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Kazanlak (Bulgaria) to Osijek (Croatia), July 2014

We start our visit to Romania in its capital city Bucharest. In one of the suburbs of the city, is a campground located where we want to pitch our tent. When we arrive, it turns out not to be so easy to be accepted as guests. When Ivonne tries to check in, while our jeep is still standing in front of the closed gate, the manager of the campsite suspects that Ivonne is a gypsy. And gypsies are apparently not welcome on the camp site. We do not know whether these suspects of the manager are caused by Ivonne’s appearance, our dusty jeep, or by the fact that we necessarily want to camp in a tent. Middle-aged tourists from Western Europe camping with a tent (instead of a camper van or caravan) are in fact a dying breed, and thus apparently also a risk factor for the manager. And or a few extra Euros you can rent a bungalow on the property, so why would people like to camp in a tent so much? So he thinks: ‘they must be gypsies”.

Eventually we managed to convince him that we are not gypsies, after which the gate opens. When we ask him why Gypsies are not welcome, he does not try to hide the reason or to give a socially accepted explanation: "Gypsies cause of a lot of problems." Bucharest turns out to be a great city to spend a few days. Many visitors will say that the city is not comparable to cities like Prague, Budapest or even Sofia, but it is still a cosy and friendly place with few foreign tourists. Especially the old town is a good place to relax on one of the many terraces with a good local beer. The main tourist attraction of the city is undoubtedly the huge palace in the heart of the city, after the Pentagon the largest building in the world. The building is 270 by 240 meters, 86 meters high and 92 meters deep, and has 12 floors and 8 underground levels. Inside there are 2000 halls and rooms. This huge construction is one of the flagship projects of the former dictator Nicolae Ceausescu.

A selfi in front of the huge palace (nowadays parliament) in Bucharest

Outside the capital Bucharest, Romania appears to be mainly an agricultural society. Big cities, with the exception of Bucharest, are uncommon. The country is rural and many people still make their living on the land. Horses and carriages are still common on the streets, but we noticed that the country is making significant steps forward. There is a lot of investment in infrastructure, more and more modern cars appear in the streets, and many villages got a facelift, mostly funded by the European Union. However, the difference between rich and poor is visible. There are large groups of people who can afford an expensive Mercedes, BMW or Audi, while other groups have to gather wood or work hard on the land to make ends meet.

We have experienced Romania as a safe country to travel in. This is not as obvious as it sounds. Many western holidaymakers avoid Romania, and especially Bulgaria, because they believe (rightly or wrongly) that these countries are unsafe. Many Romanians are aware of this bad image and blame the Roma community for it, who I their opinion roam through Western Europe to steal and rob. The post-communist capitalism resulted in a growing gap between the rich and poor in Romania. Then, after joining the European Union (when the borders disappeared), underprivileged groups (including Roma) travelled to the west to try their ‘luck’. There is not only more to get in these richer countries, but also the naivety of westerners and the soft approach to criminality, makes it the perfect place to operate in. However, Romania itself feels like a country where the crime rate is absolutely not higher than in many other countries in Europe. So, there is in our opinion no reason to avoid this beautiful country. See also our photo impression of Romania.

Poor farmers in rural Moldova

We also made a side trip to Moldova. This small country, and probably one of the least known countries in Europe, looks in many ways like Romania. The landscape is almost the same, the culture is similar, and even the flag is almost identical. We found the most interesting part of Moldova, the renegade province called Transnistria, which, unlike the rest of Moldova, is mainly focused on Russia (see also the article on Transnistria). In the past, this renegade province was still a kind of communist theme park, but not much of that has survived. Nevertheless, it is well worth a visit, because the province has developed over the last decades as a sort of separate country, recognised by no-one, but with real borders, its own police force, an army, and even their own currency.

After having been a month in Romania and Moldova, we crossed the border with Hungary. We travel slowly further to the west, and that means that we are getting closer and closer to our home country. But not for long, because the plan is to travel south again. Bosnia & Herzegovina, Montenegro and Albania are on the list.

Fast and slow transport in Romania's north
Romania has nowadays a decent number of good camp sites
Old fashioned transport in the north of Moldova
Police with Lada's are still a common sight in rural Moldova
Begging old lady in one of Chisinau's (Moldova) city parks
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