Expat Adventure: When it Looks Too Good to Be True

by missfootloose on October 1, 2011 · 23 comments

in Culture and Customs, Food, Moldova, Romania, travel

Inside the house of a Roma family in Transylvania

Have you ever wanted to go on a culture-wine-food tour? In California? France? Italy? Please, have some imagination! Be a little adventurous and go on one in Romania and Moldova!

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?

Really?

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.

Sunset in Sibiu, a lovely town that used to be the center of the Transylvanian Saxons in Romania

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.

Cozia Monastery, oldest in Romania, built between 1386 and 1388

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.

* * *

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?

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{ 22 comments… read them below or add one }

Heidi October 1, 2011 at 2:57 pm

I’m also fascinated with Romania, but haven’t had the chance to travel there yet. Loved your pics and enjoyed your article.

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missfootloose October 3, 2011 at 6:01 pm

Romania was a surprise to me. It’s time to let go of the old mental images we have of the country! Hope you get a chance to visit!

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Ashleigh October 2, 2011 at 2:01 am

Wow! Sounds fantastic! So glad you got to go!

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Pat October 2, 2011 at 7:24 am

Sign me up! Sounds like a dream come true… a free ride around the countryside to tell your your wonderful tales!

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guyana gyal October 2, 2011 at 6:55 pm

My tv’s on and they’re playing music videos and Celine Dion’s in one of those old castles that I SWEAR looks like it’s in Transylvania or Modova or some other country near there.

I’ve always wanted to visit that part of the world! I’d hop on to a free trip so fast.

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missfootloose October 5, 2011 at 3:50 pm

Synchronicity! Come live in Moldova and next year when they ask me I’ll suggest you for getting the free trip!

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maria altobelli October 3, 2011 at 1:55 am

Sometimes, Miss Footloose, that free ride or gift or whatever IS too good to be true. The last week in Skujas, Latvia (population nine), a Dutch guy who married a Latvian friend, came for dinner with a trunkful of what he called Dutch Cabbage. It looked to me like a variety of kale. He assured me the three bunches he gave me was only enough for one meal with two people.

Well, with my Italian roots, I do like kale but spending my last week cleaning, slicing, and cooking up the pile (enough to feed a mini-army) was much more than I could bear. After feeding that mini-army, I ditched the last of it in the compost.

Your tour sound eminently more fun.

Saludos, Maria

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missfootloose October 9, 2011 at 6:27 pm

Oh, Maria, I would have loved to take it off your hands ;). I know what he gave you. It’s called farmer’s cabbage in Dutch ad it’s just plain curly kale. It does take a mountain to feed a few because it does cook down like spinach does. Here’s the Dutch soul food you use if for: Boil and mash potatoes with some milk and butter as usual. Boil the cabbage down along with some fatty pork (optional) and then mash the potatoes and cabbage together with salt and pepper. Serve with a smoked sausage. Not optional 😉 In the US I would buy the Polish kielbasa for that, but it’s not the same as the smoked Dutch sausage, but delicious anyway.

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Sarah | Move Me Abroad October 4, 2011 at 3:28 pm

Romania is a beautiful country. It has its good and bad points as does anywhere but avoid stereotypes and the usual Dracula nonsense and you will find a welcoming people, a relaxed way of life and stunning scenery. I can’t wait to go back.

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missfootloose October 5, 2011 at 3:48 pm

I’ve never been a Dracula fan, or a vampire fan, but it brings in the tourists. You’re right, the people are friendly and Romania is a good place to visit.

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Christopher October 5, 2011 at 10:54 am

What a treat! I visited Romania once in 1994. The food was incredible. It was the first and last time I ate bear with raw garlic. I didn’t have the chance to try the wine. 🙁

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missfootloose October 5, 2011 at 3:44 pm

I had lots of wine, but no bear with raw garlic. would have liked to give that a try!

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dutchbaby October 5, 2011 at 6:50 pm

You are a brave soul! I’m thrilled it was a great trip. Your photos are wonderful.

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Gabriella October 6, 2011 at 12:37 pm

Very nice story again. We too here in Vienna had our wine walks and in the vineyards surrounding Vienna, but I can imagine yours where more lively and spontaneous as the ones here perfectly organized with everything, including closing times of the vineyard being stipulated as it mostly is here in the West. There was music but no dancing and I missed the sound of loud laughter and hand-clapping as I got so fund of when I lived in Georgia, also a great country to visit for it tasty wines! Always great read to read your stories lady footloose!

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missfootloose October 6, 2011 at 2:54 pm

Hoi Buurvrouw! Nice to hear from you! I still miss the toasting and dancing in Armenia if not the wine 😉

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Jan Ross October 6, 2011 at 3:56 pm

I look forward to hearing more about your trip! I get “free” travel all the time, but remember it’s not really free, you are writing about your experiences and giving them great advertising! I work for that travel – but I love it!

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missfootloose October 9, 2011 at 6:31 pm

All I was asked to do was to mention it to my expat friends here in Moldova. So I thought I could do just a little more and write some posts about and an article for the International Women’s Club here.

But of course, you are right, they were hoping to get some good advertising out of it.

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Jenny October 7, 2011 at 11:51 am

I sometimes go on group press trips, nearly always the ones which are run by regional tourism groups, and are similar to the one you describe. These are designed to show the kind of things the locals know about and wish foreign visitors did too. They’re hectic, but fun, and absolutely fascinating, and are designed to give journalists or operators lots of ideas about things to feature in the region.

But you have to be careful with some trip offers, specially some of those funded by individual travel companies or PR firms. They might require you to praise their product to the exclusion of others, and in essence write an advertorial. I would suggest those kind of trips are best avoided!

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missfootloose October 9, 2011 at 6:33 pm

I made sure I knew what was expected of me before I went, and it was almost nothing: Just talk about the trip with my expat friends in Moldova. I would have done that anyway ;).

It was hectic at times, but I enjoyed it very much, and it gave me an insight into the life and work of tour operators.

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MaryWitzl October 7, 2011 at 3:55 pm

That all sounds so marvelous. I know I’d have thought just what you did — and been amazed to discover there were no strings attached. It is a smart move for the tour group: I’d PAY to take one of those tours after reading your account, and I’ll bet other people would too.

My brother-in-law was once invited for a weekend away by a wealthy older couple he met on holiday. He was young, hungry and broke, so he took them up on it. All his friends swore he’d end up dead, with a sack around his head in some ditch, but he was wined and dined and had a thoroughly wonderful time. The couple missed their own son and just wanted the (wholly innocent) pleasure of his company. My brother-in-law loves to tell that tale.

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missfootloose October 9, 2011 at 6:36 pm

I love that story! It is too bad that out of necessity we have become so suspicious of other people’s motives. I can see why he loves to tell that story.

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edj October 12, 2011 at 3:16 am

I have had Romanian friends in various places (America, Morocco, France) and they have convinced me of its beauty. You have continued their work! I’m sold! I want to go! All I need is a bit of cash for the plane ticket…

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