Chasing Dracula

Navigating Rural Romania

Let’s visit Romania together!  We can go either by train or car, you decide.  Either way there is so much waiting for us to explore.  Romania is one of those magical places with hidden gems everywhere.  The countryside and Old Town squares will transport you to a different time in history.  Equally, the modernization of the larger cities, such as Bucharest, will welcome you to a fabulous time in a beautiful Eastern European corner of the world.

Let’s get started shall we!

Here in Romania, you have two options to see the countryside as mentioned above: by train or by car.  The trains here are very slow moving, unlike the high speed rails of other European countries, so just be aware of that.  Each country in Europe is unique when it comes to modes of transportation. Some are quicker to explore by train, others may be faster by auto.  It is all in perspective and what you want to see and do.

TIP #1:  If time is of the essence, it is much quicker to travel Romania by car.

If you want to see places like Poenari Castle, traveling by car is your most efficient mode.  If traveling by train, you will need to find a bus somewhere that will bring you near the citadel, and you will more than likely have a hike.  This is a very remote area at the foothills of the Carpathian Mountains.  I recommend renting a vehicle if you want to experience all that Romania has to offer.  Also, much of Romania is rural.  If you want to see how locals live and visit some of the small villages, traveling by car is your best bet.  That is how I opted to travel through Romania.  I had paid for a Ford Ka, a very tiny car, but was upgraded to a Ford Fiesta.  It was actually really nice and all that I needed for the few days I was in Romania.  Most vehicles in Europe are small and of the hatchback variety.

TIP #2:  It is also important to note, most rental cars in Europe are manual transmission, so you will need to know how to drive one or be a quick learner!

If driving a manual is absolutely out of the question, make sure you prearrange with the rental company long in advance.  They might be able to get you an automatic.  But… they might not.  Do not expect that they will have an automatic on the lot.  

Drone photo of Romanian Forest, Transfagarasan, Romania

  

TIP #3:  Just do your thing, follow the rules and speed limits, and people will go around you if they need to.

The roads in Romania, especially the Transylvania region, are two lane roads, one lane in each direction.  It is important to note that driving in Romania is an experience all in it’s own.  The drivers here are unique, unlike anything I’ve ever experienced, and the roads are in pretty bad shape.  Being from Ohio, I hardly noticed the deterioration of the roads. Harsh winters are not kind to blacktop, and I am very accustomed to this due to Ohio’s climate of winter and orange barrel season.  However, I could write an entire article just on the driving in Romania.  Since most roads out of the major cities are only two lanes, passing is encouraged by locals.  And wow do they pass! We have passing on U.S. roads of course, shown by the white dash in the road, but in Romania, passing occurs constantly and even on some curves where you can’t see what’s coming at you on the other side.  There is a sort of organized chaos here with everyone being very alert and almost as if ready for the worst to happen. Turn signals were used a lot more than they are the States, so you knew what crazy and daring stunt other driver’s were about to attempt.  It left you sometimes horrified thinking to yourself “Oh my God, they are really going to do that!”.  Even Semi-trucks get in to the action… 

Photo courtesy of SIphotography

 

But, it is just the norm here to constantly pass other drivers.  Defensive driving skills are in high usage.  It’s scary, yet for myself it is strangely exhilarating, however, I know most people will not enjoy the aggressive driving in Romania.  If you have ever ridden in the back of a taxi cab in New York City or Chicago…you understand the feeling.       

Speed Limit and city sign crossed out – Photo: April Swartz

Speed limits were followed more closely in towns.  Once you left a town and saw the speed limit sign with a line through it, it was a free for all.  It felt similar to my teenage years and youth of my twenties growing up in a small rural town in the U.S. where once you left the “township” you were no longer in the jurisdiction of the police. Only the county sheriff’s could stop you for speed limit infractions, and sheriff’s don’t usually deal with minute law transgressions such as speed.  Here in Romania, it has been documented of the existence of road rage, however, I did not experience any at all.  Only a lot of aggressive driving, but no one I saw appeared angry.  At night, drivers were equally as aggressive.  It’s dark with no street lights, and drivers are wanting to go fast. Don’t sweat it. They will go around you when given the chance.  I also saw a lot of log trucks at night that went very slow causing traffic to bunch up a bit through the winding rural communities.       

TIP #4:  When parallel parking… eh… don’t sweat it! Anything goes.

Although, there is a plus: if you’re not good at parallel parking, you will love Romania.  You don’t need to get your car all perfect in a straight line with other cars.  It doesn’t exist here.  If you see an opening on the side of the road, you just throw your car in there in any direction.  It doesn’t matter which direction you are facing: forwards, backwards, just plop it there.  I saw cars half way up on the grass. Cars on sidewalks. Cars facing the wrong way. Whatever it takes to get your car out of the road, you do it.    

Also, there are many stray dogs here… so just know you will see many dogs wandering the streets. Everywhere. 

TIP #5 Make sure you have a Vignette or be prepared to pay up if you get caught!

If you will be traveling by car to or from Romania, you will need to have a Vignette sticker for your car/rental.  Since I picked up a rental already in Romania, I did not have to worry about this, however, entering Hungary, I had to make sure to get a Hungarian one at the border.  If you are from the States, this may be completely new to you.  A Vignette is a sticker you put on the windshield that is similar to a toll road in the States.  But you CANNOT drive around without one anywhere in a country that requires one.  Each country has a different one, lasting a different period of time, and you need to get it at the border.  You cannot buy this in advance.  Some countries you can buy one for just a few days, costing just a few dollars.  Other countries, like Switzerland for example, require a full year Vignette which will cost you around $40 usd.  These can be obtained usually at a gas station near the border and at border crossings.

Lastly, there are also a fair amount of hitchhiker’s in Romania.  After pulling off the road into a small parking lot to take the following picture, I was approached by a group of young men looking to hitch a ride to the next town.  This is a common occurrence and mode of transport for many.

If you have further tips for driving in Romania, I welcome you to leave them in the comments below.   

 

 

Photo: April Swartz

April can be found reading, writing and curating anthropology material, and most often found wandering the halls of museums. She is an avid traveler having explored over 30 countries, and enjoys meeting the local people and eating traditional artisan dishes. April is the Director of Field Events for the Folk Fusion Organization, an organization who celebrates the contributions of cultures in society, and is one of Native Pulse's NP Explorers who has curated the "Chasing History" series.