Romania is a country of in-betweens and almosts. It conjures thoughts of impalement and communism, a place where history was not shy about handing out more than a fair share of conflict. It would be incorrect to say that tradition and modernity are mingled; they only tolerate one another. Even in a short weekend in Bucharest, you find yourself swept up in their fascinating and beautiful struggle.
First off, I have to thank my friend Judene and her boyfriend, Alex, for hosting us and acting as tour guides. Alex is stunningly knowledgeable about every crack in the sidewalk in Bucharest. Without their guidance, it would have been impossible to really learn anything in such a short amount of time.
One of the first things I learned about Romania is that the popular image of it was not created by Romanians. People seem to find the country off-putting and it has played scapegoat to the ills of many rival nations. But truly, more than anything, it is a country of strength, fighting on after being knocked down multiple times. The wounds of communism are the most obvious, but only because they are the most recent. The difference in age between neighboring buildings is sometimes over four centuries, a product of the communist era theme ‘new is best’. They tore down many historic areas to build (or in some cases, half-build) characterless concrete nothings. In a particular bout of megalomania, their former president succeeded in creating a monstrous, multi-billion dollar testament in over-compensation. The Palace of the Parliament is a structure of superlatives housing not just the governing body, but also three museums.
My favorite examples of resilience (or stubbornness, however you slice it) are the tiny Transylvanian Orthodox churches. These little ancient beauties stand dismissive of the newer buildings around them, truly representing the ideals of the old church that founded them.
Romania is firmly a spirits country along with many of its eastern neighbors. Unimpressed with your pathetic vodka, they up the ante with palinca, which will knock you out. Smoking indoors is still in practice, though, so this can seriously affect your night and clothes/hair. Once my lungs recovered, I was already excited for more. Hopefully next time we’ll get to explore some of the countryside and the infamous and contentious Transylvania.