Mihaela Popa is falling in love with her own country.

By : Yvette Larsson

Mihaela Popa
World Travel Bug
Experience Bucharest


You are the founder of World Travel Bug. Please tell us how it all started and I would like to know more : are you a full-time traveler or based somewhere ?

At the end of 2014 I left my corporate finance job in Brussels and moved back to Romania, after 11 years in Belgium. My initial idea was to take some kind of sabbatical ( the only exception being that I wasn’t going to return to my job after that, but instead get another job in Romania) and travel for a bit.

I am in love with Asia and luckily I have traveled a lot for business there but always to the same countries (mainly India, China, Japan, Singapore). However, I was dying to see the rest. So, in January 2015 I went on a 5 months trip throughout SE Asia and Japan (my favourite country in the world).

I started my blog as a result of that trip and mostly at the persistence of my friends. I had so many stories to tell and so many pictures to show that in the end it really made sense to put them all in a blog. That’s how http://www.worldtravelbug.com was born, in August 2015.

Since I returned from my trip I based myself in Bucharest, where I  used to live before I moved to Belgium.

Rooftops of Bucharest

What made you want to participate in the Experience Bucharest event ?

First of all, having lived outside of Romania for so long, I am now able to see my own country partially with the eyes of an outsider. And I do see many things that I have not noticed before. On top of that, I was away during a period when Romania and Bucharest have developed a lot. I left in 2004, when Romania was not yet in the EU and I came back to a completely different country and city.

Unirii BdGardens of BucharestOld city

When I found the new Bucharest, I simply started falling back in love with my city and I realized that it can easily compete with so many other European capitals now.

We finally had a renovated “old” city center, plenty of stylish restaurants and bars, amazing coffee shops and not to mention all the summer gardens.  Plus, there is always something happening in this city. It is so alive and colorful that it is a pity not to “show it off” to the rest of the world. And being a blogger myself, I also know many people in the travel world so it was a no brainer to be part of this and invite them over.

What were your biggest take -aways from the event ? What were the most valuable learnings ?

This event proved to me one more time that we should never underestimate the power of social media. We were expecting “a big bang” out of this project but not as big as it was. Everybody was so thrilled with the whole experience and had only very positive things to say. And they all want to come back! As it was our first event of this kind and it was put together only by volunteers with hardly any experience, you can imagine that there is a whole list of learnings :-). But I guess the most important one is : concentrate on sponsors first!

How would you experience Bucharest from all five – or six- senses  ?

I think this is what we managed to do with our project in fact. We had such a wide range of experiences that I can say that people really managed to experience it in a complete way. We wanted to show people “our Bucharest”, the way we see it and experience it. And that certainly involves all 5 (or six ) senses. And if you ask me, my favorite one at the moment I write this, is the sense of smell.

Have you smelled Bucharest while the linden trees are in bloom?

There is nothing like it!

After you try and get lost on some small streets just following this smell you come across a hidden cafe that invites you in immediately. If you are a coffee drinker, Bucharest is heaven. We have so many coffee shops here that it is impossible to walk 50m without bumping into one. And they take their coffee seriosuly. Just try Origo cafe and you will see what I mean.

It is the same with restaurants and cafes. I have a list with my favorites and with ones I want to go to. Both list keep on growing. I go out a lot and yet I do not manage to keep up with all the restaurant openings. And luckily you really find all the cuisines here. Some of my favorites are : Yaki, Simbio, Alt Shift, Alouette, E3 by Entourage, Kanpai, Zen sushi, Kunnai , La Mama . And these are just quickly off the top of my head!
But I think I will stop here and just let you discover the rest yourselves 😉

What are the places in Bucharest  that you would take foreign friends  to ? Why these places ?

I really like going out so I would probably take them to a lot of bars and restaurants. But also to parks and gardens. Bucharest is a very green city and maybe you would not get to immediately realise that as a “standard” tourist.

The largest park of the city, Herastrau is also home to some of the nicest bars and restaurants. A personal favorite there is Biutiful by the lake, which I think even won the best design award somwehere ( don’t remeber exactly). But then you also have the “classics”: Isoletta and Casa di David, which are some of the oldest ones there and still very popular.

Herastrau parkCismigiu Park

There are so many places that I like that it is impossible to least even 10% here. You just need to come and try for yourselves. But one of my favourite things to doing Bucharet is to go to jazz concerts in small gardens and tea houses. That is my “bohemian Bucharest”.

I have even become friends with some of the performers as I have been “stalking” them everywhere. It is something that I missed a lot in Belgium. Places like Artea, La un ceai, Serendipity, Infinitea, Gradina Floreasca are just a few of my favorites.

What is the essence of Romanian traditions ?

Oh!! This is a tough one. I wouldn’t even know where to start. But what I can say is that they all revolve around family, religion and folklore. Take for example “doina”. I don’t even know how to explain this is  English. You just have to hear it to know what I mean. You feel the “doina”.
One thing that I have noticed lately is that there is an increasing interest in the younger generation for our old traditions.  One example is the “ia” , the traditional Romanian blouse.

More and more ladies started wearing them. And yes ,there might be a fashion too , but people are actually interested in the traditional ones and are very proud of such unique heritage. The folklore starts making its appearance more and more in our modern lives, from clothes, to accessories to music.

I have participated to quite a few events lately that somehow managed to incorporate ” hora”, a traditional Romanian dance, and there were so many young people joining in and actually enjoying it.  And in fact this last point makes me think of one general characteristic of our traditions: bring people together and have a good time. I know many peoples like to party but I think Romanians are able to do it on another level 🙂

How would you describe Romanian hospitality ?

Overwhelming! Really! I know all hosts are trying to be nice to their guests, but Romanians….oh my! They need to give you EVERYTHING they have best! And ALL the food! And this is not just for foreigners. This is what with do amongst ourselves too. When somebody enters your home they will be treated like a king/queen! So… warning for everybody who is planning a visit here: go on a diet before and be ready to be treated royally!

Bucharest is dancing in the street

Tell me why you are so passionate about traveling and photography !

I was dreaming about traveling since I was a child. But in communist Romania that was not an easy thing to do. I traveled a bit before moving to Belgium but the real heavy travel started there. However once I started, I could not stop. It was like a snowball effect. The more I traveled, the more I wanted to travel. Then I started reading travel books and I was dying to get to know the cultures that I was reading about. I am always trying to read about a culture before I go there for the first time as  feel I can absorb the whole experience a lot better. And photography simply came with it. The world is such a beautiful place that you simply want to freeze every moment in every corner. So when I got more and more into photography, I started studying, taking courses and buying a lot of photography books and  here I am, a photographer 🙂

How shall we continue to use social media in a smart way to brand Bucharest and rebrand Romania ? Please advice the readers !

We need to work together! Yes, we each have our own blog/vlog/magazine/instagram etc, but when it comes to Bucharest and Romania, we are all ONE TEAM. And we need to share each other’s stuff.

We need to keep the momentum going and create that snowball effect. We are many and we are passionate about this, so I am sure we can do it. You rarely see a bunch of people so passionate about their city and country as we are.

Anything else you wish to add ?

I want to thank you for the opportunity to talk about this and I hope that together we can bring Bucharest and Romania on top of people’s bucket lists, where they belong.

You can connect with Mihaela Popa here :

Blog: www.worldtravelbug.com

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/worldtravel.bug/

FB: https://www.facebook.com/worldtravelbug/


Photos published with the courtesy of Mihaela Popa.

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