Random thoughts from my two week Romania trip

What was going to be a one week trip, ended up expanding into two weeks just because of the simple fact that I didn’t want to go back home (which in this case, was Berlin).  I was not looking forward to the heat (I ended up being wrong – it’s cooler here) and various bureacratic paperwork that I know is waiting for me back in my apartment.

Anyway, the first week was spent in Bucharest, mainly Vama Veche with some side trips to Mangalia, Agigea, Constanța.  There was a short day trip to Bulgaria seaside which got cancelled because of car issues.

The second week was spent going through stops through Bușteni, Sinaia, week in Brașov, then Sighișoara and finally Cluj-Napoca.  I took the train which meant about 6-7 hours staring at the countryside and generally thinking about life.

And now, some random thoughts…

Your perceptions changes when you arrive near the nighttime.

I was somewhat forlorn that I arrived in Brașov when it was grey and rainy, and the feeling was worse when the hotel was in the middle of residential towers and while it was a short walk to the train station, apparently a haven for pickpockets.  Not to mention that I would need to find a way to catch the train at some point in the near future.

By the next morning, the feeling was gone.  I went for a walk around the residential areas, made a note of where the supermarkets, pharmacies, bus stops were, did some shopping, just normal things.  It was just a normal day in any normal city.

What struck me was the number of older people that I saw in the area that I was staying in.

I noted a pensioner giving a voucher to the supermarket cashier.

There were some goods on sale that were new to me.  For example, seeing small packets of coffee being sold rather than large packets.  Smaller sizes was what struck me in Europe if I compare to Costco/Walmart size stock in North America.

What are the effects of gentrification?

Cities change and the main driver for these deliberate changes?  Are people.

For me, I have mixed feelings about gentrification.

There were quiet a few comments of places being gentrified, most notably was Vama Veche.

In Wikipedia:

Gentrification is a process of renovation of deteriorated urban neighborhoods by means of the influx of more affluent residents.

Conversations surrounding gentrification have evolved, as many in the social-scientific community have questioned the negative connotations associated with the word gentrification. One example is that gentrification can lead to more displacement for lower-income families in gentrifying neighborhoods.

Gentrification is typically the result of increased interest in a certain environment. Early “gentrifiers” may belong to low-income artist or boheme communities, which increase the attractiveness and flair of a certain quarter. Further steps are increased investments in a community and the related infrastructure by real estate development businesses, local government, or community activists and resulting economic development, increased attraction of business and lower crime rates. In addition to these potential benefits, gentrification can lead to population migration.

My other thought around gentrification happened when I was walking around Cluj-Napoca.  It is more of a positive note in that gentrification is good when it becomes a driver to redevelop run-down and dangerous areas into liveable and safer areas, and when it encourages entrepreneurialism.  Sure, it’s not going to solve all problems and it might potentially have some bad consequences.  But, I take no issue if gentrification can do this.

I got so sick of being a tourist after two weeks.

Cluj-Napoca was the best way to end my two week trip in Romania, especially seeing people living in Cluj having fun in Jazz in the Park.  Many of the people that I observed are young – either still in university, or in their 20s working for the many companies who chose to set up their presence in Cluj.  They were relaxed, and simply there to have fun.  Not to ‘be rich’ and to go to a ‘cultural event’.  Having worked in public festivals and cultural events in my early 20s, I know that these types of events are organized to bring together all sorts of people.  You don’t need to buy anything.  Just show up, sit down on the grass and enjoy the music or time with your friends.  I can go on about the benefits of cultural festivals like these in reinvograting cities.

Festivals are also good for solo-travellers, in fact this city stop reminded me that visiting a new city when a festival is on is a good way to experience the city.

I was disappointed that I was only in the city for one night, as it would have been good to be there for at least a couple of nights for the last night of Jazz in the Park.  Another thing is that there seems to be an entrepreneurial vibe to the place and it would have been interesting to see if there were collectives or small types of shops there.

The tables have turned.

My flight to Cluj was interesting and I think it was ‘symbolic’ of what sums up the city.  I observed on the plane some really young people (late teens/early 20s) who, it became obvious to me, it was their first time on a plane. I think they were from Baia Mare. There was this ‘Wow!’ that came out of them – mixture of amazement at being on a plane, then seeing the countryside below them.  They were taking selfies and photos of the countryside, documenting each trip.  And, I remember sitting back and realizing the first time I flew was when I was really young – maybe 8 years old or even less.  So now, the tables have turned.  Here I was, at the back, pretty much a ‘native’ when it comes to flying and the young Romanians in front were the new, excited tourists.

Socio-economic mobility in Romania

One of the thoughts that I had throughout this trip was social mobility in Romania.  If you were born in Bucharest what kind of opportunities that you have for socio-economic mobility compared to being born in Sibiu?  Those born in the year 2000 were born into the early days of capitalism post-communism, and I am wondering if they have more or around the same opportunities as those born in the mid 80’s who might still remember Communism but were able to enter university and the labour market in time for the early capitalism period.

Many of the those in the late Millenials and Generation X, still have that childhood experience of what it was like in Romania and also affected by parents’ stories of what it was like.  Generation Z, those in the 90’s and the 00’s will have a completely different viewpoint and take on life.  I think that this age group, being unburdened by reliving the past and what the past was like, are going to be the ones to bring the most socio-economic change to the country.

Another thought is around the strenght of friendship and familial ties in and around your place of birth.  Romania did not enter the European Union until 2007 so there is little opportunities of migration being inter-generational (ie, like, a 35 year old uncle moving to another country and having kids in that new country) and thus migration (in the economic / living sense) would therefore still be a fairly new concept.  However I think that opportunities for migration for those in their mid to late 20s are not common – largely due to the recession in 2008 and other years, and also the labor market competition. However I think that there might be more cases like these.


Cluj-Napoca and its many faces – from monuments to jazz and street food

I visited Cluj-Napoca on my own.  While some of the locals will remark that there was nothing much to see and do in Cluj and that it’s better enjoyed with people you know, I was surprised to find the opposite.

It so happened that there were some cultural events there – a public opera organized by the Romanian National Opera and Jazz in the Park.

Some tourist shots of Cluj-Napoca…

I found the city to be quiet good in the ‘livability’ index with the number of places that you can enjoy with friends.

…then I enjoy the same things that locals also enjoy at Jazz in the Park


I arrived in Sighișoara in time for lunch and was there overnight with an 11.30 am train.

You can spend an afternoon in this village, but I went with more ‘favorable’ public transport times.

Again, I was with Romanians – this time, the locals. So on one hand, I did the tourist stuff – checking out the small museums, wandering around the citadel, and the stalls. But also had some drinks at one of the outside bars/cafes and also went to Bella Vista Sighișoara.

Sighișoara medieval citadel


The view above Bella Vista Sighișoara medieval citadel

…then through the mountains – Bușteni, Sinaia, Brașov county in Transylvania before catching the Romanian train to Sighișoara

And finally, nearly one week spent in Brașov

Outdoor cafes and restaurants.
How I planned the day (or how I usually plan when I travel..). Just bus routes going to and from my hotel…
Signs leading into a park

The cafe that I spent some time working in.

First class, Romanian train

It was very easy to book a ticket. I just booked mine at the Brașov train station which provided the details in English.

You can also check the times online, but there are some agregator sites out there that can provide times that also included BlaBlaCar (car sharing) and also bus.

Personally, I didn’t want to spend too much time worrying about things so I just booked first class.

Even though I was allocated a seat, I instead chose another seat by the window 😉 The train conducters didn’t say anything.
It’s quiet interesting – because on another train ride leaving Sighișoara, I was ‘allowed’ to sit on my unallocated seat but there was a man who I think asked the conducter in Romanian about his and he was promptly told (based on body language) that he had to sit somewhere else. So there might be a silver lining in my inability to communicate in Romanian.