Crappy Guides to Romania – Tim Dowling of The Guardian

Many moons ago when I landed in Romania, knowing but a single word of the local language, I carried under my arm a well-thumbed guidebook written in English to help me and yes, even to guide me.

Unfortunately, it was full of errors and misinformation and even caused a slightly hairy scene with one of my hosts when he saw a photograph of a peasant in traditional dress wrongly identified as being Romanian when he was actually Hungarian.

Sometimes there are little things, sometimes large things, but I have not stopped being frustrated and disappointed at guides, guidebooks and tourist introductions to this country.

This morning I happened to check out the Guardian‘s travel guide to Romania. Considering that there are daily flights from UK to Romania (including to Cluj) and that this country is both inexpensive and quite “English-friendly”, you’d think British tourism would be a booming business.

Certainly the unpleasant experiences of certain travelers carry weight but I like to imagine I know nothing about this country then read the guide and see if I would come here.

Unfortunately for the Guardian‘s readership, the only guide worth a damn on their site is written by the snide, cynical Tim Dowling who not only lies to his doctor but apparently can barely communicate with his wife. Why that makes him qualified to write a mini guide to Romania is beyond my capability to understand.

A few notes:

The Romanian language is so similar to Italian that Romanian speakers can more or less understand someone who is speaking Italian. For some reason it doesn’t work quite so well the other way round.

No, actually it is the Italian language which is similar to Romanian, a small but important distinction. They both have the same roots (Latin) but Romanian kept the more complicated grammar structure of noun declensions while Italian did not. Aside from some different verb forms and nouns, Italian really is a much simpler language to learn (and Romanian much more complicated), so that’s the “some reason” why it doesn’t work the other way round.

Mamaliga is a strong contender for the title of Romania’s national dish: it’s an ancient peasant staple made by boiling cornmeal with salt in a special cast iron pot called a ceaun. Actually, it’s pretty much just polenta with a different name.

No, no, no and again no, damnit. This is why I wrote an entire article on mamaliga, which is not “pretty much” polenta.

A ceaun is just a large pot or “kettle” in English. The thought of a peasant hanging onto some special pot just for the sole purpose of making mamaliga is laughable. It’s a super simple dish that can be made in any ordinary pot you have lying about your house, just as Romanians do every single day.

Vladisav Dracula, the ruthless 15th-century Wallachian ruler who inspired Bram Stoker’s vampire, was known as Vlad the Impaler for his preferred method of execution, although the nickname is somewhat unfair.

Again, I had to write an entire article just because of bunkum like this. The “Vladislav” part of his name up there, by the way, refers to the fact that in Latin documents his name was given as “Vladislaus”.

Long story short, the real historical Vlad pissed off the local German population (esp in Brasov) who then used their fellow countryman’s invention (the printing press) to inflate a series of stories into a tale of horror, which later on down the line influenced an unknown Irish writer to create a famous book, the iconographies blending harmoniously with the burgeoning film industry to create the legend everyone “knows” today.


And last but not least:

According to legend, the children who disappeared with the Pied Piper of Hamelin re-emerged from a cave in Transylvania, after being led through a tunnel that ran all the way from Germany to Romania.

Really? That’s a little bit like writing a tour guide for Britain and mentioning how “according to legend” a cambion chose a mythical king who “rose to power” after extracting a sword from a large rock.

It’s a nice story but what in the world does it have to do with anything? I’ve never even heard of this cave so even if I were the world’s largest fan of the Brothers Grimm, what use would it be for me to even know this?

Other than that, this “guide” is a re-hash of some rather dry statistics (hey the Danube flows through Romania, wow!) and neatly packaged recent history.

Maybe one day someone will ask me to write a tour guide of Romania. Alas, that will never happen as my words would be far too powerful and magnetic, enticing thousands and thousands of visitors to come here, expecting to be thrilled by every hot spoonful of mamaliga from special kettles, tingling with adrenaline as they are spooked by Dracula-themed exhibits and squealing with delight as they plod alongside lengthy rivers.

Well…perhaps if the money is good enough :P

3 thoughts on “Crappy Guides to Romania – Tim Dowling of The Guardian

  1. If I worked for the Ministry of Tourism I’d definetely hire you to promote the country and make that guide book.
    If the Ministry did only that it would be the single best thing it did in its entire existence.


  2. I don’t remember how or why I found this site the other day, but I have enjoyed reading about your adventures. I traveled to Romania with a Romanian friend a couple of years ago so I can identify with some of your anecdotes, and I can definitely envision others. Unfortunately for me, I knew very little Romanian so I spent long periods of time not speaking. I could often figure out what was going on, but not always so I have some pretty funny stories as well.

    I thoroughly enjoyed my time there. The people were friendly 9despite my not knowing the language) and the food was incredible. I loved Cluj-Napoca as well. Sarmale, mamaliga, ardei umpluti, and of course, papanasi from Cluj! I just wish Romania and Romanians would learn how to market themselves better. They have so much to offer~ Then again, maybe they like it that way. Now, I just have to improve my Romanian for next time!


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