Sunday, 8 December 2013

Romania: Day 4-5 (SNOW!)

The longer I stay in Romania, the more evident the conflict between its traditional roots and its contemporary surroundings becomes. I'm not just saying this because I visited a modern mega mall yesterday, and the Romanian village museum today (or my first traditional mici meal - alongside).

The visit to the AFI Palace in Cotroceni came as a bit of an eye-opener, both positive and negative.

Between all the usual mall tinsel like modern arcade, food court and ice-rink, I couldn't help noticing that the pricing for most things ranged from high (the laptops) to outrageous (I'm thinking here of small cupcakes on sale at 10 lei each). 

Clothing by comparison was a lot more reasonable, and maybe that's why there were just so many clothing stores there! 

Go figure that we had to come all the way to Romania to have a takeaway shwarma from a Lebanese shop for lunch. 

One other irony was that the backing soundtrack of mall music was all English Christmas classics - my wife commented that Romanian folk music wouldn't get people into a buying mood.

Something I noticed right on my first day in Bucharest was the self-important police (see my run-in with the security officer), and I was a little put out when I noticed a list of terms and conditions (all in Romanian of course) on the wall of one of the Metro underground trains and figured out that one said that photography without a written permit was prohibited anywhere in the station precinct.

On the one hand that dashed my hopes of photographing all of the Romanian public transport, and on the other hand it got me wondering why ... I mean, the entire Metro system is open to thousands of people every day, and the public parts of its operation are hardly state secrets (train pulls in, people board, train pulls out). Chalk one down to those crazy Romanian regulations everybody always talks about. I made myself feel a bit better by photographing my favourite form of Romanian public transport, a tram (take that, Metro!).

Today my wife and I met up with old friends of hers for a walk through the Herastrau park, which is remarkable mostly because it's green (but one of the regulations is that you may not walk on the grass!) and because it's a big open space in the middle of Bucharest's relative congestion. There were a few decent photo opportunities though, and as an added convenience the park leads straight into the Romanian Village Museum (that has an entry fee of 10 lei). Once again, there's a special photography restriction: you can photograph outside the buildings, but not inside.

The Romanian Village Museum scores extra points in my book for having an English version of all the descriptions of the various buildings on display. My day was made by a slab of home-made chocolate (which has the consistency of an energy bar and very little actual cocoa) and a beautifully-crafted Romanian xylophone (only 20 lei!) I bought from informal traders in the area. Like anywhere else then: good deals can be found, if you know where to look.

We wrapped up the excursion with a visit to the nearby Romanian Peasant Museum, which was interesting because it acted as the counter-foil to the Village museum's focus on buildings, telling the human story of Romanian peasants. Of course, there was a photography restriction, but with a twist: this time you were only permitted taking photographs if you paid an additional 60 lei over and above the 8 lei regular entrance fee. All that regulation effectively does is juice money out of tourists, but what I suspect it does in effect is quash public knowledge of the museum (no photos of the contents here - I've got better ways of spending 60 lei).

There was, however, a group of Romanian folk singers and dancers outside the museum ... a photograph was never going to cut it, so luckily I could shoot a video instead (for absolutely no cost!). It wasn't all cheery news with the museum, however - English descriptions were sorely lacking (one of the exhibit descriptions was bizarrely in Romanian and German), and it just couldn't bridge the gap between the distant rural past and Romania's present.

Walking out of the museum, I couldn't help reflecting that it's like somebody pushed the fast-forward button on Romania. Where's the documented middle ground? In the public spaces at present, either the 'old' days are commemorated with folk music and peasant homes, or you're swept up in the big European brands' modern displays and advertisements. Maybe it's because the middle period was dominated by Communism, and it's a section of Romania's history which everybody would rather just forget. *shrugs* Just a theory!

All of that was swept away when the first dusting of snow started falling. An hour later, larger snow flakes started falling consistently. Ok, so it still stopped after about twenty minutes, but there's definitely the sense that Bucharest will get hit soon by the heavy snow which is reportedly already visiting other parts of the country. I can't wait: it's difficult to build a snowman with only a handful of snow flakes. I could, however, take this amazing (for me anyway) video of snow falling on Bucharest:

That's it ... a mega post, for a mega couple days :) Stay warm (if you're in Romania) or stay healthy (if you're outside)!


  1. Be welcomed!

    I haven't had a look on your blog lately. If the first photo with block of flats is where you stay, we're very close, a tram station distance (I'm staying at the intersection between Pantelimon and Chișinău).

    Regarding what you say about crossing the street, there have been several fatal accidents on crosswalk because the pedestrians were expecting cars to stop and a car didn't.

  2. Dude, snap all the pictures you want in the metro, nobody's going to say anything, you're only an ignorant tourist ;)