Romania Isn’t Disney World

Oh mercy. My eternally vigilant internet eye stumbled across this blog post from a guy who drove his car 6000 km across Europe. Apparently his brief time in Romania was not so pleasant:

The road down Romania to the ferry at Calafat is slow beyond belief even at night, single lane, very twisty and steep, heavy trucks struggle along and there are no places to over take. I needed petrol but there were few filling stations open, normally I would only use big name petrol stations but had no choice but to use a grubby broken down filling station. 10 minutes after filling up the engine starts cutting out, coughing and spluttering!!

I suspected watered down or dirty petrol, I kept going as best as I could not wanting to stop in Romania at night, one reads such bad things on the internet about Romania at night. As I finally approached the port area in Calafat police were everywhere even at this time of the morning, they were stopping cars but not trucks.

My turn came to be stopped, the police just asked for my passport…..flicked through the pages whilst holding the passport upside down.

”Euros, No euros.” said the police man.

”No Euros, problem……Give me Euros.” he said.

I tried to play dumb for a while pretending I didn’t know this was a shake down for money, but that only made them a little angrier, the second police man started to take an interest in the contents of my car. I didn’t want them stealing any of my belongings, so alone in the middle of nowhere with no people about to create a commotion too, I decided to then cooperate and just give them money!!

My main money was hidden away but I had 25 Euros visible in my wallet, they took it all….I then said I need petrol, they gave me 5 Euros of my money back!!

Obviously the police officers doing this were in the wrong and shaking down tourists for 20 euros is a scandalously egregious abuse of their position. No doubt about it. But it’s equally obvious this guy has never read my book or my blog or else he’d have never gotten in trouble.

Romania isn’t Disney World, folks. This isn’t a hyper-regulated and sterilized Swiss canton or something, where the streets are all paved perfectly and every blade of grass is manicured.

First, let’s review the dangers in Romania:

Now last but definitely not least, all three governments address the one quite dangerous thing and that is driving. Many years ago my friend Robert Young Pelton told me that the most dangerous thing you can do is drive in some countries at night and Romania is one of ‘em.

Actually, let me be more specific. Driving outside (or between) cities at night is what is most dangerous, including if you’re riding that cheap “minibus” somewhere. Heck I’ve ridden the “minibus” overnight to the Budapest airport more times than I’d like to count and it is super dangerous. Whether you’re behind the wheel or someone else is, avoid traveling at night between cities!

Driving a car at night on admittedly twisty roads in the ass end of Dolj county is suicidal. Do not do it!

The ferry at Calafat is an international crossing (it goes to Bulgaria) but I can’t quite tell if he was showing his passport to the border police or to “regular” highway patrol type police officers. Since they were “stopping cars” I have to assume these were not police officers sitting in a normal border crossing kiosk.

Let’s review once again how to deal with the police.

If anyone in a uniform, police or railroad official or bus inspector or anyone else wants money from you, do not give it to them, ever. There are no fees for entering or exiting Romania. There is absolutely no legitimate reason to pay any Romanian official who is not working inside a government building, period. Are we clear on this? Good, I hope so.

Notice the words “government building”. This would be the little kiosk or booth that normal border control police work in. These are the only people you need to show your passport to. And again, there is no fee to enter or exit Romania so there’s no need to pay anyone!

Secondly, if you’re driving in a car and the police pull you over, why in the world are you showing them your passport? No. Show them you driver’s license. Traffic police only need to know if you have an operating permit (driver’s license), not to know your immigration status (passport).

Third, do not pay them! Goodness. Just say no. If you really think they’re going to steal your stuff, write down their names. If you can’t find out their names, write down the license plate on their car. Get out your fancy digital camera and start taking pictures. What are they going to do, start assaulting British tourists? No. These two redneck cops barely spoke English. The last thing they’re going to do is provoke an international incident.

I know that it’s scary to stand up to police officers, especially when you’re in a foreign country and you don’t speak the local language. I do. But Romania is a country where you have to stand up for yourself. I know that’s difficult for some people but it’s just the way it is here. If you want a sanitized cocoon of safety, go to Disney World. Really.

Please don’t drive in Romania at nighttime and please don’t pay police officers. It just encourages them to shake down more clueless tourists. In cruder terms, please don’t feed the f**king bears! Stand your ground and talk to them for an hour if you have to but don’t pay them or give in to their obviously illegal demands.

Whew, I wish I had been in that car. Confronting those corrupt idiots would’ve been QUITE fun for me.