Bucharest – A Servas Visit in a Communist Era Neighborhood

Thus far in my exploration of Bucharest, neighborhoods engulfed in communist era block buildings had become all too familiar. What I wasn’t used to doing was finding a flat in the middle of one of those neighborhoods.

But such was my plan the day I was to visit *Servas Host Dana in one of Bucharest’s densely populated suburbs. Now eight months pregnant, Dana didn’t feel comfortable venturing too far from home, so she asked me to visit her in her flat.

Her directions from a nearby trolley stop to her residence included navigating around numerous multi-story block buildings, taking a left on a street with no name, and finding the pharmacy which was across the street from her building. If I got lost, I was to stop at the police station and ask them to call her. I never did see the police station, but fortunately, after a few wrong turns, I found the pharmacy. She buzzed me into her building and I proceeded up the elevator to her tiny one room flat on the 7th floor.

Dana is a policewoman on maternity leave. She will receive 80% of her full salary for two years following the birth of her child.

She and her husband, Andrei, recently bought a new, stripped-down, three bedroom flat which is currently unlivable. It has nothing more than a few walls in it – no kitchen, bathroom, or plumbing. She informed me that this is typical of new properties in Romania. Andrei sells supplies to contractors, so he knows a lot about contract work. Dana is confident that the work will be completed in a few months and they will be able to move in.

Gone are the days of Romanian’s communist era of Nicolae Ceausescu when residential properties, which were built by the state, could not be bought by individuals. The elimination of Ceausescu in 1989 and the freedoms that ensued when the former East Bloc was turned upside down by Russia’s new **perestroika policy in the last part of the 20th century paved the way for the capitalist society Romania is enjoying today.

She cooked up a delicious Romanian dish of duck with cabbage in a big pot for us and her husband who would be returning from work later. We finished the afternoon taking an interesting walk with her dog.

We passed through a cluster of homes where Gypsy children were playing in the street just outside the historic Plumbuita Monastery Ensemble. Dana informed me that this was a Gypsy neighborhood.

Roma, or Gypsies, are the second largest ethnic minority in Romania after Hungarians. Out of a total Romanian population of 20 million, the Roma population is estimated to be around 1 million. They originated in northern India as a nomadic people and entered Europe between the eighth and tenth centuries. The largest concentration of Roma people today live in Spain, Romania, and Turkey.

This fortified church compound, founded in 1560, was originally an Orthodox monastery for monks.  Just inside the arched entrance to the old monastery a priest was being picked up by the driver of a mini-van as we approached.  As we walked around the inside of the thick-walled compound, I felt like I was passing through centuries of history. Included inside was a Princely House, which is now a museum, and an old parish church.

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My visit with Dana to this interesting, medieval, fortified religious compound gave me a taste of what was to come during my further exploration of Romania. Several days later I began exploring the nearby province of Transylvania with its plethora of medieval towns and castles.

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About a month after meeting Dana, I received an email from her with a treasured photo of her, her husband, and their newborn. It’s a girl!!!

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

** perestroika – (in the former Soviet Union) the policy or practice of restructuring or reforming the economic political system. First proposed by Leonid Brezhnev in 1979 and actively promoted by Mikhail Gorbachev, perestroika originally referred to increased automation and labor efficiency, but came to entail greater awareness of economic markets and the ending of central planning.

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One thought on “Bucharest – A Servas Visit in a Communist Era Neighborhood

  1. Hi Merrilee, I must admit, I really enjoy your human interest stories where I can get to meet, through your writing and photos, the real inhabitants of places such as Bucharest, and get a feel for what they are thinking and how they are living. Also, good to see a police officer in Servas, and also good to see that she will receive 80% of her salary for two years of maternity leave. Also good to see that people can still afford to buy new apartments in Bucharest (as you know, very few ordinary folk can afford to buy a new 3-bedroom apartment in places like London and possibly New York because of all the speculators and foreign investors).
    Thanks for a nice insight into the former Communist apartment blocs of Bucharest and their inhabitants — it seems folk there are happy to have a home and still treat their neighbourhoods with respect, while I don’t need to tell you what is happening in some of our neighbourhoods).
    I also liked the photos of the old monastery, from what I have seen, and despite many decades of Communism, many Romanians are still very attached to their Orthodox Christian traditions.
    Thanks for that insight into a certain part of Bucharest and its interesting inhabitants, Merrilee, it looks like they are all working hard with optimism for a better future.
    When it becomes possible, I think it would be fascinating to visit Bucharest.

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