Romania 2007

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Romania, October 2007

The country has begun to reap the benefits of EU membership since the beginning of this year.  Extensive roadwork has been completed in many areas and continues in others.  Communist-era apartment buildings are in the process of receiving a facelift.  In Sibiu, computers have arrived at the railway-booking centre. 

On the flip side, billboards litter the sides of apartment buildings in Bucharest and elsewhere.  Sony, Coke, McDonalds and other major players of Western-style capitalism have exploited these new marketing opportunities to the hilt.  Ikea set up shop in the Capital in March. 

Also, better road connections have apparently contributed to an increase in reckless driving.  Romanian motorists drive to pass, regardless of whether it is safe to do so.  Many of them use the shoulder, curves and hillsides, dangerously overdriving their visibility.  Horrible accidents often ensue.  We witnessed the aftereffects of a fatal car-horse collision at night.  We also heard the wailing sounds of ambulances and police rushing to road emergencies outside cities on several occasions. 

But there is little doubt that people’s lives on the whole are improving.  Several of the people visited have renovated homes and some have houses built.  For those with decent incomes, the days of living in cramped, decrepit apartments seem numbered.  A general mood of guarded optimism prevails, although cynicism at continuing corrupt practices of some powers-that be continues. 

Thanks to the legacy of Ceausescu’s grandiose construction schemes, much of Bucharest remains an eyesore.  But the smaller cities and villages remain enchanting, devoid of most of the ugly flat roofs of their counterparts in more advanced western countries.  The land- and cityscapes capture the imagination of many.  We encountered tour buses nearly everywhere.  Westies have a unique opportunity to experience living history, with unspoiled and often newly renovated historical treasures.  Churches everywhere have been equipped with new roofs.  Copper must be cheap.  In addition, the part-German heritage and surviving bilingualism attracts wealthy tourists from the Bundesrepublik. 

The numerous castles and fortresses dating back to medieval times present a major tourism development opportunity that has begun to be explored.  In Alba Julia, a five-star hotel is to be built on the grounds of a fortress overlooking the rest of the historic downtown core.  In Sigisoara (or Siebenbürgen) the beautiful central village on a hillside represents a walk backwards in time.  Cobblestones, a market square, arts and crafts, and accommodations invite the visitor to explore the town’s noteworthy history.  The vicinity of the Black Church (Schwarzkirche) in Brasov has a similar feel to it.  Here as elsewhere, pedestrian spaces invite visitors and residents alike to take breaks from their busy lives.

But the ultimate experience was the Pensov castle, completed shortly before World War I.  This work of art features advanced technology such as a central vacuuming system, and skillfully carved wooden ceilings and walls.  The German Hohenzollern house had a stake here, with this final embodiment of monarchial power completed before World War I, now gone with the wind.  

Other observations on life in Romania:

1. Romanian wheat stacks are not rolled like in Canada, but twirled in Hershey-kisses style. 

2. Shower curtains were not available during communist times, therefore many apartments dating back to that era are not equipped with them.  We spent a couple of hours mopping bathroom floors as a result.

3. Everyone has a cell phone; landlines have become an endangered species.

4. Even some of the gypsies seem to benefit from growing tourism, via arts and crafts.  But their custom of sending children to beg at night represents child abandonment at its worst.

5. Romanians love to hate their gypsies.  Indeed, how can they miss them if they won’t go away?  They can become very intrusive indeed, peddling their wares everywhere, from trains to restaurants and pharmacies.  Estimates of their numbers vary between 500,000 to 2.5 million in Romania alone. 

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