Romania: Is it on Your Bucket List Too?
A Bucket-list Destination In the Company of Women
By Max Hartshorne
Some places live more in old legends than in modern day travel reality.
A place like Romania, for example, is best known for a 15th century vampire named Dracula in the Transylvania region than for its terrifying recent political past, and current relative prosperity. Romania for many people is a place they've never been, and with a challenging language barrier, they may never see.
But Sights and Soul Travel can take you there, in the company of other women travelers, with local guides and an itinerary that will take you to the small villages and cultural events that will bring Romania into focus.
All Women Trip to Romania
We talked to several women who joined Sights and Soul Travel's Romania trip last August, and asked them about the highlights as well as any advice they'd impart to fellow woman travelers.
For some, traveling in an all-women group might be a new experience. For others, like most of Sights and Soul's travelers, it's another familiar go-round with their go-to travel company, for a variety of good reasons.
Becky Edwards, a graphic designer and Romania tour leader from Fort Worth Texas, snapped some of these great photos during her Romania trip in August 2016, and said that this was one of many Sights and Soul trips she's taken over the years.
"Yes, I definitely formed a bond with the travelers. Being an all-woman tour gives it a comfort level you don’t get on a mixed tour.
I find that even though the travelers come from different backgrounds, locations, and careers, and are all different ages, we all have the same wanderlust and sense of adventure.
This gives us a common bond from the very beginning."
Becky said Romania surprised her a bit. "It was more beautiful. It’s definitely not a place that any of my family or friends had ever been. It was on my bucket list for a long time, though. I’m very interested in locations that are off the beaten path with beautiful scenery."
What to See in Romania
The Sights and Soul trip in early August begins in the city of Cluj-Napoca, and takes in a wide arc of the countryside and the cities, concluding 12 days later in the capital, Bucharest.
Here is how the company's owner, Yolanta Barnes, describes Romania, and why she thinks it's a great addition to the trip roster.
"What you will notice most when visiting this southeastern European country is its soul and the authenticity of the experiences, as you are drawn into the circle and up to the table and made a part of the community. You're not just a visitor here, you are welcome and made to be a part of the experience.
Like other travelers who have visited eastern European countries, often the highlights are in the villages, not the big cities.
"Romania's heart is in its magnificent countryside, in the surreal mountain landscapes dotted with world-class architectural and artistic marvels. Its heart is in the cultural vivacity and history of the people, in isolated, picturesque villages adhering to ancient traditions and beliefs, and of course in the mouthwatering food and wine.
With a rich natural and cultural diversity, the region is a delight for the senses. And with all the exclusive experiences we have planned for this tour, we know for sure that it will become a highlight of your life.
Saxon merchants arrived here in the 12th century to fortify and defend the eastern borders of the region which at that time were controlled by the Hungarian Kingdom.
They founded many settlements, among them the present-day cities of Sighisoara, Brasov, Sibiu, and Cluj-Napoca, which all boast perfectly preserved architecture."
Ten Trips with Sights and Soul
Kenda Harrison is a nurse practitioner in private practice in Shelbyville, TN. She is a Sights and Soul veteran traveler--having taken more than 10 trips with the company over the years. Often the women on these trips are returning for the first of many woman-only adventures.
"I have made many friends on Sights and Soul trips, most of whom I have stayed in touch with between adventures.
While on trips, travelers often discuss what future adventures they are interested in, and plan their next trips together.
"[It] definitely it makes a difference that S & S are women’s only trips. On trips that included couples, etc, often someone is left out or finds themselves as the third wheel.
On S&S trips the leader always makes sure everyone is included, " she said in an interview.
A Blank Slate
Like Becky Edwards, Romania was a blank slate for Kenda. "I did not know anyone who had ever been to Romania before. It was a mysterious destination rich in history and folklore. It was as I expected it to be."
Part of the fun of travel is exploring places that are unfamiliar, and ones that everyone you meet hasn't already seen. This ancient land definitely fits into that category, these travelers say.
I have read that Romania is a relatively poor country, did you find the accommodations comfortable?
Kenda said, "I didn’t find it to be a poor country. They are pulling out of the results of communism and their horrible dictator but, they have a very strong economy and people seem to be doing well. The food was very good and I felt the accommodations were good as well."
Romanian cuisine borrows heavily from the many nations on its borders, including Turkey. One of the most common meals is the mămăligă, a type of polenta, served on its own or as an accompaniment.
Pork is the main meat used in Romanian cuisine, but also beef is consumed and lamb and fresh-water fish are also often found on the menu.
The Maramures Area
I asked Kendra about the August trip's highlight. "I really enjoyed the Maramures area in the country's far north. It was a step back in time when life was simpler. They were hard workers but still farmed as they did many years ago.
They cling to their customs and seemed to be a very happy people. The landscape was beautiful. Bucovina and its painted monasteries was amazing as well."
Out of all the activities during the 12-day trip, which stood out as being the most fun and which one did you find yourself sharing with friends and family more than others?
Visiting a Gypsy Family
Kenda replied: "I really enjoyed visiting with the Gypsy family. I was so honored that they let us into their home and allowed us to learn about their lives. Gypsies normally don’t do this and I felt like this was such a rare opportunity that I treasured.
We might “do” life differently but, in the end, we all want the same things out of life. For our children to be happy and healthy, to be loved and feel secure."
To me, this is what travel is all about. Opening my eyes to other cultures, people and the way they live.
What advice would you give to a woman reading the article and considering going on their next trip to Romania in August?
Would you give it a good recommendation? "I would definitely give it a good recommendation, Kendra said. Absolutely! Go now before the destination is “discovered”.
Becky added, "Don’t expect everything to be the same as home. Service in the restaurants will be slower, things are going to be more relaxed.
Things might not be as shiny and new but, isn’t this what travel is all about? If we wanted things to be just like they are at home, what is the benefit of travel?"
View the entire itinerary of this woman-only trip to Romania with Sights and Soul. August 4-15, 2017.
Sights and Soul is a GoNOMAD advertiser, but all of the opinions expressed are the writer's own.
Max Hartshorne has been the editor and publisher of GoNOMAD Travel in South Deerfield Mass since 2002. He worked for newspapers and other sales positions for 23 years until he finally got what he wanted, and became the editor at GoNOMAD. He travels regularly, enjoys publishing new writers, and watching his grandchildren grow up.