In the latter part of the 1970s we travelled, as a family, to several of the Iron Curtain countries. It was possible to have a very good and reasonably priced holiday, it revealed a different view of the world to our sons, and lets face it, we found it a bit of excitement and an adventure. We knew of only one other family who did the same as us. Most people took a family holiday in the UK or the Costa Brava in Spain.
We had no idea, at the time, that Ceauşescu subjected his country to a reign of terror and ruled in a dictatorial manner. It was not until his downfall in 1989 that the terrible atrocities were revealed to the world.
When flying to a communist country, it was perfectly obvious that things were not quite the same as other countries. For a start apart from the Air Hostesses, there was extra security in the form of men wearing uniforms and carrying guns. When everyone was seated they would do a patrol of the plane giving the passengers a hard look. On our Romanian flight, H sat with the boys, and I was put beside a young couple. When I started to talk with them I discovered that they were on their honeymoon. I asked them if they had been behind the Iron Curtain before. The girl visibly turned pale and then white, and said in an anxious voice, are we going behind the Iron Curtain? I was very surprised that someone would travel to a communist country and seemingly not realise. I do hope that I did not ruin their trip.
The local people were desperate for hard currency and we were warned not to exchange money with them. It was not possible to take any of their money out of the country so you had to purchase it when you arrived. When you did the official transaction you were handed the lei (their currency) along with a certificate which you had to keep safe in order to transfer the money back again.
The first morning after our arrival, we were heading off to the beach, I was trailing behind as usual, when I heard a .... psst.... psst from behind the bushes. A little chap was wanting to change some money. There and then on the spur of the moment I decided to give it a go. I remember I ended up with a great fist full of notes for very little hard currency, but of course I had no certificates to be able to change it back. By the time I caught up with H, he was shocked, but also found it highly amusing. We were given special vouchers in the hotel for our meals, and there was nothing very much to buy in the shops, so I began to wonder if I had, in fact, been sensible.
Bran Castle home to Dracula
courtesy Huffer via Wikipedia
Link here for Part (2)