Traveling in Romania
In the late 1970s and 1980s I traveled many times in Romania. It was a time of economic hardship and the darkest time of the Communist dictatorship under Ceausescu. Many Romanians lived in poverty.
My first visit took place in 1977. On a summer evening I arrived in the city of Arad by hitchhiking from Hungary. Looking for a place to sleep, I asked an elderly lady on the street, and she told me to go to the train station. I was not so sure if it would be possible to sleep there because of the police or other security guards but this lady wrote something on a piece of paper (in Romanian, a language I didn't speak - I communicated with her in Hungarian), and then she went with me to the train station and showed me a waiting room with very comfortable armchairs. Here you can sleep, she said, and whenever somebody wakes you up in the night, show the paper I gave you, and everything will be fine! It happened three or four times that I was woken up by the police but these policemen always became very friendly when they saw this paper - and everything was fine! I lost this paper some days later, and I never found out what was written on it...
1980 - another trip to Romania, another adventure. This time I arrived from the Soviet Union where I was on an illegal hitchhiking trip, but that's another story. After crossing the border, I hitchhiked about 80 km on a late Sunday afternoon. It became dark, and I decided to try to stop five more cars before looking for a place to sleep. The miracle happened - the fourth car stopped. A couple offered me a ride of 100 km, communication was impossible but they showed me their destination on a map. When we arrived in Focsani, their hometown, at around midnight, I asked them if they would know a place where I could spend the night. They knew a place, they invited me to spend the night in their apartment. There I met their young daughter who spoke English - the second miracle! It was not the last night I spent in this place. Before I left next morning we exchanged our addresses, we stayed in contact, and in the following years I visited this wonderful family again and again. During my visits they showed me other places in Romania, we spent holidays together - a great experience!
Jazz Festivals in Romania
In 1986 I attended a jazz festival in the Slovakian capital Bratislava where I met an organizer of the jazz festival in Sibiu. He invited me to come to his festival in the next spring. It was an interesting invitation because at that time this festival was the only international in the country but I was more interested in learning more about the Romanian jazz scene. So I traveled to Sibiu, and it was a big surprise. First of all, I was surprised by the high standard of jazz in Romania. I was impressed by some musicians of the older generation like pianist Johnny Raducanu, one of the fathers of Romanian jazz, or saxophonist Dan Mindrila but there were also some younger musicians like the experimental pianist Harry Tavitian or vocalist Anca Parghel who contributed with high level performances to the festival. And there was the audience, people which were very interested in jazz and who tried to escape the hardships of everyday life in Romania. I met some interesting people at this festival, I made some new friends, some reasons to return to the festival again and again in the following years or to spend part of my holidays in Sibiu. But Sibiu was not the only jazz festival I attended in Romania. In 1988 I visited the festival in Costinesti, a resort town at the Black Sea. In 1989 and 1990 (my last visit to Sibiu) I brought some German musicians to the festival to perform there.
Harry Tavitian & Orient Express 2008
Hitchhiking in Romania
To be on a hitchhiking trip in Romania or on transit route to Bulgaria was not a big problem but in some cases adventurous. I remember a trip in 1986 when I was on my way to Bulgaria. At the Hungarian-Romanian border I met a Turkish truck driver who was ready to give me a ride to Bulgaria. In the night we (and some other Turkish truck drivers) stopped at a car park where petrol was sold illegally.To pay the illegal sellers, the Turkish drivers had changed dollars into Romanian money but it was illegal for them to possess Romanian currency as well. When the police came to check what was going on, one of the drivers had to escape and to hide his money - in my pockets. Later I gave this money back to my driver who passed it on to the other driver.
Some Special Experiences
During the years of dictatorship Romanians were not allowed to have contacts with foreigners or to host them but I never had problems to find a place to sleep in the apartments of my friends. They only told me nobody to tell where I was staying, and sometimes, like once in Sibiu, I had to stay every night in the apartment of another friend. When my friends lived in an apartment block, they told me not to speak outside the apartment because in every apartment block lived a member of the secret police (Securitate). Another problem was the rationing of petrol. Romanians got only five liters per car and month, so in the most cases my friends were not able to go with me on road trips. At the Black Sea coast where many Romanians and foreigners spent their holidays, the situation was a bit more relaxed.
One of the biggest problems in Romania was the big Hungarian minority population (about 2 million people or 10% of the population). During the Ceausescu years it was not allowed to speak Hungarian in public. I speak a little bit Hungarian, and so I had some Hungarian friends in Romania, and a problem because I refused to follow this rule. In 1989 at the festival in Sibiu I met a young, desperate Hungarian who told me that he would kill his wife, his two children and himself if nothing would change in the country. I never met this man again, I only hope that he is still alive. These contacts might have been one of the reasons that I was watched by the secret police.
- Good-bye Anca - A Tribute to a Jazz Singer
It was in spring 1987 when I traveled to Romania to attend the Sibiu Jazz Festival, the biggest festival in the country, and the only one with international participation. The year before I had met one of the...
- Traveling in the Soviet Union
When you wanted to travel in the Soviet Union you had four options: You went to the Soviet Union - on an organized trip - after getting a private invitation - after getting an official invitation In...
My Last Trip
The last time I traveled through Romania was in 1994, on my way to Bulgaria. At the Romanian consulate in Budapest I had met a Kosovo Albanian who lived in Germany, and who also was on his way to Bulgaria to meet his mother and his sister there (we both needed a Romanian transit visa). He was too afraid to to Yugoslavia because of the trouble there, and he offered me a ride in his car to Bulgaria. After crossing the border to Romania in the evening, we crashed with our car into a horse drawn cart. The car was damaged, and we spent the night in this spot waiting for the police, but in the morning the people and the horses had disappeared, so we continued our journey. Arriving at the Bulgarian border, we were not allowed to leave the country because of the damaged car. The driver decided to go to Constanta at the Black Sea where he had a friend who could help him to repair his car or to get a new one. We picked up a Russian who lived in Romania, and went to Constanta, another night on the road. This time there were no horses on the street but some police check points. At the first check point we were stopped because of our damaged car, the policemen collected all our papers, and we were held at gunpoint by three or four policemen. After giving them twenty German mark we were allowed to continue our journey, but for one kilometer only were the next check point was waiting. The same game..., the third check point..., the same game..., next morning we arrived in Constanta.
Another Trip to Romania?
Many of my Romanian friends have left the country after the end of the Ceausescu dictatorship, some have passed away, some are still there, and I would like to see them again. Another reason to travel to Romania would be to find out something about my Securitate file (I am almost sure that there is one). Yes, I would like to visit this wonderful country again!