Early this month, I spent eight days in Romania. A few people asked
if I were comfortable traveling to "that part of the world." NATO
bombing over Yugoslavia was still under way at the time.
Of course I was. I merely wanted Tarom to not fly through
Yugoslav airspace. It would not have anyway. There wasn't a chance
I would be hit by a bomb and, I assumed, not much chance anyone
would be rude to me because of the NATO action. So, it seemed a
waste that travelers would avoid a destination that has a rich
variety of attractions and offers inexpensive European travel.
We encountered a Dutch group whose guide said the operator of
the program had to cancel all remaining departures of a summer
series to Romania because of the Balkan air war. The tourist office
in New York says such cancellations are a bigger issue in Europe,
where Romania is a mass-market product. Americans who go there are
more sophisticated and better traveled, and hence less easily
Mine was a self-drive trip with an American who has several
Romanian friends. We had one conversation about news events, and I
surmised that many Romanians were not too happy about the NATO
As our dinner hostess said, "We see this and we think it could
happen to us." (There are minorities in Romania; however, ethnic
relations are not comparable to those in Kosovo.) She also asked
why the West acted to help Kosovars when it did not help Romanians
rid themselves of former president Nicolae Ceausescu.
Curbing ethnic murder is not comparable to overthrowing a
government, but I suspect her latter point reflected a key regret
for our hostess. Indeed, she later amended her remarks to blame
Romanians for not throwing the communists out sooner.
Meanwhile, our dealings with service personnel or the man on the
street were never governed by world events. We found Romanians
helpful and friendly, and I include the traffic cop who pulled us
over for speeding.
Road signage in Romania is quite good for finding your way from
point A to point B, and stop signs are easy: They say Stop. But we
saw few speed limit signs and do not know how often we drove too
Once caught, my friend (the driver) worked hard to do what
anyone does when faced with a guy with a fistful of blank speeding
tickets: Grovel with dignity. Then, unexpectedly, the policeman
shouted "Vive America!" and sent us on our way. He produced a good
laugh and a vivid memory for two American tourists.