Bucharest surprises me and seduces me. – An undiscovered European capital

Bucharest surprises me  and seduces me.

– An undiscovered European capital

When we think of Paris or London, we think of the Eiffel Tower and Big Ben. When people think of Bucharest, I’m not entirely sure that they get a picture in their head at all. Few have traveled to Romania, and the country is unfortunately most associated with the beggars, corruption and poverty. In the 1980s, during the communist era, Swedes traveled more , paradoxically, to Romania on vacation. I was there, as a 13 -year -old, in 1985, got a pen pal from there and we wrote to each other for almost 20 years. One can say that I know Romania pretty well after a 31 years long relationship with the country and its’ people. Since 2011, I run a project where I rebrand Romania abroad: The Bucharest Lounge, in order to widen the horizon of what Romania and the Romanians are about and to fight prejudice.

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I am suggesting a movement and campaign that would state  “ This is Bucharest” , as the identity of my favourite  European city is not expressed in an efficient way yet, as people outside Romania still know very little about Bucharest.

Even some Romanians still refers it to as “ Little Paris”. 

  • Isn’t that passé ?
  • Shouldn’t we write a new chapter in the discourse on how we speak about Bucharest ?  Instead of comparing it to something else, I think we should say what Bucharest actually is. I have mercy with us people as  our brain instinctively wish to compare and put things in a reference box. However,  we can also create new stories! This is my story of what Bucharest is to me when I describe it to foreigners.

Start with a refreshing, early morning walk in Herastrau Park, which is a large park with a lake in the heart of Bucharest. In the afternoons and evenings, the park is full of life. People walk, jog, play, go to  restaurants, go to  concerts, yes the park is alive and all generations come together !

In the park you will also find The Village Museum, where you can explore all of the regions of Romania.  The museum is an outdoor museum, which was built with Skansen ( Stockholm)  as a model. The village life is unique in Romania and has rich traditions that are still remained, and the Romanians wear the traditional clothing with pride. There is even a movement now to revive the artistic work of the blouses and I fully support that ! I have even been talking about it at  a TEDx Talk last year, on how the IA can be a story teller abroad about Romania and the Romanians.  In June  is celebrated the Day of the IA, and that alone is a beautiful event in itself and worth experienced !

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The Village Museum often offers creative workshops where you can learn different crafts.

Romanians are true artists and has a rich, blossoming,  common soul !

They can take great pride in their egg painting, pottery and ceramics, woodwork, icon painting, embroidery, jewelry making, colourful table cloths and wall decorations  and more!

The museum is a green oasis and an urban reminder,  a must see,  to get a sight of  the real, authentic Romania.

In the nearby area you will also find The Peasant’s Museum, which I mention for  a particular reason. – The inviting markets! The museum often organizes various markets during  the weekends. Romanians celebrate their saints. It is a Romanian-Orthodox country and many practice the religion actively. With the Saints there are festivals and there are also markets taking place in the name of the saints.

At the museum you will find crafts of all kinds, contemporary art, side by side with ancient traditional crafts and antiques. It absolutely sparkles with color! There you will find the beautifully, colourful, ornamented Romanian blouses. They speak to us through history with their symbols that carry meaning of life itself. The blouses connect us in who we are as people, in our humanity, in the name of love and community.

At the market, you can also grab something  to eat. The Romanian food is tasty and in abundance. Only the food is a delicious  chapter in itself. When I was in Romania in 1985, we basically just ate schnizel and I must admit I did not have particularly high expectations of the food when I returned in 2011.

How fundamentally  wrong I was ! 

Romania is a warm and sunny country and many have their own ‘garden of Eden ‘ and people love sitting happily under the  grape wine, drinking their own wine, making barbecues and eat their own vegetables and fruit. The Romanians grow a lot and are, like their Latin cousins, very interested in everything that has to do with food. I so enjoy having conversations about walnuts, apricots, cherries and more. It sounds like music to my ears !

If it is the first time in Romania, I suggest you taste sarmale cu mamaliga, branza si smantana. Some people like me, like to eat red onion and some chilli to all this. Other favourites of mine are salata de vinete, zacusca, ciorba de pui, fasole batuta, just for a start. Romania has a lot of wine to discover and this is an area to develop for Romanian producers. In Sweden where I live, I have found 2-3 different Romanian wines, which were those ‘prepared for a country’ wine and not the wines I would find in Romania. I would be curious to know how Romanian wines are sold and distributed in other European countries, countries that don’t have the  spirits monopoly as we have in Sweden and Norway.  There could be a full area of  “Discover food and wine” holidays going to Romania from Scandinavia. People in Scandinavia are crazy for cooking and wine, curious about novelities. This is indeed a huge business idea, which needs a thorough, way of communication and package ! 

Back to the  market. It does indeed  reflects the seasons we are in  and in a wonderful, lavish, and yet soft and soulful way. In the spring they pop up, the first green, crispy spring onions. Summer and autumn curl up with fruit and vegetables, tasty confiture  of all kinds, tasty honey, pollen, spices, herbs, teas, all ‘facut acasa’, and not to mention all the inviting desserts Romanians are so talented at doing.

Eating natural is a big thing in Romania and I love it. I think the world can be inspired by Romania in this field. I also hope that Romania can stay this way ,that big corporations will not take their grip of consumption in Romania, as there are many signs of already. Natural food is a treasure in Romania, one that needs to be cherished and taken care of.

During the summer weeks that I usually spend in Bucharest, I always go to  markets and stay happily for a whole day. I love to talk with the artisans who usually speak English. I drink a refreshing limonada and learn about a country that was so long forgotten, but that starts to come to life, and I share the stories I hear about !

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The older generation often speaks better French than English. Many Romanians have,  in  the footsteps of diaspora footsteps, lived abroad, and often speaks Italian, Spanish and German too. The Romanian language is based on Latin, with elements from the Slavic languages. If you speak any Latin language then Romanian lis not too difficult to understand.

In Bucharest, I’m fascinated by the architecture. However , with mixed feelings, because I know that Ceausescu destroyed many areas of his urbanization projects. In Bucharest you see gigantic, beautiful boulevards, which originates since communist times, but you also look at beautiful, classical architecture such as the Arc de Triumph and the Romanian Athenaeum. Athenaeum is a classical concert  hall in one of my   favourite areas in Bucharest: the area around Piata Amezei, Piata Romana, Calea Victoriei and the Old Town – Centrul Vechi.

Here you will find the National Museum of Art of Romania. The first time I was there,  in 2011, I felt like I opened a treasure chest. The Romanian heritage is so little known and seen. I went there and admired and discovered the art of the artists that I had never heard of. If you are of the more curious kind this museum will be a gem! We are accustomed to the French, Spanish, Italian and Dutch masters, but I promise you that the Romanian painters have a lot to contribute with, to the  European cultural heritage. They just have not been presented yet, but been hidden under communism. Now they whisper to us and I am surprised and seduced by the art I see !

Opposite the art museum, you stand on the square where Ceausescu gave his last booed speech in 1989. I suggest you hire a guide to get this event properly narrated! I recommend Ana’s Guided Tours to Bucharest. Anna  is a charismatic story-teller, professional and knowledgable and I never get enough of hearing her stories. She can can also tell stories about the world’s second largest administrative building: the Houses of Parliament or The People’s Palace, as it is also called. Ceausescu built it in his megalomania, and it is a building that impresses, and clearly was built to show muscles. When I go from Piata Unirii and up towards  the building it literally grows in my face. It is a must visit this place, to learn more about how communism coloured this country – and still is to some extent !

Piata Unirii is located close to  the old town. Depending upon your age, I would like to recommend various times of the day to visit the old town. The district completely ooze of life and youthfulness! Old Town is exciting as it has fascinating architecture, great shopping, old and new, inviting restaurants and coffee shops, concept stores. 

What  I love is to walk there off season, early in the morning or in the afternoon and sometimes I wonder if anyone should come out from a balcony and sing an aria or something similar. That’s the atmosphere of the Old town for me.

Bucharestians are often classic in its way of being, dress and speak. They like to read books, discuss about life, helping those in need, eating healthy, going to church, taking care of their  family, citing Eminescu and Brancusi, they are fighting for democracy. I think that many Bucharestians are intellectual and academic in their  way of being. The  creative and artistic scene is probably one of the things I am most inspired by when in Bucharest. There is always something going on!

When I describe Bucharest I often see it as  a theatre stage or a background to an emotional film that evokes all the feelings in my specturm. I love to stay in a cafe, have my coffee and study people. Bucharestians  are individualists and dress stylish, elegant and with color! It feels like a breath of fresh air for me, coming from Sweden !

Some of my favourite cafes and restaurants  in Bucharest are : M60, Anthony Frost English Bookshop, Carturesti on Piata Romana, La Copac, Sole D’Italia, and Gradina Eden. The atmosphere is incredibly relaxed and Buhcarestians themselves love to go out with friends !

One of my Romanian friends living in Brussels once said, Bucharest has not become a tourist city yet, but it’s easy to feel at home there.

Bucharest surprises and seduces all my senses, every time I am there,  and I hope that more people can find their way there. For my own part I hope that one day I will have an address in Romania and call it my home.

Yvette Larsson

Helsingborg

April 2016

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