Uncovering the Romania Diaries

Every so often, I feel the need to open up my three big boxes of old lesson plans, phone bills and the millions of photocopies I’ve made of my college degree to clean it out. The new academy job gave me good reason to dive in and see what I had by way of something-more-advanced-than-colors-and-numbers worksheets.

Stashed between adverbs of frequency and a few documents from the Spanish Treasury, I found 12 hand-written pages from the long rides in the ancient Dacia the six of us took in Romania. While Bryan drove and Matt read aloud from Dracula, we crisscrossed the lonely highways of the country that produced my childhood idol, Nadia.

I jumped on the Romania trip after it had been planned and dubbed “Gypsies v. Vampires.” Living in Spain, the impression we often get of Romanians is that they’re undocumented, dangerous and jail-bound. In fact, when I presented my American passport at Barajas for a 2 a.m. flight, the customs agent scoffed and asked, “Why are you spending Holy Week in Romania?”

I gestured to his flipping of my pages, looking for a blank spot to affix the stamp. “Because I’ve been just about everywhere else.”

Arriving at 7.am. and disembarking, I was completely turned around, faced with a language with strange characters, barely anyone fluent in English and no Romanian currency. I found a bus willing to take euros and got off right in the center, on the street below Ceausescu’s Palace of Parliament – the stamp of Communist grey and menacing to me. Gypsies slept under fountains and women in headscarves sold flowers in front of St. Katherine’s Church.

As soon as we’d picked up the rental car and driven out of the city (a 90-minute odyssey in itself), the industrial Communist machine we’d expected became green fields that gave way to mountains, in which was nestled Sinai Palace.

As we settled into life in the car, we hit some of the major cities in Transylvania – Brasov, Sighisoara, Bran. After spending a few days exploring fortified churches and hilltop castles, we set off for Maramures, the region that borders Ukraine and retains much of the character it’s had for the last 200 years.

My notes become suddenly optimistic, more reflective and the handwriting haggard as I struggled to write down all of what I saw. The observations of our arrival follow.


Up early. Loaded up on snacks and left (Sibiu) and its concrete jungle out towards the mountains to Cluy, where we had kebab lunch. Immediately greeted by green hills, streams, fewer cars, Roma, people in kerchiefs and on bikes. Peasant land.

Tunes: 90s Europop CDs bought at a gas station and Nate’s iPod.

cows, sheep, puppies and CRUXIFXES

Sacal the most rural: potholes, buggies, few cars. Women dress in black sweaters and skirts with kerchiefs, aprons and ankle booties.

Arrived to George’s house, 4 doors down from new and old churches. Met by Victor, family dachshund. […] dinner prompt at 7 p.m.: water, plum and apple brandy, meatballs, horseradish from garden, stuffed eggs, salad, beets, veal with potatoes and mushrooms, walnut bread.

Walked at dusk to cemetery. Group of school kids sat singing with back-clad monk. Women still out attending the deceased, many of whom died young, chattering and chirping. Mass began shortly after, but we stayed to watch the stars turn on.

Big George goodnight and to sleep.


8am bfast – bread with cheese and meat, pearish apple juice, crepes with honey and jam. Attended to us as if kings.

Hiked through Botiza, past the stream, wooden houses, wells. Evident the way of life here has remained. Many elderly, few young.

Monastery of Botiza – wooden gate with fish, rope motif. Up hill, a complex of wooden buildings and small graveyard. Mass happening so church closed, I stood on a wooden bench to peer inside saw gold inlaid chandelier crowned with Jesus and 12 apostles.

Overlooked lush valley.

George told us to follow power lines to PI, so we hiked up and over  hill. At crest we were stopped by peasants on a cart. Communicating in our native languages, we told them we were American and heading to IP. They pointed and sent us off.

Had to pass thru cemetery to get to wooden church with w/ wolf’s tooth roof. Said to be one of the most interesting with “fiery depictions of hell” (LP), but it was locked. Walked back and hopped into car to drive to Sapanta on Ukranian Border to Merry cemetary.

Have you ever been to Romania? What were your impressions?

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About Cat Gaa

As a beef-loving Chicago girl living amongst pigs, bullfighters, and a whole lotta canis, Cat Gaa writes about expat life in Seville, Spain. When not cavorting with adorable Spanish grandpas or struggling with Spanish prepositions, she works in higher education at an American university in Madrid and freelances with other publications, like Rough Guides and The Spain Scoop.


  1. It’s hard not to feel prejudiced against Romanians when living in Spain. I’m NOT saying that I do, just that it’s very prevalent.

    I doubt I could convince Mario to visit Romania anytime soon, but once we cross some other destinations off our list (i.e., Germany, Moscow, France), maybe.

    • Sunshine and Siestas says:

      I know what you mean, and I was almost disgusted when the customs agent asked me why I was going. For that reason, I’m really glad we decided to go, and especially to get out of the capital. Had I just been in Bucharest, I might have agreed with some of what we hear in Spain. But, really, tell Mario it’s beautiful and cheap, and that the Romanian language has plenty in common with Spanish!

  2. I’m very glad you got the chance to SEE the other side of the story, rather than hearing it. I think in Romania we have something for everyone: nice cities for those who prefer an urban holiday (from Bucharest to Brasov, Sibiu, Cluj, Timisoara etc), villages with welcoming people for those who look for authentic rural life experiences, seaside for those who want to relax on the beach, mountains for the adventurous, churches for the religious and I could go on like this forever.
    I think what you get depends very much on what you come here looking or expecting for. So I’m glad that leaving the prejudices aside helped you encountered a different Romania. And when I think there are still soooo many parts of the country you still haven’t explored, I can also say that you should come back! :)

    • Sunshine and Siestas says:

      Hi, Dana. You’re right – Romania was so much more than I expected, and it’s one of the first destinations I list in Central/Eastern Europe. People may flock to Prague or to Vienna, but I think Romania can offer a lot by way of culture, history and outdoor activities. I was fortunate to see so many places (all of those you listed, actually – big trip, lots of car travel time) and meet really wonderful people. We wanted to try and get to the Danube Delta but ran short on time…so I will have to go back!

      • Hehe, there’s always something that brings people back here! ;))

        PS: Spring and autumn are the best seasons to see the birds in the Delta.
        PS2: When you decide to come, drop me a line and maybe we can meet. :)

  3. Looks like a really interesting adventure!

    • Sunshine and Siestas says:

      Good to hear from you again, Nicole! Romania is a realy interesting place, and budget friendly. We had a great trip!

  4. Nice article! Glad to see you that you “saw” beyond the rumors and the bad press we get from various reasons and decided to visit Romania. As you said, it’s great that you didn’t stay just in Bucharest: most of the best things to see are outside Bucharest and to see all of them you need more visits :)
    If you ever plan to go again to Romania try to add on your list a trip to Bucovina and the monasteries in that region: Voronet, Putna, Sucevita etc… you’ll find an amazing country side with plenty of things to see/do :)

    • Sunshine and Siestas says:

      Hi Andrei, thanks for stopping by. We did get to see voronet and some of the other painted monasteries in the area, but I had to get back to work right after. I’m interested in seeing the Danube Delta and getting into Ukraine sometime. Not as easy as it sounds from Seville, Spain, but I hope to get back!

  5. Cat, I am glad to see you enjoyed Romania. I am Romanian (found your post through Cezar from Imperator Travel) and have lived in Spain for several months during a study abroad, and I definitely faced some prejudice at the beginning. The landlord was afraid I would damage the apt or something. At the end, however, they would have wanted me to move there, and they saw that Romanians are very different people than what it may seem in Spain.

    • Sunshine and Siestas says:

      Interesting story, Monica! I’m lucky to come from a big city where racial and ethnic tolerance is celebrated in schools, so the Spanish attitude towards anyone NOT Spanish sometimes disgusts me – even against Spaniards from other regions! I have found Romanians to be no different in the end – a great benefit of travel! Thanks for reading.

  6. Amazing weblog! Do you might have any suggestions for aspiring writers? I’m hoping to start my own weblog soon but I’m a little lost on everything. Would you suggest starting with a totally free platform like WordPress or go for a paid option? You’ll find so several choices out there that I’m completely overwhelmed .. Any tips? Appreciate it!

  7. Consider Romania part of my travel bucket list now!
    Kirstie recently posted..De Vuelta en MadridMy Profile

    • Sunshine and Siestas says:

      It should be! And since you’re coming from Madrid, flights are direct and cheaper. Try Wizz Air or Blue Air (and send me your new address via email or FB!)

  8. Your adventure sounds incredibly exciting!

  9. Your trip looks amazing… I cant seem to get to your first post because there are so many entries so maybe ill just try asking you hre… how long have you been there and how long do you plan on being there for? have you lived/taught anywhere else?

    • Sunshine and Siestas says:

      Romania was a great trip!

      And you’re right, I have over five years of content, so it’s tough to get all the way to the back (use the tag menu to find “moving abroad”). I have only taught in Spain, both in Seville and in La Coruña, for the last five years. Meant to stay a year, so there’s no telling how long I’ll be in Seville, though it looks like a bit longer…

      And please send me a message or email with your address so I can get you your postcard! Thanks for stopping by.

  10. Kevin Martin says:

    Awesome Cat! I would love to visit Romania one day. I love the legend of Dracula, the actual history behind Vlad, and the mysterious Carpathians. I also dated a romanian girl but that’s a story for some other time.

    Jealous of your trip. I should read your blog more often.


    • Sunshine and Siestas says:

      Hey, you! You need to get your culo back here and visit. I remember you dating that girl, Alana maybe?

      Sneding big abrazos from Spain!

  11. I like that you revisited your journey by ‘uncovering the Romania diaries’. Romania to me is a mysterious place that I can’t wait to visit. I have friends from there, who share bits about the rich culture and history. It’s really disappointing that some people have such negative ideas about the country. I’m told to remember that there are two distinct ethnic cultures, Romanian and Romany. I respect both and hope to experience both. I really enjoyed the link you included for the fortified churches and look forward to learning more about Romania…

    • Sunshine and Siestas says:

      It was like finding an old button or lost earring – a total gem of a read! I tell everyone that Romania was a surprise destination that was really, really lovely to visit. Get there!!

  12. We’re planning a trip to Romania this summer, so I enjoyed reading your experiences. Seems like an interesting place!
    Shannon recently posted..Weekend at the Würzburger WeindorfMy Profile

    • Sunshine and Siestas says:

      Hi Shannon! Romania was a really interesting place, and rather cheap! Please get in touch if you’re looking for more information.


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