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Wednesday, July 18, 2018

Our Frugal Short Trip to Craiova, Romania

Last week my oldest son and I went on a short weekend getaway to Craiova, Romania. It was the first time my son ever left the country, and he was so excited about being able to go on the plane, and to see what a new country is like. His excitement was palpable as we counted down the days until the trip, packed our bags, and prepared for the trip. We were there from Friday noon until Monday early morning, which was a whirlwind of a trip and didn't leave so much time to do so many things, but I do think that was the perfect amount of time for Craiova itself, and the perfect length of time for a mother son bonding trip too.


We had planned on going to a free tour of Craiova, as well as to some gorgeous parks, but the weather really didn't cooperate with us. Friday was sweltering hot. Saturday and Sunday had on and off rain storms. And the tour guide simply never showed up to the meeting spot for the tour. So Lee and I had no guided tour, but we just wandered around the city on our own and discovered it for ourselves.

The first thing we discovered about Craiova is that transportation is really cheap! We took a bus from the airport to the city center, and paid 2.9 RON, or 73 cents. There were no transfers, but at 10 years old, I was told that Lee is free on public transportation there. We ended up taking a taxi one day after walking far to the grocery store, and then getting on a bus trying to head back with our groceries, and getting lost and going the wrong direction. The taxi back from there was only 4 RON or $1, making it really worthwhile to take a taxi!


On the first day in Romania, I didn't have a cell phone to use right away since I didn't get a phone plan from my home country. I managed with the directions and maps I'd downloaded before getting there, and with the Google Translate app to which I'd downloaded Romanian before heading out. Once I made it to a kiosk that sold SIM cards and plans (not easy, many stores had signs that they carried them, but didn't actually have), I got a free SIM card and a prepaid phone card to use with that for 5 Euros (yes, it was sold in Euros, not dollars) which works out to $5.85. I have no clue actually how many minutes or how much data was on it, but I used the data pretty indiscriminately and didn't run out for the few days that I was there. 5 Euros was the smallest configuration they had for the prepaid cards, and I'm glad I went with that and not the 10 I was considering getting, because what I got ended up being more than enough.

We ended up seeing and discovering some interesting things in Romania, such as this vending machine that sells toiletries. They were all over Craiova, and they puzzled my son.



One of the things that really stood out to me in Craiova was the amount of free and even wasted food everywhere. Every single place I looked, it seemed, had edible wild plants growing. Purslane was growing everywhere.



And I mean everywhere! Big beautiful plants, so tempting to eat.


There was also amaranth growing all over, as well as lambsquarters, dandelion, chickweed, and sow thistle.


I picked lambsquarters and purslane to supplement the groceries that I bought.


Also foraged some Asiatic dayflowers.

But in addition to the wild plants that I knew how to identify, I saw so many fruit trees in yards and parks...




Literally overflowing with fruit...


The sidewalk in most places were caked in rotten fallen fruit...


The most common we saw were plums in various colors and sizes...


And of course we just had to pick them. They tasted delicious and super sweet.


But there were apple trees overflowing too, as well as grape vines.


And I spotted a nut tree that I thought was probably a beech, but now I'm told is a chestnut.

I have to say that of all my impressions of Craiova, that was the strongest. All the fruit all over. And all the waste. It made me sad that in a country that has as much poverty as Romania has, so much food just goes to waste.

We took a walk around the city center together.


The other thing we noticed was just how many water fountains there were everywhere.


Lee dubbed this one the "steampunk fountain" and pointed out how ridiculous the chain around it was.



There were also fountains in the divider between busier roads.


If I'd actually taken a tour of Craiova with a guide, I'd probably know who this statue was supposed to be of. But I don't.


But the thing is...


With all the fountains...


There wasn't even one splash pad...


...or a fountain where you could go inside and cool off...


Oh, and did you notice the statues? 

So many statues, in so many places, that Lee decided to have fun and pose with the statues, as if they were people...


Like pretending to converse with this gentleman while feeding the pigeons. (The statue had a bag for feeding pigeons, and Lee did actually feed the thousands of pigeons that were there.)


Got a paper from this paperboy...


Had a gentlemanly conversation with this fine lady...


And when he couldn't manage to pull this climber off the pole...


...Decided to join him in climbing the pole.


Just another naked statue at a roundabout. And me wondering about an "intense bank of Sao Paulo"..(we had fun trying to figure out what words and signs in Romanian said, guessing from what they seem like to our English reading eyes.)

Speaking of roundabouts...


We cracked up at the Craiovian definition of a roundabout. Yes, this "roundabout" shows up on Google Maps as a roundabout. Go figure.

Another thing we noticed... So many fancy women's wear shops...


Bridal gown shops...


And more bridal gowns...


And even more!!


We saw maybe one fancy men's wear shop, but nearly every other clothing store we saw was fancy wedding type gowns....

We also saw a lot of weddings taking place, saw lots of wedding photography shoots, including some interesting ones with the couple holding white pigeons wearing bow ties. Apparently it is wedding season now in Romania, but that still didn't explain why there were so many shops... unless this center of town specifically is bridal gown shopping district.


We found this giant plant I couldn't identify... But Lee was pretending that he was a little gnome hiding under a tiny plant.


We saw two giant murals...


Some beautiful churches...


And more run down but still pretty churches...


Stained glass covered walkways...


And stores with strange choices of names...


The university of Craiova...



And another old building, and a statue, of course...


And another old building...


We learned a grand total of one word in Romanian while we were there... because of all the shops we saw with this sign:


It looks like it would be pronounced "inches" but its "inkis" and means closed.

For dietary reasons we didn't eat out at any restaurants, but inspected this pizza shop and what they sold. They had a pizza called "Pizza Craiovita" which was a thick crusted pizza with tomato sauce, cheese, sausage, peppers, and French fries, so we decided that when we get home we'd make a gluten free dairy free version of that.


We had fun playing with perspectives with this larger than life soccer ball statue...




There were garbage cans all over Craiova, but I thought it was amusing how small they were, and that they weren't on the ground.



There was an event in the center of town, sponsored by Bergenbier...


They had this ice room on a truck where you went in to a place that was chilled to below freezing temperatures, wearing a winter coat that you get from a portable igloo, and sit there and "chill" with a free beer. Of course, Lee is too young for a beer, and I'm gluten intolerant, so that wasn't an option for us, but I thought it was cool.


There were also these pop up buildings that came from the back of this trailer, but I'm not sure exactly what it was. I think one of them might have had something virtual reality in it. Another one was a stage that they used to put on a free concert by a Romanian singer named Mihai Georgescu, nicknamed Mita (pronounced Meetza) de la Bere Gratis... (Mita of the free beer.)



We enjoyed the concert, even if we had no idea what they were saying, since it was all in Romanian. Unfortunately the concert got rained out in the middle and needed to stop. I found the singer online and here's one of the songs he sings, and its quite possible he sang this song there




On Sunday, after wandering around the city on Friday and Saturday, we were looking for something to do indoors, out of the rain, and, having seen tens of signs around the city for "Craiova Water Park" (yes, written in English), we decided to look into going there. It is open year round, and to get there we took a cheap taxi for only 12 RON or $3. The entrance fee was 86 RON or or $21.40 for the both of us.

There was a huge outdoor part that unfortunately was closed due to the weather...


We had to walk on a path through the gorgeous forest to get to the entrance to the park from the parking lot...


And posed a bit...


But when we got there, we saw that there was a really nice and large indoor part of the park...

It had an Olympic sized pool with lanes, and two "rivers" of various sizes for inner tubes...



And four really large, really long water slides. One wasn't working, but one was for going down alone, one for inner tubes, and one could accommodate double or triple inner tube "boats".


We had a blast and stayed there for hours and hours and hours. At first we kept on flipping over in the inner tube when we came out of the slides (they took over 30 seconds to reach the bottom of the slide), but the more we did it, the more we practiced, we stopped flipping over (at least not too much).


The water was slightly deep for Lee, he could stand but not comfortably, so I was able to teach him how to swim, something that is hard for me to do at the beach because of the waves. I taught him some basic strokes as well as how to tread water.

On the way back we took a taxi, also costing us 12 RON or $4, but we accidentally told him the wrong location (we didn't realize there were two malls in Craiova), so we needed to take public transportation back. We went on this little tram... and when I say little, I mean little. It was so narrow, narrower than a car, and made such a racket as it rolled down the street! Also 2.9 RON or 73 cents.


Altogether, how much did we spend on this trip?


We took 2 buses to reach the airport, and even though we left in the middle of the night, there were buses running all night long. I paid a total of $8.13 for the bus rides to the airport, and paid the same on the way home from the airport (not on the middle of the night), so another $8.13.

Public transportation 4 times at 73 cents each was $2.92 on busing. 

3 taxis for a total of $9.

Phone plan for $5.85.

Water park for $21.40.

I bought a souvenir color changing mug that cost $7.49.

That was all of the expenses for the trip, bringing it to a sum total of $320.67 dollars, not bad at all for a trip for two abroad! 

If you'll notice, I didn't include groceries in the cost of this trip because I have to buy groceries no matter where I am, and groceries worked out to be similar pricing to what they were locally. But if you want to know how much I spent on groceries there, it was 235 RON or approximately $59, and that included a bunch of special to us items. Our groceries included tuna steaks, Coca Cola, vodka, oyster mushrooms, fresh wood ear mushrooms, apples, tomatoes, onions, carrots, celery root, grapes, corn meal (to make Romanian mamaliga), frozen mixed veggies, orange juice, apple and black currant juice, raspberries, blackberries, blueberries, white currants, and maybe a few more things I'm forgetting. Other things we ate on the trip were gluten free and gluten crackers we brought from home, chocolates we brought from home, sausages we brought from home, roasted chestnuts we brought from home, and Japanese rice crackers also from home.

I am really glad my son and I went on this vacation together. Would it have been more frugal to not go at all? Sure. But for the time we had, the great memories, the bonding, the exploring a new country and culture, it was definitely worth the $320, an amazing price for an international trip for 2 people! It was a little short, to be honest, but I think it was the perfect length for the first international trip for a kid.

Anyone ever been to Romania? What was your impression of it? Did you notice similar things to those things I noticed? Does this look like a place you'd want to visit? What was the cheapest international trip you've ever been on?

15 comments:

  1. Wow I am so impressed. Where do you get such cheap air fair. I live in Canada and because of the low value of our dollar every where is expensive to fly. We are now out of debt. Next year we are going to Israel however it will be very costly. After that I want to go other places less expensive. I am amazed at your forging abilities. I am thinking of taking a herb course. I wonder how many eattible plants we have here in Canada. Beautiful pictures by the way. Glad you had a great time. Great learning experience for a kid your sons age too. I learn so much from your posts. Thank you for sharing your life with me.

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    1. I get cheap airfare by going to skyscanner, choosing the airports near me, and not picking particular places or dates but just saying anywhere and the cheapest month and go there. This time was actually different, since I was looking specifically in the summer which is a more expensive time to travel, so I compared both months and found that the cheapest summer trip was in July on the dates I chose. Additionally, I could find slightly cheaper to Poland or Cyprus, but I didn't want to go to Cyprus and I've already been to Poland, and wanted to experience something new, hence Romania. There are so many ways to cheaply travel, there are websites like CheapoAir and budget airlines where you can travel much more inexpensively if you travel without extra luggage.

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  2. Your son looks so mature! I had in mind a younger boy. He seems to be quite the ham and enjoyed being in pictures. It was a very nice trip for both of you.

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    1. He is very mature, definitely! He's almost 11, in September he'll be 11! Yes, he really enjoys pictures, and posing, and deciding what type of pictures to take. Most of the poses etc were his idea.

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  3. Oh my goodness, what an amazing trip! This is something your son will remember his entire life. I'm amazed that you were able to travel so inexpensively as well. Thank you so much for sharing your adventure with us!

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    1. Thank you! I really hope so! And I'm glad we were able to inexpensively travel, which makes it possible more often, even on a tight budget.

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  4. Thank you so much for this report on the trip. I've been looking forward to it. Did you and Lee decide to buy a sourvenier at the start and keep an eye out for the perfect thing? Or, did you see the mug and decide to get it? I like to choose something I can use daily to remind me of trips. Usually a tea towel or a mug.

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    1. I've actually decided to start a mug collection, getting a mug from each trip. So far I have one from Poland, Belgium, and now Romania.

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    2. What did Lee get to pick as a souvenir? Or did you just get something for yourself? I am sure you would have gotten him something as well?

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    3. So he's actually happy with the mugs as well, its a family collection and they're used regularly, not just on a shelf. But yes, I did also get him a T shirt. Not with anything special from Romania, all the tourist stores were closed. I bought him a t shirt with sequins that change direction and therefore color.

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  5. Looks like you had a blast! My all time favorite song to ever come out of Romania is this Eurovision gem from last year. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LlDzaRK8fSM I can't get enough of this song!

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  6. Excellent! I think taking kids to other countries is critical for their sense of the world. We just took our two daughters, 8 and 10, to Mexico City for a week and it was very enjoyable. I often pick travel based on cheap flights too, and we've gone to Turkey, Greece, Iceland, Germany, all based on the cheap flight scenario. Have you heard of WOW airlines? If they fly anywhere near you, sign up for their travel email, they often have ridiculously cheap sales.

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  7. I'm not sure about Romania and other European countries, but unfortunately here in Holland, foraging is illegal. Just sayin'... so be carefull with that (the worst thing that could happen is a pretty high fine, though).

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    1. Really? That strikes me as extremely odd. In case you happen to know - why?

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