Romania Tourist Information and Tips
The national currency of Romania is the leu (plural lei ), which, literally translated, also means lion in Romanian. The leu is divided into 100 bani (singular ban ). On July 1st 2005, the new leu (code RON ) replaced the old leu (code ROL ) at a rate of 10000 old lei for one new leu. As of the beginning of 2007, old ROL banknotes and coins are no longer legal tender but can still be exchanged at the National Bank and their affiliated offices.
Coins are issued in 1 (gold), 5 (copper), 10 (silver), and 50 (gold) bani denominations, but 1 ban coins are rare. Banknotes come in denominations of 1 (green), 5 (purple), 10 (red), 50 (yellow), 100 (blue), 200 (brown), and 500 (blue and purple) lei denominations, are made of polymer plastic, and, except for the 200 lei, correspond to a euro banknote in size. However, 200 and 500 lei banknotes are not common.
Don't expect Romania to be a cheap travel destination! Inflation has struck Romania in many places, and some prices are as high or higher than those in Western Europe, but this is often reserved to luxuries, accommodation, technology, and, to an extent, restaurants. However, food and transport remain relatively cheap (but more expensive than in other countries in her region), as does general shopping, especially in markets and outside the capital, Bucharest. Bucharest, as with every capital in the world, is more expensive than the national norm, particularly in the city centre. In the past 2-3 years, Bucharest has become increasingly expensive, and it is expected to do so for some years.
Supermarkets & convenience stores
The best places to shop for food are farmers' markets. Food sold here is brought fresh from the country, and, by buying it, you are both supporting local farmers and consuming something that it fresh and in the overwhelming majority of the cases natural and organic - in many cases, what you are buying today has been picked freshly yesterday from the countryside. You also get the experience of buying food produced as part of an old and living tradition that has not yet been through the forgetting-and-rediscovery process behind much "traditional" and "natural" food in other industrialized countries. Recently, the food in the markets is sold by intermediaries, who buy cheaply from farmers and sell products, tripling the price. However, this is illegal, and, in many cases, farmers' markets now require that farmers show a specially designated certificate in order to rent a stall.
However, shopping in supermarkets can be expensive, and not half as fun, as you don't have the chance to haggle. Despite this, all Romanian supermarkets sell products of EU standards, and usually make for a very quiet, clean and white shopping experience that can best be likened to duty free shopping in airports.
Remember, however, to not confuse supermarkets with neighbourhood grocery stores called 'alimentara' - nowadays, 'alimentara' also refers to small supermarkets. The stores are dim, old Communist-era shops that can be cheaper. These shops, which can best be compared to British cornershops, may be convenient if living in the suburbs or in smaller towns. But, despite their seemingly poorer appearance, they sell good-quality food, and besides, most of them have been renovated anyway to the point that they are still not as aesthetically-pleasing as supermarkets but just as wide-ranging, modern and functional. In 'alimentara', expect strange systems of payment or selection: you may not be able to take items off of the shelf yourself, or one person may tally up your total before another handles the cash, etc. Many locals however actually prefer these establishments, since they offer a personal touch, with many salespeople remembering the preferences of each buyer, and catering specifically for their needs.
Opening hours are extremely predictable and amazingly long. Many shops will have a "non-stop" sign - meaning they are open 24 hours, 7 days a week. Shops that are not open 24 hours are usually open 8 AM - 10/11 PM, with some keeping open in summer until 2 or 3 AM. Supermarkets and Hypermarkets are open 8 AM - 10/11 PM as well, except during some days before Easter and Christmas, when they remain open through the night. Pharmacies and specialized shops are usually open 9 AM - 8/9 PM, sometimes even later while farmers' markets usually open their doors at 7 AM and close at 5 or 6 PM.
The countryside fair
A traditional countryside shopping is the weekly fair (targ, balci or obor). Usually held on Sunday, everything that can be sold or bought is available - from live animals being traded amongst farmers (they were the original reason why fairs were opened centuries ago) to clothes, vegetables, and sometimes even second hand cars or tractors. Such fairs are hectic, with haggling going on, with music and dancing events, amusement rides and fast food stalls offering sausages, "mititei" and charcoal-grilled steaks amongst the many buyers and sellers. In certain regions, it is tradition to attend after some important religious event (for example after St. Mary's Day in Oltenia), making them huge community events bringing together thousands of people from nearby villages. Such fairs are amazingly colorful - and for many a taste of how life was centuries ago. One such countryside fair (although definitely NOT in the countryside) is the Obor fair in Bucharest - in an empty space right in the middle of the city, this fair has been going on daily for more than three centuries.
Romanian food is distinct yet familiar to most people, being a mixture of Oriental, Austrian and French flavours, but it has some unique elements. The local dishes are the delicious sarmale , mamaliga (polenta), bulz (traditional roasted polenta, filled with at least two kinds of cheeses, bacon and sour cream), friptura (steak), salata boef (finely chopped cooked veggies and meat salad, usually topped with mayo and decorated with tomatoes and parsley), zacusca (a yummy, rich salsa-like dip produced in the fall) as well as tocana (a kind of stew), tochitura (an assortment of fried meats, and traditional sausages, in a special sauce, served with polenta and fried eggs), mici (a kind of spicy sausage, but only the meat, without the casings, always cooked on a barbecue). Other dishes include a burger bun with a slice of ham, a slice of cheese and a layer of French fries, ciorba de burta (white sour tripe soup), ciorba taraneasca (a red sour soup, akin to bors without the beet root and using instead fermented wheat bran, with lots of vegetables), Dobrogean or Bulgarian salads (a mix of onions, lettuce, tomatoes, cheese, white sauce and ham), onion salad - diced onion served in a dish, tomato salad - diced tomato with cheese, pig skin - boiled and sometimes in stew, and drob (haggies) - a casserole made from lamb or pork liver and kidneys. Local eclectic dishes include cow tongue, sheep brain (Easter), caviar, chicken and pork liver, pickled green tomatoes and pickled watermelon.
Traditional desserts include pasca (a chocolate or cheese pie produced only after Easter), saratele (salty sticks), pandispan (literally means spanish bread; a cake filled with sour cherries), and cozonac (a special cake bread baked for Christmas or Easter). Bread (without butter) comes with almost every meal and dill is quite common as a flavoring. Garlic is omnipresent, both raw, and in special sauces ( mujdei is the traditional sauce, made of garlic, olive oil and spices), as are onions.
Romania has a long tradition of making wine (more than 2000 years of wine-making are recorded), in fact Romania is the 12th (2005) world producer of wine, the best wineries being Murfatlar, Cotnari, Dragasani, Bohotin, etc. Its quality is very good and the price is reasonably cheap: expect to pay 10-30 RON for a bottle of Romanian wine (about ˆ3 - ˆ8.5). Several people in touristic areas make their own wine and sell it directly. Anywhere you want to buy it, it is sold only in bottles of about 75 cl, so if you want to try it you have to buy the whole bottle.
Like all the countries with a strong Latin background, Romania has a long and diffused tradition of brewing beer, but nowadays beer is very widespread (even more so than wine) and rather cheap compared to other countries. Avoid beers in plastic PET containers, and go for beers in glass bottles or cans. Most of the international brands are brewed in Romania under a license, so they taste quite different than in Western Europe. Some beers made under licence are still good - Heineken, Pilsner Urquell, Peroni. You can easily realize whether a beer has been brewed in Romania or abroad and then imported simply looking at the price: imported beers are much more expensive than the Romanian ones (A Corona, for example, may be 12 RON while a Timisoreana, Ursus or Bergenbier of a full 1/2 litre size will be 2-4 RON. Some of the common lagers you may find around are quite tasteless, but there are some good brewers. Ursus produces two tasteful beers, its lager is quite good and its dark beer ( bere neagra ), Ursus Black, is a strong fruity sweet beer, similar to a dark Czech beer. Silva produces bitter beers, both its Silva original pils and its Silva dark leave a bitter aftertaste in your mouth. Bergenbier and Timisoreana are quite good. All the other lager beers you may find, such as Gambrinus, Bucegi or Postavaru are tasteless (in some consumer's opinion).Ciuc is a very decent and affordable pilsner , now owned by Heineken. Expect to pay around 2-3 RON (ˆ0.6-ˆ0.8) for a bottle of beer in the supermarket and sightly more in a pub.
The strongest alcohol is palinca , with roughly 60 percent pure alcohol and is traditional to Transylvania, the next is tuica (a type of brandy made from plums - the more quality, traditional version - but also apricots, wine-making leftovers, or basically anything else - an urban legend even claims you can brew a certain kind of winter jackets (pufoaica) to tuica), but this is sooner a proof of Romanian humour. Strength of tuica is approximately 40-50 percent. The best tuica is made from plums, and is traditional to the Pitesti area. Strong alcohol is quite cheap, with a bottle of vodka starting off between 10 RON and 50 RON. A Transylvanian speciality is the 75 percent blueberry and sweet cherry palinca (palinca intoarsa de cirese negre better known as visinata ) - but is usually kept by locals for celebrations, and may be hard to find.
Finding an accommodation in Romania is very easy, for any price. In all the touristic places, as soon as you get to the train station several people will come to you asking whether you need an accommodation, or you can book it in advance. Those people welcoming you at the station often speak English, French and Italian. Moreover, while walking on the street, you will often find cazare on the houses, that means they will rent you a room in their own house. You'd better book an accommodation in the big cities (Bucharest, Cluj-Napoca, Brasov and Iasi), since it'll be quite hard to wander around looking for a place to sleep, but anywhere else you won't find any problem at all.
Rural tourism is relatively well developed in Romania. There is a national association of rural guesthouses owners, ANTREC who offer accommodations in over 900 localities throughout the country.
The oldest Romanian university is the University of Iasi, founded in 1860 (the medieval schools in Bucharest and Iasi are not considered universities). Bucharest, Iasi and Cluj are considered to be the largest and most prestigious university centres, with newer centres of education like Timisoara, Craiova and Galati emerging as cities with an increasingly larger student population. If coming with a mobility grant (Erasmus/Socrates or similar), it is very important to go to the International Office of the Romanian University as soon as possible, as Romanian paperwork tends to be quite impressive and may take some time to be processed. Also, if planning to study in Romania, it is highly recommended to find your own accommodation - most universities do not provide any accommodation, and if they do provide accommodation, the conditions offered are downright terrible (3-4 persons sharing a room, with a corridor of 50 or more sharing the showers and toilets is not unheard of - this happens since university-offered accommodation is typically next to free (15-20 ˆ per month) for Romanians, and you usually get what you pay for).
Emergency phone numbers
Romania uses the pan-European standard number 112 for all emergency calls since December 2004. Therefore, this is the only number you will need to remember for police, ambulance and the fire department.