Has this happened to you? You see a photo of a destination just oozing with charm and warmth. Your wanderlust is piqued so you search for more photos. One after another, the images stir up whimsical notions of cobblestones, detailed architecture, and casually riding a bike with a basket holding, of course, a bouquet of flowers. Longing turns to planning. You arrive and plans become reality.
There's just one problem. The destination is nice but where's that fanciful wanderlust you felt? Instead of capturing that romantic essence for yourself, you're sharing the last drops with the crowds of other visitors who have come in search of the same experiences.
It's a sign you need to visit Romania.
How serious is your affliction? The signs to visit Romania are explained below. The only thing is to make sure and visit Romania immediately…before this idyllic secret is completely discovered. (Lonely Planet already listed the Transylvania region a must for 2016!)
1. You're longing to go back in time.
As you step through the castle doors, you're instantly swept away to another time, transfixed with visions of grandeur, ornate banquet halls, and red velvet robes. You reach down to grab your camera wanting to forever imprint this moment on the walls of your memory. Gazing through the camera's viewfinder, the unreal fantasy of it all nearly clouds your vision and you blink twice as you prepare to take the photo. Until, suddenly, someone innocently bumps your arm. You're jolted back to reality as groups of people fill in around you, rudely reminding you of your peasant status. You end up with a crooked photo of heads and a chandelier.
Are you longing to visit castles without the tour buses unloading? Do you wish for more than a moment to enjoy the views from a fortress' battlements and ramparts? Have you tried (and failed!) to transport yourself back in time as you walk across a drawbridge or slide your hand up a marble banister into a lavish reception hall because a photo-taking queue has assembled?
You're not alone! And, that is precisely the problem! It's a sign you need to visit Romania. Many of its centuries-old castles and fortresses are perched on hilltops surrounded by dense evergreen forests just waiting to be explored. (The same can be said for museums, monuments, and other "places of interest!) What will you do (!) with the time to breathe deeply and enjoy the experience? Will your memory card have enough space for the photos you'll take?!
2. You silently wish you had visited 30 years ago.
In imagining your next trip, you've envisioned quaint villages with uneven cobblestones underfoot. Wide open squares with locals and visitors alike strolling with ice cream cones in hand. The pastel-colored buildings fade around the edges but brighten again from windows with vibrant-colored shutters and cascading flower displays.
A brown scrappy dog struts past with a newspaper in his mouth. A man strums his guitar letting fly vaguely familiar musical notes that linger in the air and mix with the smell of cinnamon already filling the narrow streets. The day is sunny with just enough breeze to warrant carrying a "just in case" extra layer. You round the corner and a towering cathedral bears down upon you. The bells chime announcing the new hour. The slow pace of life seeps under your skin and you can't help it when a smile bubbles to the surface.
When you finally arrive in your chosen quaint village, does it match what you imagined above? Are squares filled with cafes and bakeries or H&M's and poorly disguised McDonalds? Are the streets packed with travelers shuffling from one souvenir shop to the next? Do you enjoy yourself but silently wish you had visited this village 30 years ago?
It's a sign you need to visit Romania. The villages of Sinaia, Brasov, Sibiu, and Sighisoara are still waiting for their big tourism boom. They embody the essence of that charming medieval village experience you're envisioning. They're all yours to enjoy…that is until everyone else discovers them.
3. You've tried to chat with locals only to feel your presence was an annoyance.
You know those travel stories where the author tells of an incredible experience of stumbling into an untouched village or finding a secluded beach where locals just happened to be having the perfect bonfire cookout? Of course, the author is invited to join and ends up with an unforgettable experience and lifelong friends.
Have you wondered why this never happens to you? Why is it the only interactions you've had with locals is when they're selling you on coming into their restaurant or pushing past as you attempt to navigate a city's metro system? It's a sign you need to visit Romania.
How would you feel if a local said this to you?
"Please come back and visit. Tell your family and friends to visit Romania. Tell them it's beautiful. Let them know we are nice and it's not the jungle."
Wouldn't you always remember an experience like this?
(Translated from Romanian) "The wheel painted on the side of the church (above) shows all the stages of life. Be sure to go inside. A man is coming soon to unlock the front door." The woman is in her house but chatting with us from her window. She speaks no English but talks to me as if I understand Romanian.
I ask and the guide translates, "Can I take your photo?" She smiles and says (in Romanian) another person has asked before to take her photo, too, then quickly says, "My picture will be in America," as she adjusts her head covering.
Can you imagine not only being greeted but welcomed with a mixture of warmth and curiosity?
"Are you from Spain?" "No, I'm from New York, the United States." "The U.S! Almost no one visits us from there! How do you like Romania!?"
4. You were actually hoping to see untouched villages and an authentic way of life, not just the one village used to show visitors.
Are you searching for green rolling hills around you and tall mountain peaks in the distance? Would you like to cycle or hike through forests still home to wildlife and fields of yellow and purple wildflowers? Maybe you're the kind of person who smiles when you pass endless fields of sunflowers, traditional handmade haystacks, people traveling by horse and carriage, and herds of sheep munching on green meadows. It's a sign you need to visit Romania.
Give up the country roads with their speeding Ford and Audi rental cars. Forget the time you got knocked off your bike by a gust of wind trailing a tour bus. Instead, cycle undisturbed along dirt roads, past apple orchards, and into quiet villages. Visit Romania and come across a painted monastery where a priest in traditional garb is sweeping the steps while a man nearby uses a scythe to chop down tall grasses.
5. You want to experience a place where the country's past is still palpable.
In Bucharest, the signs of a city scarred but resilient are visible from the city center to its edges. Grafitti sprayed storefronts sit opposite outdoor green spaces filled with street art and people enjoying a drink. The Old Town pulses anew with bars and restaurants reminiscent of any European city, but still with enough grit to keep you on your toes. Stroll along the city streets and you'll pass wild, overgrown gardens. Stop to push aside the shrubbery and reveal exquisitely detailed 19th-century mansions persisting despite the obvious decay and bruising of Bucharest's turbulent past.
Intrigued? It's a sign you need to visit Romania. See a mix of older and younger generations who've either lived through decades of communism and a brutal dictator or who've only ever known the post-communist years of freedom. Visit Romania to feel the tension between new and old, past and present. Most of all, visit Romania because it's genuine, full of character, and not yet whitewashed with the stamp of westernization.