From the archives 2005 – Romania

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When the wall came down, the tide went out all along Romania’s Black Sea coast. They waited for it to come back in again. Unlike Poland and Hungary, investment dollars were slow to come in Romania.

So they waited.

And waited.

And in the summer of 2005, the Irish came.

A three and a half hour flight gets you to the Black Sea coastal towns of Mamaia, and Eforie where Sunway charter services intend to deliver a weekly plane load of tourists this summer.

These Irish tourists will be pioneers of a kind, the first to travel direct to one of Europe’s oldest and proudest countries. Romanians tell you that theirs is a Latin culture, in contrast to the Slav nations all around them. They live that ideal.

Their Black Sea coastline has been transformed by hundreds of millions of euro of investment in new four-star hotels with an assortment of spa treatment centres and other must-haves of modern tourism.

But mud-packers beware. Bits of this culture resolutely refuse to dissolve into an eastern Costa del Sol. Beach sand and suntan lotion don’t cover all the crinkly bits. But every conversation leads you into the fascinating life story of a town and a people which has lived in the front line of history.

Not just statue-smashing and system-breaking history. A little of our history too. In one of the hotels along the coast, owned by retired footballer Gheorge Hagi, you will find Tony Cascarino’s Number 10 jersey in the collection of number 10 jerseys from all over the world.

Ah that night in Genoa. History.

 

Romania used to have a tourist industry, but it  was single handedly killed off by the man who put the mania in Romania, Nicolai Ceausescu. In the mid 1980s he was worried at the number of marriages between Romanians and foreigners.

So he issued a decree that bars and clubs should be closed at nine o’clock at night.

The tourists disappeared and when they came back, it was to a transformed resort.

The Germans were the first to decide Romania was the next big thing, followed by the Italians, the French and Russians.

Nowadays there are 32,000 beds in Mamaia and 144,000 along the Black sea coast, 40pc of Romania’s capacity. Romania’s incoming tourism figures are up to 1;5m, among 5.5m visitors, and about 4,000 from Ireland.

 

Excursions from Mamaia, and Eforie include the nature reserve on the Danube Delta, Bucharest with its gigantic Ceausescu monuments, Peles Royal Castle or to Transylvania.

If movies are good for tourism business, then Cold Mountain will have done no harm at all. The breathtaking scenery of the Carpathian Mountains is an overnight trip from the warmth of the Black Sea.

Here you can try to track down Romania’s most famous historical figure, someone who isn’t historical at all.

The Clontarf scribbler, Bram Stoker, never visited Romania before he wrote Dracula, instead he devised his imagined landscapes from real encounters with St Michan’s and Whitby and long candlelight evenings poring over a map of the 19th century Romania and seeing the name, Transylvania, and the legend of Prince Dracul leaping out at him.

Dracul’s penchant for impaling people made it into the book (an numerous films) as the final scene, but Dracul, Vlad the impaler, and his reputation were useful for stopping the Turks in the 15th century.

Dracul used the frontier Castle at Bran on his travels, a fourteenth century tower house with a dash of whitewash that gives it a surprisingly intimate feel. This is as close to a Dracula’s castle as you will find in Transylvania.

A few kilometres further up the road is the picturesque town of Brasov, with its giant gothic Black Church, the largest of its kind between Vienna and Istanbul. This Germanic medieval town has kept its character of centuries, the streetscape dominated by the Orthodox St. Nicholas’ Church (1392, restored 1751); and St. Bartholomew’s Church (13th century, the oldest building in Brasov).

Here is Romania’s biggest ski resort in winter, and a summer base station for hiking through the spectacular mountain passes around Mount Postivarul (5,912 feet). Other tourist areas are found in the Bucegi mountain range and on Mount Piatra Craiului.

 

The 15th-century fortress of Poenari, constructed, overlooking the Arges‘River valley, by Vlad the Impaler, with its stairway of 1,400 steps.

The vampire may be fictional, but the sense of history is real. Outside is the last natural habitat for bears in Europe, 6,000 of them, sharing the mountains with 25,000 wild wolves.

Stoker had good reason to visit.

Romania’s flowering was in the years after independence from the Turks in 1878, when the land was moved from church to civil ownership, the Cyrllic alphabet was swapped for the Roman one, and the city of Bucharest was transformed into the green parkland metropolis that still distinguishes it from its neighbours today, despite the ravages of two world wars and even more devastating, the social realistic architecture of the Soviet era.

The last spat with dictatorship did give the city an unlikely tourist attraction. The city’s second most popular attraction is an outlandishly out of scale parliament house, the inspiration of Nikolai Ceausescu.

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