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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
[[File:Ro-flag.png|108px|frameless]]
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

  • Transylvania (Transilvania or Ardeal) - largest and best known region of Romania, a land of medieval castles and towns, dark forests, snowy peaks (especially those in Transylvanian Alps) and in the same time a region experiencing rapid economical development, with modern youthful cities, huge shopping centers, massive infrastructure projects etc.;
  • Banat - this western-most province, probably the most economically developed in Romania, has beautiful baroque cities and traditional German villages in the western plains and huge mountain forests in the eastern parts;
  • Bukovina (Bucovina) - this north-eastern region is famous for its Painted Monasteries, tucked away between picturesque rolling hills;
  • Crişana - located along the border with Hungary, this western region is the entry point for most travelers into Romania, who often neglect its Central-European style cities, numerous medieval sites and resorts on the western side of the Apuseni mountains;
  • Dobruja (Dobrogea) - a seaside province dotted by ruins of ancient Greek and Roman cities, with various summer resorts along the Black Sea Coast and the unspoiled natural landscape of the Danube Delta in the north;
  • Maramureş - the northern-most region, it's best known for its timeless villages, traditional wooden churches and beautiful mountain landscape;
  • Romanian Moldavia (Moldova) - this eastern part of Romania has its share of historical cities, medieval fortresses, churches and...wineries;
  • Wallachia (Muntenia) - the capital, Bucharest, is located in this southern region, as well as the early residences of the Wallachian princes and the mountain resorts on the Prahova Valley;
  • Oltenia - the south-western region, with impressive monasteries, caves and health resorts along the mountains in its northern part and a bizarre desert-like area in the south;
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.
  • Iaşi - 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.
  • 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.
  • Bacau - On the Bistriţa River,a big city in the center of Romanian Moldavia; It is an industrial center in an oil-producing region.
  • 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.

250px-Timisoara unirii brightened.jpg

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 leadership of leader Nicolae Ceausescu, who took power in 1965 and his Securitate secret police became a strong force throughout the 1980s. The leader was overthrown and executed in late 1989."(CIA World Factbook). Former Communists, regrouped around the Front of National Salvation and the Romanian Party for Social Democracy dominated the government until the 1996 elections, when they were swept from power by a fractious coalition of centrist parties but after failed reforms were replaced by the Social Democratic Party. Both groups attempted to ammend ties with Hungary, which were deeply fractured in the 1980s, when Ceausescu either encouraged the large Hungarian community to leave the country or exile them outright (5.000 Hungarians left Romania per year). 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 doing 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 underdeveloped.

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 three 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
  3. Blue Air, the only Romanian low-cost airline, based in Bucharest Baneasa

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, Ryanair) are already operating flights in Romania and Ryanair will start in spring 2008. Easyjet is operating flights from London, Milan and Madrid.

By train

Romania is relatively well connected with the European rail network. There are daily international trains to Munich, 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.

By car

You can easily drive into Romania coming from the other EU countries in the West, but when coming from the East you will have to drive through Moldova and you will positively experience troubles there. You may find information there is a direct border crossing between Ukraine and Romania in the south-eastern corner of Romanian Moldavia (Reni/Galati), but this is NOT true - you have to go via Giurgiulesti, which is in Moldova ( a small stretch of about 500 meters). Moldovan border control officers will ask several times for money (ecological tax, road tax ... up to 20 € in July 2007). Coming from the north (Ukraine), can also be time-consuming, times can vary from one to more than 5 hours.

Get around

Getting around Romania is relatively hard and inefficient 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. There are several highways under construction, but as of yet none are fully operational. Train travel, however, has improved dramatically. Several upgrade projects are under way for several railway tracks and that makes rail traffic on those lines a bit slow for the time being.

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, Căile Ferate Române, abbreviated as (SN)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 at the railway station, and are made available 24 hours before the train departs. Tickets for train services on a future day are only available at the CFR agency, and in some larger stations. Additionally, tickets can be bought in the train, but you will end up paying about three times the fare you would have paid in the train station.

A modern double decker train in Cluj 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. The biggest company offering regional services is Regiotrans. For private operators tickets are usually issued in the train.

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. (Bucureşti-Braşov, 166km, 15.5 RON (5 EUR), app. 4 hours, no less than 33 stops). Extremely basic service and sometimes really uncomfortable (no seat reservation, no ventilation to speak of, sometimes crowded, no working toilets in some trains, poor lighting, and although rarely, you may even share the carriage with some fowl or other small farm animals). Western Desiro and French Z-type DMUs have been introduced on some routes, including Suceava-Cacica, Craiova-Sibiu, Sibiu-Brasov, Cluj-Teius-Brasov, Cluj-Bistrita, Brasov-Sfantu Gheorghe. Z-type cars provide a more comfortable seating arrangement but a bouncier ride, which is diametrically opposed to Desiro's improvement. Oftentimes these are routes that would be used by people on short distance, so expect to be uncomfortable if travelling for a long perod of time, even on these trains, which are often cleaner, but more crowded, than traditional ones.

"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 (but with working lights and toilets). (Bucuresti-Brasov, 166km, 2nd class: 31.3 RON (10 EUR), approx 2 hours 45 minutes, stops in Bucureşti, Ploieşti, Câmpina, Breaza, Sinaia, Buşteni, Azuga, Predeal and Braşov). Newly-renovated cars have been introduced on several routes including Bucuresti-Targu Jiu and Bucuresti-Brasov. However, many consider these cars as uncomfortable, if not more so, than older cars, with just an improved visual element. There is little baggage room and litle leg-room compared to 1980's carriages.

"R" Rapid:

Better, more comfortable, faster trains used on trunk routes from Bucharest (few interregional services); more expensive, almost the same speed as Accelerat, but sometimes stop in fewer stations. (Bucuresti-Brasov, 166km, 2nd class: 38.0 RON (12 EUR), approx 2 hours 20 minutes, stops in Bucureşti, Ploieşti, Sinaia and Predeal). Because of restrictions on InterCity transportation on several routes, Rapid trains to Constanta and Brasov have an IC-level service.

"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: 41.9 RON (13 EUR), approx 2 hours 20 minutes). All IC trains will offer air conditioning, individual reading lights, dining cars, and some will offer power plugs (both in first and second class). Wireless internet access is provided in some dining cars and in business class (where available). Travellers with large backpacks should note that baggage storage racks on intercity trains are small, and therefore they are likely to find Intercity trains rather less comfortable than Rapide or Accelerat. However, experiences seem to vary depending on the particular train, as in some trains this is true only for non-compartmented cars, so it might be worth trying to get a seat in a compartment. Go to a CFR office in a city, as train stations do not have the facilities to grant such a request.

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. Most will not offer 1st class. Usually they use 1970s single-suburban or double-decker cars, with 4 seats per row. Many have poor lighting, few toilets (that might also be dirty), and may be crowded.

Accelerat is quite uncomfortable (sharing some rolling stock with Personal), with old, unmodernized cars, albeit somewhat faster than personal. Some personal trains can be dirty, and heating may not work. Do not expect air conditioning in either Accelerat or Personal trains. It is the only service where it is recommended to get a 1st class ticket - 2nd class is usually crowded, and, because of the really long journeys that many trains do, cars and toilets may be really dirty. These trains are currently being modernized, with some (such as the seaside special trains) being given more modern (usually refurbished double-decker cars).

Rapid and Intercity are usually of a high standard - however, some Rapid trains should be avoided because of bad rolling stock (the Bucharest-Belgrade train, Mangalia - Oradea and Mangalia - Baia Mare, using Accelerat-type stock). If you can, use InterCity trains, which connect the hubs in Cluj-Napoca, Timişoara 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. Rapid carriages are still used on InterCity trains, or, at the very least, were still used 5 years ago at the most. "Accelerat" is a third choice, with little comfort in second class.

A refurbished 2nd class train coach.

If presented with a choice of Intercity trains (Classic or "Săgeata Albastră" - The blue arrow) it is advisable to choose Classic, as these are faster, more comfortable trains. Săgeata Albastră are small 3-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 narrow 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 Bucureşti-Craiova-Timişoara and Bucureşti-Braşov-Cluj-Oradea routes. As more rolling stock is introduced, most trunk routes will have this service (Suceava, Iaşi, Constanţa, Arad), although some (Suceava, Constanţa) 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. If you drive your own car, you must purchase a road tax sticker (the "Rovinieta") either from the border or from the nearest gas station. Driving without one will incur a severe fine.

Rentals can be expensive; avoid the major international rental companies, as well as the "friendly" locals who are willing to rent you their own car. In Bucharest and throughout the country rentals start at 20 - 30 euros per day (without fuel) for a small hatchback, go around 65 - 90 euros for an average car or lame SUV and may go up to 170 - 200 euros for a luxury sedan or a luxury SUV. You may be denied renting unless you are 25 or older.

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 driving style is quite similar to that of Italy, just by worse drivers on far worse roads. Speeding is very common, angry drivers are the norm, the accident rates are amongst the highest in the European Union.

The traffic in Bucharest can be infernal and you may find it easy to waste time in traffic jams. Bucharest is a very dense and crowded city, with narrow, twisting roads, built mainly in the 19th century, with little traffic in mind. Those roads are suffocated by over 1 million cars - it is possible to take 2 hours to drive a distance that could be walked in 20-25 minutes. 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. Direction signs are rare and confusing (except for signs saying what road you are currently on), and a map (or GPS) is needed for navigating.

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 offenses are downed by heavy fines by the traffic police (Poliţia Rutieră), they may even take one's driver's license for an irregular passing. Both hidden and visible speed cameras are becoming common on major roads and highways. Policemen sometimes seem to be more lenient with locals, than with foreigners - however, fines are stricter for locals than for foreigners (for locals, as few as two or three minor offenses will get their license suspended for six months). Bribing is a very common way of dealing with the police, but it can be risky especially to a foreigner. As of 2008, bribing is less and less accepted, so for a foreigner it is highly unrecommended to attept this get-away technique - it can easily land you in jail. The Romanian police is very tough on drunk driving - controls are very frequent - and basically any alcohol counts as drunk driving. If you are involved in a car accident while driving, and the accident has human victims you must stop and wait for the traffic police. Driving away from the scene is considered hit-and-run. Simpler accidents with no victims can be solved with yourself and all parties involved having to go to a police station and make a statement, but, if in doubt, better phone 112 (Emergency Services) and ask for directions. In most of the cases, after an accident it is mandatory to take a blood test to establish if the drivers had consumed alcohol. Refusal to undergo this test is almost certainly to land you in jail - the punishment is usually more harsh then the one for drunk driving.

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. Arad - Timişoara is under construction, and should be opened by March 2008.
  • 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. Cernavoda - Constanţa is expected to be completed in early 2009.

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. First two segments should open early 2008. Bucharest-Braşov is also under construction, but the first segment will be completed at the earliest in 2009.

The speed limit on motorways is 130 km/h.

Expressways (drum expres)

The only completed expressway is the 60 km long Bucharest - Giurgiu road. It is in the process of upgrading to motorway standard.

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 sometimes have 4 non-separate lanes, but many have only two lanes (a notable example is DN1 Câmpina-Braşov - the 100 km mountain stretch can take 6-7 hours to navigate during weekends. 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.). Some rural roads are covered with gravel.

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

Note that for ALL roads, when in a city, town or village, the speed limit is 50 km/h. As such, driving a National Road becomes a constant accelerate-and-brake adventure, one having to be constantly spotting speed limit signs, city limit markers and the behavior of other drivers.

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 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 - 1.6 leu/RON) per km or slightly more, with the same price for starting. The very low prices make taxis a popular way to travel with both locals and travelers (it can be cheaper than driving your own car) - so during rush hours it may be hard to find a cab (despite Bucharest having almost 10000 cabs).

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 - they are obliged to post and clearly state the tariff out front. All taxis MUST have a license - a large, oval metal sign bolted on the sides of the car, featuring the city markings, and a serial number inscribed, usually using large numbers. Do not use any taxi without those markings. Also, do not use a taxi with a license from another city (for example, never use a Ilfov taxi in Bucharest or a Turda taxi in Cluj-Napoca).

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!). Do NOT take cabs from the cab stand in railway stations, unless they are from a reputable company and DO NOT take any of the services of those offering you a cab ride in the train station. They may end up being amazingly expensive (up to 50 € for a cab ride that would normally be around 3 €). If you need a taxi from the train station (or airport), order it by phone from a reputable company (see the city pages for the cities you want to visit) - most dispatchers speak some English as do many taxi drivers.

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. On line booking through the official website, or pay at the airport.

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 the booking system of Carpatair is extremely antiquated. No on-line reservations are possible, and you may be asked to pay in cash (and sent to the closest ATM machine) or through money transfer.

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. Transfer to airports is usually very limited. For example Bucharest Henri Coanda is served by a single express bus line operating from 5:30 AM to 23:30 and taxicabs (around 15-20 €). Check-in usually ends 40-45 minutes before departure.

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, while the language is also very similar to Portuguese, Spanish, Catalan and French. Minority languages spoken in Romania are Hungarian, German, Turkish and Romany (the language of the Roma, or Gypsies). English AND-- ESPECIALLY,-- other Romance languages such as Spanish and Italian-- 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, usually Spanish, or Italian. 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.

Although some might speak Russian due to its past as a part of the Eastern Bloc, you should not count on it. The chance that you will find anyone doing so is very small, as the Ceauşescu administration and subsequent leaders made, since the mid-1960s, learning the language optional rather than compulsory, and other Romance languages (especially Italian or French) were used in its stead. Romania is the Eastern European country with least number of Russian speakers.

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

Buy

Currency

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. As of the beginning of 2007 ROL banknotes and coins are no longer legal tender but 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 3.45 lei (exchange rate 08-01-2008) 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 other parts of the EU. Clothing, wool suits produced in Romanian, shirts, cotton socks, white and red wine bottles, chocolates, salami, a wide range of local cheese, inexpensive leather jackets or expensive and fancy fur coats are possible good buys for foreigners.

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. It is not recommended to exchange money in the airport either - they tend to overcharge on transactions and have very disadvantageous rates - you should use a card and the ATM machine for immediate needs (taxi/bus) and exchange money while in the city.

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. Changing money at a bank's exchange office is also a good idea.

Transactions

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 - on-line payments are still somewhat new, and many companies and people still look at them with suspicion - so much so, that even on-line shops will bring make you pay on delivery. You can however pay by card in many shops and in most supermarkets. Accepted credit/debit cards are: Mastercard, Visa , American Express (in some places - although this is rapidly expanding because of a very aggressive campaign by American Express) and Diners Club (usually only in hotels, and even then expect stares and incredulity that such a card even exists). Almost all transactions at POS machines (supermarkets, shops etc.) will 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). ATMs 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 hotels, restaurants, hypermarkets, malls. Do not expect to use a credit card at any 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 or even more), even in large cities.

Romanian businesses are not obliged to provide you with full change for every transaction, and frequently their tills are short of coins in particular. Fortunately many prices are in round multiples of 1 RON, and they are almost always in multiples of 10 bani. Even if a store can change, say a 100 RON note, they will ask you for smaller change first. For very small amounts (say 20 or 50 bani) they will sometimes insist on you buying something of that worth instead of giving you change. Unfortunately, this something is often chewing gum or something you are equally as unlikely to want, and you cannot buy anything with it!

Prices

Don't expect Romania to be a cheap travel destination! 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. However, food and transport remain relatively cheap (but more expensive than in other countries in her region), as does general shopping, especially in markets and outside the capital, Bucharest. Bucharest, as with every capital in the world, is more expensive than the national norm, particularly in 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 - in many cases, what you are buying today has been picked freshly yesterday from the countryside. Recently, the food in the markets is sold by intermediaries, who buy cheaply from farmers and sell products, tripling the price. However, this is illegal, and, in many cases, farmers' markets now require that farmers show a specially designed certificate in order to rent a booth.

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. Many locals however actually prefer these establishments, since they offer a personal touch, with many salespeople remembering the preferences of each buyer, and catering specifically for their needs.

Opening hours are extremely predictable and amazingly long. Many shops will have a "non-stop" sign - meaning they are open 24 hours, 7 days a week. Shops that are not open 24 hours are usually open 8 AM - 10/11 PM, with some keeping open in summer until 2 or 3 AM. Supermarkets and Hypermarkets are open 8 AM - 10/11 PM as well, except during some days before Easter and Christmas, when they remain open through the night. Pharmacies and specialized shops are usually open 9 AM - 8/9 PM, sometimes even later while farmers' markets usually open their doors at 7 AM and close at 5 or 6 PM.

The countryside fair

A traditional countryside shopping is the weekly fair (târg, bâlci or obor). Usually held on Sunday, everything that can be sold or bought is available - from live animals being traded amongst farmers (they were the original reason why fairs were opened centuries ago) to clothes, vegetables, and sometimes even second hand cars or tractors. Such fairs are hectic, with haggling going on, with music and dancing events, amusement rides and fast food stalls offering sausages, "mititei" and charcoal-grilled steaks amongst the many buyers and sellers. In certain regions, it is tradition to attend after some important religious event (for example after St. Mary's Day in Oltenia), making them huge community events bringing together thousands of people from nearby villages. Such fairs are amazingly colorful - and for many a taste of how life was centuries ago. One such countryside fair (although definitely NOT in the countryside) is the Obor fair in Bucharest - in an empty space right in the middle of the city, this fair has been going on daily for more than three centuries.

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), salata boef (finely chopped cooked veggies and meat salad, usually topped with mayo and decorated with tomatoes and parsely), zacusca(a yummy, rich salsa-like dip produced in the fall) 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, ciorba de burta (white sour tripe soup), ciorba taraneasca (a red sour soup, akin to bors without the beet root and using instead fermented wheat bran, with lots of vegetables), Dobrogean 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. Local eclectic dishes include cow tongue, sheep brain (Easter), caviar, chicken and pork liver, pickled green tomatoes and pickled watermelon.

Traditional desserts include pasca (a chocolate or cheese pie produced only after Easter), saratele (salty sticks), pandispan (literally means spanish bread; a cake filled with sour cherries), and cozonac (a special cake bread baked for Christmas or Easter). Bread (without butter) comes with almost every meal and dill is quite common 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.

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 (more than 2000 years of wine-making are recorded), 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 10-30 RON for a bottle of Romanian wine (about €3 - €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 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. Some beers made under licence are still good - Heineken, Pilsner Urquell, Peroni. 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 are quite good. All the other lager beers you may find such as Skol and Postavaru are tasteless (in some conusmer's opinion). 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 and is traditional to Transylvania, the next is ţuica (a type of brandy made from plums - the more quality, traditional version - but also apricots, wine-making leftovers, or basically anything else - an urban legend even claims you can brew a certain kind of winter jackets (pufoaică) to ţuică), but this is sooner a proof of Romanian humour. Strength of tuica is approximately 40-50 percent. The best ţuică is made from plums, and is traditional to the Piteşti area. Strong alcohol is also cheap, with a bottle of vodka starting off between 5 RON and 50 RON. A Transylvanian speciality is the 75 percent blueberry and sweet cherry palinca (palincă întoarsă de cireşe negre) - but is usually kept by locals for celebrations, and may be hard to find.

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, Cluj-Napoca, Brasov 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, Cluj-Napoca, 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 population. 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 - most universities do not provide any accommodation, and if they do provide accommodation, the conditions offered are downright terrible (5-6 persons sharing a room, with a corridor of 50 or more sharing the showers and toilets is not unheard of - this happens since university-offered accommodation is typically next to free (15-20 € per month) for Romanians, and you usually get what you pay for).

The education system is mediocre at best since 1990 (Romania did not do good in either of the PISA evaluations, being in the bottom third of European countries), however reform attempts have been done in the past decade. Attendance is compulsory for 10 years. Universities have started to reduce the number of subsidies so students will, increasingly, have to pay the tuition (tuition is however very low - 500 € per year is the norm). With some exceptions teaching methods in universities are antiquated, with formalism, dictation and memorization as the main tools employed - leading to low quality of many establishments (no Romanian university made it in the Shanghai Index). However, there were very serious reform attempts, with some universities (notably the University of Bucharest, the Babeş-Bolyai University in Cluj and the University of Timişoara) imposing better teaching standards and interactivity between students and teachers - however much progress is to be done even there. For most subjects, programs are available in Romanian and Hungarian, depending on the university. Some programs are available in English, French and German. Elementary and middle schools are supported by local authorities budget. As with most nations, teachers complain about small salaries. Literacy is nearly universal. According to an EU commission study, about 30% of Romanians speak English (50% in urban environments) and 25% French (40% in urban environments). German is also spoken by about 3-5% of the population (1% having it as their mother tongue).

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.


Crime

Romania is quite safe, with very little violent crime. Pickpocketing and scams (such as taxi scams or confidence tricks) are present on a wider scale, so exert care especially in crowded places (such as train stations, urban public transport).

Wild Animals

Romania has a very large population of wild animals, including one of the largest population of wild bears in the world. It is commonplace for bears to visit city neighborhoods situated near mountain forests in search for food (such as in Braşov). As such, spotting a bear or wolf is fairly easy. Although usually not dangerous, such animals may become aggressive if care is not taken. If you spot a bear or wolf when hiking, it is advisable to slowly turn around and slowly walk the other way. Local shepherds advise people who are wild camping to camp out in the open rather than under trees where possible to avoid the bears. Under any circumstances, do not attempt to run or try to feed the animal, as it may become disoriented and attack. In 2006, only 6 persons have been killed by wild animals in Romania.

Feral animals such as stray dogs may additionally pose a problem in Bucharest, where they are widespread. Most will not be aggressive, and many are taken care of by people from nearby housing blocks. The number of stray dogs is declining but is still extremely high.

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 or şpagă) 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 (and more serious crimes are treated as extremely serious affairs, and bribing will only make things worse).

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.

Bribing is very common in trains, as well (it is referred to as "naşul" (the godfather) or "blat"), and is usually practiced by groups, usually in cheaper trains (personal and accelerat) - but also sometimes on faster trains. It is advisable NOT to try it by yourself (few ticket controllers understand foreign languages), and you may end up paying an extremely hefty fine (three to five times the price of the ticket). If in a group with Romanians, however, follow their directions.

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. You won't usually face problems such as significant lack of cleanliness.

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. Update: As of January 1st, 2007 and Romania's accession to the European Union, citizens of the European Union are covered by Romania's National Healthcare System as long as they carry an Eurocard(or European Health Insurance Card), obtainable from their own national healthcare authority. (Valid for all EU countries)

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

Although Romanian is known for its beauty parlors, be careful 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."

If visiting churches or monasteries, try at the very least to wear clothing that covers your full torso and extends to cover your shoulders and knees (sometimes if you do not you will be forced to put on a cloak or wrap skirt). Ideally you wear full length skirts or trousers. Orthodox women will have scarves to cover their hair inside churches but this is generally not expected of tourist women. Obviously you should behave in a quiet respectful manner inside religious buildings.

Refrain from observations, whether be ignorance or indifference, that Romanian is a Slavic language or even related to Hungarian, Turkish or any of their Balkan neighbours. They will find it extremely offensive; in fact, as it was already mentioned, Romanians do not pronounce vowels and consonants the same way as its Slavic, Hungarian, and Turkish neighbours.

Romanians also don't appreciate when foreigners assume incorrectly that Romania was part of either the Russian Empire or the Soviet Union-- both definitely false-- although it was part of the Soviet Bloc and, before that, an Austro-Hungarian and Ottoman territory.

Communicate

Mobile phones are ubiquitous in Romania, about three quarters of Romanians own at least one mobile phone. There are four networks - three GSM/3G (Orange Romania, Vodafone and Cosmote) and one CDMA (Zapp). Orange and Vodafone have full national coverage (98-99% of the surface of the country), while Cosmote and Zapp are expanding quickly. Fares are average for the European Union (8-30 Eurocent per minute, 4 Eurocent/SMS). Both pre-paid cards and subscriptions are available, and special options for discounted international calls exist with some pricing plans. Roaming is available, but is, like in most of the EU, rather expensive. Pre-paid cards can be bought in almost every shop, either rural or urban.

Internet access is widely available in urban environments, and growing in rural environments. In December 2006 there were about 3.500.000 internet connections, with around 7.000.000-9.000.000 people having internet access. Broadband internet is widely available in cities and towns, through cable, DSL and home-grown, grass-roots small or medium size ISPs offering UTP connections. Speeds are mostly like Western Europe or the US, with 1-4 Mbps downstream for non-metropolitan access being the norm - with prices being around 9-25 € for 1-4 Mbps, with local access significantly faster (10-50 or even 100 Mbps). The speeds are increasing, home access for 4 Mbps being available at around 15€ per month.

Internet cafes are available in most towns and cities, and in some villages - but in big cities, their numbers are dropping because of the cheap availability of home access. In rural areas, public Internet access is currently available in 150 villages (in so-called "telecenters"), and it is supposed to increase to at least 500 villages by the end of 2008. In these "telecenters", access is subsidized by the state, and therefore limited. Computers are usually not available in libraries, or in public places such as train stations.

Wireless access is growing, especially in Bucharest, Sibiu, Bistriţa, Timişoara and Cluj (the centers are mostly covered), but is still limited, and mainly available in University areas, airports, big public squares, cafes, hotels and restaurants. Payed-for wireless internet access is also available in other areas.

Mobile internet is available cheaply by all the mobile phone companies. The standard rate for mobile data connections is about 25-50 cents per MB using GPRS.

Cable TV is also very widely available, with about 85% of all households being connected. All hotels providing you with a TV set will provide you with cable TV, since broadcast television is very limited .

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!