As part of my visit to Romania, I was lucky enough to spend considerable time travelling throughout Transylvania. Ancient castles perched atop heavily-forested hills shrouded in frequent mist perpetuate the myth surrounding Dracula for which the region is famous.
Târgu Mureş: During my visit, we travelled as far north as the city of Târgu Mureş. Although we passed through other similar towns and cities, Targu Mures best exemplified the fascinating (and somewhat painful) juxtaposition between past and present. Despite an attractive center, the city is defaced with numerous run-down Communist-era apartment blocks. While many look uninhabitable, they most clearly are inhabited. Particularly notable were three or four blocks on the edge of the Mureş river which give you an impression of how horrible life must have been under communism and it is only too easy to imagine how deplorable the conditions the tenants are still living in.
What is perhaps most shocking to a Westerner is the level of disparity within the country. Having travelled extensively in North America and Europe, I saw more luxury cars (Audis, BMWs, Mercedes) in Romania than anywhere else I’ve been. This contrasts with the thousands of communist-era Dacia’s which are still on the road today (although most of them shouldn’t be!). Horse and buggies are ubiquitous and on several occasions I even saw people pulling their own heavily-laden carts along the side of the road.
Sighisoara: A trip to Transylvania is not complete without a visit to Sighisoara,
a fortified town perched on top of a high hill on the banks of the Târnava Mare River. Dating from the 12th century, the town is famous for being the birthplace of Vlad Tepes (more commonly referred to as Vlad the Impaler, the inspiration behind Dracula) and is
a UNESCO World Heritage site. Famous sites include the Clock Tower and a covered staircase leading to the aptly-named “Church on the Hill”. One of my Romanian colleagues grew up in Sighisoara so I enjoyed an excellent guided tour. I will let the pictures speak for themselves.
General Comments & Conclusion
As only my second trip behind the former “Iron Curtain”, Romania was a fascinating experience. My only previous Communist exposure was a trip to Poland several years ago and I frequently found myself comparing the two. Not surprisingly, there were many similarities, from the warmth and friendliness of the people (they truly ARE happy you are visiting) to the high degree of personal safety enjoyed in both countries despite the poverty.
Economically, Poland is much more advanced than Romania, allowing it to escape the ravages of the Economic Crisis largely unscathed and become the poster-child for how to build a successful economy. In contrast, Romania required a bailout from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and is only now emerging from a sharp economic downturn cause by bankers and politicians half a world away. Despite this, the country has made significant strides in the right direction and economic growth will continue as they evolve into a modern, open-market economy.