Romania: not just a country of communist blocks
As Daily-Mail readers froth at the mouth about the mythical ‘influx’ of Romanians and Bulgarians expected to descend upon the UK (they might eat your babies!), I for one am hoping that soon, Brits (disabled and otherwise) will soon be descending upon Romania.
Contrary to mainstream opinion – Romania is very different to what is often portrayed. Yes, it has its fair share of communist blocks and stray dogs, but that’s a very small part of a simply beautiful country and culture.
I fell in love with Romania in 2006. To this day, I still do not know why I settled on Romania as the place I would do voluntary magazine work for six weeks. Whatever my reasons at the time, it was one of the best decisions I ever made. It was the start of a love affair with a country that I cannot stop going back to. And luckily for me, my partner has fallen in love with it, too.
So what’s so great about it? As a writer, I feel I should attempt to put into words my love for this country, but words on their own just won’t do it justice. Unless you’ve waded knee-deep in thick snow in the old medieval city of Brasov nestled at the foot of the Carparthian mountains or sat outside in the hot September sun on the cobbled Piazza in Sibiu, sipping ice cold mineral water and scoffing down chocolate ice cream, it’s near impossible to describe the effect that Romania can have on you.
The old medieval cities of Sibiu, Brasov, Sighisoara, Timisoara in particular are unlike anything you would have seen before. Cobbled, winding streets set on different levels, continental-style piazzas bordered with cafes and bars that spill out onto the cobbles, fairy tale castles rising from mystical forests and majestic misty, sometimes snow-capped mountains looming over towns, cities and lakes like a painting.
The scenery in these places is nothing short of spectacular. And then there are the tourist attractions: a plethora of old-fashioned, unexplored museums, art galleries, palaces, fortified churches and citadels which are strangely quiet even in the height of the tourist season. But this is Romania, and tourism, although it exists, is not in the same league as it is in Italy or the South of France.
Many’s the time we’ve visited fascinating museums, my partner and I, felt inspired and excited by the collections and displays, but we’ve been the only ones there and had the place to ourselves.
Even some of the zoos and parks are relatively unvisited, even by the locals. Sometimes, it can be quite a sad experience – why aren’t people enjoying what’s around them? – but often, it makes for something quite special.
And of course there’s the cost of things. A recent trip to Sibiu zoo cost us the equivalent of £2 each, and a typical meal out for dinner with all the trimmings won’t set you back more than £20. It means if you prefer the luxury of a 4 or 5* hotel, complete with spa and treatment rooms, it’s more than affordable. In Romania, as a British tourist, you can afford to do all the things you probably couldn’t do in Western Europe.
Of course, there are downsides. Much of Romania isn’t accessible for disabled people. I’m lucky that I can walk a bit with a stick, so relying on taxis to get around and clambering up and down steps in medieval cities – in between café stops – is just about possible, but things are changing.
Accessible Romania, an independently-run tour operator founded by a disabled Romanian (a good friend of mine, actually) enables people with disabilities from all over the world to experience the beauty of Romania. From fully-accessible 3 or 4 star hotels to cultural tours of monasteries and ancient cities, Accessible Romania provides a cultural experience to suit all needs and abilities. Health spas, trips back in time, ultra-modern cities, it’s all possible.
And quite recently, Romania’s capital city, Bucharest has seen some huge improvements for wheelchair users. Disabled access is now available to many of the capital’s underground metro stations, a feat more or less unheard of a decade ago. Perhaps London Underground can take a leaf or two from their book?
So whilst I’m selfishly not wanting Romania to become too popular a tourist destination just yet, I would like to see more people discover the side of Romania that I know and love. Romania holiday 2014 – here we come (albeit with a one-year-old daughter in tow).