Once upon a time, Romania`s capital Bucharest was known as `Little Paris`. Many of the buildings constructed in the early 1900s were modeled after existing buildings in Paris, and even the city lay-outs of Bucharest and Paris were similar. Unfortunately, only few of resemblances survived a combination of communist restructuring and the 1977 earthquake. A handful of fa?ades and road signs in the city centre have kept the Parisian tradition alive but most of Bucharest now consists of huge apartment blocks, with no apparent city centre.
2008 promises to be another year of drastic transformation for Romania as a whole and for Bucharest in particular. Brand new churches, screaming advertisements and a variety of construction sites have started to meticulously fill up any open space within in the city borders. Painting, refurbishing, demolishing and reconstructing ? there are only very few places that do not take part in Bucharest`s make-over. In the region surrounding the city, giant shopping malls are rising from scratch, and the same goes for villas for the nouveaux riches. Roads and rail roads into Bucharest are barely capable to accommodate the endless inflow of traffic that Bucharest`s dynamics are bringing about.
..thinks tourists will be able to count on better tourist services in the future
`Big, hectic and busy`, is how Sonia (21, photo) would describe Bucharest. `It`s the place where everything happens: concerts, theatre, clubbing, university. There`s lots of beautiful architecture and quite some renowned museums as well. Somehow, it does not generate huge crowds of tourists yet, even though there is plenty to see. I can understand why, though. I don`t think of Bucharest as a very safe city, especially for women walking home alone at night. There are some very shady neighbourhoods which had best be avoided. Also, Bucharest doesn`t have the infrastructure that tourists require. Public transportation works fine but information is limited. There are too few city maps, no signs towards monuments and very little information in English. Tourists are pretty much left to their own adventure. The taxi drivers know their ways with foreigners, who are an easy victim of their rip-off policies. Not exactly a way to contribute to a positive image of the city.`
Sonia does think that Bucharest is working on its problems: `We used to have streets covered with stray dogs, which could at times prove to be very aggressive. The government has collected them in recent years and put them in asylums, hoping that somebody would want them as pets. I am not convinced that many of them were actually collected, which makes me suspect that they got killed. Anyway, if you leave the very centre of the city, you will still see plenty of them haunting the streets.`
`Right now, people mainly visit Bucharest for business. There are far fewer immigrants than in most other Western European cities. International companies are queuing up to open their Romanian headquarters in Bucharest. There are many international congresses going on, and those also bring in lots of people. It is our job to properly accommodate the people, which is a role we still need to get used to`, Sonia explains.
Dragos (28) thinks that Bucharest is growing out of its limits: `People living on the former borders of the city made fortunes selling their land to rich people, who are now constructing villas and offices there. The city is growing and growing, way beyond the size it was meant to withstand. During rush hours, it`s starting to become simply impossible to access the city in the morning, or to get out in the evening. Motorcycles and bicycles have been very unpopular means of transportation so far, but people will need to resort to them in the future if they want to keep getting in and out.`
Andr? (23) feels bad about the high crime rates in Bucharest. He doesn`t only refer to street robberies but also to the many casinos in Bucharest: `Some of those allow you to come in with jewels or other valuables and exchange them for money. If you win, you can buy them back at a higher price. If you lose, they`re gone.` He also tells about the problems that the Gipsy community is held responsible for: `The North Station used to be known for being unsafe. While the problem has become less apparent over there, some other infamous neighbourhoods like Ferentar have taken its place. I once went to Ferentar to visit a classmate from secondary school. Well-prepared, I had absolutely nothing on me that was worth stealing, only the keys to my house. I was surrounded by a whole herd of small kids screaming and spitting. They wanted money and were ready to steal my keys if I had nothing else on me. `
Andr? regrets that so many people in Bucharest are forced to live in poverty. He especially cares about the old people who are forced to go begging in the streets. `I have been talking to many of them over the last years and their stories are thrilling. Some of them were political prisoners under the communist regime. I met one man who owned a big farm before the start of World War Two. He obviously protested against the confiscation of his land. He was then held prison in his own house, in one little room, for 10 years. Another men had helped construct the basement of the People`s Palace, which was a military sensitive area. After the collapse of the regime, he was supposed to have too much knowledge of the place. His car was sabotaged and he almost died in a car crash. Just two out of many, many stories of old people who have lived through so much and yet, are still having to fight the state for compensation, and for money to buy bread.`
To Tom (23) from Oxford in the UK, Bucharest is still a `friendly, welcoming and accommodating city`. `I just arrived one week ago as an Erasmus student. I still have lots to discover. I was surprised to see many buildings with signs warning that they might collapse at any moment. I think the nice buildings look somewhat like those in Budapest. There don`t seem to be too many foreigners here. I guess I will soon learn more about this city, but it`s an interesting one for sure.`
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