Market Day with a Servas Host in Bucharest

It was a brisk Saturday morning when *Servas Host Mihai picked me up downtown in his car and headed out on a day of market-hopping. Our first stop was Obor Market. I had a completely different experience there with him from the other day when I had visited it alone and used public transportation to get there and back.

Mihai parked conveniently underneath the marketplace. A couple flights of stairs put us in the heart of the produce market. We then proceeded to move quickly from stall to stall while he purchased a week’s supply of food for his family of four.

Mihai and his wife are both professionals working full time. Between them they speak six languages fluently, including English, German, Polish, and Russian. They travel internationally periodically for pleasure and business.

Our next stop was the nearby Agricultural Market, a small, but inviting weekend street market. Stalls lined both sides of the entrance to the grounds of Targ Expozitie (Exposition Fair). Here I was introduced to fresh gourmet products made by small, family businesses from around the country. I sampled my way through the market, stopping to buy the most enticing products. I passed two children who appeared to be enjoying eating some of the sweets as much as I did.

One section of stalls was serving Romanian meals prepared in a kitchen reconstructed from a traditional kitchen from the remote mountainous area of northern Transylvania. Colorful painted and woven handcrafts were scattered about. Mihai encouraged me to order a freshly prepared meal here, which included fish soup and grilled fish, while he shopped. I dined accordingly sitting at a nearby wooden table while watching women cook over big black steaming pots and woks.

I noticed a woman taking photos of the charming kitchen area, just as I had done before sitting down to eat. She was the only tourist I saw in the market that day. We chatted and agreed that the setting we were experiencing was so authentic that it felt like we had been transported to the far northern area of Transylvania where life in rural Romania is alleged to exist as it has for centuries.

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I said goodbye to Mihai later that day at the entrance to the National Village Museum where he dropped me off. The museum, established in 1935, is one of Europe’s oldest open air museums, containing a collection of over 300 historic wooden structures relocated from rural Romania.

I wandered for a couple of hours among old homesteads, churches, and mills. One building that particularly caught my eye was a large dance hall which was painted a striking shade of green.

Having seen colorful traditional fabrics earlier in the day at the Agricultural Market, it was not difficult to imagine rural folks in their finest local dress kicking up their heels to traditional Romanian tunes in the old country dance hall.

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*Servas is non-profit international organization of hosts and travelers http://www.Servas.org

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Bucharest – The Trolley Stop & Obor Market

The sprawling, atmospheric Obor Market, the largest produce market in Romania, and one of the oldest, dates back over 300 years. It is a convenient, short trolley ride from downtown Bucharest.

The day I decided to visit the market for the first time, I used my waiting time at the trolley stop to explore the nearby historic Apostle’s Church. This Orthodox church dates from the 16th century when it was part of a monastery. The cobblestone path on one side was filled with women lighting candles at the prayer niches which were perched on a stone wall. The lovely arched portico of the church drew me into the well-preserved, richly-painted interior. The old custom of having an open nave with no seats for parishioners enabled me to wander freely and admire the interior from all angles. The beautiful gilded screen which separated the nave from the sanctuary of the church was a highlight.

Off to the market….

Riding the trolley to Obor Market was an interesting experience. A local woman, seeing I was having difficulty figuring out how to validate my ticket at the machine provided on board, offered to help me. Mission accomplished. I gave her an appreciative smile. No language barrier there!

The low, two-story building which housed Obor Market was distinctive among the mid-rise communist era block buildings which lined the surrounding streets. Upon alighting from the trolley, I noticed other modes of transportation people used to get there, including the underground train and self-propelled scooters.

The massive Obor Market sprawled inside and outside.

At one entrance to the enclosed marketplace jewelry stalls, many of which were selling gold jewelry, flanked a huge currency exchange booth. Small shops and stalls selling non-food items fanned out in front of me as far as the eye could see.

In the food section of the marketplace, fruit and vegetables were piled high. Several stands of apples had bottles of juice displayed above the piles. The cost for a liter of this freshly squeezed juice was about US$.50. I purchased one and immediately drank some of the freshest apple juice I ever had. In the vicinity were wild berries and mushrooms from Romania’s mountains.  In addition there were teas, spices, honey, cheese, eggs, and meat products.

Several long lines of people at a huge machine along a wall caught my eye. I watched as people filled up their empty containers with fresh milk.

Just outside the enclosed market several racks of high-quality leather jackets were being offered for sale. Nearby a food stall was selling traditional Romanian fast food which included fries and sausages. The line was long, and the adjoining tented seating area was packed. The flower market, which was bursting with color and aroma, was beside a cascade of various red and green apples.

The Obor Market was an unforgettable feast of the senses. Etched in my memory forever is the man I saw counting his money in front of a historic photo of the market – knowing that this scene probably played out in real life thousands of times over the last 300 years.

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