September 22, 2008

Initial Impressions of Romania
Lugoj, Romania

It's been day after day of sunless sky for something like two weeks now, and certainly not the introduction to Romania that we needed. The weather only amplifies the cold, ugly slabs of gray concrete saturating the skyline, while people walk against the frosty breeze with their eyes down and their mouths frowning.

Inside the Bloc Maze

The impact of the temperature and lack of sunlight has had a negative impact on Tatiana's state of mind. She often seems depressed, with little to no desire to leave the bedroom, let alone our host's apartment. Colder weather, gray skies and occasional drizzle do not make a girl from the tropics happy.

As such, we've spent the bulk of our time indoors here in Lugoj, often only venturing out for small errands or brief walks. We've found a stark difference in both supermarket offerings and building quality here in Romania (compared to that of neighboring Hungary). At the market we're paying more than double for basic foodstuffs and baby supplies, with a serious reduction in selection. Higher prices and less choice are a sentiment echoed at most every market that we've visited.

I'm constantly getting agitated by the people inside the supermarkets. Folks push past without excusing themselves or asking for permission to walk in front of you, and then there's the nasty, extremely annoying habit that the inhabitants of Lugoj seem to have with pressing up to you as close as they can when queuing in line. I found that the Nicaraguans are notorious for this behavior, and hate being a part of it—I can't help feel like someone's trying to pick my pocket when they're so close.

Living Monuments to Communism

When people cross between Hungary and Romania, they say it's like jumping ahead or falling back in time 30 years—and I'm starting to really understand why.

Communism looks like it has ravaged this country in more ways that I can pick up on, but building construction is an obvious one at the forefront of your vision. I'm under the impression that in nations like these, people had generational specialty trades. The mason father teaches his son(s) his trade, passing knowledge from one generation to the next.

But Romanian buildings built only 10 years ago are crumbling as if they've seen a flight of decades pass by. I've a sneaking suspicion that communism erased the vast majority of the specialized tradesmen and the generational guilds, leaving the labor pool of post-communism Romania without the proper skill sets across myriad genres of industries.

Martin's living room

The communist bloc apartment that we've been living in has been an interesting experience (and surprisingly cozy when given a contemporary Danish/Norwegian touch from Martin). A primary goal of this Red period Romania's past was the (often forced) relocation of villagers into cities, where they were used to sustain the agricultural and industrial backbone of the labor state. As an incentive, characterless apartment buildings were build en mass, within which families were designated a unit (sometimes free of cost). It also helped to motivate the populous of some villages to relocate when the government razed their homes.

Dumpster dog

The destruction of villages (the subsequent unification of the population centers) has supposedly lead to a large-scale problem with stray dogs in the country—many of which are now the descendants of home guard dogs left behind during the exodus to the cities. Estimates of the semi-feral population in the local news media state reports numbers upwards of 200,000 dogs.

In 2000, Traian Băsescu was elected Mayor of the capital, Bucharest. As such, he was credited with a reduction in the number of stray dogs (although he sometimes used very drastic measures such as large-scale euthanasia) roaming freely through the streets of the city from approximately 200,000—300,000 in 2000 to 25,000 in 2004, and thus in the number of dog bite injuries from 1,500/month to under 200/month.

Nine Nights of Movies, Wine, and Food

Tonight's our ninth and final night with Martin, with us moving east to the city of Deva tomorrow evening. It may have been cold and uninviting outside, but inside Martin's place it was certainly the opposite. By the end of our time here, Tatiana wanted to either make a roommate out of our host, or (at minimum) a brother-in-law by marrying one of her sisters off to the guy.

This will be a part of the CouchSurfing review that I'll leave for him:

Spend time with Martin and learn what a man with excellent taste in film, music, alcohol, cars, kitchenware, and home furnishings looks like. His home is a fusion of vintage and modern, while Martin himself is a complex blend of professional and party animal. Without question the man knows how to have a good time, and what you should be listening to while you're having it.

Reliable, courteous, trustworthy, open-minded, entertaining, knowledgeable, easygoing, and handy are just a few words that might describe him. He's an amazing cook, and has style to spare.

We'll certainly miss our time with Martin (and Mike, the Peace Corps volunteer in town). I'm hoping we'll be in a position to swing back through Lugoj to spend Christmas with them.

Comments:

The United Kingdom

Jack - looks to travel

December 17th, 2008

Hi Craig. I'm considering an Eastern Europe trip this year. Did you find out anything of why Romania is so much more expensive than Hungary? I'd have expected the opposite given their lower incomes?

Bulgaria

Craig | travelvice.com

December 17th, 2008

For decades and decades many goods were considered luxuries, and I think that the price point for much of what we consider standard market items can still hold remnants from that period in time.

All the way down here in southern Bulgaria now, and we're still missing the supermarket prices of Hungary (compared against both Romania and Bulgaria). Something as simple as cheese and meat can have an impact on a budget traveler's life, and in Romania you'll be starved for (an affordable) variety — unless of course you're game to keep eating the standard white salty fare and pork (lots and lots of pork or mici).

But the train transport is cheaper than it's neighbors to the west/northwest, and the inexpensive wines from Moldova are excellent. Of course I wouldn't ever write off Romania just because of the lack of supermarket variety and their accompanying prices, but the transition from an established EU member nation into Romania will a noticeable one.

The United States

Erik

December 19th, 2008

Your impressions of Romania thus far match mine. It's beautiful and ugly at the same time. I expect I'll go back (but probably never going to drab Bucharest ever again) and look forward to seeing what maybe a decade of EU investment has done.

The United States

Austin

January 2nd, 2009

I just found your site via Stumbleupon and I enjoyed both the article and the photos!

The United States

John

May 22nd, 2010

There are way too many dogs. As much as we love our companions, there are really way to many of them. It would be nice if people stop buying them and adopted strays from pounds, there are just too many. Even though a dog bite from now and then is inevitable the population of dogs can be controlled and the destruction of dogs by simply adopting instead of buying from breeders.

Romania

Vlad

June 11th, 2010

To Erik
I am Saxon (Sasse) and somewhat (:)) Romanian and I live in Romania.
Yes, you`re right, man, it is a beautiful country, I would personally say in terms of its cultural life: the theatre, the art museums and galleries, ballet, symphonic music concerts, many exhibitions, unfortunately less, but still some great jazz concerts (what do you think of Harry Tavitian and Orient Express, Marius Popp, Johnny Raducanu?)
Also beautiful as regards some really special people (intelectuals) I`ve met here, whom I consider really superior to the rest.
You might also like the landscape.
The rest is a little more or less like all underdeveloped and developing countries - not so great, right?

Romania

Vlad

July 3rd, 2013

I`ll tell you more about Romania, we could have a talk, correct me if I`m wrong. I live here.

I`m glad you find Romania interesting and exotic, anyhow its myriad problems obscure by far interesting things and people.
No, no, I`m not talking about almost general filthy manners on the street and not only, littering and poverty - this is common to I think 2/3 of this world and this doesn`t make those places not (even very) worth living there. Left apart funked agriculture.
I`m talking about:
1) poor funked infrastructure - Romania has the population of two large cities in China (if still), but everywhere you go in China (in the urban area, but not only), infrastructure is very fine. I`ve been living in China for several months recently.
2) Very poor education and health funding, which makes many Romanians very proud in comparing themselves with peoples they hardly know everything about ("Nigerians"). Everything what is stupid and underdeveloped in Romania is simply not Romanian, but Nigerian-like. How funny.
2) Arrogance - totally dazing and with no real ground - O.K., if you are a person with remarkable professional accomplishments, than it can be acceptable and, if you are such a person, maybe you`ll also be arrogant in a very subtle way. But people with no
real merits in this life and world are actually just frustrated that they pretend from others to give them priority even when they clearly don`t deserve it - on the street, in traffic, standing in line, etc. They think standing in front of you (until you simply kick them off your way, literally or not) and insulting your family are attributes of a "civilised", "European", "superior" people - this is actually their way of trying to get attention, because they lack other qualities. Nowhere in Hungary, Austria, Germany, Israel, countries I know quite well is insulting one`s family a habit, as if an attribute of superiority and intelligence.
3) Only some of the Romanians advertising Romania abroad are gipsies. But it`s Romanian culture (in general) to blame others and find scapegoats instead of being responsible and taking initiative. If Romania had e.g. a Filipino minority, maybe they became no1 to blame.
4) Romanians, horribly many like to tell many stupid and dirty things about people from Western Europe and not only, even if they were given a chance there, a loaf of bread, a shelter, a chance to make more money than their lousy jobs in Romania. Lots of people think that Romanians are more intelligent and cultivated than other peoples. Many, quite many Romanians are not honestly hospitable, believe me, they are just in for some money and easy gain and ready to do that with everyone. I`ve also been cajoled and when refusing to do a favour, ignored afterwards as if I never knew those people.
5) Show-off mentality: rather ridiculous than purely annoying, this is something Romanians have maybe borrowed from Russians and share with most of our Balkan United League. Why - because it makes you not "fraier" and fancy.
6) Hosting dogs inside blocks and feeding them there until they empty their bowels in pure joy there. It is not something of religion or symbolism like in India and I could bet Indians don`t shelter cows in their homes.
7) Where are the money from FMI? 8) There was a crime recently last November in central Bucharest. A 29-year old KILLED for asking a shithead politely to appologise for insulting his girlfriend. In the centre of a developed, European country. How nice. Where was the police? Where was Europe (I guess too far). In awfully many countries this would be inconceivable in such a place.
9) Women are frequently harassed and aggressed in public transport, on the street, in some companies. This would not happen in another part of Europe or in an Islamic country, e.g., and not only.
10) Romanians are so poor at commerce, no offense and no surprise Bulgarians (not much better overall) attract much more tourists. If you want to gain money without offering quality instead, then go beg on the street in another country.
11) Why did Brancusi and Grigore Moisil leave (to mention only a few)? They were very intelligent, gifted men who… were not considered really important for their country.
12) Why is it so hard to change a context for the good in Romania - because of laziness and scapegoat-finding mentality.

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