Ha, ha, ha. Yeah, it's really called Sighisoara, and it is the supposed birthplace of Vlad Termes or Vlad the Impaler, aka Dracula. Mind you, with the overnight train we took from Budapest, we did get sore asses. Holy smokes, was it ever the most crowded 6 berth we have been in. It didn't help that everyone had a tonne of luggage and there was a crazy Romanian woman on the top bunk with a bag full of plants that had to be kept vertical at all times. I thought she was going to rip my arm off when I tried a little rearranging a la Tetris. I'm pretty good at that spatial stuff.
Anyway, the train left for Transylvania (yes that is where we are) with a full moon out and lots of spooky mist that lasted until morning. What a perfect setting to be coming to Transylvania with a full moon in the mist in October. It's downright scary! Sighi, as it is called on the backpacker trail, is a beautiful little sleepy town on the edge of the Romanian mountains. There is a wonderfully preserved little medieval town complete with astronomical clock tower and tiny cobblestone streets. There is a distinctly different feeling to Romania as compared to Hungary, probably due to the more tumultuous history here, and the fact that ascension into the EU has not yet occurred. This is scheduled for Jan 1, 2007. Pretty soon. Anyway, we get a lot more people staring at us with quizzical looks that are either "What the hell are you doing here?" or "Why the hell would you want to come here?"
One of the other things I noticed when first getting into the country on the train were the natural gas lines and natural gas systems installed. I guess I was a little pre disposed to do this because I kept thinking of my friend Mike who has been here many times working on gas installations, and he used to say how backward the place was. It was impossible to successfully build pipelines apparently because people kept cutting into them and stealing gas or oil or whatever was in the pipe. Well, Romania is certainly more backward than the rest of what we have seen in Eastern Europe so far, but it is also the most interesting place so far for exactly the same reasons.
When you think of this place, you think of the Soviets and the terrible reign of terror that was the megalomaniac, Nicolai Ceausescu. You can understand why development faltered here more than anywhere else in Europe. But with the joining of the EU just around the corner, the country is poised for major change. What a great time to visit! There is definitely a distinction between the old and young folk here. The older people behave as though we are some sort of aliens, from another planet, and interacting with them is always interesting, especially at the markets. The younger generation on the other hand knows nothing about the days of terror, and simply listens to techno all the time. The contrast is stark and real. We were walking around a high school today, and as the kids were let out, a cool radio station started blasting out dance tunes all over the place.
The culture is kind of cool though. Take the language. They used to use the Cyrillic alphabet like in Russia and Bulgaria, but now the language is a strange gypsy like mix of things. For example, you can say "Merci" for thank you, the pharmacy is spelled "farmacia" similar to Spanish or Italian, and to say yes, you do it in Russian, "Da". Kind of makes things interesting, especially since we are always a country or two behind on the language these days.
Money is funny here too. I think way back I was saying something about how countries with really bad inflation ought to revalue their currency and just get rid of all the zeroes for psychological reasons. Well, Romania is doing just that. Problem is, both types of currency are in circulation right now during the transition and they are both called the same thing. So, a 50,000 Lei note is worth the same thing as a 5 Lei note. You really have to watch all the transactions so you don't get screwed.
Speaking of screwed, this is another country with an unfortunate name for a currency, at least in English. There was the Vietnamese Dong, but the Lei is also funny. Take for example the little kid that walked up to Kristine in the street and said "Give me one Lei!" Looking puzzled, Kristine turned to me and said "I usually like my men a lot older and certainly taller than this little fellow..." I was impressed. She usually doesn't make financial type jokes, but it was a good one and it made me laugh :P I think the kid didn't get it though. Ha, ha "Didn't get it" Get it? I kill myself sometimes...
Anyway, we are off to Brasov tomorrow, and I just want Mike to know...Romania seems pretty cool to me. Perhaps not doing business makes the difference.