Thursday, February 06, 2014

Winter Travel in Eastern Europe

I have wanted to visit Romania in winter ever since I met a young man on a plane from Berlin who spoke of a driving trip he had taken there with a friend. He spoke of the magic of seeing a horse-drawn cart piled high with hay and its fur-clad driver rising out of the mist in the Maramures one January. The Maramures in northern Romania is the least-developed part of the country, and sounds fascinating.

Seth Kugel, the New York Times frugal traveler ( didn't get that far north, but he writes of travelling through Transylvania recently, and it too sounds very interesting when it is virtually tourist-free in winter. He managed to find inexpensive places to stay, a hotel room for $24 a night, and a reasonably-priced rental car. Despite not speaking Romanian, Hungarian or German, he managed to get around quite well and to have some interesting adventures.

He also writes about a winter trip to Budapest with a budget of $100 a day, not ultra low but low compared to many cities given that it includes lodging, food, local transport and entertainment. I am sure Budapest has changed almost beyond recognition since I visited in the mid 1980s, but I was disappointed to read that he found some of the food less than appealing.

 Even in those far-off Communist days, I thought the cuisine was inexpensive and very good. Food markets were full of produce, and people were elegantly dressed. I remember a Zsa Zsa Gabor look-alike walking a string-haired Puli dog--the pair would have been at home on the Champs Elysses. At least the Budapest opera is still a bargain, with tickets for as little as about $20.

Kugel recalls in another column a weekend spent in a small Hungarian town chosen at random, and his generally poitive experiences there. It reminded me of how often our most memorable adventures occur not in big, well-known cities, but in places we visit more or less by chance.

Speaking of chance, you are taking a chance visiting Europe in deepest winter, since there may be large storm that can strand you for days. But it seems to me to be a chance worth taking.


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