Week 38 – Romanian Rhapsody: 25 Fascinating Facts

12th – 18th May 2014

Romanian Rhapsody
Romanian Rhapsody

Romania is a fascinating country. The word derives from the Latin Rominus meaning “Citizen of Rome”. It is located on the crossroads of Eastern and Central Europe and has played a significant part in history. We have been sheltered in the warmth of it’s people, felt peace in it’s lush forests, surrounded by the beauty of it’s mountains, sated by it’s cuisine and in awe of it’s UNESCO listed historical sites – castles, fortified churches, ruins, old towns.

Talking with our Couchsurfing host Valentin in Cluj Napoca, prompted me to research how Romania has effected the world. You may be surprised by the results. Some of it’s inventions have effected your life. So next time your drinking coffee at a cafe, walking onto a plane, exploring a cave or writing – think of Romania.

Here are 25 things that you may not know about Romania.

1. Currently Romania has one of the highest internet speeds in the world. According to OOkla in 2014 it ranks third in the world with speeds of 57.12 Mbps, a few years ago it was ranked first! (Gosh, we wish Australia was ranked higher).

2. The Romanian Nicolae Constantin Paulescu discovered pancreine (later called insulin) in 1921.

3. While a student in Paris, The Romanian Petrache Poenaru invented the world’s first fountain pen, an invention for which the French Government issued a patent on 25 May 1827.

4.  Romanian Henri Marie Coandă built an experimental aircraft, the Coandă-1910 described by Coandă in the mid-1950s as the world’s first jet. Another Romanian, Anastase Dragomir invented the parachuted chair in the 1920’s, an early version of today’s ejection seat.

5. Romanian gymnast Nadia Elena Comănec was the first female gymnast to be awarded a perfect score of 10 in an Olympic gymnastic event at the 1976 Summer Olympics in Montreal.

6. George Emil Palade was a Romanian cell biologist. In 1974 he was awarded the Nobel Prize in Physiology and Medicine, together with Albert Claude and Christian de Duve, for his innovations in electron microscopy and cell fractionation which together laid the foundations of modern molecular cell biology.

7. Victor Babeș was a Romanian physician,biologist, and one of the earliest bacteriologists. He made early and significant contributions to the study of rabies, leprosy, diphtheria, tuberculosis, and other infectious diseases. Universities in Cluj-Napoca and Timișoara bear his name.

8. Grigore Constantin Moisil was a Romanian mathematician, computer pioneer, and member of the Romanian Academy. His research was mainly in the fields of mathematical logic, (Łukasiewicz–Moisil algebra), algebraic logic, MV-algebra, and differential equations. He is viewed as the father of computer science in Romania. In 1996, the IEEE Computer Society awarded him posthumously the Computer Pioneer Award.

9. The Carpathian Mountains is one of the largest undisturbed forests in Europe, including 13 national parks and three biosphere reserves, containing 400 unique species of mammals, including the Carpathian chamois. Most of Europe’s brown bear population lives here.

10. Francesco Illy, the founder of Illycaffè was born in Timisoara, Romania in 1892. He also invented the first automatic steam coffee machine. (We have drunk some Illy coffee whilst here, it is robust).

11. The earliest Homo sapiens fossils, up to now, were discovered in 2002 in south-western Romania, in the Cave of Bones. The fossil’s age is estimated at 37,800 to 42,000 years old.

12. Hollywood’s original Tarzan in the 1932 ‘Tarzan the Ape Man’, Johnny Weissmuller was born in the city of Timisoara, Romania.

13. The modernist “Dada” movement (Dadaism) of the 1920s was co-founded by Romanian artists Tristan Tzara and Marcel Iancu.

Black Church, Brasov
Black Church, Brasov

14. Brasov is home to the largest gothic church east of Vienna (Austria).  The Black Church was built between 1385 and 1477 and got its nickname after the Great Fire of 1689 blackened its walls. It has the largest organ in Europe with 4000 tubes (built by Buchholz, Berlin’s famous organ builder, in 1836) as well as the largest bell in Romania, weighting 41,000 lbs (6.3 tons).


15. Brasov is home to what is said to be the narrowest street in Europe. The Rope Street (Strada Sforii) is approximately four feet wide and connects Cerbului Street with Poarta Schei Street. The street was initially used as an access-route by firefighters.

16. Traian Popovici is the unsung Oskar Schindler, a Romanian lawyer who played the same role, saving many more lives, and is virtually unknown.

17. The Gold Museum in the small Romanian city of Brad is the only one of its kind in Europe. Founded 100 years ago, the gallery contains a mind-blowing collection of over 2000 pieces of gold gathered here from across the world. (We are hoping to visit it).

18. In 2005, the Romanian currency, the “Leu”, dropped four of its zeroes, such that what used to be 10,000 lei became printed as just 1 leu. Banks started making them out of plastic instead of paper.

19. Romania is the leader in Europe, and sixth in the world, in terms of the number of certified IT specialists.

20. Romania features one of the world’s newest competitive bio-industries, in key areas as pharmacogenomics, protein engineering, glyco-engineering, tissue engineering, bio-informatics, genome medicine and preventive medicine.

21. In 1938 Romanian Stefan Odobleja was the one who actually set the basic themes of cybernetics in “Psychology consonantiste“, published in Paris. He is now considered to be the “Father of Cybernetics”.

22. Romania has seven UNESCO World Heritage Sites including the Historic Centre of Sighisoara and many Transylvanian villages with Fortified Churches.

23. Romania is the 11th largest arms supplier in the world. The Romanian arms industry’s main customer, for whom they mainly build warships, vehicles, and equipment, is the Romanian Government.

24. Romanian Emil Racovita studied Arctic life and was one of the founders of biospeleology (the study of organisms living in caves).

25.The Pastrami – a popular sandwich ingredient in America – has its origins in Romania.”Goose-pastrama” was the starting point for American pastrami in New Yorks Romanian jewish quarter. However, beef was cheaper and more widely available than goose, so pastrama was made with beef brisket instead. New York’s Sussman Volk is generally credited with producing the first pastrami sandwich in 1887. Volk, a kosher butcher and New York immigrant from Lithuania, claimed he got the recipe from a Romanian friend in exchange for storing the friend’s luggage while the friend returned to Romania.

Now you know…

So week 38 saw us seeing more of this wonderful country. We explored Transylvania, which in Latin means “beyond the forest”. Today we were in Sfantu Gheorghe – one of Transylvania’s oldest towns. We were couchsurfing with a lovely young couple, Andras and Evelyn. They are a dentist and an education student, who are both Szeleky Hungarians. They spoke about their struggle to retain their unique cultural heritage in a community that felt neither Hungarian or Romanian. Infact 70% of the towns population are Szeleky and speak Hungarian not Romanian.

On day 261, we enjoyed the delights of St Georges Park. Whilst the boys mingled with local children on the sunlit playground we spoke to a friendly basketball coach and history teacher. It seems both basketball and history are popular here in Romania.

We then visited the unique Szeleky National Museum. Being its only guests we were treated to an initial introduction by a local volunteer and accompanied by a guide who dutifully switched on and off lights as we passed through. The building , furniture and even the fittings are beautifully designed by Károly Kós whilst in his youthful 20’s.

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Then up the hill to the fortified church where delighted to be handed the keys and invited to explore.

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A walk through the old town brought us back to the theatre where we were to meet with Couchsurfer Idli.

She had kindly invited us to share a meal with her family. The evening started with a traditional plum brandy, Pálinka. Our boys and their girls played separately, slowly coming together by the evening’s end over a shared fascination with play dough. We feasted and drank home-made wine to stories of forest exploration and common travel destinations. It was an interesting and unique evening which we will always remember fondly.

We found ourselves being enchanted by Sfante Gheorghe. It’s people and it’s culture had a distinctly unique flavour. The town itself was just a nice, knowable size and so family friendly. It truly earned a place in our hearts and we were sad to say good-bye.

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Church - Targu Mures
Church – Targu Mures

The next day, Andras kindly drove us to the station for the pleasant train journey to Targu Mures. There we met Brazillian born couchsurfing host, Fernando who took us into his home and cooked us a lovely vegetarian dinner. Our encounter was brief, due to his busy schedule, but he is a great lover of family so we are sure to stay in touch.

Day 263, saw us on a day trip to the UNESCO listed town of Sighisoara.

Our host - Cluj Napoca
Our host – Cluj Napoca

The next day we were again on a train headed to Cluj Napoca. Our host Valentin met us on foot and together we headed home on the trolley bus to meet his wife and children. Once settled we set off to explore the old town, then met up with Valentin and family for some pre-birthday shopping.

On day 265 of our tour, our precious son Reuben turned seven. We are so very proud of the wonderful, creative boy that he has become. Happy Birthday Reuben!!

Our hosts had kindly made some preparations, the highlight being Olga’s luscious homemade birthday cake! A quiet day, away from the rain outside – playing, learning backgammon, reading, sharing – revelling in the warmth of family. The end to another fantastic week in Romania.

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