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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Amsterdam – The Venice of the North

Starting as a small fishing village in the 12th century, Amsterdam became a very important port, during the 17th century, and it is even in the current days, one of the top financial centres in Europe. The city, situated 2 meters below sea level, was originally named Amstelredamm, being built as a dam of the river Amstel. At its lowest point, Amsterdam is situated 6.7 meters below sea level.

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Why Venice of the North?

It’s simple. Amsterdam is the home of more than one hundred kilometers of canals, which divide the city into 90 islands, connected by more than 1,200 bridges (more bridges than Venice has). This gives tourists the almost unique opportunity of visiting the city by water and also by land. Pretty neat I would say, especially when both experiences give you a totally different feel of the vibe Amsterdam has. 

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The most famous bridge in Amsterdam- The Skinny Bridge

The Water Canals 

Beautiful to see, since the early 14th century, and click pictures of, but the locals will tell you the canals are there for much more than the pretty sight.

What better way to describe them, than: city planning at its best?

The concentric half-circle canals were used for transportation, defense, and of course, water management, being built gradually, as the city grew larger and larger. During the Dutch Golden Age, the canals were used as open sewers, so the smell of success was to experience only from behind the windows. Fortunately, the smell improved in time, and the water is cleaner than ever.

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The most popular canals in Amsterdam are: Herengracht (The Canal of the Lords),  Keizersgracht (The Emperor’s Canal), and Prinsengracht (The Prince’s Canal), best being seen from a boat.

Amsterdam looks spectacular from the water so, I definitely recommend a canal cruise, but keep in mind that the city transforms completely when it’s dark. Just to make sure I don’t miss a thing, I took both trips. Well worth it! 🙂

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This place is called ‘Seven Bridges’ because it is the point from where you can see seven bridges of Amsterdam

The Buildings 

From all the cities I’ve been to, Amsterdam has the richest and most beautiful architecture, by far. Most buildings were constructed into the 16th, 17th and 18th century, and even in the present day, are still in great condition and used by locals. DSC_2423

At a closer look, you will notice some buildings are tilted, and are called the Dancing Houses. This is because many homes are converted warehouses built with a slight tilt to prevent the goods from damaging the building’s facade on the way up or down (dutch homes have very narrow stairs, so the only way to carry massive goods is on the outside of the house – that’s why the hoisting beams with a hook).

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All buildings are supported by 15 to 20 meter long wood poles, fixed into the soil. A typical house has 10 wooden poles, but the Centraal Station is supported by around 9,000 poles! You visit a city built entirely on poles. Impressive, or what?

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Amsterdam’s Centraal Station

The Houseboats 

Amsterdam is the home of over 2,500 houseboats, varying from small, simple structures to converted commercial vessels, or custom built multi-level houses. The houses are not motorized, but fixed, built either on a floating pontoon made of concrete or on an old metal ship (woonschip).

The houseboats used to provide a cheap accommodation, after the second world war, when there was a housing shortage. Nowadays they are nothing but cheap, and are connected to the city sewage system, electricity and gas. Some are permanently inhabited by locals, while others are rented to the tourists.

The Flower Market

Amsterdam’s flower market is the only floating flower market in the world, the flower stalls being located on the houseboats. Here you can buy the famous dutch tulips, narcissus and other flowers and garden decorations.

If you like flowers, this is definitely the place for you!

The triple X

DSC_198If you walk around Amsterdam, you will definitely see it everywhere. It’s important to know that the XXX on the city’s coat of arms does not stand for pornography (sorry to disappoint 🙂 ), but they represent the crosses of Saint Andrew, a fisherman who was martyred on an X-shaped cross, in the 1st century. It is said they also represent the three kisses Dutch people give on the cheeks, when they great each other.

The Bicycles – local favorite transportation 

Amsterdam, as most cities in Netherlands, is not very car friendly, so the most popular transportation is … the bicycle! It’s estimated that the city is home of more bicycles than people (over 881,000 bicycles for under 800,000 people). Most dutch people have more than one bicycle, using each one, depending on the weather conditions, destination and number of passengers (mommy bicycles have up to 2-3 child seats).

Around 25,000 bicycles end up in Amsterdam’s canals each year, and around 100,000 get stolen. The locals claim pretty much every bicycle on the streets was stolen at least once!

The Cheese Stores

When you think about Netherlands a few things pop into your mind: tulips, windmills and … cheese! Cheese making industry extends all the way back to the time of Julius Caesar, so Dutch people really know their cheese. No trip to Amsterdam should be complete without a visit to a local Cheese Store.

DSC_2024Being a cheese fanatic ever since I can remember, I was very much looking forward to this. Before my first contact with Netherlands, I was sure I knew how cheese looks, smells and taste like, but this country looked up the term of ‘cheese’ in my dictionary, highlighted it, then ripped the whole page out, and rewrote Every Single Little Detail.

The variety goes from Gouda to Edam to Boerenkaas to Herb cheese to any other type you can think of. Plenty from which to choose, but for me, it was the hardest decision I had to make, in a cheese store 🙂

Other Landmarks

Munt Tower - Munttoren

Munt Tower – Munttoren

The Munt Tower (Munttoren), built in 1619-1620, is a southern tower of Amsterdam, located where the Amstel river and the Singel canal meet. It was originally part of the main gates of the city’s medieval wall. The name of the tower comes from the purpose of the building, in the 17th century, which was to mint coins.

The Royal Palace

The Royal Palace

The Dam Square is the center and heart of the city, home of the impressive Royal Palace, built in 1648, on 13,659 wooden poles. In the 17th Century it was used as the City Hall. Later it became the royal palace of King Louis Napoleon.

Nieuwe Kerk

Nieuwe Kerk

Nieuwe Kerk located in the Dam Square, next to the Royal Palace, is a 15th century church, currently used as an exhibition space. It was built after the Old Church became too small for the population of the city. The Dutch royal investiture ceremonies and weddings take place in this location. Inside it you will find a museum store and a burial space for the national naval heroes.

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Rijksmuseum

Rijksmuseum is the Dutch national museum, containing around 8,000 art objects, from as early as the 1200’s, and is, for me, one of the most beautiful and impressive buildings in Amsterdam. Located in the Museum Square, the building is close to the Van Gogh Museum and the Stedelijk Museum. Also, the famous I Amsterdam letters are located in the same spot.

From all the cities I’ve been to so far, Amsterdam is still my favorite, and is always a pleasure to go back. The unique architecture combined with the water canals and the history, takes it all the way to the number one city in my book.