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Photo Of The Day: Proud To Be Romanian

Today is Independence Day in Romania, a country most known for the Transylvania region and its implied ties to the legend of Dracula. It’s often overlooked in a traveler’s typical European Grand Tour, even among eastern European countries. If you have the time to explore, you’ll find absolutely gorgeous country villages, cheap and good-quality wine and beer, and evidently, bad ass old men. From the Flickr archives, today’s Photo of the Day by Jon Rawlinson captures five cool Romanians, just shooting the breeze on a park bench. Some commenters have noted the men look like they could be in organized crime, but I’d prefer to just say they are proud to be Romanian and it shows.

If you want to learn more about Romania, you can read the excellent My Bloody Romania series with Lonely Planet author and Romania expert Leif Pettersen.

Add your travel photos to the Gadling Flickr pool to be chosen for a Photo of the Day, or share with us on Instagram using #gadling AND mentioning @gadlingtravel.

[Photo credit: Flickr user Jon Rawlinson]

Romania may send witches to jail if predictions don’t come true

Yes, we’re aware it’s closer to Valentine’s Day than Halloween, but the news that Romania has decided to impose even tougher regulations on its witches (yes, witches) is generating ’round the globe chatter.

Just one month after authorities began to impose a tax on their trade, the country’s witches and soothsayers are fighting against a new bill that will impose a fine and perhaps even jail time if predictions don’t come true.

In January, the government changed labor laws to officially recognize witchcraft as a taxable profession, prompting angry witches to dump poisonous mandrake into the Danube in an attempt to put a hex on them. The new bill would also require witches to have a permit, to provide their customers with receipts and bar them from practicing near schools and churches.

The taxes, imposed as a way to fight tax evasion and help the recession-strapped country generate additional income, are drawing understandable ire from the country’s witches. The country was the recipient of a $27 billion bailout from the International Montetary Fund in 2009.

“They can’t condemn witches, they should condemn the cards,” Queen Witch Bratara Buzea told The Associated Press.

“The government doesn’t have real solutions, so it invents problems,” Stelian Tanase, a well-known Romanian political commentator told The Associated Press. “This is the government that this country deserves.”

We think the real problem is recognizing “witch” as a legal profession.

[Flickr via access.denied]

Amazing Race 14: Romania is simply gorgeous

Going to Bucharest, Romania from Salzburg, Austria doesn’t seem to be that difficult–unless you’re Tammy & Victor who were on the first flight out–that plane had engine troubles and returned to the airport–or Brad & Victoria who decided to take a gamble and fly to Amsterdam for an earlier flight possibility. Instead, they missed their connection. For everyone else, the trip was smooth.

What I noticed during this episode of Amazing Race 14 was that as teams criss-crossed each other, often ending up at the same place at the same time, they seemed to enjoy each other’s company. In my opinion, this is making this season’s race more fun to watch. I mean, my goodness, who wants crabbing in Salzburg? This episode also was a chance to take in Romania’s beauty while seeing how the show would tie in Romanian themes.

When the teams left Salzburg, they headed to Munich on the train with the goal of flying to Bucharest. The train trip was a piece of cake. Except for Victor & Tammy and Brad & Victoria, the flight was smooth as well. Because of their flight’s engine trouble, Victor & Tammy ended up on the second plane instead of being the only team on the first plane out.

Once in Bucharest, the first stop was the gymnastics hall where Olympic gold medalist Nadia Comaneci trained. Here one member from each team donned a leotard to learn parts to three routines: balance beam, parallel bars and floor exercises. Tammy had a time of it. Poor girl. She couldn’t do a cartwheel if she tried for a hundred years. Her somersaults weren’t much better. Luckily, she didn’t have to be perfect. I sympathized. I can’t even touch my toes. Never have been able to and never will.

One of Tammy’s problems was that she was so focused on how their first place status was gone that she wasn’t able to concentrate. As a metaphor for life, it’s hard to stay balanced if you’re not balanced.

After the gymnastics routine, it was off by train to Brasov, the town where the castle made famous by Dracula is located.

In Brasov, at Biserica Neagra, also called the Black Church, the teams found the clue to their next task. There were two from which to choose. One of tasks involved loading up a bunch of miscellaneous belongings, mostly junk, on a gypsy cart and hauling it to another location to unload it. The other task, hauling a coffin downhill and unlocking the chains to open it in order to get to the old wooden framed tablets inside, was at the grounds of Bran Castle of Dracula fame. To complete this task, each tablet was impaled Dracula-style on a stake in order to find the next clue. As the wooden tablets were impaled, blood spurted out which made for an unusual exercise.

At the gypsy settlement, while the teams struggled with their loads, gypsies looked on or did tasks similar to what one might see in a circus. Some played whimsical instruments. Gypsy life sure looks like fun. At least it does if the Amazing Race helps organize it.

The gypsy cart loading was a bit problematic for Mel & Mike because of Mel’s groin injury and the fact that the goods included part of a car and huge tires. But this father and son duo kept their good humor which helped.

Amanda & Cris had a minor setback when they couldn’t find the fanny pack with all their money and passports, but instead of freaking out too badly, they found it where they had unloaded their cart. One reason they were able to find it so quickly was Amanda’s calm demeanor. While Chris freaked out, Amanda said things like, “We’ll find it.” This helped maintain focus.

Victor & Tammy continued to have issues that kept them falling behind because of their interpersonal dynamics. Victor took them up the mountain in search for the coffins on the wrong path. No matter how much Tammy told them they were going the wrong way, he wouldn’t listen. Their game turned into Victor’s power struggle. Eventually he stopped pushing against reason and they headed back down the mountain to find the right trail. Unfortunately, one of the keys to the coffin came off as they dragged it, but Tammy kept calm giving them enough focus to find the key in the leaves. If I were this pair, I’d feel badly that a camera person was filming my every move.

This time it was Mike & Mel to arrive at the Pit Stop first. Their first place win granted them a trip to Costa Rica.

Brad & Victoria’s side trip to Amsterdam cost them. Brad, covered in red goo from impaling the tablets, and Victoria who was still smiling even though it was dark, took their elimination in good spirits. When they lost, I was thinking “You guys are going to love Thailand.” Ko Samui is the site of this year’s Elimination Station. Of course, it would be more enjoyable without having to lose a race in order to get there.

This episode made Romania look like an accessible and beautiful place to visit. An afternoon of wandering along cobblestone streets edged with architecturally interesting buildings would make for a visual treat. The mountains look perfect for hiking, particularly if you’re not on a race. Plus, The Pit Stop was at Villa Panoramic overlooking the castle. Not too shabby.

Photos from Amazing Race Website.

Pickpockets in Copenhagen: Gadling blogger’s victim story. Part 2. Was it Romanians?

I can still see the pocket of my daypack gaping open right before I got that panicked, sinking feeling. It was a feeling that I couldn’t quite believe I was having. Up to that point, my trip to Denmark though Amsterdam had happened without a hitch, and I had yet to do the shopping I had planned.

The afternoon that had started out promising had the potential to turn out lousy. (see previous pickpocket post)

My experience of having my wallet lifted right out of a pocket of my daypack is not uncommon, as I have since found out. On Wednesday, the day after I returned to the U.S. with less money than I counted on having–thus way less shopping, my Danish friend emailed me with recent news about pickpockets in Denmark.

She heard on the television news that over the last three weeks, the police have arrested 61 Romanian pickpockets in Copenhagen. My friend wrote that the increase of pickpocketing is due to the Christmas season.

While I was looking for a link to an article on this particular news item, I found several others. While browsing these stories, I’ve discovered a couple of details to pass on to folks heading to Copenhagen. They can be also be applied to any major city such as Amsterdam where Whistling in the Dark’s photo was taken.

There are hot spots in Copenhagen where diligence could save you from becoming a victim. Copenhagen Central Station, Strøget, a pedestrian walking street, and a McDonald’s near the entrance of Tivoli Gardens were places people have been robbed. Other travel warning sites said to be on the lookout on any pedestrian street. Copenhagen has several.

I was in the Tiger store nearest Norreport Station when I noticed the wallet missing. Norreport has 90,000 people passing through each day, so you can imagine how many people from there must head to the walking street where Tiger is located. The store was quite crowded on the first floor, and I was jostled more than once. Because I was shopping, I wasn’t focused on my bag.

The fact that I didn’t notice my wallet gone until I went to pay for my merchandise is not an uncommon story. Read Virtual Tourist, and for details of some of the other tales of woe. There is also a warning about pickpockets in Copenhagen at Worldworx.

In my sleuthing, I also found this snippet in the Copenhagen Post from this past August. The brief blurb mentions 700 Romanian pickpockets who are currently operating in Copenhagen.

Except, if my friend is correct, subtract 61 from that number. Although, the total could have increased in the last few months, so perhaps you should add a few.. The pickpocket problem, according the article, has been exacerbated because of open borders due to the EU free movement regulations.

Reading these details does help me feel a bit better. I should have been more careful, but at least I have company.

When I traveled through Amsterdam last week at the beginning of my trip, I had pickpockets in mind. Thus, my credit card, traveler’s checks, cash, and passport were hidden away in a pouch around my neck. The pouch was under my shirt and under my jacket–a bit cumbersome but effective.

By the last day in Denmark, I had my money and my credit card back in my wallet. Stupid move. My driver’s license and passport were in another location in the main section of my day pack, along with my one remaining $20 traveler’s check.

My what could have been a lousy day was saved by the Danish police who helped me stop my VISA card with absolutely no hassle, and by my generous friend who gave me money so that the good times could continue.

Death of an anachronism: Horse carts banned from Romanian roadways

There is nothing more bucolic when traveling in far off lands than to share the roadway with a horse and cart. When I first came across this scene somewhere in Romania in the early 1990s, it was as though I had traveled back in time. I had no idea that people in Europe still traveled in such a style in the 20th century.

Truth be told, they still do today–but at least not in Romania anymore. A new law prohibits horses and carts from the country’s main arteries. The reason is that they are responsible for 10% of the nation’s auto accidents.

I witnessed this firsthand when I was hitchhiking through Romania in 1991. A Hungarian family that picked me up had hit a horse just a few miles earlier. They would hit another one a week later when leaving the country.

The problem with the new law, however, is that the horse and cart are still a primary form of transport for the country folk who live outside of the larger cities. In fact, for many Romanians it’s their only form of transport. That explains why there are 740,000 horse carts registered in Romania according to a recent BBC article.

While such a law will certainly decrease the amount of accidents on the road, it’s going to make life a whole lot harder for the struggling populace. And, more selfishly from a travel perspective, I will be sad to see the anachronistic horse-cart-and-Mercedes spectacle disappear from the roadways of Romania.

Related: My Bloody Romania

(Photo by cashewnuts via Flickr)