As many of you know, I’m half-English and half-Romanian… by name and by nature. I’ve wanted to write this post for some time, to share my story and personal experiences with a truly unique country. I was born and raised in England and have visited Romania for over twenty years.
However, my story with Romania actually began some time before I was born…
My Granddad loved visiting countries which were a little ‘off the beaten track’. He explored Russia in his time and found Romania to be one of his favourite countries to visit with my family. They had started to visit Romania when my Mum was 14 and it was here where she met one of her best friends, Lily. They stayed in touch by writing to each other and after some years passed, my Mum returned. Upon one of her visits to see Lily, she met a cheeky chappy from Constanta. They fell in love and despite facing several ‘red tape’ obstacles she decided to move to Romania and became a travel rep in the seaside resort of Mamaia. My Mum moved at the age of 19 and lived under Ceausescu’s communism dictatorship – quite the difference from her life in London!
My Mum absolutely loved her job and became fluent in Romanian in quite a short amount of time. She met lots of new friends and spent her summer days on the beach and evenings partying at the local disco – like mother, like daughter some may say!
My Mum and Dad have quite a unique and rare story to how they got together. At the time when my Dad completed his National Service, they used to write to each other all the time. He even ended up walking 114km to Bucharest in the snow to meet my Mum from the airport and another time where he stood face to face with a bear in Poiana Brasov!
They have so many stories to tell and even though they have faced a number of challenging times over the years, I think for them having that crazy experience of love is a true blessing.
According to my parents, getting married was an obstacle in itself due to the laws and hurdles of interviews and paperwork. But they did it, and in the late 1980s they got married when England met Romania…
Fast forward to a couple of years later and along came a little bundle of joy… me!
At the grand old age of 13 months I made my first journey to Romania (with the help of my Mum & Dad, of course). According to them, I wouldn’t sit in my seat and instead decided to run up and down the aisles for the entire journey pretending to be an Air Hostess. I guess even from an early age, I showed signs of being overly excited about traveling there.
From learning to walk in the hotel’s reception and braving the Black Sea in my little pink boat, to being chased around the apartment by my Bunica as she tried to pierce my ears – these all mark my some of earliest memories. And for as long as I can remember, I know I’ve arrived when my grandma grabs my cheeks and squeezes them like there’s no tomorrow…
However there was a rather sobering moment of which I can remember fairly clearly. We visited the orphanage in the city when I was around 3 years old and although details are a bit hazy, the experience stuck with me. We gave out sweets and lollipops to the children and even at that age, it was a real eye-opener. I’m sure my memory has been fueled by other experiences and research, but the feeling was extremely poignant. The orphanage situation has been unmasked and conditions have improved, but that early memory definitely lit a spark of determination and desire for me to help.
I travelled to Romania by myself for the first time in my second year of University to volunteer in a School. I was really apprehensive about this and even though I had done the journey numerous times before I was so nervous! Traveling to Romania by myself definitely created a new chapter in my life which I honestly wasn’t expecting.
When I was 15 years old, I met my two friends, Marian and Costel, who were working as Beach Boys and we kicked up a bit of a friendship. I hadn’t really spoken to them in a few years but somehow we got back in touch and when I arrived in Constanta they came over to see me.
Looking back, it’s quite funny to see how everything just sort of fitted into place. From that moment on, we created so many fun and crazy memories. From teaching me how to drive a Dacia, to driving to Bulgaria at 2am for pizza and going on a spontaneous road-trip to Bușteni and Peleș Castle in Sinaia.
Exploring the mountains was amazing and it’s definitely one of my favourite things to do in Romania. The sheer beauty of the landscape and the amount of history is incredible. Marian, Costel, Freza and I arrived late at night in Bușteni and everything was just covered in a sheet of darkness. After celebrating our arrival with Petrom’s finest champagne, beer and croissants we called it a night and went to sleep like eager beavers awaiting the adventures that would take place the following day. In the morning we woke up and looked out of the balcony to this view…
… Little did I know, we were going to climb right up to the top to visit Mânăstirea Caraiman (An Orthodox monastery)! It was so nice and humbling to just take a step back and to enjoy the peace and tranquility of the monastery but also the mountains.
Aside from our little road-trip, the Spring break really opened my eyes to life in Constanta outside of summer. I found visiting the beach really weird as it was completely empty and we could actually drive the Dacia along the beach prominade! We also went to a few house parties outside of the city which was fairly different – I learnt how to play backgammon and actually won!
The Casino in Constanta
Working in the School was such a great experience and it was lovely to see the children get so excited at the prospect of learning. The children were so polite and their faces just lit up the classrooms. I had the opportunity to assist with their Spring production and the sheer amount of talent and enthusiasm was amazing to see. I’ll hopefully return one day in the future as it gave me a real positive experience of teaching.
After spending an unforgettable time in Romania earlier in the year, I returned over summer for a one month holiday. As well as doing the usual things like going to the mall, cramming onto the mini buses and having BBQs on the beach, we also continued to explore. My favourite memories from 2011’s summer break was definitely going on another spontaneous road-trip to Poiana Brașov and driving along the incredible Transfăgărăşan highway with our friends Georgiana and Marius.
The journey was so much fun and although the roads in Romania are rather dangerous, it was an experience not to be missed. After spending a night sleeping in a car park with a broken tent in freezing cold conditions, we explored Brasov and it was such a picturesque city. It was so eyeopening to see a completely different side to Romania compared to the beaches and party scene in Mamaia.
But of course… we brought the party scene to Brasov!
I had previously seen the Transfăgărăşan highway on Top Gear and felt pretty amazed at Clarkson and co’s journey. Never in a million years did I think we would take the same route – although unfortunately we were unable to use the same cars…!
Transfăgărăşan was beautiful, crazy and just full of energy – the good and nervous kind. Marius drove like a true pro along the winding swirls of the highway and the view of the valley was beyond breathtaking.
After rockin’ around on the roads and being greeted by a couple of donkeys, we stopped at Balea Lake for a bit of rest, relaxation and retail therapy.
We ended up staying in a charming little hotel named after Dracula! We bought some fresh bread, mititei, chicken and tomatoes and ended up making our own grill before spending the evening by the lake with plenty of mosquitos!
Our trip to Transfăgărăşan wasn’t complete without doing a bit of walking… and by that I mean climbing 1480 steps to the top of Cetatea Poenari (Poenari Castle). It was excruciatingly hot but after climbing we all felt such a sense of achievement… and the view wasn’t too bad either!
I had the best summer and looking back through all the photos, I would do it all again in the blink of a flash – but perhaps next time in one of Top Gear’s super-cars.
Growing up I wasn’t taught Romanian and so unfortunately I didn’t really get a chance to have a proper conversation with my Bunicu before he passed away. Even to this day, it really upsets me as from what my family have told me, he was such an interesting character. Unfortunately he got very ill and so my memories of him can only be looked back on with a deep sense of sorrow. But then again, I’ll never forget how he would play sea-saw for hours on end with me and the times when we would just chill.
The more that I think about my Bunica, the more I feel like I am just like her. We have the same sense of humour and temperament, plus a love of food and cooking. It feels like as the years go by, I’m actually becoming closer to her which is such a special and wholesome feeling.
My Bunica is one cool lady. She makes the best clatite, sarmale and ciorbă and always seems to be cooking come day or night. She’ll come with us to a restaurant and make a point of not wanting to order anything, but by the end of the night she’s eaten the entire menu. She’s afraid of the air conditioning and goes absurd when there’s a slight breeze in the apartment, which will inevitably result in her yelling “Marianna! The current… The current!” even though it is 40°C+. She made up a little tradition whereby she grabs and squeezes me to either wake me up or simply say “buna”. And let me not forget her recent antic of drinking whisky in the morning to help her ‘work up an appetite’ for the day…
I’ve also become a lot closer to my cousins Miruna, Alex and Ionut. Whether we chill at my Auntie’s restaurant or go to the beach, we always seem to be talking and catching up. They are all really strong people and that is something I admire so much. Looking back to see how much my Auntie and Uncle has achieved is really quite amazing. From turning a little box café with a few deck chairs outside, into two of the most popular restaurants in the city and a soon to be hotel, plus a gym and another hilltop restaurant – my Uncle, Auntie and cousins have shown true entrepreneurship through so many challenges, and it’s definitely something to be admired.
On Plonge – then and now…
The terrace at On Plonge Jr
Growing up in a relatively small town, I didn’t really have an opportunity to mix with people from all around the world. When I moved away for University, I made a point of mixing with people from Europe and beyond. I’ll never forget going to the first Romanian Society social – it was probably the most nervous I had ever felt. All my fears and anxieties were pushed aside as I met lots of lovely new friends.
From learning how to make Adriana’s special ciorba and drob to celebrating my first Martisor, Orthodox Easter and National Day – those moments have all been so memorable and I couldn’t have done it without my best of friends.
We’ve danced and sung the night away, enjoyed a little tipple of tuica with packs of seminte, and laughed and talked so much. I’ve made some true friends for life and I’m so grateful to have met them and for all that they do – te pup!
And now for the future? Well, I’d love to continue exploring all the different parts of Romania including Bucharest, Iasi, Sibiu and Transylvania as I think there is still so much left for me to see. As well as traveling, I would also like to volunteer with children charities to really give something back to the country. And on top of all that, I hope to finally be able to learn more of the language. I feel I’ve already picked up quite a bit through music, films and talking with my friends, but the time has come when I just really need to get practicing!
I hope you’ve enjoyed reading my story with Romania and that it’s inspired you to go and explore this unique country and to seek all the beauty, fun and love that it beholds. Check out a few of my favourite videos and pages, here, here, here and here to see a little bit more…
So here’s to Romania and all the amazingly crazy moments that I’ve experienced then, now and for the ones which have yet to happen – Noroc!
Looks like Max also wants to join!