supermarkets & convenience stores
The best places to shop for food are farmers' markets. Food sold here is brought fresh from the countryside, and, by buying it, you are both supporting local farmers and consuming something that it fresh and in the overwhelming majority of the cases natural and organic - in many cases, what you are buying today has been picked freshly yesterday from the countryside. You also get the experience of buying food produced as part of an old and living tradition that has not yet been through the forgetting-and-rediscovery process behind much "traditional" and "natural" food in other industrialized countries. Recently, the food in the markets is sold by intermediaries, who buy cheaply from farmers and sell products, tripling the price. However, this is illegal, and, in many cases, farmers' markets now require that farmers show a specially designated certificate in order to rent a stall.
However, some tourists can't resist Romania's hypermarket temptation, especially in Bucharest. Hypermarkets are relatively popular and recent in Romania, but this ensures that nearly all of them are modern and sparkling clean, with brightly lit aisles, neat shelves and smooth-gliding carts, that you may find it hard to look away and head for the markets! Common hypermarkets are Carrefour (http://www.carrefour.ro), Cora (http://www.cora.ro), Kaufland (http://www.kaufland.ro) and Real (http://www.real-hypermark...). There are also cash & carry stores like Metro (http://www.metro.ro), Selgros (http://www.selgros.ro), etc.
However, shopping in supermarkets can be expensive, and not half as fun, as you don't have the chance to haggle. Despite this, all Romanian supermarkets sell products of EU standards, and usually make for a very quiet, clean and white shopping experience that can best be likened to duty free shopping in airports.
Remember, however, to not confuse supermarkets with neighbourhood grocery stores called 'alimentarÄ' - nowadays, 'alimentarÄ' also refers to small supermarkets. The stores are dim, old Communist-era shops that can be cheaper. These shops, which can best be compared to British cornershops, may be convenient if living in the suburbs or in smaller towns. But, despite their seemingly poorer appearance, they sell good-quality food, and besides, most of them have been renovated anyway to the point that they are still not as aesthetically-pleasing as supermarkets but just as wide-ranging, modern and functional. In 'alimentara', expect strange systems of payment or selection: you may not be able to take items off of the shelf yourself, or one person may tally up your total before another handles the cash, etc. Many locals however actually prefer these establishments, since they offer a personal touch, with many salespeople remembering the preferences of each buyer, and catering specifically for their needs.
Opening hours are extremely predictable and amazingly long. Many shops will have a "non-stop" sign - meaning they are open 24 hours, 7 days a week. Shops that are not open 24 hours are usually open 8 AM - 10/11 PM, with some keeping open in summer until 2 or 3 AM. Supermarkets and Hypermarkets are open 8 AM - 10/11 PM as well, except during some days before Easter and Christmas, when they remain open through the night. Pharmacies and specialized shops are usually open 9 AM - 8/9 PM, sometimes even later while farmers' markets usually open their doors at 7 AM and close at 5 or 6 PM.
The national currency of Romania is the leu plural lei, which, literally translated, also means lion in Romanian. The leu is divided into 100 bani singular ban. On July 1st 2005, the new leu code RON replaced the old leu code ROL at a rate of 10000 old lei for one new leu. As of the beginning of 2007, old ROL banknotes and coins are no longer legal tender but can still be exchanged at the National Bank and their affiliated offices.
Coins are issued in 1 gold, 5 copper, 10 silver, and 50 gold bani denominations, but 1 ban coins are rare. Banknotes come in denominations of 1 green, 5 purple, 10 red, 50 yellow, 100 blue, 200 brown, and 500 blue and purple lei denominations, are made of polymer plastic, and, except for the 200 lei, correspond to a euro banknote in size. However, 200 and 500 lei banknotes are not common.
Romania is relatively cheap by Western standards - one US dollar buys about 2.87 lei and one euro buys about 4.15 lei exchange rate 12-06-2011 With this, you can buy more in Romania than you can in Western Europe and North America, especially local products. However, be advised that although you can expect food and transport to be inexpensive in Romania, buying import products such as a French perfume, an American pair of sport shoes or a Japanese computer is as expensive as in other parts of the EU. Clothing, wool suits produced in Romanian, shirts, cotton socks, white and red wine bottles, chocolates, salami, a wide range of local cheese, inexpensive leather jackets or expensive and fancy fur coats are possible good buys for foreigners.
When exchanging money, it is extremely advisable to use exchange bureaus or to use cash machines which will provide ready access to most foreign bank accounts. Absolutely avoid black market transactions with strangers: in the best case scenario, you might come out ahead by a few percentage points, but that rarely happens. Most apparent black marketeers are actually con men of one sort or another, who will either leave you with a bankroll that turns out to be full of worthless Polish zlotys or will simply engage you in conversation for a few minutes, awaiting the arrival of their partners who will pretend to be the police and try to con you into handing over your wallet and papers. This con game is known as a maradonist.. Exchanging money in the street is also illegal and in the worst case scenario, you might spend a night in jail as well. It is not recommended to exchange money in the airport either - they tend to overcharge on transactions and have very disadvantageous rates - you should use a card and the ATM machine for immediate needs taxi/bus and exchange money while in the city.
You should shop around a bit for good exchange rates. Some exchange offices in obvious places such as the airport may try to take advantage of the average tourist's lack of information when setting the exchange rate, and it is not advisable to use e.g. airport exchange offices, as the exchange rates may well be quite unrealistic. Prior to leaving for Romania consult the Bank of Romania (http://www.bnro.ro/) for a rough estimate of what exchange rates you should expect. Typical exchange offices should not list differences larger than 2-3% from the official exchange rate. Also, when picking an exchange office, make sure it has a visible sign saying "COMMISSION 0%"; Romanian exchange offices typically don't charge an extra commission apart from the difference between the buy and sell rates, and they are also required by law to display a large visible sign stating their commission, so if you don't see such a sign or if they charge something extra, keep going. Choosing a reasonable exchange office, which is not hard to do with the data in this paragraph, can save you as much as 10%, so this is worth observing. Changing money at a bank's exchange office is also a good idea.
Romanian transactions generally take place in cash. Although some places will accept Euro or USD you will generally be charged an additional 20% paying by this method and it is not advisable, although this is changing. The best method is to pay using local currency - lei RON. Most Romanians have either a charge card or a credit card - however, they are generally used at ATM machines - on-line payments are still somewhat new, and many companies and people still look at them with suspicion - so much so, that even on-line shops will make you pay on delivery. You can however pay by card in many shops and in most supermarkets. Accepted credit/debit cards are: Mastercard, Visa , American Express in some places - although this is rapidly expanding because of a very aggressive campaign by American Express and Diners Club usually only in hotels, and even then expect stares and incredulity that such a card even exists. Almost all transactions at POS machines supermarkets, shops etc. will ask you to enter your PIN code as well.
Most small towns have at least one or two ATMs and a bank office, with large cities having hundreds of ATMs and bank offices. It is not uncommon to see three bank agencies one next to another in residential neighborhoods of Bucharest. ATMs are also available in many villages at the post-office or the local bank-office. Romanian for ATM is bancomat. Credit cards are accepted in large cities, in most hotels, restaurants, hypermarkets, malls. Do not expect to use a credit card at any railway station or at the subway the subway and RATB of Bucharest, for example, are cash-only because they consider that card transactions would slow down the queues at the ticket booths. Gas stations and a great number of other stores accept Visa and Mastercard. It is advisable to always have a small sum of money in cash about 50 RON or even more, even in large cities.
Romanian businesses are not mandated to provide you with full change for every transaction, and frequently their tills are short of coins in particular. Fortunately many prices are in round multiples of 1 RON, and they are almost always in multiples of 10 bani. Even if a store can change, say a 100 RON note, they will ask you for smaller change first. For very small amounts say 20 or 50 bani they will sometimes insist on you buying something of that worth instead of giving you change.
Don't expect Romania to be a cheap travel destination!Inflation has struck Romania in many places, and some prices are as high or higher than those in Western Europe, but this is often reserved to luxuries, accommodation, technology, and, to an extent, restaurants. However, food and transport remain relatively cheap but more expensive than in other countries in her region, as does general shopping, especially in markets and outside the capital, Bucharest. Bucharest, as with every capital in the world, is more expensive than the national norm, particularly in the city centre. In the past 2-3 years, Bucharest has become increasingly expensive, and it is expected to do so for some years. However, travellers from Nordic Countries will find all the prices in Romania to be amazingly low, especially transport short and long distance, restaurant food and drinks.
the countryside fair
A traditional countryside shopping is the weekly fair tÃ¢rg, bÃ¢lci or obor. Usually held on Sunday, everything that can be sold or bought is available - from live animals being traded amongst farmers they were the original reason why fairs were opened centuries ago to clothes, vegetables, and sometimes even second hand cars or tractors. Such fairs are hectic, with haggling going on, with music and dancing events, amusement rides and fast food stalls offering sausages, "mititei" and charcoal-grilled steaks amongst the many buyers and sellers. In certain regions, it is tradition to attend after some important religious event for example after St. Mary's Day in Oltenia, making them huge community events bringing together thousands of people from nearby villages. Such fairs are amazingly colorful - and for many a taste of how life was centuries ago. One such countryside fair although definitely NOT in the countryside is the Obor fair in Bucharest - in an empty space right in the middle of the city, this fair has been going on daily for more than three centuries.