A lesson in value and friendship from Romania

This article brings us a lesson from Romania as guest writer Alex Papa takes us on a journey from the ornate Palatul Parlamentului in Bucharest to the traditional horse carts and countryside of Sibiu where he finds true value and friendship.

I never imagined I would visit the world’s largest, heaviest and most expensive administration building in the world. I also never dreamed it would be the Palatul Parlamentului, or the Palace of the Parliament, in Bucharest, Romania. Yet here I was with a friend, both of us slipping on a long stretch of marble floor, and staring down an ornate staircase whose spiraling form resembled a conch shell. I wondered what precisely was the value of this massive structure and the wealth it contained?

Palatul Parlamentului in Bucharest, Romania

Palatul Parlamentului in Bucharest, Romania

The palace certainly contained wealth. Originally built by Nicolae Ceausescu for use as his palace, this strange behemoth of a building remains empty in places. Some of the commissioned furniture and fixtures never were realized. Yet what had been realized was, paradoxically, a consistent study in material extremes. Nothing about this place is small, or even to human scale.

Marble stairs at Palatul Parlamentului

Marble stairs at Palatul Parlamentului

Three thousand, five hundred tons of crystal take the shape of four hundred and eighty chandeliers and lighting fixtures. Velvet curtains and drapery detailed with gold and silver thread coat the walls. Maple, walnut, oak and cherry wood compose much of the material used for ninety thousand square meters of flooring. All of this runs through eleven hundred rooms.

I did not know what to make of these numbers. More importantly, I couldn’t answer my own question: what was the value of this place, and what did it have to do with real people in Romania?

That night we chose to travel the one hundred and eighty miles or so between Bucharest and Sibiu by car. We started out early and drove straight into fog. Our headlights were useless. Its thickness was insurmountable. Our guide warned me to drive very slowly and I soon figured out why. Along with us, the thickly misted road carried farmers in decrepit looking wooden carts dragged by horses. I say, “dragged” because the carts barely seemed to move.

Horse cart in Romania

Horse cart in Romania

The next morning I found myself in a clearing of cut trees. A group of five men were chopping wood into planks, using what looked like an iron chisel and an oversized wooden mallet. The mallet bludgeoned the chisel and split the wood along a seam. Three men stacked the planks directly into the carts. They waved and smiled at us, but didn’t speak and didn’t stop working until a certain number of planks were collected.

Man chopping wood in Sibiu

Man chopping wood in Sibiu

A sixth man stood over a smoking fire, grilling lunch. When it was ready we sat down and learned how delicious a barbeque could be. We had mititei, or grilled mincemeat patties, along with iahnie, a dish of cooked, sticky beans, some rice and a tremendously harsh, warming red wine. At home, these men had no televisions, no computers and no alarm clocks. They spent all day outside working alongside one another and they went home as soon as the sun set. Now the men spoke, laughing and joking that the wine made them less clumsy when wielding sharp implements.

Sitting alongside Romanian countrymen

Among Romanian countrymen

As we ate and laughed, I realized that perhaps I had found an answer to the question I had while in Bucharest the day before. What was of value to the people in Romania was not the Palatul Parlamentului with its vast, empty halls of power. Instead, horse carts and warm food were of value, because they created the conditions for laughter, conversation, kindness and friendship.

I chuckled to myself, for I discovered something I didn’t expect. My mind had managed to find a question about Romania, but my stomach and heart found the answer while eating with strangers next to a country road, with the fog burning away to make room for a glowing sun.

Author Bio
Alex Papa has travelled extensively in East Europe and Asia where he studies the prospects of foreign investment. As an entrepreneur he often helps people learn how to start a business. He funds his travel from his blog where he offers the latest Norton 360 coupon code.

Other European tales to enjoy

Sour cherry soup at Salföld in Hungary
A rainy day at the Monastery of Jerónimos – in Lisbon
A visitor from Riga

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  • Reply
    Barbara at Hole in the Donut Travels
    October 18, 2010 at 3:29 am

    What a lovely story. I realize more every day that people are the beauty and value of a country, rather than its famous sites.
    Barbara at Hole in the Donut Travels´s last blog post ..Meeting Up With Old and New Friends While Traveling ‘Round the World

  • Reply
    October 19, 2010 at 2:08 pm

    What an amazing story. Like Barbara I find that the best moments are often sitting on a bus talking to someone rather than some famous site.
    Ayngelina´s last blog post ..Are the police always your friend

  • Reply
    October 26, 2010 at 4:59 pm


    Thanks for hosting this great post by Alex Papa. It is one of those lessons of travel that we never tire of re-learning: people are what make the country.

    Jason´s last blog post ..Sunday Morning Pickup Basketball In Cusco

  • Reply
    Short But Sweet « I'm More Romanian Than You!
    October 27, 2010 at 6:18 am

    […] up off from the feed from here: A sixth man stood over a smoking fire, grilling lunch. When it was ready we sat down and learned […]

  • Reply
    October 25, 2011 at 12:54 pm

    I stumbled on this post and I couldn’t go further (especially because I’m Romanian and Romanian people are warm-hearted)without agreeing with you that people give life to any place. The grandeur of a building or the old artifacts in a museum are merely to remind us of the work of our human ancestors.

    • Reply
      October 25, 2011 at 3:36 pm

      @ Mihaela Yes, I agree that it’s the people we meet when we travel that tend to make the most lasting impressions

  • Reply
    October 27, 2015 at 8:11 pm

    It’s so nice to see you had such a wonderful experience in Romania and I hope other tourists decide to visit Romania as well, because this wonderful country has a lot to offer.
    Luminita´s last blog post ..On the footsteps of the real Dracula – places to visit in Romania

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