Sunday, July 15, 2012


Next week is my birthday and I'm off to visit Romania and Moldova.  When I went to Romania in 2010, I said that I would skip Bucharest next time and head out to the countryside.  Well, with the way the itinerary works out this time, I'll have over 10 hours in Bucharest before my flight to Chişinău.  On the way back, the plan is to visit Sinaia before flying back to Vienna.  So here's some info about Romania.

Romania is the 12th largest country in Europe; the 9th largest within the EU.  It is in southeastern Europe and has a population of +19.3 million people.  It is a bit smaller than Oregon.  Bucharest is both the capital and the largest city.

For centuries, the principalities of Wallachia and Moldavia (not Moravia) were under the influence of the Ottoman Empire.  They came together and in 1878 Romania gained its independence.  Romania fought with the Allied Powers in WWI and gained new territory, including Transylvania, from the defeated Austro-Hungarian Empire.

During WWII, Romania fought with the Axis Powers and helped Nazi Germany to invade the Soviet Union.  In August 1944, it changed sides and many Romanian soldiers helped the Red Army to liberate Slovakia.  After WWII, Romania became a communist state and joined the Warsaw Pact.  In 1956, Nicolae Ceauşescu came to power and he ruled the country with an iron fist for decades.  Unlike the Velvet Revolution in Czechoslovakia, the 1989 revolution in Romania was one of the most violent in Eastern Europe.

Today, Romania is a democratic country.  It joined NATO in 2004 and the European Union in 2007.  Romania is still working to become part of the Schengen area.  Romania is not on the Euro yet, but as an EU member it must eventually move off of the Romanian Leu.

Romanians make up 89% of the population.  Hungarians account for 6.5% and over 3% are Roma (Gypsy).  While there is no state religion, more than 85% of the country is Orthodox Christian.

For almost 600 years, Transylvania was part of the Kingdom of Hungary before eventually becoming part of the Habsburg Austro-Hungarian Empire.  After WWI, it became part of Romania.  However, even before Transylvania was a part of Romania, there had still been a Romanian majority in the area that was ruled by Hungarians.  Transylvania is home to about 100 Romanian castles and 70 fortified churches.

Back to the whole citizenship vs. ethnicity thing, I know a few ethnic Hungarians with Romanian passports.  Most of the time they identify themselves as being Hungarian, even though they are Romanian.  It can get a little confusing at times.

Romanian is a Latin-based language, along with French, Spanish, Italian, Portuguese, and Catalan, because this area was part of the Roman Empire.  I get that Romanian is a Latin-based but it is still funny to me when I hear my Romanian colleagues refer to themselves as being Latin.  As an American, when I hear "Latin", I think of Latin America.  And, since my family background is Mexican, I consider myself Latin.  Or at least more Latin than my Romanian friends.  To me, Romanian kind of sounds like an odd version of Italian.  Many Romanians can actually understand Italian but Italians can't understand Romanian.  For years, the foreign language of choice was French (in opposition to learning Russian) while today English is the most common first foreign language.

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