It may only be a four letter question but the answer is much bigger, drawing a sketch not only of an interesting history but of an ideal and beauty which still survives today and which is incredibly striking. Vama Veche (which means ‘old border’) is a great travelling destination in south-eastern Romania which is widely known and cherished by both the younger and older generation, but is unfortunately often missed by foreign backpackers.
It’s a place where the feeling of everyone coming together to have an amazing time can be felt in the air and its constant pulse of music, in the feeling of fine sand in-between your toes and in the calm of light blue waves – it’s a place where the sense of freedom and unity reigns, bringing with it the sun and the eternal symbol of a Romanian summer.
Vama’s history begins in 1811, when the Gagauz people, known in Romanian as the găgăuzi, began to inhabit it. They called it Yilanlîk, which can be translated as something like ‘place full of snakes’.That might sound pretty scary, but they were really good warriors and thankfully for us, managed to get rid of them all! Turks and Tatars inhabited it after the Gagauz moved at the behest of the Russian Empire, and it ended up becoming part of Romania in 1878 as part of the Dobrogea region.
During the communist period lots of students from Cluj-Napoca came here and the place began to develop a reputation much different from the standard Communist holidays that were offered. Vama Veche became a haven for an alternative lifestyle which attracted intellectuals, and young people looking for something different. Welcoming locals offered cheap accommodation in their houses along with beautiful locally sourced food. The way you dressed, spoke or thought didn’t matter; everyone was on the same page irrespective of who they were.
It thus became a great symbol of freedom and fun that spawned the term vamaioți, meaning people who are so captivated by the spirit of Vama that they come back religiously every summer. Over time, these people brought more friends, boyfriends and girlfriends here and, later on, their families, until Vama Veche became the talk of all Romania and more and more people began to flock to the wonderful beach location to see what everyone was raving about with their own eyes.
This sketch of Vama Veche’s history shows the incredible vigour of its enduring spirit, so strong that it can be encapsulated in the space of a few streets and an expansive beach. This is its legacy. But where does that leave us? What is Vama Veche today?
I arrived in Vama Veche two weeks ago. The Romanians I spoke to loved it, but I had no idea what to expect. My experience so far has been beautiful. If you go for a walk, you’ll see a huge variety of crowds from rockers and bikers to bohemians and partiers, artists, musicians, fashionistas, who all frequent different restaurants and bars but who mix freely on the streets, weaving inspired conservations amongst the lazy haze of cigarette smoke which dances in the night air.
It feels to me like it is a Muse of organised creativity where everybody plays a role and does something or creates something that goes beyond normal experience. Far from this, there are peaceful walks down the beach in the day where the waves lap at your naked sand wreathed feet and relaxation in the beaming sun. You’ll walk past loads of tents, which belong mostly to the vamaioți mentioned earlier. It’s perfect for volleyball, football or yoga, all three of which are amazing fun here, it’s a great spot to play guitar or ukulele or read.
Whatever your style is, there’s no judgement from anyone and you’re free to do what you like. Early in the morning, after a night of partying, the sun will rise in the sky and shimmer in the water as hundreds of people listen to the anthem of Vama Veche being blasted through speakers and share a rare moment of indescribable beauty together.
If you want to find out for yourself what Vama Veche is all about, why not book your stay with us? Here at Vampire Beach Hostel we’re so passionate about it that we decided to open a place for people to stay! Get in touch at firstname.lastname@example.org or talk to us on Facebook!