Lots of culture, lots of food, lots of wine and other intoxicating tipples.
If you’ve taken careful notes while reading my blog, you know that I now live in Moldova. It was my unbelievable good luck to be invited to tag along free of charge with a group of tour operators on a fam tour. What is a fam tour, you ask? It’s a familiarization trip for tour operators and travel agents to learn about what is on offer in a given place and to find new and interesting tours for their clients. This fam tour by Cultural Romtour was to check out the many wonders of Romania and Moldova, two bordering countries in Eastern Europe.
I must admit that when I was first invited, I was a tad suspicious. Go on a tour free of charge? For a whole week? Hotels paid? Food Paid? Transport paid? Did I want to learn about the culture in this part of the world, eat and wine-taste my way across Romania and Moldova?
Wasn’t this one of those situations of when it looks too good to be true, it probably is? Maybe it was a scam of some sort. Maybe I’d get kidnapped and . . . Okay let’s not go there. Who needs nightmares?
I said yes. Turns out Cultural Romtour organizes this fam tour every year and two people from the local expat community in Moldova are invited to participate. Last year’s candidates, I found out, came back home safe and sound and unkidnapped. My fellow lucky person to go this year was a Norwegian lawyer, here doing good works with the Moldovan ministry of justice.
Our group was an international gang of nine – a Belgian, a German, a Norwegian, an Australian, a few Americans of interesting ethnic alloys and me, dual Dutch and American citizen. What can I say, it was an experience just sitting on a bus with these people and hear their war stories and get initiated into the workings of the behind-the-scenes travel industry. It’s not as glamorous as it sounds.
The trip was a symphony of history, food, drink, music and dance. Dancing with the Gypsies no less. I tell you, it was fabulous, it was intoxicating.
We got history – a dizzying whirl of wars and battles and bloody strife. Of conquests and annexations, of armies rampaging through the countryside, raping, pillaging and impaling. We heard colorful tales about Dacian tribes, the Roman Empire, the Red Horde, the Saxons, the Ottoman empire, the communist era under Ceausescu. And let’s not forget to mention good old Count Dracula, Vlad the Impaler, who hailed from Transylvania. Really, we deserved every drop of hootch we got in the evenings to recover from all the tragedies we vicariously suffered through.
We stayed in excellent hotels and lodges, as well as in a humble hostel run by a monastery. We ate fancy restaurant food as well as simple village fare. We saw exquisite as well as cheery architecture, visited opulent cathedrals as well as a modest underground monastery chapel. The vino flowing across the miles was a charming mix of the good, the bad and the holy.
Trust me, I am not finished telling you about this trip through Romania and Moldova. More to follow about Vlad the Impaler, about Gypsies, about wine, liqueurs and brandy tastings, and about a country that is not a country, aka Transnistria.
To sum up this post, let me tell you this: When something looks too good to be true, it sometimes actually is as good as it looks.
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Have you ever been offered a free trip, cruise or stay in some fascinating place? Was it a scam? Was it good? Bad? Ugly? Holy?