My Romania Story: Kelly Ragalie (US) - Romania has always felt like 'home' to me
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. Kelly Ragalie joined our campaign and filled in this questionnaire. Below you can read more about what she loves about the country.
Married to a Romanian who emigrated to the United States during the time of the communist regime, Kelly Ragalie speaks Romanian, cooks Romanian food, and is a 'part-time' resident of the country, where the family also has a home.
Outside of the common associations with Dracula or Communism, the country has beautiful landscapes: picturesque medieval villages, gorgeous European beaches, and dramatic mountains, she explains, highlighting people's friendliness and the importance of family.
And although life in the country can be logistically challenging, and running various errands more time consuming than elsewhere, she feels at home here, "When I spend time with family, friends or if I am out on my own, it's always been inviting, friendly, and safe," she explains.
More about her experience in Romania in the interview below and what she enjoys here in the interview below.
What is your name and how old are you?
Kelly Ragalie, 42 years.
What is your nationality and where do you live now?
American. I live in Tualatin, Oregon, USA. But also have a home in Singureni, Giurgiu, Romania.
What is your connection to Romania?
My husband and his family are Romanian and immigrated to the US when he was a child during the communist regime. After we were married, I learned to speak fluent Romanian, cook Romanian food, my children and husband are all dual Romanian/American citizens, we travel to Romania 2-3 times per year and have a home in a small village outside of Bucharest. When I was earning my Bachelor's degree, I decided to do my thesis project on changes of tourism after the fall of communism in Romania. I studied the tourism industry, politics, history, culture, and much more, learning everything I could about my adopted country! I live part-time in Romania, when not under quarantine for Covid.
Is Romania an important part of your life and why?
Romania is my adopted home/culture. When I was a child, I loved learning about Nadia Comăneci, Transylvania, Communism, and Romanian culture. I didn't plan to but ended up meeting and marrying a Romanian man. His home country and the culture of it were so important and such a part of his story, his family's story, their identity, and more. I embraced it fully and taught myself the language, food recipes, history, and more.
When we started visiting family in Romania, it just 'felt like home'. I felt like I belonged right away. I never once felt weird or uncomfortable. The people were so welcoming, and I just fit right in! Many people assume I am Romanian today! All four of my children are now Romanian citizens, and I want to ensure that they, along with their future families, will understand their heritage and love the traditions and customs we now enjoy. One of our favorite family traditions is slaughtering a pig for Christmas with all of the family in the neighborhood and then making all of the amazing meals and treats from the meat! Pomana porcului on an outdoor fire, with pâine proaspată [e.n. fresh bread] și mustard și murături [e.n. pickles]!! A family favorite!!
What are the things you like about Romania and why?
I love the places, history, food, people...I think so many people around the world either do not know much about Romania and believe it is so it's mysterious and strange - or they have preconceived notions like Dracula or Communism. But there is so much more. The landscapes are beautiful. From picturesque medieval villages to city skyscrapers, gorgeous European beaches to dramatic mountains - there is so much natural beauty. I love that I can take a walk in my village and look at a historic spot in which there were battles between the Ottoman Turks and the native Romanian peoples – right there! In the US, the oldest history we have is only a few hundred years. But in Romania, we can see things from 1000 years ago, and it's no big deal!
The people are so friendly. In București, I can walk into a store, and they may hear me speaking English with my children, but when I speak to them in Romanian - all of a sudden, we are best friends! And outside of Romania, we make friends all over the world speaking Romanian!
I also love that family is such an important part of everyone's lives. Getting together to eat a meal, or sing songs, or watch a soccer match together is so comforting. I love that multi-generational family living is normal. We can live with parents, uncles, grandparents, everyone together and that is seen as normal. We live like that in the US, but it is very much out of the ordinary.
What don't you like about Romania and why?
Daily life in Romania can be logistically challenging. Paying a bill, going grocery shopping, driving through the city - everything is extra complicated. I usually have to take out an entire day to do 1 or 2 errands that in the US would take me 20 minutes. I find that it makes me slow down. But then I get frustrated with some of the red tape and time it takes out of my other activities. The act of getting a document or important record takes months. In the US, we can order these types of things online, within seconds. When I had to get my marriage license in Romania, it took 12 months, three notaries, two translators, and a lawyer...not to mention the amount of money! It's frustrating to know that because I am American, I often get a 'different' price for services.
If you had to advertise for Romania as a country, what would be the top things you would mention to promote it?
Unspoiled, true people and experiences. There is something for anyone. Culture, history, land, and food are top. And if you love castles or art or beaches or skiing or anything, they have it. If you want to step back in time, you can still do that. You can attend a state of the art thermal spa/amusement water park at Therme București, just minutes from the central city. You can attend a fancy concert at a historical venue, Ateneul Român [The Romanian Athenaeum]. You can enjoy a day at the Natural History Museum and see dinosaurs! The food is delicious, the people are wonderful and welcoming, the landscapes are breathtaking, and the activities are endless! Definitely spend some time going off the beaten path. Enjoy the tourist sites, but also take some time to visit less known, less visited places like Casa Comana - a beautiful little village park with restaurants, walking paths, and activities in the country.
What are your favorite places in Romania and why?
I have traveled throughout the country, in villages, cities, beaches, mountain resorts, and more. I love București. The city has my heart, and I love to walk through the Centrul Vechi [the Old Town], stroll down the Bulevardul Unirii past the beautiful fountains, and visit the many beautiful parks throughout the city. My favorite restaurant is Carul cu Bere - I love the dancers and the old architecture. But you cannot complain about the traditional food.
I don't think anyone cannot like Sighișoara or Sibiu, the amount of picturesque buildings, the history, the quaint cobblestone streets are always enjoyable. I love Bran Castle for its actual and fictional history, Banffy Castle for its picturesque setting, but my absolute favorite castle is the Castelul Corvinilor. It's a combination of fairytale meets movies meets real life! Before the pandemic, one of our last trips took us to the salt mines near Cluj-Napoca, and we got to visit an underground amusement park inside the old salt mine at Salina Turda! So fun and so unique! We also visited the Hoia-Baciu forest, which is supposed to be haunted and has strange growing trees. It was so interesting, and we had such a great time!
Anything else to share with us that was not covered in the questions above?
Romania has always felt like 'home' to me. When I spend time with family, friends or if I am out on my own, it's always been inviting, friendly, and safe. I think sometimes there is a misperception of it being unsafe, developing, or still locked in communism or an old system. While there are many things that are slower-paced or that can feel old-fashioned, I also think that is one of the beautiful parts of Romania. I love watching out my kitchen window and seeing a local farmer on his cart, pulled by a horse. Or once I was swimming in a local river with my children, and a neighbor brought his horse down to give him, and his horse a bath, then a call full of people drove up and started doing laundry in the river, and a farmer with his herd of goats came down to drink! These are unique experiences that give a sense of a life many of us can't imagine. It forces us to slow down, see the beauty in these everyday experiences and enjoy the beauty of Romania!
(Photo taken at Snagov Monastery, from Kelly Ragalie)