This little write up was inspired by a recent trip to Romania and in the next few posts I will try to share my insights on what to see, the people, the infrastucture, food, travel and anything really that I was able to form valid observations upon. Of course, it also includes what photography and other essential travel kit I took and how I got along with it.
I would point out at this stage that my views on Romania are not based on one fleeting visit. I have been to Romania perhaps a dozen times since 2003, for periods that varied between a month and just a few days. My wife has family there, so of course our visits tend to be centred around spending time with them. However, I have seen enough of the country to get a feel for it, plus the bug for exploring more in this destination that remains little known to many westerners and loaded with often incorrect preconceptions.
I just visited Romania again with my wife and 5 year old son, Theo, during July-August 2016, after a gap of about 4 years. As with most travelling these days I go with my photography head firmly attached and I actually find that this makes me more observant to what is around me, whether I shoot anything worthwhile or not. It also keeps a fidgety and easily bored person occupied! On this trip I knew I would have to travel light. We were flying on a Budget Airline called Blue Air and I was toting a carry-on bag only. It's a good idea to read the small print as the depth dimension of carry-on bag allowed on Blue Air is around 5cm less than typical, at 20cm, which rules out many bags, although the 10kg weight limit is not unreasonable. In this I had two pack all my clothes and photography kit. I am experienced enough at travelling to know that excess kit is tiring, distracting, detracts from enjoyment and makes you more vulnerable to theft or losses.
The starting point was therefore the wonderful Lowe Alpine Lightflite 40 carry-on pack. Its a tough and capacious bag that can be carried by 2 handles, a shoulder strap or by completely concealable backpack straps. The bag only weighs 0.8 kg empty and has great versatility, including 2 compartments and both internal and external compression straps, while remaining sleek and free of any excess features. It lacks features that would make it a good choice for long trekking with heavy loads but is purpose designed to carry the most kit possible in the smallest and lightest package and to be easy to handle during transit.
Aside from what clothing was hung on me, in went a total of 3 Karrimor and Rohan travel shirts, an extra pair of shorts, a vest top, a pair of long Rohan trousers, 3 pairs of socks, 3 underwear, a lightweight coat and thin fleece. I would add that the choice of clothing is so important....these lightweight, easy care, non-iron, shirts/trousers are awesome, packing down to almost nothing, yet can be washed and dried out in a hostel or hotel room overnight. Try that with jeans and cotton T-shirts!
A Rohan travel vest has become a trusted companion to me too as I have 12 pockets at hand that hold personal items securely, but it can always serve as temporary storage for lenses or other items if the cabin bag gestapo are having an "off day" at check in!
As for the camera gear, well that and its own bag had to fit within my carry-on! The ideal candidate here was the Thinktank Photo Mirrorless Mover 25 shoulder bag, which fitted neatly inside the top part of the main compartment of my carry-on bag. It seemed a good choice as it is easy to carry and has a zip closure which adds security and keeps Romanian dust out!
In this went the Fuji X-T10 with 35mm f1.4 lens and Fuji X-70 with the WCL-X70 wide angle conversion lens. I took 2 spare batteries for each camera and had to take the charger for the X-T10, whereas I relied on USB charging (very convenient) for the X-70. For this I use an Olixar 4xUSB travel charger that has various clip on plug heads so it can be used anywhere. It charged my phone, my X-70 batteries and my mini power bank. I was thinking of taking the X100T, which would have made sense in many ways (common batteries with X-70), but decided to go with the 35mm, which gave me a lens better capable of portrait shooting and a bit more reach to crop into scenes. I therefore had effective focal lengths of approx 21mm, 28mm and 50mm in a tiny package. I also had my iPhone which is ridiculously convenient and lets me have fun with low-fi shooting in Hipstamatic. I packed a Manfrotto Pixi tripod and single 49mm 10-stop ND filter but actually never used either. I also packed 3 extra SD cards as I had no means of external image storage on the go.
Here is the Thinktank bag inside the main bag, along with a couple of shirts to give an idea of scale. The Lowe Alpine bag will expand to a depth of 25cm but in this case I under-packed it and used the compression straps to make it 20cm deep, in order to comply with Blue Air carry-on rules. It takes loads of kit and for anyone travelling alone carries more than enough.
My carry-on bag weighed about 7.6kg, which was impressive really for 2 weeks away. My travel motto is....why carry dirty washing around?....just wash it and re-wear! It really is so much hassle taking more than you need in sweltering, busy places.
Having travelled on Blue Air from Luton to Bacau in Romania previously, my expectations were not very high. On that occasion check-in was a lengthy hassle with staff meticulously measuring carry-on bags and causing all kinds of fuss (no doubt to raise extra revenue by causing bags to be checked in at extortionate rates) and arrival at Bacau was chaotic, hot and cramped, to be followed by a 3 hour road trip to Iasi, our destination.
On this occasion I readied myself to to travel with the thought that I would expect it to be complete shite and therefore could only be pleasantly surprised if it wasn't! Actually, it wasn't too bad at all and basically did what it said on the tin. No frills, but polite staff, slightly tired but OK 737 jet, arrived on time etc. The new route, Luton to Iasi, was great as it placed us 20 minutes from our destination rather than 3 hours of near-death experience on Romanian roads. Nothing is perfect however and our one checked bag went missing, full of around 3 tonnes of goods for relatives plus my wife's and kid's clothes! It did turn up about 2 days later mind you.
It was hot as always in the summer, with temperatures in eastern Romania around 32-36 Celsius, so being a Brit, this would not really be my choice of time to travel there, but school holidays and family issues decided it.
Stay tuned for more about the trip.