Destinations, Europe, Off the Radar Travel Interviews, Romania 17

Off the Beaten Path – Travels in Romania

Meet the latest traveller in our series – Interviews on Off the Radar Travel Destinations! Last week we spoke to Adrian Philpson on his travels in North Korea

This week, we have with us Ruth Johnston from Exploramum and Explorason  who is an Australian single Mum that has been travelling around the world for the past 3 years with her son. They have visited 44 countries so far and are loving their life as they world-school and explore the road less travelled.  Today they will be talking to us about their travels in Romania.

sleeping at Hotel of Ice

Sleeping at Hotel of Ice

Tell us a bit about yourselves and your travels

This month I turned 53 year old and my son will soon turn 10. We started planning this trip when we lived in Australia where I was working day and night to survive and pay off a house. With little or no spare time or money, we made the decision together to change our life. We both loved travel, and we both loved helping the poor, so we decided to combine the two and set off on our own adventure.

First off we went to Fiji, and there we raised funds to help a poor village. We bought food and clothing and also helped pay for 2 children to go to school. Later we did a lot of work with street people in South America. We both have a passion to help children, especially those we see begging in the streets. Our travels do not just encompass the glamourous and touristic destinations, we also discover some very out of the way, and unique locations. We love to meet the local people and become friends, and see how they really live their lives.

Why did you chose to travel to Romania?

We spent 5 weeks in Romania. We had planned Christmas in Turkey, but my son decided he wanted a Christian Christmas, and a white Christmas especially after being in Cuba for the one before that. So we hopped in the car and met up with friends in Romania. Romania turned out to be a really pleasant surprise. We made a lot of new friends, and visited some really unique places including a night in the Hotel of Ice where we ventured up in a snow blizzard inside a retro Coca-cola cable car, and spent the most fantastic night sleeping on a bed of ice. Dinner was served on ice platters – it was just the best experience.

I have loved Romania, because it is yet to be damaged by mass tourism. The culture is still rich. The country is affordable, and many speak english, so for us we just loved every aspect of our time here.

Outside Prince Charles Guesthouse in Viscri

Outside Prince Charles Guesthouse in Viscri

Explorason and a traditional Romanian lady

Explorason and a traditional Romanian lady

Where did you stay?

We stayed in so many places, but one was Brukenthal Palace – a summer residence of the palace and that was fantastic, and the owner was so good to us. We also stayed in a traditional Saxon house in Viscri organised by Beyond Dracula and that was very relaxing and authentic. And of course we stayed in the Hotel of Ice, at Balea Lac.

What were your favourite and most difficult parts on this journey?

My most favourite part of Romania was just driving. Being Australian the experience of snow is unique, so to drive through back roads with trees that looked like they were sugar coated in snow was spectacular. To meet the local people, and buy antique cloth off little old ladies who never stopped smiling was also a delight for me.

The most difficult time was when out GPS took us up the wrong snow-slushy road on a rainy day. Then we turned back and a large shard of metal ruined our tyre. Things went from bad to worse with the car, but all the locals helped us. It took all afternoon, but we realised how important it is to pay them as they gave up so much of their time to help us, and we wanted to encourage them to help others.

Romanian monitories and churches have a rare blue colour they fail to know the origin of

Romanian monitories and churches have a rare blue colour they fail to know the origin of

Romanian traditional Saxon house

Romanian traditional Saxon house

Romanian New Year carollers

Romanian New Year carollers

Merry Cemetery

Merry Cemetery

Highlights of your stay 

New Year’s Eve at a Medieval Resort with a sleigh ride was definitely a highlight. Here we met so many nice people as we all stayed a few days. These people then helped me plan my trip through Romania. Romanians are just so kind.

Dinner at the Hotel of Ice

Dinner at the Hotel of Ice

New Years Eve at a Medieval banquet

New Years Eve at a Medieval banquet

Sleigh Ride

Sleigh Ride

Brukenthal Palace

Brukenthal Palace

What were some of your favourite dishes/food there?

I think the favourite for me was the soups; creamy mushroom broth with bread-balls; and the cabbage rolls. Oh and the desserts with local berry jam.


Would you recommend Romania to other people? Families? Solo travellers? Backpackers?

Romania is perfect for all travellers. It is safe. We only had one incident when we took a photo of a house that was colourful, and the Gypsies chased us with a stick. I think they thought we were ‘casing the joint’, as they say! Romania is way more than Gypsies, and in fact they really paint a false picture of what the country is like. Bucharest is rich in culture, and there are many prosperous areas in Romania. So there are places from 5 star to backpacker standards. Romanians are so friendly, that it is also a perfect place for solo travellers. There are loads of family friendly places to visit too, and even though the legend of Dracula and Transylvania seems to be the predominant feature first thought about for Romania, once this legendary cloud is removed, there is a land of wonder awaiting all who visit.

What’s next on the horizon for your travels?

We don’t have any set plans. We are very free spirited with our travels, and this gives us the flexibility to learn about places as we go and then choose where to head next. So we are very much “watch this space”. We have a car to get back to the UK, but then we could always sell it, or just scrap it, so who knows!

The amazing thing is that you can never see it all in this wide world, but to see even a small part is incredible. Explorason has a goal of visiting 100 countries, so we have a long way to go!

To read more about their travels, have a look at any of their following social media:


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  • Steve says: January 31, 2015 at 2:48 pm

    The Hotel of Ice looks amazing! What an adventure.

    That’s great you are traveling with your son. Is he on a break from school?

    Thanks for the great post and pictures.


  • galanda23 says: January 31, 2015 at 6:26 pm

    Very interesting interview, Samyia. You always choose people with amazing stories for your series, that’s wonderful. Ruth Johnston is a very brave woman to travel the world with a young son, just by herself. 5 weeks in winter in Romania is a long time. I lived there and know how difficult winters are. In any case, she seemed to have had a wonderful time and definitely saw a great deal of that country. Good for her.

    • samselim says: January 31, 2015 at 11:16 pm

      Thanks Anda, Ruth is quite amazing! she has a quite a few posts on Romania and all these other amazing places on her blog. I think it’s very brave of her too to travel the world with her son 🙂

  • Moritz says: February 1, 2015 at 6:52 pm

    What an interesting interview. The experiences of the two sound just great. What a nice pick for an interview partner.

    I’d love to explore more of Romania as well. The country got so much charme.

  • Vlad says: February 1, 2015 at 10:00 pm

    I live in Romania, but I never recommend people to visit during the winter! So glad they had a good time though and visited a lot of wonderful places. And I still haven’t made it to the Brukenthal Palace, sigh.

  • Linda @AsWeSawIt says: February 1, 2015 at 11:35 pm

    This is the second Off the Radar Travel Destination I’ve found through #TheWeeklyPostcard, and just as interesting as the first.

    It’s true that Romania isn’t as well traveled as a lot of other destinations. For those of us who enjoy experiencing local culture without all the touristy trappings, I think that is a good thing.

    Ruth (Exploramum) is certainly teaching her son a valuable lesson: The world is an amazing place and there are good people everywhere. He’s obviously an adventurous kid and willing to try things (like strange foods). That’s one of the best gifts a mother can give a child: unique experiences that he’ll always remember and carry with him. Good going! I think that these life experiences are the best kind of schooling one can have.

  • Jess says: February 4, 2015 at 2:44 am

    I never thought of Romania as a place to visit in the winter – that ice hotel and the sleigh ride look awesome!

  • Adelina // PackMeTo says: February 4, 2015 at 6:58 pm

    Wow! What a great trip! I only spent a short weekend in Cluj on the west side of Romania but I really wanted to go back and explore more of Transylvania. It definitely is a little explored area that has so much history and culture.

  • Ruth - Exploramum says: February 6, 2015 at 8:45 pm

    Thanks everyone – guess what – we are back in Romania again!! Just for 3 days but we really have enjoyed this country far more than most. Winter is fine to travel most of the time and it is a beautiful place filled with beautiful people with great hearts. We hope to also return in Summer!

  • SJ @ Chasing the Donkey says: February 6, 2015 at 11:05 pm

    I met Ruth last year – wonderful woman and a very charming and well mannered son. What a great trip this looks like!

  • rebecca says: April 12, 2015 at 9:23 pm

    I had just been looking at the ice hotel and Bucharest before reading your article. I think it may need to be on my ‘to visit’ list.

  • McCool Travel says: May 12, 2015 at 11:22 pm

    Love the NYE photo. Looks like a Yeti.

  • Victoria@celebratetheweekend says: September 16, 2015 at 4:36 am

    I can relate to loving Romania and its people. I spent a month there in the summer, some 22 years ago. The kindness of strangers is unlike anywhere I have ever been to; you also have so much to see as far as nature and history at very affordable prices. I hope to take the kids on a return trip in a few years.

    • says: September 16, 2015 at 9:44 pm

      We really want to visit Romania as well! Heard so many wonderful things about the people and the country!

  • Ruth - Exploramum says: February 11, 2016 at 3:45 am

    OH MY GOSH !!!!!!
    THANK YOU so much for sharing about our wonderful time in Romania.
    Thank you to all of you too for your fabulous comments.
    You are all inspiring. I’ve had a flat day (we’ve been sick for the best part of 3 weeks)and just read this and realise why I love travel and all I meet along the way.

    • says: February 11, 2016 at 9:00 pm

      Thanks for sharing your wonderful travel stories on our blog 🙂 Hope you are feeling better now…Love following your travel journey, very inspiring!

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