Romania

CITY OVER COLD WATERS

As a rule, Bulgarians are not interested in Romania. They would rather go south, with Greece and Turkey being their favourites especially in summer time. Yet, Bulgaria's northern neighbour, which is about three times the size of Bulgaria, holds a plethora of sites and experiences, many of them totally unknown to Bulgarians, that can provide fodder for multiple and very rewarding trips.

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ROUND BLACK SEA IN 3 VAGABONDS PART 2: THE NATURE

What do you need to make a sea? In the case of the Black Sea, you take three tectonic plates between Europe and Asia that clash, divide and subside under the pressure of volcanic activity for several million years, and let rivers and rains fill the gaps. You then add a narrow strait to connect the water basin to the Mediterranean. The end result is a sea with low salinity whose shores and currents still reflect its geological past: on maps and in aerial photographs the two ancient basins that made the current Black Sea are still clearly discernible, divided by a pointy end: the Crimea.

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ROUND BLACK SEA IN 3 VAGABONDS. PART 1: THE HISTORY

It encompasses six countries, with wide rivers, majestic mountains and splendid beaches, and the remains of ancient civilisations and modern developments. Peopled with adherents of the three Abrahamic religions, and redolent of times of splendour, confrontation and tragedy, the shores of the Black Sea combine different nations, geographic and climatic features, and history. In a series of three articles, we will cover the most exiting sites in a region that is still underexplored by Western travellers. We begin with the history of the Black Sea.

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THE LAND OF DRACULA

Dracula, Bram Stoker's notorious creation, is one of Romania's most recognisable symbols and, since the 2000s, the country has been liberally cashing in on this. Most of the visitors obviously flock to the atmospheric Bran Castle, in Transylvania, the supposed lair of the vampire.

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ROMANIA'S FORTIFIED CHURCHES

They define the Transylvanian landscape as much as the thick forests of the Carpathians, and are so ubiquitous that one stops paying particular attention to them after visiting the most popular ones, including the supposed Dracula haunt at Bran Castle and atmospheric Sighişoara.

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IAŞI SURPRISES

Iaşi is one of Romania's greatest, and most pleasant, surprises. Far from popular tourist destinations like Bucharest and the Carpathian mountains, the city is known to Romanians as the heart of their national culture and educational system, but it remains mostly unknown to foreign visitors. The fact that it is close to the border with Moldova, an even lesser known European country, does not help Iaşi's popularity.

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PAINTED CHURCHES OF BUKOVINA

The crowd fills the churchyard, candles flicker in the dark, and the air vibrates with the voices of men proclaiming "Christ is risen!". Midnight has just passed, but those gathered at Humor Monastery are in no hurry to leave. They kiss the hand of the priest, light their candles from his, and exchange the customary Easter greetings with their friends, relatives and neighbours.

Then they leave the monastery, strolling along the alley which in daytime is packed with the stalls of souvenir sellers. They cross the road and enter the cemetery of Humor village.

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JAIL AT LAND'S END

Preventing prison breaks have always been a top priority for authorities, but few solved the problem so efficiently as Socialist Romania in the first years of Stalinism. Opponents of the regime were sent to Sighetu Marmației, on the banks of the Tisa River, in the northwest of Romania. On the other side of the border, only 2 km away, was the USSR, the unlikeliest place one would try to escape to.

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BRAŞOV

In a twist of historical irony, probably the best way to encounter unchanged European medieval architecture is to visit Romania. There, guarded by the Carpathian Mountains, lies Transylvania, the home of fictional Dracula and of what used to be a significant German population. The Saxons arrived and settled here in the Middle Ages at the invitation of the Hungarian kings, and spent the next several centuries building fortified cities, Gothic cathedrals and Baroque mansions. They developed trade and industry in this rich land.
 


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CONSTANTA, ROMANIA

All the tourist traffic in Constanta, on the Romanian Black Sea coast, revolves around the two focal points of the "historical peninsula" – the statue of Ovid at its beginning and the casino at its tip. Between them is everything worthy of notice in this otherwise drab post-Communist city. Here are the History Museum and the Roman Mosaics Building, the great Art Nouveau Mahmudiye Mosque, several exquisite churches and some traces of ancient structures, and dozens of now derelict mansions that in various degrees evoke pre-Communist glories.

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A TALE OF SEVEN CASTLES

When Jonathan Harker entered the forests of Transylvania, where the castle of Count Dracula stands, he noticed that the people there spoke German. "I found my smattering of German very useful here. Indeed, I couldn't have got on without it." At the end of the 19th Century, when Irishman Bram Stoker wrote his famous novel, this would have been no surprise.

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