton socks made in Sibiu, a huge range of Italian shoes, white and red wine bottles, Capşa chocolates, Poiana Jacobs Suchard bars of chocolate, Sibiu salami, a wide range of local cheese, inexpensive Cisnădie leather jackets or expensive and fancy fur coats are possible good buys for foreigners.

Romanian transactions generally take place in cash. Although some places will accept Euro or USD you will generally be charged an additional 20% paying by this method and it is not advisable, although this is changing. The best method is to pay by local currency - lei (RON). Most Romanians have either a charge card or a credit card - however, they are generally used at ATM machines. Accepted credit/debit cards are: Mastercard, Visa , American Express (in some places)and Diners Club (mostly only in Hotels). Other places (supermarkets) might ask you to enter your PIN code as well.

Most small towns have at least one or two ATMs and a bank office, with large cities having hundreds of ATMs and bank offices. (It is not uncommon to see three bank agencies one next to another in residential neighborhoods of Bucharest). ATM machines are also available in many villages (at the post-office or the local bank-office). Romanian for ATM is bancomat. Credit cards are accepted in large cities, in most shops, hotels, restaurants, hypermarkets, malls. Do not expect to use a credit card at a small railway station or at the subway (the subway and RATB of Bucharest, for example, are cash-only because they consider that card transactions would slow down the queues at the ticket booths). Gas stations and a great number of other stores accept Visa and Mastercard. It is advisable to always have a small sum of money in cash (about 50 RON), even in large cities.

When changing money, it is extremely advisable to change at change bureaus or to use cash machines (which will provide ready access to most foreign bank accounts). Absolutely avoid black market transactions with strangers: in the absolute best of cases, you might come out ahead by a few percentage points, but that rarely happens. Most apparent black marketeers are actually con men of one sort or another, who will either leave you with a bankroll that turns out to be full of worthless Polish zlotys or will simply engage you in conversation for a few minutes, awaiting the arrival of their confederates who will pretend to be the police and try to con you into handing over your wallet and papers. (This con game is known as a maradonist.). Exchanging money in the street is also illegal and in the worst case scenario, you might spend a night in jail as well.

You should shop around a bit for good exchange rates, some exchange offices in obvious places such as the airport may try to take advantage of the average tourist's lack of information when setting the exchange rate. Also, prior to leaving for Romania take a look at the official exchange rate on the National Bank of Romania's site for a rough estimate of what exchange rates you should expect. (Typical exchange offices should not list differences larger than 2-3% from the official exchange rate). Also, when picking an exchange office, make sure it has a visible sign saying "COMMISSION 0%"; Romanian exchange offices typically don't charge an extra commission apart from the difference between the buy and sell rates, and they are also required by law to display a large visible sign stating their commission, so if you don't see such a sign or if they charge something extra, keep going. Choosing a reasonable exchange office, which is not hard to do with the data in this paragraph, can save you as much as 10%, so this is worth observing. It is not advisable to use the airport exchange offices, as they have quite unrealistic exchange rates.

Inflation has struck Romania in many places, and some prices are as high or higher than those in Western Europe, but this is often reserved to luxuries, accommodation, technology, and, to an extent, restaurants. Salaries for Romanians have increased faster than inflation, resulting in an increased standard of living for them, but, for tourists, Romania is becoming increasingly pricey (luckily, with this comes higher quality as well). However, food and transport remain relatively cheap, as do general shopping, especially in markets or outside the capital Bucharest. Bucharest, as every capital in the world, is more expensive than the national norm, especially the city centre. In the past 2-3 years, Bucharest has become increasingly expensive, and it is expected to do so for some years.

Supermarkets & convenience stores

The best places to shop for food are farmers' markets. Food sold here is brought fresh from the country, and, by buying it, you are both supporting local farmers and consuming something that it fresh and in the overwhelming majority of the cases natural and organic. Recently, the food in the markets is sold by intermediaries, who buy cheaply from farmers and sell products, tripling the price.

However, some tourists can't resist Romania's hypermarket temptation, especially in Bucharest. Hypermarkets are a relatively new thing in Romania, but this ensures that nearly all of them are so modern and sparkling clean, with brightly lit aisles, neat shelves and smooth-gliding carts, that you may find it hard to look away and head for the markets! Common hypermarkets are Carrefour [7], Cora [8], Kaufland [9] and Real [10]. There are also cash & carry stores like Metro [11], Selgros [12], etc.

However, shopping in supermarkets is usually expensive, and not half as fun, as you don't have the chance to haggle. Despite this, all Romanian supermarkets sell products of European quality, and usually make for a very quiet, clean and white shopping experience that can best be likened to duty free shopping in airports at night.

Remember, however, to not confuse supermarkets with ancient food-stores called 'alimentară' - nowadays, 'alimentară' also refers to supermarkets, but there is a difference - supermarkets are usually large and brightly lit, with electronic checkouts and trolleys, while 'alimentara' are dim, old Communist-era shops that are a bit cheaper but a lot less fun to use. These shops, which can best be compared to cornershops, may be your best hope if living in the suburbs or in smaller towns. But, despite their seemingly poorer appearance, they sell good-quality food, and besides, most of them have been renovated anyway to the point that they are still not as aesthetically-pleasing as supermarkets but just as wide-ranging, modern and functional. In 'alimentara', expect strange systems of payment or selection: you may not be able to take items off of the shelf yourself, or one person may tally up your total before another handles the cash, etc. However, you may find that some of these are open 24 hours (they are called non-stop), so it would be the only place to buy something at 2 A.M. (yes, in Romania there are shops open after 8 P.M).

Eat

Romanian food is distinct yet familiar to most people, being a mixture of Oriental, Austrian and French flavours, but it has some unique elements. The local dishes are the delicious sarmale, mamaliga (polenta), bulz (traditional roasted polenta, filled with at least two kinds of cheeses, bacon and sour cream), friptura (steak), and cozonac (a special cake bread baked for Christmas or Easter), as well as tocana (a kind of stew), tochitura (an assortment of fried meats, and traditional sausages, in a special sauce, served with polenta and fried eggs), mici (a kind of spicy sausage, but only the meat, without the casings, always cooked on a barbecue). Other dishes include a burger bun with a slice of ham, a slice of cheese and a layer of French fries, cow brains, ciorba de burta (white sour tripe soup), ciorba taraneasca (a red sour soup, akin to borscht without the beet root and using instead fermented wheat bran, with lots of vegetables), Dobrudjan or Bulgarian salads (a mix of onions, lettuce, tomatoes, cheese, white sauce and ham), onion salad - diced onion served in a dish, tomato salad - diced tomato with cheese, pig skin - boiled and sometimes in stew, and drob (haggies) - a casserole made from lamb or pork liver and kidneys. Bread comes with almost every meal and dill is as or more common than salt as a flavoring. Garlic is omnipresent, both raw, and in special sauces (mujdei is the traditional sauce, made of garlic, olive oil and spices), as are onions.

Generally, there is good street food, including covrigi (hot pretzels), langoşi (hot dough filled with cheese), gogoşi (donut-like dough, coated with fine sugar), mici (spicy meat patties in the shape of sausages), and excellent pastries (many with names such as merdenele, dobrogene, poale-n brau, ardelenesti), thin pancakes filled with anything from chocolate and jam to bananas and ice-cream. Very popular are kebab and shawarma (şaorma), served in many small shops and restaurants (to some extent şaorma is somewhat of a cult-food, especially in southern Romania, with some people traveling long distances to their favorite take-away or şaorma-restaurant - for example the "Şaorma din Dristor" is renowned throughout Bucharest).

Most restaurants in Romania, especially in more regional areas, only serve Romanian food, even though it is similar to Western European food. Especially in Bucharest, there is a wide variety of international food, especially mediterranean, Chinese or French. There are also fairly plentiful international fast food chains. The interesting truth about these is that they are just nominally cheaper than restaurants, with the quality of the food being of an international standard but quite much lower than that served in restaurants. Therefore, go for the restaurants when you can - they provide a much more authentic and quality experience at prices that aren't too much higher.

Drink

Wine

Romania has a long tradition of making wine, in fact Romania is the 12th (2005) world producer of wine, the best wineries being Murfatlar, Cotnari, Dragasani, Bohotin, etc. Its quality is very good and the price is reasonably cheap: expect to pay 15-30 RON for a bottle of Romanian wine (about €4 - €8.5). Several people in touristic areas make their own wine and sell it directly. Anywhere you want to buy it, it is sold only in bottles of about 75 cl, so if you want to try it you have to buy the whole bottle.

Beer

Like all the countries with a strong Latin background, Romania has not a long and diffused tradition of brewing beer, but nowadays beer is very widespread (even more so than wine) and rather cheap compared to other countries. Avoid beers in plastic PET containers, and go for beers in glass bottles or cans. Most of the international brands are brewed in Romania under a license, so they taste quite different than in Western Europe. You can easily realize whether a beer has been brewed in Romania or abroad and then imported simply looking at the price: imported beers are much more expensive than the Romanian ones (A Corona, for example, may be 12 RON while a Timisoreana, Ursus or Bergen Bier of a full 1/2 litre size will be 2-4 RON. Some of the common lagers you may find around are quite tasteless, but there are some good brewers. Ursus produces two tasteful beers, its lager is quite good and its dark beer (bere neagra), Ursus Black, is a strong fruity sweet beer, similar to a dark Czech beer. Silva produces bitter beers, both its Silva original pils and its Silva dark leave a bitter aftertaste in your mouth. Bergen Bier and Timisoreana have been around for hundreds of years and are quite good. All the other lager beers you may find such as Ciuc, Skol and Postavaru are tasteless. Expect to pay around 2-3 RON (€0.6-€0.8) for a bottle of beer in the supermarket and sightly more in a pub.

Spirits

The strongest alcohol is palinca, with roughly 60 percent pure alcohol, the next is ţuica (a type of brandy made from plums, apricots, wine-making leftovers, or basically anything else), approximately 40-50 percent. Strong alcohol is also cheap, with a bottle of vodka starting off between 5 RON and 50 RON.

Sleep

Finding an accommodation in Romania is very easy, for any price. In all the touristic places, as soon as you get to the train station several people will come to you asking whether you need an accommodation. Those people welcoming you at the station often speak English, French and Italian. Moreover, while walking on the street, you will often find cazare on the houses, that means they will rent you a room in their own house. You'd better book an accommodation in the big cities (Bucharest and Iasi), since it'll be quite hard to wander around looking for a place to sleep, but anywhere else you won't find any problem at all.

Rural tourism is relatively well developed in Romania. There is a national association of rural guesthouses owners, ANTREC [13], who offer accommodations in over 900 localities throughout the country.

Accommodation is available throughout the country in five star hotels in Bucharest and Mamaia or Predeal from famous chains like Intercontinental, Marriot, Accor (Sofitel, Novotel, Ibis), Hilton, Crown Plaza, Best Western, Ramada, Howard Johnson or Golden Tulip, to 3 star hotel rooms well furnished and with rather poor service.

Learn

The oldest Romanian university is the University of Bucharest, founded in 1694 under the name Saint Sava the Goth Academy. The University of Iasi was founded in 1860. Bucharest, Iasi and Cluj are considered to be the largest and most prestigious university centres, with newer centres of education like Timisoara, Craiova and Galati emerging as cities with an increasingly larger student popultion. If coming with a mobility grant (Erasmus/Socrates or similar), it is very important to go to the International Office of the Romanian University as soon as possible, as Romanian paperwork tends to be quite impressive and may take some time to be processed. Also, if planning to study in Romania, it is highly recommended to find your own accommodation.

The public education system is quite good and attendance is compulsory for 10 years. Universities have started to reduce the number of subsidies so students will, increasingly, have to pay the tuition. Highschools are public and provide good education, free of tuition. Elementary and middle schools are supported by local authorities budget. As with most nations, teachers complain about small salaries. Literacy is nearly universal. In urban areas there is quite a large number of people who have access to cable TV, Internet, people read newspapers and two in every three Romanians own a mobile phone.

Stay safe

Emergency phone numbers

Romania uses the pan-European standard number 112 for all emergency calls since December 2004. Therefore, this is the only number you will need to remember for police, ambulance and the fire department.

Corruption

Corruption is a relatively big problem in Romania in comparison to other European countries (though not in comparison to the world). Many visitors can possibly experience corrupt policemen and customs officials (Ofiţeri de vamă) first hand, even though this seems to be a declining problem. While it may be tempting to pay a bribe (mită) to smooth things along on your visit, you should avoid doing so as it only contributes to an already terrible problem. Also, corruption does not mean you can commit crimes, small as they be, in Romania, since not ALL people or policemen are corrupt, and you may be caught.

A piece of good advice for when you find yourself in the situation to be asked to pay a bribe (or just suggested) is to vehemently reject the proposal, stating clearly that you would never do that. Don't adopt a defensive attitude trying to explain the offender why you won't pay or trying to be too polite. Don't look or act embarrassed! A swift, determined and inflexible attitude, combined with the threat that you will immediately call the police, will almost surely make whoever is asking for the bribe stop and leave you alone.

Stay healthy

Healthcare

Conditions in Romanian hospitals may vary from the very clean and sparkling, with all the latest technological utilities, to the downright drab, dark and cold. They are usually not worse than public hospitals in other parts of Eastern Europe, the USA or Australia. Some hospitals, however, may be, as aforementioned, uncomfortable, with dimness, temperature problems (hot in summer, cold in winter) and outdated equipment, although medical staff is usually experienced. Usually, however, you will not face problems such as significant lack of cleanliness, rats, etc. Also, hospitals are safe, in the sense that there is a very reduced risk of getting Hepatitis C or AIDS in blood transfusions (again, however, like in all countries, this does occur, but it is not a problem particular to Romania - it has one of the lowest rate of AIDS infections in the world) . Food served in hospitals is safe to eat, even though not particularly pleasing for the tastebuds (again, depending on the hospital).

Remember that your travel health insurance might prove to be insufficient if the medical condition is severe. In this cases, you will be asked to pay for the medical services, and prices are not very low compared to Western Europe.

Many people are prone to give "tips" because it betters their experience, enabling them to gain cleaner conditions and better service. However, again, tipping contributes to the problem of corruption and it should not be done - if no-one did it, the problem wouldn't be there. Remember that as foreigner the tip can't help you in a hospital, since at the end you will be asked to pay, if the medical condition was severe.

Dental procedures in Romania, especially those in private clinics, are of an excellent quality. In fact, many Western Europeans come to Romania to have their teeth done for the quarter of the price they pay in their home country. Quality is particularly high in clinics in Transylvania and Bucharest.

Beauty Parlors

Be very careful when visiting local beauty parlors to ensure that items used are sterilized between clients. Many salons have a practice of sterilizing manicure tools, etc, once a day. Also, many salons re-use depilatory wax for multiple clients, straining the hair between clients. When in doubt, ask, and if you're concerned, bring your own manicure set and tweezers.

Respect

Romanians are quite hospitable. In the countryside and small towns, they welcome foreign tourists and, occasionally, they might even invite you for a lunch. As common in Balkans, Romanians will insist when offering something, as no doesn't always mean no, they just think it's polite for you to refuse, and polite for them to insist. Don't worry unnecessarily but still you should take some normal precautions to study your host first. It is common for friends and family to kiss both cheeks upon greeting or parting. Respect towards elderly is highly appreciated and is a good representation of your character. The phrases used to greet friends and strangers alike is "Bună ziua" (Boo-nah Zee-wah) which means "Good afternoon" or "Good day."

Contact

This is a usable article. It has information for getting in as well as some complete entries for restaurants and hotels. An adventurous person could use this article, but please plunge forward and help it grow!