Romania through Polish eyes

Romania through Polish eyes

We first met Jakub Malecki a few months ago and were instantly charmed by his gentle smile and the way he was talked about Romania, the country where he is living and working today. Jakub, or Kuba as his friends call him, is the General Manager of LOT Polish Airlines for Romania and the Republic of Moldova. Previously, he was living and working in Poland, Ukraine, Germany and Russia, so we invited him to have a little chat with us about our country and its people.

When did you move to Romania, and what did you know about our country before arriving? We are curious to know what image you had in mind.

I moved to Bucharest in December 2012. Although I had been here several times before, my knowledge about Romania was very limited. I knew Bucharest was an interesting city and I knew the most important facts about recent Romanian history. I had a positive image of the people and of the city from my colleague, who has been working here for three years before I arrived.

Much of your activity takes place in Bucharest. What was your first impression of the city and how do you feel about it now?

The first impression was of friendly and helpful people. Then I was astonished by the unique mix of architectural styles. This mixture reflects the complicated and exciting history of Bucharest. Due to this unique mix, you never feel bored here as you are always discovering new and interesting places. Also unique is the number of beautiful villas and palaces in the central area of the city, and lots of open space. New impressions came in the summer, when the city became much more lively and the Old Town became a non-stop party zone. It was also a good time to discover the beauty of the numerous parks and green areas.

We know that you have been travelling a lot around Romania during the last year. Tell us which are your favorite places – some must-see locations that you would recommend to any foreigner. And please give tell us why.

Romania is a very beautiful country and its landscape very diverse, which makes driving here an unforgettable experience. I love the mountains and the Black Sea coast. Due to the location of Bucharest, both can be reached within 2-3 hours drive, which is one of the big advantages of living here. To reach the mountains, just take the road from Bucharest to Braşov and you will be amazed with Sinaia, Predeal and other mountain resorts. Being in Braşov – another charming “must-see” city, you have to visit Poiana Braşov, the winter capital of the country.  If you have more time, you can drive to Cheia with its unforgettable landscape and the atmosphere of a true mountain village.

The Black Sea coast is connected with Bucharest through a modern highway which enables you to leave your office on Friday at 5:00 pm and have your first beer on the beach by 8:00 pm. The “must-see” places there begin, of course, with Constanţa – however, due to heavy reconstruction work, you do not have to hurry with your visit. If you like exclusive beach clubs with all-night parties, Mamaia is the place for you. If you prefer more quiet places, go to Neptun or Venus, resorts built during the Communist times with lots of space, green areas, and traditional Romanian restaurants with live music. If you are lucky enough, you can even meet the President of the country in his favourite restaurant in Neptun called Cireşica, where famous old-style singers will entertain you every evening. Don’t forget to try the great fish at Insula restaurant. And last but not least – spend a weekend in Vama Veche, a former hippy village where you can still find the atmosphere of a permanent Woodstock festival.

There are plenty of very nice cities in Romania, although I have not seen all of them yet. Very impressive is Sibiu, whose architecture has a lot of German and Austrian influences, and the pearl of Romanian architecture, Sighişoara. You must see the fortified Evangelic churches in Transylvania, which are so typical of this region, and famous castles such as Peleş and Bran. My knowledge of  Northern Romania is so far very limited. I have only visited Cluj-Napoca and Oradea and I highly recommend both cities.

What about the Romanian people? How do they strike you? Did you have any difficulties in relating to them? What is the first word that comes to your mind when talking about the Romanians as a nation?

I had very positive impressions about the Romanian people from the very first day. Romanians are  friendly and helpful, and open to new ideas. They are modest, ambitious, responsible, honest and hard-working. They are also very social, and easy to meet.

People say that the Romanian girls are among the most beautiful girls in the world. Is that true? Do you know why? Do you have a theory about this?

Yes, Romanian women are very beautiful and also very clever. They are very warm and charming, so it is not just the physical beauty. They are unique. The reason might be the mix of different cultures and  nationalities…

In terms of people and places, do you see any similarities between Romania and Poland? You have also spent some time in Ukraine – how is Romania different from Ukraine?

We Polish people feel very at ease in Romania, because we have a similar mentality and similar recent  history. We are Slavs, but we have always been Western-oriented although very dependent on our big neighbor to the East. Romanians are Orthodox, but also very Western-oriented and also have had bad experiences with the “East”. We understand each other very well and feel a lot of respect for one another. Ukrainians are similar to both our nations, but more spontaneous than we are. Like both our nations, the vast majority of them are oriented towards Western Europe and I hope that Ukraine will become much closer economically and politically to Europe.

What did you find unique in Romania, and how would you promote Romania abroad?

The uniqueness of Romania is the variety of the landscape and the mix of different cultures and traditions. Romanian people are unique in their friendliness and hospitality. Romania has great food and wines. Bucharest is a unique city, with great architecture that reflects the exciting history of the country. It has the  a special charm of a Balkan-Latin spirit and atmosphere.

What about the Romanian food? Can you recommend a good restaurant in Bucharest? And also a type of Romanian food?

Romanian food is great! Nothing can be compared with ciorbă de burtă – the best soup in the world –  and of course, Romanian sarmale. Once you have tried it, you will want it again and again. It is also important to know that the food you buy here is of a very good quality. Romanian chickens are the best! Romania has great vegetables and great cheese (my favourite is  brânza de burduf). The most famous Romanian restaurant in Bucharest is Caru cu Bere. This is a “must-see place” not only because of very good food, but also because of the architecture. It is an amazing place to visit. I also like and highly recommend a network of modest, but very cozy Romanian restaurants called La Mama, which you can find in many places around Bucharest, including some shopping malls. You can eat very good Romanian food for very reasonable prices, and enjoy nice and professional service.

Let’s imagine I am your friend and I am coming for the first time to Bucharest. What tips and tricks do you have for me? What places should I not miss?

My favourite street is Calea Victoriei – the street that most reflects the history of the city. It will lead you to University Square, from which you can start to explore the little streets of the Old Town, especially when they really come alive in the evening. Take your time to visit numerous pubs and clubs there. Then you can go to Unirii Square and Unirii Boulevard until you reach the House of People – the New City with its “temple” built by the crazy “Genius of the Carpathians”. Close to Unirii you will find remains of the Jewish quarter, which was almost completely destroyed by Ceauşescu. The Armenian quarter was luckier with many interesting buildings still remaining in the area of Carol I Boulevard. You must see Cişmigiu Park and the surrounding streets. Then you can move north through beautiful Catargiu and Aviatorilor Boulevard. From Aviatorilor you turn right on Aleea Alexandru in order to see the beautiful old villas there. Then move to Herăstrău Park and on your way back to the center, don’t miss Kiseleff Avenue.

We have saved the most difficult question for the end. What are the things you don’t like here? Is there something you would like to change about Romania or Romanians?

As I mentioned before, Romanians are very modest – and sometimes I think they are too modest and too shy. They see many negative aspects of life in Romania, but often do not notice the positive ones. They are very sensitive and pay too much attention to the negative stereotypes about their country. They are pessimistic. They often complain about a situation but don’t do anything to change it.

Thank you for your time Kuba, and I hope LOT will bring more and more tourists to Romania in the following years.

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