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Horse-drawn carts jostle for space against fast cars whose drivers are talking money on mobile phones; farm workers watch Baywatch courtesy of satellite dishes standing in the rear yard of their medieval farmhouse. Romania is clawing itself forward, slowly and surely sloughing off the remnants of the Ceausescu era. The transition is not easy, and for some it's downright painful. In the middle of the picturesque scenery and the headlong rush to development where the money is fast and the suits Armani, parts of the country are being left out. But in 1996 a neocommunist government was voted out and replaced by one talking about genuine reform, so the country is not without hope.

Romania has majestic castles, medieval towns, great hiking and wildlife, and the cheap skiing of much of the 'undiscovered' former Eastern Bloc. And the Romanians, despite being among Europe's poorest people, generally haven't cottoned on to the scams and ploys so common elsewhere to separate travellers from their money. You'll be floored at how different Romania is, but you'll almost certainly see signs that it's chasing the dreams of the rest of the West.

Area: 237,500 sq km (91,700 sq mi)
Population: 22.5 million
Capital city: Bucharest (pop 2 million)
People: Romanians (90%), Hungarians (7%), Roma (Gypsies) (2%), Germans, Ukrainians
Language: Romanian, Hungarian (in Transylvania)
Religion: Romanian Orthodox, Roman Catholic, Protestant
Government: Republic
President: Ion Iliescu
Prime Minister: Adrian Nastase

GDP: US$90 billion
GDP per head: US$4000
Annual growth: -8%
Inflation: 40%
Major industries: Agriculture, manufacturing
Major trading partners: EU (esp.Germany, Italy, France), USA, Turkey
Member of EU: no

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