Romania isn't the first place that springs to mind when musing about where to go for the next annual holiday. Often perceived within the old Communist stereotypes—grey, dull and poverty-stricken—Romania has an image that is depressing. Blue Guide Romania, however, provides a cultural perspective and an insight into Romania that is beyond the norm.
Romania is best known for the Communist dictator Nicolae Ceauşescu, the orphanages and Vlad Ţepeş, otherwise known as Vlad the Impaler, upon whom Bram Stoker is claimed to have based his famous mythical character Dracula. Each of these stereotypes underpins common misconceptions about Romania.
The legacy of the Ceauşescu years
Mention of the Ceauşescu era does indeed bring to mind images of cities with towering blocks, bread queues, polluting industrial factories and the isolation of sick, disabled and orphaned children from the rest of society. Ceauşescu was known to relish glamour and style, always wanting to impress by having the biggest and best of everything. It was this tendency that led to the construction of the largest building in Europe, "Ceauşescu's Palace," which remains incomplete. With Ceauşescu, big was beautiful.
The legacy of the Ceauşescu years is extensive, fascinating and ugly. To those on the other side of the Iron Curtain, Ceauşescu was someone mysterious, slightly dark and menacing. This perception of Romania is compounded by the story of Dracula, the bloodsucking vampire from Transylvania: the unknown land on the other side of Europe.
Blue Guide Romania takes these common perceptions and builds upon them, pulling the reader and traveller further into the mysteries and realities of the past. Romania has a rich history, having experienced the contrasts of diverse rulers, including the ancient Dacians, the Romans, the Ottomans and the Hapsburgs. Unsurprisingly, this has left a diverse ethnic imprint on the Romanian landscape and culture. The Blue Guide explores this diversity in a lively, clear and concise manner that cannot fail to inspire greater exploration.
Rather than providing the same stereotypical overview found in many other guides, the Blue Guide gives both useful travel information and descriptive analysis of the country's history. Romania can seem daunting to the novice, and this book helps the traveller overcome initial concerns through its explanations of basic language terms, Romanian etiquette and how to go about the everyday tasks that one wouldn't normally need to think about. In addition, the guide provides invaluable practical information on travel, costs, safety, eating out and accommodation for a range of budgets. It caters to all needs, from finding out where to buy stamps to exploring the history of the fourteenth-century wooden churches of Maramureş on the Ukrainian border.Unspoilt beauty
Maramureş, which was spared from the large-scale industrialisation of the Communist era, is just one example of Romanian culture and history that can escape the traveller. Maramureş is a place of stark contrasts, with gentle, undulating slopes on one side and towering, snow covered peaks on the other. The Blue Guide brings to life the peace and serenity of a region isolated by natural boundaries, where ancient traditions and folklore endure.
Despite its useful practical and historical information, this guide lacks colour and photography. Although this may seem unimportant, photography helps bring a place to life, inspiring the traveller to delve deeper. The insightful descriptions in the book seem to be crying out for some pictorial evidence.
Although the Blue Guide is aimed at a cross-section of travellers, it seems to cater more to the explorer than the average holiday-maker. But the average holiday-maker is unlikely to choose Romania as a destination, which is unfortunate, because Romania has a lot to offer: warm beaches in the summer, snow-adorned peaks for winter skiers and a diverse culture and history. This book is one of the most comprehensive guides for any traveller who wants to know just that little bit more.
Blue Guide Romania provides an extensive view of a country of astounding beauty. It goes beyond stereotypes, delving deeper than any other guide into the country's culture, history, architecture and traditions. In doing so, it reveals what may not be clear, at first, to the new visitor to Romania—that here is a country just waiting to show off all its charm.
Catherine Lovatt, 23 October 2000
Note: The US edition of Blue Guide Romania (ISBN 0393320154) is published by W W Norton & Company.
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