What I love about Romania – Brian Williams (American): Whenever I'm in Romania, I feel like "I'm home"
As part of our Romania Appreciation Weeks campaign, we’re inviting our readers to share their stories with us and tell the world what Romania means to them. Brian Williams, an American photographer who has visited Romania, has decided to join our campaign and fill in the interview here. Here’s what he loves about Romania (and more):
After visiting Romania six times in the last 15 years, Brian Williams no longer feels like a tourist in the country. "I'm proud to think of myself as almost a Romanian myself thanks to my knowledge of the country, the wonderful experiences I've had there, and of course, the many friends I've made over the years," he says. he loves the country's unspoiled countryside, the friendly people, and the climate, as well as the local food. What would make him think twice about settling in the country are the poor health care system and corruption.
What is your name and what is your nationality?
Brian H. Williams. American.
Share your story with us, briefly, so we understand your relationship with Romania.
I've been to Romania six times and have traveled all over the country. My first experience was in 2005, where I stayed in the tiny village of Miclosoara. It was part of the Count Kalnoky Guest Cottages where visitors can stay. I, along with my father, stayed for three weeks taking day trips to nearby cities. When not visiting cities, I would spend time in the local area, and I developed a special relationship with the children there. I would play with the kids in the afternoons. I developed a special kinship with two girls in particular that I came back a few years later to visit them. Because of my time in this small town, I got to know the people who lived there and had a personal experience, rather than a tourist experience.
In the afternoons, during my second visit in 2008, I would play hide and seek with the village kids in an abandoned hunting lodge. That was amazing! Later that week, I took my favorite little girls, my tour guide friend whom I stayed in touch with since 2005, and one of their mothers to a day of fun in Brasov. Considering the exchange rate, it was my pleasure to treat them to lunch and a day of fun. It happened to be the "Days of Brasov" festival when I was there. So there was plenty of things for me to do with my little friends! Sure we couldn't speak to each other, but my tour guide friend translated my English to Hungarian for them.
So, if it wasn't for this very personal and non-touristy experience, I would not have developed my love for Romania and my special relationship with these local girls and their mothers. Since that time, the hunting lodge where we played has been fully restored with the help of Prince Charles. I like to think I was helping that village long before he started helping! I would bring things like clothes and other items to all the kids when I came to revisit them in 2008. It's great that the lodge has been restored, but I miss that unique experience with the kids during that time before Romania became committed to restoring a lot of their old buildings. It really provided a chance to see how life was on a day to day basis.
Would you recommend Romania as a country to live in or to visit? Kindly explain your answer.
I would absolutely recommend Romania to live and visit. My time in Miclosoara developed my love for the country. Then in 2010, I figured out a way to combine my hobby as a photographer and still be a tourist by using the website Model Mayhem. I contacted several models in Bucharest to let them know I was visiting. We arranged dates to shoot so we would be prepared when I arrived. So, I invited two other photographer friends who had never been to Romania. They arrived, and they had a blast with me and my model friends! Sure, we were new friends, but thanks to photography, we all became close friends. We are still friends to this day. One model became a famous actress in Romania in the years since. I even attended one of my friend's wedding in 2018, and my photographer came too! So I am no longer a tourist in Romania. I'm proud to think of myself as almost a Romanian myself thanks to my knowledge of the country, the wonderful experiences I've had there, and of course, the many friends I've made over the years.
What are some of the misconceptions you most often hear about Romania, and how do you feel about them?
Well, I don't know if I had any misconceptions about Romania. When I told my friends I was traveling here, some people thought I was going to adopt children. I laughed and said I was going on vacation. So the misconception that people go there to adopt children is still fresh in American minds, even though adopting children from Romania is no longer possible. Unless that has changed, but last I knew, this was not possible due to violations of laws.
What is the most powerful feeling that Romania brings to you and why?
Unlike a lot of other European countries that I visit, whenever I'm in Romania, there is a sense of feeling like "I'm home". Even though I'm not Romanian, I feel like I am in spirit. There is a sense of calm, excitement, and joy that comes to me when I visit. So I guess that sense of home is the most powerful feeling I get when I visit.
Please tell us the three things you like the most about Romania.
So many things I love about Romania, but if I had to narrow it down to three things, I guess it would be these:
The unspoiled countryside. Unlike other European countries that also have beautiful countryside, Romania's is unspoiled by tourism. It's authentic. Sure there are tourist areas, but for the most part, the genuine feel of the countryside is wonderful. The beauty is still much as it was for decades. And because of that, the air is clean, and the food is fresh. You actually become more healthy just by being there.
The people. I find Romanian people, whether it's the Hungarian speaking portion of the country or the Romanian speaking, they are all very friendly and have a genuine interest in knowing why you are visiting their country.
The climate in Romania I find excellent. Every time I go, the weather is excellent. But then I haven't spent any time there in the winter. I may feel differently once I do. But for the most part, the climate is excellent.
If you had to advertise for Romania as a country, what would be the top things you would mention to promote it?
That's hard. Romania has so many things to offer that it is difficult to pinpoint that one thing that says "Romania!" But I would try to categorize it in areas that people would be interested in doing. Such as skiing in the Poiana Brasov area, or enjoying the beach on the Black Sea Coast, or taking in the Transylvanian countryside in the Carpathian Mountains. And for the history buffs, maybe tours to cities that were important in World War 2, such as Ploiesti. But I definitely would start there.
What could make Romania the perfect country for you (what's missing)?
I love Romania the way it is, but I am concerned about health care. Like many poorer countries in Europe, health care and corruption in the government is hard to overlook if I intended to retire there. Unlike other countries that have a solid health care system, like Canada, for example, Romania is still pretty far behind. And their struggle to contain the coronavirus is harder than for the other European countries. But to be fair, it's hit the world pretty hard. And I'm concerned that so many doctors leave the country for better wages in other countries. So this lack of doctors has undoubtedly impacted the country's ability to tackle the pandemic.
The corruption is bad too, but common with other countries like Mexico. As a tourist, it's not a big deal and, honestly, has been to my advantage on occasion. But if I were to live there, I may find that living in a country where corruption is so high may be problematic.
What are your favorite places in Romania and why? (feel free to attach some photos of these places if you want).
The Transylvania region for sure. Favorite cities are Brasov and Sibiu. I like being in the countryside area for the fresh air, great food, and slower pace. Brasov and Sibiu have a much less busy feel than Bucharest, and I definitely prefer those cities.
What is your favorite Romanian food?
I like a lot of Romanian dishes, so it's hard to pick a favorite, but some I really like are Mititei, and for dessert - for sure papansi!
What do you like about Romanian culture, history, customs? Please give us some examples.
Their contribution to music. As a classical music lover, some of my musical heroes growing up came from Romania: Segiu Celibidache, Dinu Lupatti, Constantin Silvestri, George Enescu, just to name a few. So Romanian artists have been a strong part of my upbringing.
What are the Romanian words/phrases a non-Romanian speaker should know, in your opinion?
Well, in the big cities I found that many speak English so this wasn't a problem, but in the countryside, it was necessary to know a few basic words like hello (Buna!), yes (Da), no (Nu), and thank you (Multumesc!).
(Photo by: Johan Rosen)