It's almost a week that I've returned from Bucharest (only to depart for Paris again) and I still haven't summed up my few days there. One reason is that I've been quite busy, but the more relevant one is that it's hard to sum up! Nonetheless, here is the RSS feed that should lead you to some of the pictures I took there - hope it works, it's the first time I am using iPhoto 6 that way, not least because I have already used up my flickr bandwidth for the month.
After Warsaw and Sofia, Bucharest is the third central European city that I've been to for the first time lately. Of those three, it certainly was the furthest trip back in time. What struck me first and strongest is how much time the Romanians have lost, not only up to the 1989 revolution, but even afterwards when they did not perform a clean break with the past. And this is what seems to be haunting them still today. When you walk the streets, you still get an idea how great a place Bucharest must have been in the roaring 20ies of the last century, but nothing much seems to have happened since, except for the decay.
A lot is happening, however. Building activity seems to be very strong, and real estate prices are at dizzying levels. Corruption, I am told, is virtually gone and frowned upon. Yet, again, on the streets there is not as much entrepreneurial spirit in evidence as in other similar places. Rather strange as well is the virtual absence of youth culture in the streets the nation's capital - hardly any graffitis etc., and not very many young people either. Apparently there has been a lot of emigration (to the US, mostly), which leads to a projected drop of the population by more than 10% within 20 years. That's probably already evident now. There is hope however that many of those emigrants will return again soon, once the perspectives in Romania are seen to be picking up again, as they seem to be, especially with the country's EU accession which should be completed shortly. Interestingly, many emigrant Romanians seem to be having trouble to find a new home abroad, what with being used to a closely knit social network which cannot be that easily replaced. That way, Romanian society seems to be rather mediterranean, although the southern influence was much more in evidence in neighbouring Bulgaria, with which Romanians seem to have a healthy, if a bit unilateral, competitive rivalry. Strangely noticeable, for more so than in Bulgaria, is a Greek influence, which seems to come from ancient times.
My impression is that Romania's best chances might be in the cultural tourism industry. Romanians seem to be a very passionate, warm & welcoming people who easily take to other languages. There's a lot of heritage (and infrastructure that needs investing!) and great scenery as well as the black sea. Other industries, like financial services, have advanced a lot in the region, however, which is why it won't be too easy to catch up there.
The more I see of it, the less I can get my head around how phantastically diverse a place Europe really is.