View of Magura, a village in the Carpathian Romanian Mountains.

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I’ve always wanted to go to Romania. I’m not really sure why. Maybe something about how far east it is, right on the border of Europe. Or the fact that it was the last outpost of the European Union before the start of Asia and the Black Sea.

I wanted to go but I wanted to see more of Romania than her cities and airports.

And so, that’s how we found ourselves bumping along a gravel road through the Carpathian Mountains of Romania to stay with someone we’d never met for a work exchange.

Staying in Dracula’s Backyard

A cow relaxing in the sun in the countryside
A cow relaxing in the sun in the countryside.
Photo by Lucy Arundell

Arabella, our host, is somewhat of a character. She’s British, but has lived in Romania for thirteen years, and believes the UK is going to the dogs. She tells me she prefers the road in winter when snow and ice fill in the potholes. Furthermore, she says she can’t imagine living somewhere without a view of the Romanian mountains.

We’re not exactly sure how she makes a living out here, outside of selling her children’s books locally. However, no money can improve her view.

Mountains slope down into green valleys scattered with traditional wooden houses and goat herds. And at sunset, the clouds are a delicious pink and gold.

We spend our days working in her garden, cutting grass and planting bulbs. On our days off we walk into the forbidding forests and climb rocks into the cloud. I read three books, one after another, and every night we watch a Harry Potter film.

It’s a treat to spend seven nights in the same bed, to wake up and to think only of breakfast and hikes, instead of bus timetables and exchange rates. On our last night, we trot down to the tiny general store in the village and sit on the veranda drinking Radlers and congratulating ourselves on our good fortune.

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Back to the Bright Lights

When our week is over we head back to Bucharest.

Horses scatter as we take the train out of Brasov. Two tanned grandmas stand in their underwear shifting their sun chairs in the middle of a field. Families are already gathering in the strips of parkland along the track, smoke from barbecues billowing through the trees. A kid with a hoverboard does wheelies in between parked cars.

We speed past a massive coal plant, eking steam into the atmosphere. A red dragon is sketched on the side, the emblem of the national petroleum company.

The Communist Legacy

Bucharest Romania
Bucharest Image by David Pupaza via Unsplash

In Bucharest, a lady is walking around in a blue and yellow t-shirt that reads, F*** You Putin. The city is both incredibly beautiful and full of great slabs of square apartments, a stark reminder of its communist past. Our tour guide asks us if we want to sink our teeth into communism, a pastry with rum essence, and warns us it’ll give us visions of Stalin and Lenin.

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Romania spent almost three decades under a crazed Stalinist-like dictator, Nicolae Ceaușescu. His achievements include mass poverty, and the second biggest government building in the world, after the Pentagon. The parliament cost over 6 billion euros to build, an insane amount for a country that was struggling to feed its own citizens.

Today, you would hardly know of Romania’s dark past. Bucharest is a thriving city, with plenty of funky bars and cool cafes teeming with young people. Many Romanians still leave the country to seek better jobs and wages throughout the EU, but prospects are much better today than they were twenty years ago. And in the mountains, not much has changed, except for a few more cars.

And some wayward Australians, of course.

If You Go:

Do visit more than Bucharest and Brasov (Romania’s second biggest city). Romania has a lot of beautiful national parks as well as beach resorts on the Black Sea. And the countryside still looks like it did 50 years ago.

Don’t listen too much to anxious relatives/friends. Many people warned us about going to Romania, but their information was thirty years out-of-date. Modern Romania is safe, friendly, and pretty developed.

Do try local food. Romania has a lot of delicious dishes, including mici (sausage-like grilled meat) and papanasi (friend cheese donuts with sour cream and jam)

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Author Bio: Lucy Arundell is a twenty-something Australian obsessed with exploring, adventuring, and everything in between. She has a degree in communications and international studies and has spent time working in print and radio. She loves hiking, reading, and convincing my friends to come travelling with her.

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