The Big Buch

I’m in the Bucharest airport waiting for my flight to Paris. It’s been a busy three days and I’m looking forward to a lazy Sunday.

Bucharest is a city of dichotomies

Orthodox church in BucharestIn many ways, the country is very young; they got a fresh start in the 1989 revolution. But it is also a very old city and you see the taces of history every where you look. Within a few blocks you can see centuries old churches, 19th century grandeur, post WW1 boom, the communist blocks, the inflated classicism of Nicolae Ceau┼čescu’s projects, and flashy contemporary casinos.

stairs in the Romanian National Art MuseumIt’s a relatively poor country where the people still live well. It’s also a very rich country with the same love of status objects as any other quickly developing economy. Food is cheap, good, and simple. Hotels are relatively expensive. The national art museum was a bit pricey, but the one down the street was super cheap.

Bucharest is also a city I feel like I’ve visited before. I just can’t place it. There are parts that remind me of Vienna, Seattle, Tijuana, Los Angeles, and dozens of other cities.

The humongous palace has to be the symbol of the city. This is the second largest building in the world and it is imposing. It sits on a mount to increase the perception of power. Surrounding it are other elephantine, yet classic buildings.

The Palace in BucharestCeau┼čescu was the leader for 24 years and transformed the country. It reminds me of what would happen if Donald Trump became a dictator of a country. Huge projects were created for the sake of having the feature. Some of these projects sit unfinished and empty 20 years after his death. Others, such as the metro system, are widely used today.

Beyond the surface of the city and its buildings, I found a river of optimism. It’s still a “new” country and opportunities abound for the motivated and energized. This brings me to why I was in Romania.

poli 2.0 classBobby Voicu, the most famous Romanian blogger (TM), is the community outreach person for Yahoo! Romania. He invited me to speak to a group of university students about the Yahoo! BOSS search API. This is a tool that Yahoo! provides for people to quickly and easily build their own search engine and more. This group of students are meeting regularly to build web sites and applications with Boss, Adobe Flex, and lots of elbow grease.

They reminded me of my days as a photo student at Palomar College. There was a small group of us that met regularly in and out of class. We challenged, encouraged, assisted, and fought with each other. It was an incredibly productive period. I’m looking forward to seeing the products coming from this group.

Hello Budapest, Romania!

It’s so great to be here in Budapest…

I’m in Romania today to give a lecture to a university group on using Yahoo! Boss for building search applications. Imagine my embarrassment when I noticed the PowerPoint was filled with Budapest instead of Bucharest… arggggh. I feel like a nincompoop.

I tried to prepare for the trip by watching Romanian films. Unfortunately the selection on Netflix was a depressing story about two college women arranging for a illegal abortion during the communist era, a documentary about prostitution at the train station, and a vignette of peasant life in the country before the revolution. Somehow Netflix overlooked the happy go-lucky, feel good movie of the Romanian century.

First impressions of Bucharest

  • Some stretches reminded me of the area between Seattle and Canada, minus the mountains.
  • There are lots of stray dogs and my hotel room has a blurry painting of an angry dog running at me.
  • Everyone speaks perfect English, as well as 5 other languages. Americans speak English and Loud English.
  • There’s a big mixture of architecture. I’ve seen abandoned shacks, Victorian, Romanesque, Classicism, Communist Block, Las Vegas Glitz, and Hollywood ala Sunset and Vine.
  • While everyone tells me there’s no vegetarian food and to look for Indian restaurants, I had a great meal at an old communist soup kitchen type place. I had a sauerkraut/potato soup, polenta, marinated mushrooms, and a rice/vegetable dish. It wasn’t fancy, but tasted great, was inexpensive, and great fun. I’d go back in a minute.
  • There are way too many cars. It reminds me of the song “nobody walks in L.A.” by the Missing Persons.

I’m looking forward to seeing more of the city tomorrow and the art museums on Saturday. Now, if I could only stop calling it Budapest…

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