Last week, Yvette told us what she really loves about Romania. This week we'll discover the story of Duncan Ridgley.
Best known as a paparazzo and news photographer for Sun newspaper, he is the owner of the Village Hotel and photographer for photographytoursromania.com.
At the age of 40, he took his three young children out of school and went off traveling for 4 months and bought some land near Bran Castle. Now, at the age of 50, after 7 years spent in Romania, he has written 2 books on how he gets to Breb, Maramureș, ”in the middle of nowhere".
1. When was your first visit to Romania?
After we spent 4 months traveling around the Balkans in a camp van, we arrived in 2004 for the first time in Romania. After that, we bought a land in Pestera, above Moeciu, near Bran.
2. How was your first visit?
It was good compared with other countries. After we came from all the countries, some Slavic, where people are very cold and not very friendly, it was nice to see the Romanian people. Within 2 minutes of being in Romania, we had people inside our camp van asking lots of questions. People were friendly and they don’t have a problem with foreigners and it was a nice feeling.
3. What made you stay in Romania? / Why Romania?
It’s a good opportunity to run a business here since a lot of entrepreneurs from Romania are in London. Besides that, I love the old traditional cultures and I like sharing that knowledge. So, for me to do tourism here is great, I can’t do this kind of tourism in England. I could do it somewhere near the Amazon or maybe with some Eskimos in Northern Russia, but it’s a lot easier to do it here, where you can find very old traditions. It’s a good opportunity for me to run a cultural tourism business here.
4. Did you come alone or with someone?
I came here with my family, but my children went back to school in England.
5. How was your experience in Romania so far? / Tell us about a little about your experience in Romania.
One of the biggest problems of living here and doing business here is that everyone sees you as a tourist, even though I’ve lived here for 7 years. You’re treated like a tourist and you’re expected to pay a tourist price, which is annoying, but on the other side if you adapt to the way of living here and understand how things work it’s ok.
It’s a different culture here, different from the one from England. When you go to England, they explain what the culture is, when you came to Romania no one will tell you that it’s difficult to make things done. There’s no teamwork in Romania, it’s pretty hard to make 7 people work together, to achieve something. There’s a saying here ”don’t trust anyone, just trust me and my cousin”. But when everyone tells you that, you’d end up saying ”I won’t trust anyone’’. And that’s how I learned to do everything by myself. So I had to understand how Cartea Funciara (Land registration) works, how the topograf from 200 years ago from the Austro-Hungarian Empire works to how the Environment Department works and so on. You have to know everything about what kind of bricks to buy, to how much is the price for old bricks to new bricks, how much is a ”stejar casa” (oak house).
6. I assume it was challenging to move to another country. Have you given up something?
The fact that you must do everything by yourself it was the most challenging thing. I miss my friends from England, I don’t miss English humor but instead, I miss humor that I understand. When all the Romanians are laughing about a joke and then they are starting to explain it to me I’m like ”you have explained the joke now, it’s gone, guys... ”. So I miss understanding what everyone is talking about since my Romanian is not very good. Every time I want to talk to somebody I must go through a translator which is frustrating. A lot of people call me ”englezoi”, I’m not Duncan, I’m the English guy, even though I know these people for 7 years.
7. What was the hardest thing to do after you came here?
To understand the culture. The culture in Romania is different. For example, if you trust me and I screw you over you are the fool for trusting me. So it took a lot of time to get used to the fact I must do everything by myself. To find where to buy things, to buy a cazan, to build a cazan, now I know where to go to do that. In England when you want to buy something you go on the internet, here I don’t understand the language and I can’t find what I'm looking for on the internet. For example, in England if my engine blew up in my car I order a new one from the internet, here what I do is order new one from England and get it delivered. There are thousands of pensions in Maramures, there is nowhere to buy a second-hand coffee machine, second-hand washing machine, everything you want you to have to buy it new.
8. What made you fall in love with Romania?
The old ways of life, that fact that real life still exists here, the true values of the families, real communities, that are gone in England. In England you are worried about your credit card rating, here you worry about what your neighbors think about you or not.
9. What is the first word that comes to mind when thinking about Romania?
Romania is the land of fairytales, all the stories from books still exists in the villages.
10. If you’d had to leave Romania, what you would miss the most?
Not horinca, I don’t like horinca (fruit brandy from Maramureș). The people are pretty nice, the hospitality.
11. Some people say Romania is ”different”. Why is that?
But it is, it has a different culture, it comes from the ultimate Empire, which is very different from Western European culture. Not because you had communism, but because these regions were completely ignored from the last 15 years, the old ways of life still exist here, wherein the rest of Europe is completely changed.
12. Romania would be a better place if ...
We’d all work as a team. ”Trust me and my cousin” is the biggest problem of this country. Unless you do something about it, it won’t change.
13. I think many people said to you ”why would you go to Romania” or ”where is Romania” and so on and so forth... If someone would like to come to Romania what would you say to them?
It’s not how you would think it would be. The terrorists are in London, the beggars are in London and not here. It’s completely different, it’s a far safer place than most of Western Europe. The people are unbelievably friendly and most people that come here are amazed at how nice it is and some saw through the stereotypes. It’s not how you think it’s going to be it’s much better.
14. If not Romania, then where?
I picked Sri Lanka but the tsunami wiped it out.
15. Do you have any funny travel stories?
I have a lot of stories what theme do you want?
When I first came to Romania, I was trying to say I want to build a house so this Romanian guy starting hitting me on the shoulder and he kept saying ”fuck you” so I thought he wanted a fight so I was getting ready to punch him back, but he was smiling and I thought that maybe ”fuck you” /fʌk juː/ means something else in Romanian. And so I found out later that he was trying to say ”fac eu” /fʌk eu/, so he was saying ”I’ll build the house for you”, so ”fac eu” means ”I’ll do it for you”. After that it was a joke in the village and a lot of people great me ”hei englezi fac eu” and I know that they were saying the Romanian version, not the English version.
16. What’s next?
I want to run my hotel and live happily ever after. I plan to visit India in the near future.
Photos courtesy of Duncan Ridgley.