My Romania Story - Janneke Klop (Dutch): I could travel the world but Romania keeps tugging at my heart
As part of our Romania Appreciation Weeks campaign, we're inviting our readers to share their stories and tell the world what they love about the country. Janneke Klop joined our campaign and filled in this questionnaire. Below you can read more about what she loves about the country.
Janneke Klop first arrived in Romania in 2005 for an intercultural summer camp. It was love at first sight, she says, and she has returned almost every year since. The mountains are the number one attraction for her, and she has published a guidebook on them, The Mountains of Romania, which covers 37 routes in the Carpathians.
Currently unable to return to the country because of the Covid-19 travel restrictions, she looks forward to the moment when she can visit again the place where she feels "like a fish in the water" and where she "built many meaningful connections and friendships." The slower pace of life in the countryside, the natural riches, and the hospitable people are among the things that make the country a "perfect refuge." And while she sees the issues with the state of the roads, the improvable education and healthcare sectors, and deforestation, she also points to a "new, energetic and intelligent generation rising up to these challenges." More about her experience in Romania in the interview below.
What is your name and how old are you?
Janneke Klop, 34
What is your nationality and where do you live now?
I am Dutch and currently live in Ghent, Belgium.
What is your connection to Romania?
Back in 2005, a friend invited me on an intercultural summer camp in Romania for the first time. It was love at first sight. We stayed in Săcele, and I remember opening the window in the morning and seeing the Piatra Mare and wanting to go there. Since that first visit, I've returned almost every year since. This ultimately resulted in the publication of my guidebook 'The Mountains of Romania' by Cicerone Press in February 2020. Between June 2016 and November 2018, I spent 15 months scouring the Romanian mountains for trails to include in my book, which now contains 37 routes all over Romania.
Is Romania an important part of your life, and why?
I live and breathe Romania. Mi-e dor de Romania fiecare zi [e.n. I miss Romania every day]. Sadly I am currently banished from the country due to Covid-19; I can't wait to come back and will hopefully do so this summer as soon as restrictions are lifted.
In Romania, I'm in my element; like a fish in the water. In Romania, my heartbeat slows, and I can keep up with the pace of life. I can hike in the mountains to my heart's content and have built many meaningful connections and friendships. I just belong there. So the next part of my Romanian dream is to buy a plot of land and build a little cottage so that I have a little pied-a-terre from where I can continue my Romanian adventures and hopefully set up a little ecotourism business with some Romanian friends.
What are the things you like about Romania and why?
Oh, that's going to be a long, long list. I love that the pace of life in Romania, mainly in the countryside, is slower than in the Western European countries I have lived in. I just can't get used to the fast pace of life that is required of me there. That, paired with the incredible natural riches Romania has been endowed with (mountains!) and the very hospitable population, makes Romania my perfect refuge.
A lot of Romanians joke that Romania would be better off without Romanians, but I beg to differ. Romanians exude so much warmth, and they are so easy to connect to. They are genuinely interested in you and will go above and beyond to make sure you feel good. I've gotten countless rides to far-off destinations and slept on many a Romanian couch, meanwhile conversing about my adventures, my host's lives, and almost every topic that could be touched upon in my broken Romanian (that's the way I learned the language). All this, of course, over a glass of țuică [e.n. plum brandy] and a plate of food. I'm head over heels in love with Romania.
What don't you like about Romania and why?
Of course, there are always a couple of downsides to every love affair, but if your love is true, you'll be willing to gloss these over. I guess Romanians can be a little too lax sometimes, accepting the state of things as they are: 'Așa e' [e.n. That's how it is]. At the same time, that's a strength as well: where I live, people are always tugging at things in life to change them until they are perfect. Meeting in the middle of these two attitudes would result in an ideal mix, I guess.
I know there is the political background here too, and people have reason to shrug their shoulders and not believe anything is ever going to change. Still, Romanians have this wonderful knack for doing things their own way if the government or their surroundings won't cooperate: they are very creative and resilient. I also love their dark sense of humor; usually, they don't try it on foreigners though. Sometimes people believe I'm Romanian for a second, and when they crack one of their rough jokes on me and realize I'm Dutch, they quickly apologize. And I have a good laugh.
Wait, this question was about things I don't like about Romania, right? See, that's hard, I keep returning to the things I love. Of course, if you want, I can give you some more: there's the state of the roads, of course, and the high fatality rate, and the sorry state education and healthcare are in. Oh, and deforestation. My heart bleeds for every tree that gets cut down illegally. Really, Romania's forests are a treasure that deserves protection. So I try to offer my support by donating to Agent Green and Tășuleasa Social and by raising awareness of this situation. But I see a new, energetic and intelligent generation rising up to these challenges, armed with digital skills and less burdened by the past, so I have high hopes.
If you had to advertise for Romania as a country, what would be the top things you would mention to promote it?
Romania's mountains are its number one attraction for me. The Romanian Carpathians are incredibly versatile and wild, and there are many corners of the country where you will meet hardly a soul. There's something for everyone: from a day hike in the Piatra Mare for beginners or families to a one-week traverse of the majestic Făgăraș, to a wild hike through the wilderness of the Munții Maramureșului on the border with Ukraine.
So if you want solitude, natural beauty, adventure, and challenge, Romania is the place to go. And during or after your adventures, you will always meet kind people who will invite you into their homes or onto a barstool and pour you a drink, feed you and tell you their life stories and let you tell them yours. In fact, this is precisely how I have already advertised Romania, by publishing my guidebook, 'The Mountains of Romania', and on my blog and Facebook page, Roamaniac.
What are your favorite places in Romania and why?
My favorite mountain range is the Retezat. This compact massif is incredibly versatile and offers plenty of variation: from scrambles to some of Romania's highest peaks to finding lake after lake hidden in yet another valley. A lesser-known mountain range that I've grown incredibly fond of is the Buila-Vânturarița. Very few Romanians seem to have heard of it. There is a great cabana there too with a wonderful host - Cabana Cheia. The ridge is reminiscent of the Piatra Craiului - a bit lower but no less challenging. Having mentioned the Piatra Craiului, of course, that's high on my list too: I love scrambling! I love the villages in the Land of Bran too - Măgura, Peștera, and others. And then there is always Maramureș, calming and heart-warming Maramureș. My favorite place there is Babou Maramureș, a Dutch-owned campsite in the mesmerizing village of Breb. I can recommend it to everyone who needs a breath of fresh air and authenticity.
Anything else to share with us that was not covered in the questions above?
My Romanian dream is far from over. I could travel the world but Romania keeps tugging at my heart. As I said, I am now looking for a plot of land at the foot of the mountains to build a modest place in harmony with nature. If anyone has any suggestions, I would love to hear from them!
(Photo courtesy of Janneke Klop)