f*cking tourists…

What a pack of bastards!

They come to your country, spend a few days running around seeing the tourist sights, read a few Wikipedia articles (at the very least a travel mag article) and then have the gall to constantly Instagram or Facebook the living fuck out of the mundane places where you work, have lunch and try to relax.

Worse are the ones that ‘know’ your country a few days in and have bullshit enlightened opinions on everything from local politics to ancient history.

Jeez!

Why can’t they just fuck off home.

Anyway…that was me unfortunately for at least a week or so. Caught up in the ‘wow’ moments of a new country and seeing it through rose-tinted lenses, I’d made some stupid ‘generalizations’ and ‘observations’ about life and the people here and then the ignorant arrogance to try to tell the locals all about it.

What a prick!

Anyway, sorry about that, Romania. I’m over it now, really. Back down to earth and sufficiently random once again.

I’m doing the hostel thing again for a while (a long and short story combined) and am struck by the number of people in a frantic cycle of travel – spending a day or two here in town and then moving on. “Oh I went for a walk across the river, did a pub crawl yesterday and saw the museum today – I’ve seen it all now – wow amazing – and heading to Belgrade tomorrow…” ffks.

The average tourist has an attention span of three days tops ( I just made that up but it’s probably true enough)

When I tell people I’ve been here for three weeks they look at me like I am a crazy person. “No one comes here for three weeks!” the Hostel owner said to me last night.

I’m actually in Romania for a month or more but shhh…don’t tell anyone.

A little Facebook blurb from Antony Bourdain (RIP) popped up a few days ago, specifically about his traveling style and he commented on the general obsession for people to be constantly moving when traveling abroad; to try to see as much as they can in a short finite period, and as a result, not really ‘seeing’ anything. I used to be that person.

Settling in to truly experience a place and get a feel for the day to day is a luxurious joy.

This really resonated with me as that exactly what I try to do everywhere I travel these days.

Settle in and feel the feels.

Smell the smells.

Pound the ground.

You get it.

So it’s 3 weeks into this trip and admittedly I’ve spent most of it in Timisoara (Google it – I’m tired of explaining). Apart from a few days out in the nearby country visiting some lovely little villages that wouldn’t be out of places in rural NSW, I’ve been city bound.

There’s a helluva lot to see and experience in this city though so I’ve been busy and have walked this city from arsehole to breakfast time in that 3 weeks, as my Dad used to say.

It’s almost time to move on from this lovely city. Almost.

Staying at my friends apartment close to the city was an incredibly generous (Thanks O.) opportunity to get the feels of this place and a perfect way to slowly immerse myself in daily life.

Gradually I’m seeing finer detail now – the good and the bad. The routines, the traffic patterns, the local workers and the lunchtime ebb and flow. The other characters going about their daily grind. The Police patrols, violin buskers and their hilarious turf wars against the other buskers, and even the touts, pickpockets and other shifty types.

Y’know, the interesting ones!

Like the shifty but talented fellow below, playing his authentically sad and mournful Romanian violin to a largely indifferent crowd. I really REALLY want to sit down and have a chat with him.

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Oh and the buildings are awfully nice too, before I forget.

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Being able to settle has allowed me to find my favourite eateries, what places sell English language novels and shady places to hang out with said book and read, fave coffee shops and most importantly the best cinemas ($6 movie tickets mmmm).

I’ve sussed out where the best pizza is, where the best coffee is on a Sunday, and the largest closest organic fresh food market.

Places that feel comfortable and places that don’t.

I can confidently navigate home moderately drunk at night now – padding along dimly lit streets in neighborhoods best described as sketchy – a benchmark that usually means I’m getting too comfortable and it’s time to go.

Seriously though, a lengthy stay here has so far turned a country and a people into something tangible for me that is lasting, and not just a curiosity to gawk at briefly; to be remembered only through selfies and then quickly forgotten when the next new thing comes along.

So that’s my travel advice for today : sit, stay, and settle in – immerse yourself in the day to day and live locally.

Anyway…so whats really on my mind, why am I writing?

A few things.

Firstly, the violent history of Europe in general is unsettling me, more than I could have unexpected.

I’ve been hitting a few film festivals since I’ve been here – I seem to gravitate to these things – so Timisoara has Ceau Cinema Film Festival and just now the Transilvania International Film festival roadshow is in town.

As I talk a lot ( yes really I do) I’ve been meeting and chatting with the crew and the organisers a bit, meeting some of the filmakers, and generally being the random Aussie film geek.

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My point eventually being I’ve been seeing a lot of local documentaries lately from filmakers , exploring Romania’s history and events. Some of this stuff is just unbelievably batshit crazy and I honestly don’t know how to unpackage it for processing.

You may have heard of some of these things – the Revolution in 1989, the rise and fall of Nicolae Ceausescu, his Decree 770 (this was just horrific), the effects of Communism over the years and life under Communism in general (unbelievable), the actions of the Securitate (Secret Police) and the prison camps – fucking hell!

Demonstrators of the Romanian Revolution. Photo by Denoel Paris and other photographers.

Romania sided with the Nazis then flipped to the Allies late in the war. I didn’t know that! (I mean I’m sure I did at one point in my life, but my brain pushed it out sometime ago)

Look I admire practicality as much as the next person, but Fuck me if Romania doesn’t seem to get a bit too ‘shooty’ at times. If it wasn’t so deadly real it’d be a Monty Python sketch.

Then there are the other things like the casual racism here (sorry guys it’s true, but we Aussies are worse) particularly relating to the gypsies and their odd status here, or the poverty which I haven’t yet seen the worst of at all I’m told and will have to head south to truly experience it apparently.

And again I keep coming back to the Revolution in ’89 that changed everything – but didn’t. The power and corruption just changing hands and becoming another new problem.

protests-against-ceausescuRomanian demonstrators protesting against Nicolae Ceausescu. Photo source: rarehistoricalphotos.com

I vaguely remember these issues from the News and from school when I was a kid, but fucking hell it sure crystallises into reality when you are here walking the streets!

My friend Ciprian described himself as being a child of Decree 770 : just talking to him about it briefly after seeing the documentary I was for once lost for words and moved to tears.

(side note: I met the director Florin Iepan very briefly at the festival, and got a chance to thank him for this film – he does a Michael Moore style documentary and is well known here in Romania for getting in peoples faces)

Odessa.

… Jesus …Odessa.

I can’t even think about Odessa, the most abhorrent thing that I’ve learned about Romania was their role in the Jewish Holocaust during WWII – the extermination of the Jewish population at Odessa in 1941 in particular – 22, 000 (twenty two fucking THOUSAND souls) men, women and children hung, shot and burned alive in barns over a two day period. And worse.

Hit the hyperlink above and read. It will haunt you. I cant stop thinking about it.

So much pain and suffering and grief passed from generation to generation – excluding the millennials however as nothing can touch their layers of entitlement.

You can sorta see remnants of it as soon as you talk to a local and the conversation turns to history or politics (and it will).

I don’t know how to process a lot of it – most of it. Any of it. There exists no frame of common reference for me.

It sounds like some ridiculous horror story to someone from small town Wombat NSW (Population 120) and it’s hard to reconcile the terrible history with the modern country that I’m seeing before me now.

I guess this is my first real experience in an ex-communist country that’s been plagued with problems forever and still trying to cope.

And Communist Romania!! Don’t get me started. Dear God.

The Romanian people have lived through all this horror but haven’t remained unscarred by it. There’s a defensiveness; an insecurity; almost an inferiority complex here that you get a sense of just talking to people.

Hopefully some more travel into the other Romanian regions will give me some insights and answers to the many many many questions that this experience is raising for me.

That’s all I have to say on these things in an open forum –  also I don’t feel that I have the right to comment much more than I have.

I may have said too much already, but these are my first and immediate impressions so fuck it – you’re you have it.

Talk to me in person for real feels.

So what else?

Some positive things.

I like it here! It’s very liveable. Things are cheap and the $ goes much further than back home.

Romanians in general have been really open, inclusive and friendly to me as a foreigner (but Timisoara is a special city I’ve been told – …’in Bucharest, they will kill you in road rage’ …said a friend I hitched a ride back from Gottlob last weekend with).

Smalltalk isn’t a thing tho, at least from what I’ve experienced – any chit chat is economical and to the point. People will quickly share deep personal secrets and tragedy with you after knowing you for a few minutes. It’s great, this level of openness.

My survival Romanian is getting slightly better – I don’t get the eyerolls as much now and I can order basic things and get a laugh or a smile. I’m happy with that.

And Tshirts! I wondered at all the branded American Tshirts that people wear and then I realise that there is a LOT of second hand clothing stores selling what must be good quality donated Tshirts from the US of A 🇺🇸 – going for 5 lei (about $2).

Bargain!!

I even stumbled upon a rack of Tshirts from Washington state and Seattle area businesses which was totally weird.

Hmm…anything else?

I’m sick today!

Yes that’s a good thing as it had to happen sometime on this trip, mixing with so many new people. Might as well get it over with.

I’m in the middle of it now though – thanks a lot Hostel – got a fever, sore throat, sweats and all that so my though processes are a little sketchy. I hope this clears up before I head out to Cluj next week. Then Bucharest, and then bounce around a little more until the 15th when the loose plan is return via Istanbul.

Or not.

I’ve decided to go by train and do a rain thing here rather than fly or drive. The driving thing was all locked in but some people had expressed concerns about conditions and rainy mountain roads (and some have said its fine also) – but after dinging the car in America last year, I’m erring on the side of caution cos I don’t feel like replacing a rental car again.

My timing stinks as far as the Cluj travel is concerned – there’s a big 4 day music festival there next week when I was planning to travel, and most of the accommodation is booked out. I might have to divert to Sibiu or somewhere else and then head to Cluj after the 5th.

My plans change every day so who knows where I’ll end up as opportunities arise.

So far, my highlight has been the Ceau Cinema Film Festival though.

**This isn’t at the festival?

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Hmmm…Apparently not.

After chatting to the organisers and some of the volunteers running the festival, I was amazed by how professional they were, and how smoothly this festival ran. For or 5 venues, 20 or so movies over 4 days, artist talks, meet and greets with the directors and film makers and everything seemed to go perfectly. I was absolutely blown away by how well this thing ran, so I went to every film that I could.

And, as you know, I tend to talk to people, so made some friends. When the offer of a lift out to Gottlob to see the newly refurbished cinema and see a few of the winning films and documentaries arose, I jumped at it, and got to spend the rainy day in a small village cinema watching Romanian documentaries and banned films from the 70’s.

Anyway, my highlight was getting presented with a ‘Gottlob Watermelon’ during the awards ceremony of the Ceau Cinema Film Festival here, the organisers pulling me up on stage and handing over the mike for a quick chat about coming from Australia and especially about coming to the Festival. An unexpected honour for a random token Aussie.

Thanks for a wonderful experience folks! 🙂

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It was a hot night, and so the beer flowed, but I bailed on the after party which wound up shortly after 3am as I had a melon to care for.

Carrying a large watermelon 2.5kms home hitched up on my shoulders, nursing a slight beer buzz and roaming through the city in the early hours makes for some strange looks from the locals for sure.

F*cking tourist, eh? 🙂

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*Looks like this is being shared around a bit in Romania so…

Dear Romania,

These ramblings are my initial reactions and impressions on visiting your country for the first time. It’s meant to be an honest record of my thoughts (with little editing except for grammar) and I’ve tried to be true to my reactions and impressions here.

No offense is meant by any of the comments I’ve made either in jest or ignorance.

If you are Romanian, or Securitate, and are offended by anything in this little rant, please accept my sincerest apologies.

La revedere!

Jamie