Happy Dutch Pancake Goes Romanian!

Making new friends is always fun, and is nothing better than joining a group of people from all over the world, to exchange opinions, ideas and bring incredible experiences into the same room.

Only a few weeks ago I heard about the tradition of Dutch Pancake Party, which started in Hong Kong, a while back, as a thank you dinner, for the hosts of a group of Dutch students.

Starting with a nice gesture, the party became more of a tradition for Robin Vogelaar, who travels every week to a new city around the world, and organizes a new party. Meeting people through CouchSurfing and social networks, Robin finds a place to stay, someone willing to provide a location for the Pancake Night, invites as many people as possible, and gets busy cooking and making new friends.

Photo Credit – Aida Ivan

With over 90 such parties already taking place all over the world, from Europe to Asia, between 30 and 150 people present at every party, the Dutch Pancake Night became a phenomena.

When I met Robin, he told me about his idea to organize such a party in Bucharest, so I just had to join in. It was quite impressive to see so many people of all nationalities (Netherlands, Mauritius, Greece, Belgium, Albania, UK, Brazil, China, Romania), going into the kitchen, helping with the snacks, ingredients and cooking the pancakes.

Even if we had great plans in mind (making a lot of pancakes, for everyone present), with only a few pancakes going out of the kitchen door, we had to put an end to it sooner, as the neighbors got irritated with the noise. From what I understand, this happens all the time, in every location, so we really fast came up with a backup plan, and moved to a nearby pub, to continue the celebration. No one puts a stop to a determined group! 🙂

Photo Credit – Aida Ivan

The best part about such events is the cultural exchange. I always love to meet people with similar passions, skills and interests, and find out more about other cultures and traditions. Even better is to meet fascinating adventurous world travelers and start new friendships.

With the next location already in mind, so many amazing people and a few new wonderful friendships, I’m pretty sure the end of the party is only a see you later, not a goodbye. Looking forward to the next meeting!


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Special thanks to Aida Ivan for the event pictures

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Begging – The Ugly Truth Behind The Ultimate Business

This is quite a delicate subject, but because of the image Romanians have abroad, especially in Europe, I’d like to clarify a few aspects for those who hate and blame, without knowing the true story behind the appearances.

I did my share of travel around Europe, and it happened a lot of times to have people walk away on me after they find out I’m from Romania. Even worse, I was asked what’s my real nationality, because I can’t be a Romanian, as Romanians are black?! Wait a minute … I can’t tell you how much those events hurt, but they did taught me something: ‘Do not judge people based on their nationality‘. Even better: ‘Do not judge at all’.

I know other groups, like Muslims, get identified often as terrorists, because of the acts of a few individuals. Same happens to us, as Romanians, but that just doesn’t apply to every individual coming from that group, and judging them in such a way, might make you lose the chance to meet unbelievable people, and in the end, it’s everyone’s loss …

Because of my image as a citizen of Romania, in the European space, I learned to adapt, first give people a chance to know me, and later tell me where I am from. Do this in reverse order, and some might decide that you are there to commit crimes, steal or beg and don’t want to have anything to do with you. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t blame people for hating most part of the population coming from my country. With all the crimes, and begging and not acting proper in a society, I also wouldn’t be very happy about having them around. However, what most Europeans don’t know is that we’re not all like that small percentage of people who do the damage, and the population of the country is divided into 2: Romanians and RRomanians (in translation: The Romani, Roma, or Gypsies, whichever term is more familiar).

beggarNo, not all Romanians are gypsies, and not all gypsies are Romanians. Also, not all Romanians are good people, as not all  gypsies are bad people.

With the economical situation in the country only getting worse, and less and less work places available, more and more people leave, to find a better paid job, somewhere in Europe. And no, Romanians don’t go abroad to beg or steal, but they go there to study or work, very hard, to provide for their families, left back in the country. Same do some gypsies leaving the country to beg and steal (not all gypsies do this, by the way), as the economical situation from abroad also gives them a chance to a better financial situation.

How Begging Really Works – The Ugly Truth

To be honest, I never gave money to beggars and I never will either, and this is not because I am a hateful, mean and selfish person, but I believe help comes from doing the exact opposite, as I know what happens behind the scenes, once you support such an ‘industry’. Also, I don’t believe you should have a bunch of babies and expect the society to raise them for you. It’s cruel towards the child, as you don’t give him any chance to a decent life and education, and is also not fair toward the hard working citizens. For most people, food doesn’t reach the table unless they work very very hard, and when you come from a not so rich family, you find the supporting their situation far away from moral.

I had a talk a few years back with a beggar, and he told me how much he earns, and I was in shock, as … it was double my salary back then! And I need to go to my job, and work hard everyday, sunrise to sunset, for those money. Money don’t come easy, at least to some people they don’t.

The number of kids such a couple have, go all the way to 10-12 or higher, depending on the bride’s age, which sometimes can be only 10-12 years of age, while the groom can be 40 years plus, or even older – illegal ‘marriages’, of course, as the legal age to get married, in Romania is 18, or 16, only with both parent’s approval. Even when the long hand of the law makes it into one of their villages, they all act like no one got married, no one has ever seen anything wrong, the police gets threatened and forced to leave. As the forces of the country are very underpaid, they don’t even believe it’s worth risking their lives for such a matter, so they leave, and the life of the new couple continues.

And the situation is even more severe than this, so I believe everyone should know about it, in order to put a stop to it.

OldBeggar1Oh, the good old Romanian joke with: ‘I have 7 brothers back home … ‘. The perfect begging line. However, you can’t just go on the street and beg. It doesn’t work like that, unless you want to get yourself murdered. There’s an entire network behind every begging person, and you beg for that network, with their approval. And they even make a line for you, which you have to say, all day long. If you don’t comply or perform, the consequences are violent and terrible.

As you might already know, for gypsies, the more kids, the better, because they use the babies as tools to touch your feelings so you provide. And you give money and food to a mother with a baby, or to a young child, and the food and money get taken away by the ‘daddy’ who waits around the corner in his Mercedes (typical car for the situation). It’s all a family business, a very extended family, that’s true.

A few years ago, I was in the subway, when 2 gypsy ladies (with 4 young kids and a toddler) took a sit, while the kids started begging around. I overheard, by mistake, their talk, and one said to the other: ‘Oh, this one is already 2 and a half, and he’s getting too old. I need to make another one fast.’. Business as usual … While a normal mothers would worry about the toddler’s first kindergarten day.

Sleeping babies? – Guess again!

Did you notice how suspiciously quiet the babies in the arms of the beggar are? No, the babies aren’t sleeping, but you have all the right to believe that. Let’s be honest, how do you make a baby/toddler sit still, in the same spot, and not get bored, a whole day? The babies aren’t sleeping but they are drugged! Yes, they give them drugs. Of course, a children’s body is not able to cope with such a shock and often dies, sometimes even during the ‘work schedule’. You might think that’s the end of the theater? No, the mother has to hold the dead child in her arms, until evening, as the rules of the game are as such.

Even worse, some go as far as mutilating themselves or their children, just to look a bit more impressive, so you will give away some extra cash, while others pretend having health problems or issues with their limbs, and get up and start running, at the end of the ‘work day’. The latter happened in front of one of my friends, who used to give money to a ‘handicapped’ boy, until one day, when a miracle happened, and she saw him get up and walk away, heading home, like any person would, after a day of work. Lesson learned, I suppose.

Why Begging Abroad?

Most of Romanians clued in on what’s going on, especially when you see the poor beggars driving Mercedes around the city (still dressed like the poorest people you’ve ever seen), and living in real palaces. Not houses, but palaces. Try to drive through one of their towns, and click pictures (it happened a while back to a reporter from UK, who barely made it out alive, after recording the reality of the houses they live in). Here’s how some of their houses look like, just so you understand where your money go to:

gypsyhousesromania

… And we don’t provide for their lifestyle anymore. Less and less people do. So, they leave, not only because Romanians are poor and can’t afford to give them stuff, but also because people got of sick of seeing so much laziness and abuse.

Again, this is not meant to sound racist or judgmental in any way, as some gypsies are hardworking people, and do provide for their families, and live normal lives. Such a situation makes them look bad as much as it makes us as Romanians look bad, and gets them as well as people like me, to be discriminated severely in the European society. And we’re all part of the problem, by supporting the wrong kind of behavior.

Still, people from abroad don’t know what’s really going on. Not yet. If you want to help the poor, go to a state institution or NGO dealing with supporting people in need. There you can volunteer or donate and get informed about what else you can do, to improve someone’s life. That’s the correct way to go about it, not by encouraging all of the above.

You have to power to stop the begging, the discrimination of all Romanians and the abuse! Next time you give money to help a poor mother with a child, or to a young child begging on the street, please think again about what’s the moral thing to do. Think about the cruelty and abuse behind the ‘business’. If you don’t encouraging such a behavior, it will stop and they will eventually have to look for a job, as all people do, and treat their kids as human beings, not as tools for making fortunes.


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Romanian Palace of Parliament – Construction Madness

During the communist era, the idolatrization of the leader wasn’t an option, but a must. And the more important the leader, the bigger the impact on the surroundings, as monuments and buildings were designed as a constant reminder of his power and greatness.

As Romania had its share of communist regime (1947-1989), the Palace of Parliament (People’s House) in Bucharest, Romania, is just another example of a building designed for this purpose.

Palatul_ParlamentuluiKnown as Nicolae Ceaușescu’s dream construction, the project started with wiping out a large section of the central city. Have you ever heard of the expression: “moving mountains“? Most likely it was invented during that time, as large amounts of soil were moved, in order to create an artificial hill, for the building to sit on.

More than 700 architects and over 20,000 workers were at the location, 24 hours a day, for five years, in order to bring the project to life. Unfortunately, for Ceaușescu, he didn’t get to see his dream come true, as he was assassinated before the People’s House was finished.

Absolutely enormous construction which had swallowed tens of billions of lei, while many Romanians experienced a period of severe privations. One impressive investment is the glass ceiling of the ballroom, which can open to allow a helicopter to land inside the building! Probably this is the reason why, the building wasn’t very popular among citizens, at the beginning.

Still not impressed? Wait until you read the following.

Crazy Facts

The Building is 9 stories high (with 9 underground floors – 92 m – the legend says Ceaușescu used the underground tunnels as an escape path – other legends say he’s still living in the underground nuclear bunker) and has 1000 rooms: 440 offices, over 30 ballrooms, 4 restaurants, 3 libraries, 2 underground parking and a concert hall. Just to give you a more precise idea of the size of the People’s House, all the walking I did in the building, through the years, when I took friends and colleagues from abroad to the Palace for a tour, and I saw only 5% of the entire construction. And still, after you’re done with the tour … your feet hurt.

Interesting enough, in the 1980s, when lit, the building consumed a day’s electricity supply for the whole of Bucharest in only 4 hours!

Also, something we don’t do anymore nowadays, all the materials used to build the Palace were obtained domestically: marble, glass, wood, crystal, all coming from the Romanian mountains and forests. The crystals were used for the 480 crystal chandeliers found in the palace, the rooms are decorated with gold, and only the carpet covering the floor of Union Hall weighs 14 tonnes!

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The balcony from the image has a very funny story behind it. As the entire region was redesigned to fit the monstrosity (Ceausescu made sure that the street leading right up to the palace was constructed to be exactly 1 meter wider than the Champs Elysees in Paris – sorry France!), so were the apartment buildings surrounding the Palace, which are designed to amplify the sound coming from the balcony from which Ceaușescu planned to talked to the people. Because he never got the chance to use it, Michael Jackson is the only person who ever got the chance to speak to the Romanians from that balcony, during the famous embarrassing moment when he yelled: Hello, Budapest!‘ … (now, teleportation escalated quickly, as Budapest is all the way into Hungary, far far away 🙂 ).

According to the World Records Academy, the Palace is the world’s largest civilian building with an administrative function and the second largest building in the world after the Pentagon, in the United States. It’s also the most expensive administrative building and the heaviest building in the world. Taking about a record breaker!

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View over Bucharest, from the top floor of the Palace of Parliament

Nowadays the construction is a multi-purpose building, containing both chambers of the Romanian Parliament. Most of the income comes from renting the ballrooms out for special events. Unfortunately, the cost of maintenance is so high, that the Palace barely manages to pay the staff and electricity, water and gas bills. Also, the largest part of the building is permanently empty, as it has no particular use. Still, the Palace of Parliament remains an impressive reminder of the past era.

Bookstore and a Cup of Style

At the request of one of my friends, I went to take a look at the new Carusel Bookstore. Located on Lipscani street, in the Old City of Bucharest, the store takes the passion for reading and book shopping to the next level, through the surrounding atmosphere and unique style.DSC_48944

Hosting a bistro, a media centre, an art gallery, and the most beautiful design of all the bookstores in the area, the store invites you in, to tell you its beautiful story. 

The very elegant building, dating back to the nineteenth century, was originally owned by a famous family of bankers, until it was confiscated during the communist period, together with many other similar buildings. After 1990, the building was recovered by Jean Chrissoveloni, the current owner, who started the full restoration, bringing the beautiful construction back to life. After looking around for a bit, I would say a project well done!

Sadly enough, after my first visit, I realized not many people go there for the books, but for the building design or to get out of the cold weather, and the people who go there for the experience books have to offer, can’t really enjoy it, as the place gets really busy and loud. 

All in all, a gorgeous building, with a lot of potential. The best part is that a historical building was saved from a very slow death, adding more value to the old city of Bucharest.

Life After the Next Big Earthquake – History Repeats Itself?

March 1977 is known as a dark month in Romanian history, when a 7.2 earthquake, lasting 56 seconds, took the lives of 1,570 people, injured over 11,300, and destroyed over 35,000 houses and 33 large apartment buildings (most of the damage was suffered by the capital city, Bucharest).

Being located in a highly active seismic area (with at least one small earthquake taking place per day), and after such a catastrophic event you might think Romania learned its lesson, and building consciously and consolidating the existing buildings became our number one priority. If only this was the case…

The Harsh Reality – Corruption vs Well being

After 1977, every new construction was checked, double checked and tripled checked, to make sure such a disaster will never repeat itself. When communism was replaced by democracy, in 1989, the country developed its own version of democracy, in which corruption ‘solves’ any problem. As building cheaper and faster is one of the dreams, surely the right people, paid other right people, to ‘not notice’ the lack of materials, which were stolen or not brought at all, used for building the modern constructions, which look good on paper, but structurally you never know what you deal with.

To make matters worse, the entire old city, and not only, is at risk, as the buildings are very old, some are lacking a foundation, while others are not safe for living, as it is. Pretty much all the buildings in the old city are at risk of demolition, according to the latest inspections (estimated 190 buildings from with 113 are risk one buildings, which means they will for sure not make it through an earthquake 7 and up). To make matters even worse (yes, it is possible), some of the buildings weren’t even inspected, so for some of them we have no idea what’s the risk factor.

Why things don’t get done

Bucharest used to be called the Small Paris. The old city is a rich historical area, reminding us of the glorious past of the city. Glorious in the past… but not anymore.

earthquake risk 1 buildingQuickly turned into the location of the city where all the pubs, bars and restaurants are situated, the severity of the problem was masked by a few buckets on paint, which distract people from the huge structural issues of the buildings. Also, the warning signs placed by the authorities were either taken down, or masked behind various ‘Eat and drink here’ banners. So, the majority of the population has no idea about the issue in first place.

As it all comes down to money (the area is a paradise for foreigners and foreigners means a lot of cash, and a lot of cash means we need to stay in business), the restaurants and bars owners don’t want to shut down their business in order to consolidate the buildings, and the apartment owners (most of them elderly) don’t want to be moved anywhere else while such an operation takes place. Because according to the law, they all have to be in agreement in order for the construction to start, if one person says no, it can’t be done. So, obviously, it doesn’t get done.

Now let’s pretend that’s not a problem, and they could start the consolidation process. Then a new problem arises: Romania doesn’t have the money for such a project (up to 600 euro/sqm). And even if it did, with the well known Romanian speed of making things happening, the estimated time of the project is … 150 years! Yes, 150. Who hoo… Now, if you want to believe you will be lucky for so long, that’s great, but what if you are not in luck?

So the authorities blame the people and the people blame the authorities, and nobody does anything, so we hope a miracle will happen, and as hope dies last, the miracle is called “Let’s hope the earthquake won’t come”. But it will, eventually. Until then we place warning signs with: “Caution, falling plaster!” (sometimes, even bricks – darn gravity, turning plaster into bricks…).

Capital city without utilities – apocalypse loading in T minus…

So, we’re passed the hoping and doing nothing stage, which worked ‘lovely’, as you can see. The earthquake happened, almost 200 buildings came to the ground, a lot of victims, deaths, chaos and so on.

If you are lucky to have someone arrive to remove you from under the debris, you face an even worse problem: how do you survive in a city which will be shut down? And by shut down I mean, you own nothing, except the clothes you wear (in case you weren’t caught during your evening shower 🙂 ) there is no place from which you can get food, there’s no electricity, gas, water, mobile phone networks.

As authorities, you can’t turn on the electricity as long as you don’t dig under the ruins to fix the gas pipes leaks. And no electricity means water pumps don’t work, and apartment buildings have no water (yes, that also means no toilet). No water means no life, as you can’t cook, drink, or take care of any urgent body hygiene. As the estimated time to restart the normal life flow is over 1 month, and most people care about themselves only, I wouldn’t be surprised to witness an increase in criminal rate, as stealing and killing for resources might be the way to ensure personal survival. Oops!

After the last press conference, the city mayor declared they’re already working on a plan to turn local schools into temporary shelters in case of such a disaster happening anytime soon. So, the solutions are: taking the law back into the Parliament, and force the people to move out/shut down their business, and start working on the buildings (with the legal system in Romania this might take 15 years or so, and also, we don’t have the funds for such a project, and it’s taking too long as it is, according to the estimation), or we just get ready for the inevitable. For now, we do the latter and also consider the first (as in, maybe…).

What we’re losing

According to the authorities, we can rebuild in around 160 years… Again, we’re talking in terms of centuries here. How can we work and live between ruins? I remember a building coming to the ground about 1-2 years ago, and it took them almost one year to clear the derbies. What if we multiply that by 200?

Either way, it will never be the Small Paris again, no matter what they do. Metal and glass giants, will replace the gorgeous constructions from our past. Our history, as a city, will be erased, because there’s no interest into keeping it alive. To make it even worse, the interest is inclined towards bringing them down, and build new metal giants, which will bring even more money to the ‘right people’, as the cost of rent/buy in the old city is ridiculously high.

Every time I see the old city, I wonder if this is the last time I see the beautiful historical constructions. It might just be …

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