We wanted to get a good vantage point of the mountains in Retezat National Park, and after our unsuccessful hike the day before, we took the southerly route into the park. The road led through a beautiful valley, it would’ve been a lovely drive, had it not been for the grotty area. One town led into another and they all had big, ugly, unpainted, apartment blocks. Gangs hung out on corners, and it seemed like a really poor and run down area. Huge concrete complexes had either been half made or completed and then vandalised with smashed windows and graffiti. We couldn’t find any information for hikes after driving 25km, no trail markers, no maps. So we had to leave in the end, back through shit-ville.
Afterwards we headed south through a gorge. We spent a hell of alot of time admiring it due to the constant roadworks. There were traffic lights everywhere, it took us over an hour to drive just 20km. Then people would overtake everyone in the queue and drive through a red light, it was ridiculous. On the plus side we passed the beautiful Lainici Monastery. It had two churches which were painted on the outside as well as in. They were surrounded by forested hills, and the main church had onion domed roofs and Greek style pillars. The paintings were really impressive and full of colour. Inside was even better, there wasn’t one speck unpainted. I think it’s probably my favourite church, I find most churches dull and boring inside – but this one was full of colour. It was mainly of Saints and people I didn’t know, although I’m pretty sure I spotted Jesus on the ceiling. It was a bit like where’s wally, but searching for the bearded man between all the other faces. All women visiting had to cover their heads before entering and almost everyone but us queued up to pray to picture’s of Saints. They actually kissed the image, clearly a very respectful thing to do but I’m sure that’s a breeding ground for cold sores and other germs.
That was our last attraction for Romania, afterwards we just drove south through rustic villages. We passed a small clustered village that had shanty style shacks around the edges with tarpaulin roofs, then it went into battered old bungalows with terracotta roofs. As it penetrated into the centre of the housing maze the buildings grew bigger and we saw a couple of silver roofs – it was a whole gypsy village. A group of beautiful women sat outside in long fluorescent skirts and bandanas. Clearly a much poorer area than what we’d previously seen. I did a little reading on the gypsies and it said for purity reasons they don’t cook in the mansion kitchens or use the inside loo. Instead they use a basic out house.
After the Carpathian’s the scenery totally flattened out. We had a beautiful sunny day and it reminded us of driving through the prairies in Canada. All the land was cultivated and we were surrounded by big blue skies. At night the stars were amazing, we could even see the Milky Way. Romania’s vast rural areas mean we’ve had a lot of nights under a blanket of stars.
I’m actually a bit sad to be leaving Romania, there are so many rumours about the country; how dangerous it is and not to trust the people. But, I bet none of those people have visited the country. Or maybe we’ve been very lucky? What a contrast it’s been to the stories we’ve heard though – the people are hands down the friendliest we’ve come across in Europe. A smile can really make or break a country for me and boy did it make it in Romania. Everyone has time to help you, and if they can’t help they’ll personally walk you to someone they know who can. It’s a poor country, and it just goes to show that having money isn’t everything, these people live a bloody tough life but they just get on with it and smiles, being free, are abundant.
There was a lovely sense of community in Romania; old ladies would sit on benches in the sun outside their houses and chat to neighbours, people watch, or simply let their turkeys or hens graze on the grass beside the road.
It has a few downfalls, like any country; the hiking was our main issue, trying to find hikes or information meant we couldn’t fully explore the mountains. The rubbish situation was pretty appalling, all roadside pullouts were scattered with plastics and toilet paper, it’s a shame as they provide lots of bins around rest areas, but people just throw stuff from their cars. There was an element of feeling unsafe, but that’s just due to the rumours we heard about how unsafe it was. We had no problems at all and found it pretty easy to find a quite place to stay everynight. It has beautiful mountains, amazing wildlife (we still didn’t see a wild bear though), colourful towns, incredible castles and smiley people. I highly recommend it!