A few weeks ago, I registered for the Matador U travel writing program, for travel writers, travel photographers, and filmmakers. It is part of Matador Network, the world’s most-read independent travel publication, and recipient of two Lowell Thomas awards for excellence in travel journalism.
So far, I am loving it. The active forums, writing labs, proactive feedback, market blog and pro modules are all fantastic venues to help any travel journalist help grow and acquire tremendous skills.
The first assignment was to write about one’s hometown in 500 words. I wasn’t sure what to write in a personal narrative, with a sense of temporality, about Bucharest. So, I kept postponing it; until, one late night the inspiration came. I had it down in 15 minutes, as if I had dreamt about it. It came “alive,” as I reflect on going back after being away for a long time.
Here it is below.
Seven years?! Time does fly, I think to myself …
“Cabin crew, please take your seats for landing.”
As I look out the window, the same emotions come flooding in. Seven years have passed since I moved to the Big Apple, and became a fierce New Yorker, but I still get emotional when I come home.
“Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to Bucharest. Local time is 3:25 pm and the temperature is 32 degrees Celsius.”
16 hours after I left my other home, I am finally here. Everyone around me starts clapping for our arrival, as I powder my pale cheeks with some blush. I am already fantasizing about my king-size bed and my mother’s divine ciorbă (Romanian sour soup).
With my heart pounding and my eyes anxiously scouring through the large crowd, I push my heavy stroller through the same exit doors. My parents are waiting for me, as always; they look different, each time. They must think the same of me.
As we get out of the car, I look up. There is my grandmother’s window, eagerly waiting for me. She steps out on the terrace and smiles. I look at my mother’s carefully planted roses and the old walnut tree. Still there.
Ten minutes after struggling on the spiral marble stairs with my “oversized American luggage,” as my father always complains, there she is: Bunica, at the end of the stairway.
We hug dearly and I am instantly happy. The big house, the scents of an older era, the bulky Biedermeier furniture, the fine porcelains, the multitude of books are all there staring at me, welcoming me home. As I am slowly dozing of, she happily invites me for that long desired ciorbă. We head to the kitchen, the smallest room of the house, yet what has been our family’s space for decision-making. This is where we catch up, discuss the present and hopes for a better future.
I go to sleep. I sleep from 6pm to 6am the next morning.
As I wake up, I plan my day with my best friend. We call each other Sugar Pie. I check myself in the large mirror of the vestibule, and head out. It’s brutally hot. I pass by the architecturally arresting embassies, whose guards I used to avoid when I was a shy teenager, embassies housed in century-old houses, such as my parents’, go through Icoanei Park and yet another park, and I look for seats at our favorite hangout place Gargantua.
“I wish you lived closer,” Sugar Pie says, as we start dreaming of a vacation together.
Bucharest is certainly not the most tourist friendly city in Central & Eastern Europe – or in Romania for that matter – but it has grown tremendously. The capital of a former Communist country, once gray and somber, is now attracting multitudes of foreign tourists. Not surprisingly, a lucky few decide to throw the anchor and settle down for a few months or years, even. The Latin vibe, the hospitable people, the ethnic customs, the Balkan food, the stunning architecture – something makes them stay. Or is it the beauty of Romanian women?
The Old City is now flooded with outdoor cafes and restaurants, trendy stores and happening spots. The Herastrau Lake area, where we head next, is also a posh hangout spot for youngsters, socialites and joggers, an oasis amidst fresh air.
I am once again home, and proud of what I see.