Gypsy Flea Markets in Romania

Back to wild and wonderful Romania!  I think I’ve mentioned it before, Romania was a pleasant surprise for us . . .we were not expecting to see such a combination of art, culture, history, beauty and science.  And right in the middle of it all there are Gypsies . . . lots of them.  “The Roma’ . . . nothing to do with Rome or Romania, the Gypsies are known as Roma or Romani . . . throughout the world.  Actually, they are also known by different names in different countries . . . in France, they are gitans or bohème, in Germany, Zigeuner, and in many other countries a variation on cigano, zingaro, cigány, and in Romania they are ţigani.  Originally from northern India, the Roma have a troubled and turbulent history, and they were only liberated from slavery in 1856.  Their problems continued through the second world war, when the Fascist regime of Ion Antonescu deported and killed tens of thousands of the Romani.  Things did not improve much for these people during the communist regime of Ceauşescu’s dictatorship, when in 1977 a national campaign confiscated all the gold, jewelry of the Romani.

Now, they are spread around the world with over 1,000,000 in the U.S.A., about 225,000 in the U.K., and up to 80,000 in Canada.

Romani Flag Author Ian Kent
Romani Flag

In 1933, a Romani flag was created and accepted by the World Romani Congress.  With over 600,000 Romani in Romania, it is not unusual to see them everywhere you travel.  Where else can you drive your car on a modern city street, alongside a horse-drawn buggy, full of either animals, logs, and possibly the entire family.  They are usually a colourful sight, with red tassels or pom-poms attached to the bridal of the horse at the top of their head.

A Roma family out for a drive Ian Kent author
A Roma family out for a drive

After our Danube cruise, we made it a point to see some of Romania . . . I mean . . . while we were in the neighbourhood, so we had booked a five day trip that covered much of the country.  This was a private car, with an experienced driver/translator, and all our accommodation had been booked ahead of time.  The only other person on the trip was a single lady from New York, so it was very special.

Our driver/translator and another tourist Author Ian Kent
Our driver/translator and another tourist

A word about our driver/translator –  Catalin Stoenescu was a personable young man, very well educated, an excellent driver and a joy to travel with.  As well as his extensive experience, he seemed to know everything about the country, places we were, the culture, the religion, the food, the vegetation and other interesting facts, which made our tour even more interesting and enjoyable.

To give you an idea of Catalin’s qualifications, I’ll quote a few lines direct from his own website.   “Catalin Stoenescu, BSc and MSc graduate in geography (environmental protection and global changes) licensed as travel guide and manager in tourism, active traveler, mountain hiker, photography enthusiast, addicted for fishing, bird lover, searching to lose myself while traveling.”

If he had trouble remembering something, he would just get on the phone to his wife, his own personal ‘Google’, who seemed to be equally knowledgeable, to check on some detail.

As we drove around the country, we enjoyed seeing farming areas, mountains, rivers, lakes, delightful painted monasteries, castles, (including Dracula’s Castle).  We even visited the ‘Merry Cemetery’, which I described in a previous ‘Travel Tale’.

Doing it the hard way - open farm country, watching the locals either plowing a field or harvesting hay with nothing but horses Ian Kent Author
Doing it the hard way – open farm country, watching the locals either plowing a field or harvesting hay with nothing but horses

One day, as we were enjoying the scenery, we came across a wide open field with dozens of Romani wandering around, setting up a flea market, tending to their horses.  We asked the driver to stop, and he explained that the gypsies did this often.  We had experienced Gypsy markets in many other areas in Europe, but this was different.  Diana was a little afraid, and was slow to leave the safety of the car, but all I wanted to do was get out and take photos and possibly meet some of these colourful people.  Again, Catalin warned us to be careful, there was a lot of horse-trading going on, and many of them were already drunk from the strong liquor (ţuicǎ) they make in their stills. 

Stills – Distilling apparatus, (Cazan in Romanian).  The traditional Romanian spirit, ţuicǎ , is basically a plum brandy made late in the year after the winemaking.  The plums are left to ferment in large barrels (cǎldǎri) for six to eight weeks, then distilled in large copper boilers/distillers (cazan). This results in a strong liquor that contains 25 to 65% alcohol. The Romani seem to be very clever at metalwork, because everywhere we went, we saw little sales tables set up, usually beside a roadside produce market, was a man selling his latest creation, a beautiful ‘still’ made out of copper piping and other metal parts.  I was very tempted to buy one, until I thought ‘What would I do with it?’.  I could picture my apartment being raided by the police and the liquor control board for illegal manufacture of liquor!  Other metal creations we saw were the metal roofs on many of the Roma houses.  Very expensive where we live, but definitely long lasting.

As I wandered midst this collection of Gypsies going about their business, buying and selling horses, riding gear, farm equipment and other miscellaneous goods, my presence solicited a lot of stares and curiosity . . . like “what the hell is a Canadian doing, wandering around in our flea market?”  Despite our tour guides cautionary warnings, I found that the Gypsies were just as curious about me as I was of them.  I suppose they are much like many minorities all over the world . . . they are misunderstood and treated poorly.  I thought they were a fascinating people.

As you can see from some of the roadsigns, the combination of Hungarian, Romanian and sometimes another language can be confusing for a tourist.  This one (Photo 7) is a good example.  The one that really confused me was the sign in Photo 10 – ‘A different language’.  The top language is Hungarian, then Romanian, then English (that’s the easy one). They all say “Good Bye” as you leave a village.  I did not  recognize the last one, and had to ask my travel agent in Bucharest for some help. She immediately came back and explained that it was written in an ancient Romanian Cyrillic script, which was used in Romania for about 400 years, then abolished in 1862 for the Latin version.  My immediate thought was “So who uses that these days, who’s driving around reading these signs?”  Just another interesting fact gleaned from travel.

Cheeses and sausages at a roadside market Author Ian Kent
Cheeses and sausages at a roadside market
A different language Author Ian Kent
A different language

I have many more stories about Romania, that country is full of them!  I just hope I can give you a few more to read soon.

P.S.  If you are interested in finding out more about Romania, or these delightful tours, please contact Paula Olaru, at . Paula can put together something that you will enjoy and talk about for years to come.  We highly recommend her and found the prices were very reasonable.

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