Brasov’s wavering beauty
Many travelers have that favourite place in the world that they’ll always try to weave into long trips. Places that, if they’re anywhere in the vicinity or even continent, they must pass through. It might be a favourite food, landmark, an affinity for the culture, or a homeland. That place, for me, is Brasov, in Romania, for all of the above reasons and then some.
While I wasn’t born there (that honour belongs to Romania’s capital of Bucharest), I identify with Brasov as the place I originally hail from in Romania. The only family outside my immediate parents and sister that I have known for a long time still live there and, compared to the capital which is loud, aggressive and congested, it is a much more relaxed, down to earth city – a very cute, modest town, with the mountain air and scenic views that surround it’s nest in the Carpathian mountains. Having been around for centuries, it preserves a unique medieval architecture, but like many towns of late, a flood of modern street art has started to spread among it.
I originally left the town when I was 5 years old and didn’t return until I was 11, a period of 6 years which, at those tender ages, feels like an eternity. It felt like coming back to something I had left in a past life. When we’re born somewhere, no matter how beautiful, we assume the entire world is like this and we take it for granted. Leaving it made me realize that the rest of the world was very different, so coming back felt like I was given the opportunity to fall in love with it for the first time.
I return as often as I can, anytime I’m anywhere in Europe and sometimes making trips exclusively to come to Brasov, to relive those childhood memories. I remember hiking up the Tâmpa mountain with my grandfather, and having picnics on “Dealul Vaci” (which translates to the Cow’s Hill), as the locals refer to the smooth green hills that the city grew around. I remember playing tennis at the local Olympia Tennis Club, architected with a very rustic style that allows it to blend so smoothly with the old city’s fortified walls it was built against. I remember walking out of my grandparent’s apartment building and smelling the hen cot that one of the tenants was allowed to keep in the surrounding grounds, and walking through the gardens where each dweller had a small plot to grow something fresh.
As a growing boy, the food was always what amazed me the most. Most produce was bought from a nearby market, where everything was truly local, grown in the surrounding country side and fields, and you can be sure that was the case because imports were rare and expensive. Milk was delivered, fresh and fatty from the cow, to my grandmother’s apartment, and eggs, if not acquired from the hens in the courtyard, were likely from somewhere else within the city. Everything tasted so sweet and delicious. It of course didn’t hurt that my grandmother is an amazing cook, but on top of that, there are so many restaurants that served similarly fresh, traditional food that you just can’t get anywhere else.
After the fascinating summer I spent out there as an 11 year old, I returned to Vancouver where my parents had immigrated to and where I had since spent my childhood. The differences were so stark and I missed the peaceful blend of country and city life, and the old architecture that felt like a medieval kingdom that Brasov secretly preserved. I didn’t return until I was 23. It was a period of 12 years which felt as long as the first 6 years I initially spent away from the motherland.
Now, as a digital nomad, I return much more frequently and take full advantage of the amazing WIFI that Romania has come to be known for (see here) and thoroughly enjoy working in the quaint cafes that dot the city without any bit of a lag. I can wake up late, relax for a few hours until the American East Coast wakes up, and enjoy the amazing Romanian baked goods that each cafe serves. This has enabled me to return almost yearly in the past 7 years and each time, I find something new to marvel at.
Admittedly though, the city is changing. New bylaws and regulations forbid chickens to be grown on private property so the nearby cots are gone, and new buildings are arising on the outskirts of the growing city. But the old sights that gave the city such an enchanting feel when I was a kid are still there and, after truly traveling the world, I realize even more how unique and precious they are.