26 August 2011

A trip to the land of Dracula

A couple of friends from Romania got married recently and invited us to the wedding just outside the town of Buzau, so my wife and I got to spend four days in Romania. It was an awesome trip!

The first thing we noticed was the temperature. Compared to a drizzly Malmö, with temperatures of around 15-20 degrees when we left, Bucarest was a summer paradise, with temperatures of around 35 degrees C when we arrived. That was nice! The second thing we noticed was the way people drive there. That was scary. Apparently, many Romanians don't care as much about traffic laws and regulations as Scandinavians do. They're all over the place, driving way faster than the speed limits, zig-zagging between other cars and oncoming traffic, dodging both animals and people who randomly just appear in the middle of a highway. Fortunately, the guy who picked us up at the airport used to be a street racer, and was an excellent driver. He took it all in stride without so much as blinking, while the rest of us held on to whatever we could find with our hearts going faster than the car. It was an interesting experience...

The guests not from the area were all staying at a nice little hotel. There was a restaurant at the hotel serving traditional Romanian food. It tasted excellent, but I'm a little sceptical about the sanitary conditions in the kitchen, because several people got sick after eating there, myself included. Worst of all, the bride got really sick the night before the wedding and was up all night throwing up. In the morning, she was pale as a ghost and could barely stand, so they had to call an ambulance to come check on her. Nice start for your wedding day, eh? I'm not sure what the ambulance medics did to her, I think they gave her some shots of something, but she seemed a bit better afterwards, so we all rushed to the city hall. Apparently, in Romania you have to do both a civil ceremony and a religious one in a church if you want to be properly married. The civil one was interesting. There was literally a line of people waiting to get in. A guy told me there were 40 couples getting married that day. They even had a clerk getting people lined up outside the office door when it was their turn. Then the door opened, we were all more or less shoved in through the door to the sound of a very fast version of the wedding march. The wedding officiant started talking very fast, and after asking both the bride and the groom what I assume was the usual questions of "Do you take this person to be your lawfully wedded..." etc. they both signed a paper, and then the clerk more or less shoved us out of the room. The whole event took about three minutes. The weirdest part of it was the music. It started with an oddly fast version of the wedding march, but while the officiant was speaking, the music gradually got faster and faster, and eventually faded into this weird 90's disco beat. Perhaps it was a trick to get people worked up to leave the room faster when the ceremony was over? I don't know. But it was strange.

After a trip back to the hotel and some drinks, a minibus came to pick us up and take us to the nearby mud volcanoes in Berca. These mud volcanoes are the only ones in Romania, and consist of salt water and natural gases bubbling up from about 3000 meters down, causing mud and gas to erupt, forming cones that look like miniature volcanoes when the mud dries around the opening. It was quite interesting to see.

After going back to the hotel and resting for a bit, we then headed to the church for the religious wedding ceremony. It was quite different from anything I've seen before. In protestant Swedish weddings, the ceremonies are quite peaceful things. The bride and the groom walk up to the altar, the guests sit down, the minister does a bit of talking, the couple exchange rings and kiss, and everybody leaves. There may be some music or a prayer as well, it depends a bit on the couple getting married and on the priest doing the marrying. The guests usually sit very quietly until the ceremony is over. At the ceremony in Romania, which was orthodox, the whole thing started with a procession lead by two witnesses, who were carrying a huge candle each. The couple, the witnesses, and the couple's godparents went to stand in front of the priests. There were several priests leading the ceremony, and they were all singing their parts more than speaking. There was more ritual, with the priests putting crowns on the heads of the bride and groom, and they walked around kneeling in front of large pictures of what I assume were Jesus and other important figures. We were standing in the back of the church, so I couldn't really see everything very well. That was another thing: All the guests were standing up. And they weren't quiet either. People were talking to each other walking around taking pictures of the couple from all sides, and at one point the witnesses walked around offering sweets to all the guests.

After the ceremony, we headed back to the hotel, where the reception and dinner was held. That was the other big difference between protestand Swedish weddings and orthodox Romanian weddings. In Sweden, there's usually a dinner, and then people party all night. In Romania, there was food, then partying and dancing, then more food, followed by partying and dancing, followed by food... There were five courses of food in total, and by the time the dessert was brought in, I think it was about four o'clock in the morning. Romanians take their wedding parties seriously!

The morning after the wedding, there was a traditional soup breakfast for all the guests. We could choose between a chicken soup and a traditional tripe soup, both apparently created for the specific purpose of curing a hangover. The tripe soup was interesting. Not something I would like to have often, but not bad. It has a very distinct smell and taste.

After the soup, we headed back to Bucarest to look around there for two days before flying back home to Sweden. We stayed at Hotel Dalin, which is very near the city center, and a short walk from the shopping areas and the old historical part of town. The hotel was an interesting experience as well... The room had a regular queen size bed in it, but the room itself was probably the biggest hotel room I've stayed in. There was a fridge, a TV and air conditioning, and a bathroom with a shower cabin, and a separate room for the toilet. The way the room looked, I would have guessed it was built and decorated in the 60's, and then just kept in that condition. It was a bit like walking into a time machine. But the weirdest part was the tiny little room for the toilet. The door opened inwards, towards the actual toilet seat, and once you walked in there, you had to climb up on the toilet seat to be able to close the door, since there was less than half an inch of clearance between the door and the toilet seat. Also, the toilet seat was installed diagonally in the room, so when you sat down on it, you had to either sit sort of sideways on it, or have your legs sort of smushed up against the wall. I'm guessing they had to put the toilet that way to be able to open and close the door, but I couldn't help but wonder if it hadn't been easier to just make the door open outwards? The hotel was quite cheap by Swedish standards, so we were all happy anyway, except with the breakfast coffee, which was completely undrinkable. Gin had an omelette for breakfast, which was a mistake, because she got sick after that. Looking back, I remembered that I had also had an omelette at the hotel in Buzau, and that I had started having problems with my stomach after that as well. It got pretty bad on our second evening in Bucarest. I stayed in the hotel room that evening feeling really sick and running a fever. Note to self: Next time I go to Romania, I should stay away from eggs.

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