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Romania photography of communist era buildings, plus street photography

Hi All,
I'm considering a trip to photograph the interiors/exteriors of old Soviet era buildings and monuments, the more decrepit the better! Along with that, I'd also be doing a fair amount of candid street photography with small, unobtrusive cameras, as well as individual and family environmental portraits when and where I might strike up friendships. I'm thinking of taking at least a three-week trip, concentrating on smaller towns and the countryside, off the beaten tourist track (much of Romania would seem to fall into that category!). I've only started researching the possibilities but, so far, information seems pretty limited. I don't want this to be a whirlwind trip, but I don't want to waste precious time going down blind alleys either. I'm even open to the idea of paying an organization to map out possible routes, or maybe even hiring a guide. All thoughts and recommendations are welcome!

Posted by
19211 posts

I spent some time in a number of Romanian cities in 2015 but can't be of much help because I tried to avoid looking at Ceausescu's ugly buildings. You mentioned focusing on smaller towns and the countryside, but I think you'll find a lot of camera fodder in Bucharest, where Ceausescu entertained himself by knocking down historic structures and replacing them with monuments to his megalomania. For other aspects of your time in Bucharest, you may find the In Your Pocket guide helpful. Similar guides exist for Sibiu, Brasov and Poiana Brasov.

I enjoyed the lovely (pre-Communist) architecture in Timisoara, Sibiu, Brasov, Sighisoara, Cluj-Napoca and Oradea. I found Iasi comparatively underwhelming. I can't tell you whether any of those cities would be good for your purposes.

Timisoara was the cradle of the revolution and has an unphotogenic museum you might be interested in for political background. There's also the Museum of the Communist Consumer at 1, Laszlo Szekely Str. in the Bălcescu area. (Phone: 0751- 892340) It's entered through a cafe that as of 2015 didn't have a very prominent sign, just some sort of notice on the door (which was up a short flight of stairs). Otherwise, Timisoara is a westward-focused, fairly prosperous city with lots of restored buildings in the pretty historic district. Perhaps not what you're looking for!

The core of Cluj-Napoca also has lovely traditional architecture. The city is a good base for visiting the Maramures area, known for stunning wooden churches, wooden gateways, the merry cemetery and traditional lifestyles. I don't think Ceausescu bothered too much with this rather isolated area, but there's a museum/memorial to the victims of Communism located in a former prison.

Oradea is known for the art nouveau buildings mixed in with some older architecture.

Costs in Romania are low and having a guide/driver might be affordable. You'd probably save money by using different guides in different parts of the country, moving between the areas by bus or train. That would reduce the number of nights your guides would be away from home and effectively charging you for their hotel costs.

Florin Merciu was the guide/driver on the 2-day trip I took into Maramures. I believe his regular job is as a history teacher, and his English is very good. I don't know, though, how far he ranges beyond the NW corner of the country.

I was very happy with the assistance I received at the various tourist offices I stopped by. English is likely to be spoken in the larger/more touristy cities. The staff will know about local guides, and Google might lead you to "Contact Us" email addresses.

Travel through Romania is quite slow via bus or train; figure on about 30 mph. The buses are comfortable but you often need to make a reservation ahead of time by telephone. You then pay the driver at the time of departure. You can't simply stop at the bus station and buy a ticket in advance. If you just show up for the bus without that phone reservation, you may find that the bus is totally sold out. It's really quite odd and I assume related to the existence of a lot of different bus companies that don't want their fare money being handled by anyone other than their own employees. Although a lot of the young people in Romania speak some English, I didn't feel comfortable making phone calls to bus dispatchers who might not speak any English at all. Fortunately, I found a couple of people who very generously made those reservation calls for me.

Posted by
12573 posts

Merrill, you probably know this because of your interests, but for the others that might not, Stalanist Empire Style can be very interesting and sometimes beautiful. It is a world different from the Khrushchev brutalist blocks and the Brezhnev variant on the Khrushchev blocks.

Posted by
12573 posts

Daniel, above, is in Romania. In Bulgaria I know Pavlina Docheva at easyguides@live.com. have used her as a guide a few times and she is among my favorite people in the world.

Posted by
9 posts

Thanks James, acraven,Dave! Some useful info to follow up on.
Merrill

Posted by
6758 posts

I am a huge fan of photography and architecture, and I came across this architectural tour while planning a Bucharest stay. You can hire a knowledgable guide like the one referenced in the link, or just tool around some mentioned neighborhoods on your own. I hope you'll find it helpful: https://casedeepoca.com

From the pics and descriptions I saw, I think the city would be a goldmine for photographers. Also, outside Bucharest you may want to consider Maramures, Bucovina, and Sighisoara, just to name a few - that is, if you also want to photograph more rural areas and/or former German Saxon cities (including many fortified towns).

Here's a general Romania website which I found also very helpful:
http://romaniatourism.com

Posted by
9 posts

Agnes, your suggestions eventually led me to the Bohemian Blog, hosted by Darmon Richter. He's a writer and photographer, based in Bulgaria, and leads small groups to out-of-the-way places (unusual Communist era monuments, etc.); just my type of trip! Seems like an interesting fellow.
Merrill

Posted by
5 posts

Yes, I also love to travel by train in Romania. There is a beautiful young Carpathian mountains. I love the night tours of the Express and also sometimes you catch something entertaining on the memory of the country.