Surprising Romania through the eyes of an European flexpat
Jan in a few words
Jan Hopman is working for a company with headquarters based in Austria. He is Dutch, he lives in Austria and he currently works in Romania. He sees himself as a “flexpat”, as he worked longer periods in different countries and actually lived there. In the past, he also worked and lived in the Netherlands, Belgium, the UK and Germany, in several jobs and different companies.
Jan in Sibiu
He started to work in Romania last September, when he took over the General Manager position of a production site near Bucharest. His first 4 months here were very intense and, as he was even working during the week-ends, he wasn't able to explore Bucharest or Romania too much. In the last 2 months he managed to make more time available to visit places and explore from a “tourist” perspective.
Actually, Jan doesn't like to call himself “tourist”, as he is rather the explorer type of traveller.
“While traveling, it is my aim to get as much impressions from the place as possible. This is best done by foot. Walking the streets, looking at the architecture, the people, their way of living and trying to be part of it - this is my way of traveling.
That is why I like city trips very much, but also journeys to countries with different cultures.”
He travelled to and lived in cities like: Amsterdam, Maastricht, Brussels, London, Vienna, Berlin, Munich, Barcelona, Madrid, Stockholm, Helsinki, Budapest, Bucharest, Miami, San Francisco, New York and countries like: Singapore, Australia, New Zealand, Malaysia.
As a proud Dutch, Jan Hopman is a great biker and he tries to practice sports as much as time allows him. Walking, biking, jogging, always moving a lot – as if the word “movement” was invented for him. He is a very active person, motivated by a continuous hunger of exploring, connecting, sharing. He likes adrenaline, but can also be a slow observer. Jan is a flexible, adapting traveller, he has no problem to jump from one mean of transportation to another and to switch from accommodation in luxury hotels to nights spent in a tent.
“My passion is motorcycling. With this hobby I am able to explore the countryside and surroundings of the places I live in an excellent way. Next to that, it is a great way to explore Europe. Mountain biking and hiking I also like very much, as I try to enjoy nature in a sustainable way.”
We had a very pleasant talk with Jan, trying to get from him what he liked most while exploring Bucharest and some other places in Romania and if he would like to come back as a traveller, once his job here is done.
Question: What did you know about Romania, before coming here? What was your image about the country, the people?
Answer: I had no idea what to expect in Romania. The general image of Romania and Romanians in Western Europe is not a good one. Also colleagues, who visited Bucharest and our factory were quite negative. Mentality, motivation, corruption, dirty...
In the meantime I know better and started to love this country and its people.
Q: Did you have time to travel around? Where have you been to? Could you make some recommendations of what to do, where to go?
A: In the last 2 months I managed to make more time available to visit places in Romania more as a "tourist". Places I visited:
As I lived here in several hotels over a longer period of time, I got to know several areas of Bucharest. I walked the city in all directions. Had coffee in different cafes reading books and learning a bit of Romanian. Went to a concert of Gregory Porter in Sala Palatului and saw a dance performance in Sala Studio of the National Theatre (opposite of the Intercontinental Hotel). The quality of this Romanian Contemporary Dance Play “Dale noastre” was excellent.
There is also a more hidden theatre called Apolo111. Here I saw the play "Psycho" in Romanian. I didn't understand much of the text, but could concentrate even more on the actors. I had a great time and, as far as I know, the play is available now on stage with an English subtitles.
In the same building there is also an excellent coffee bar, called Beans&Dots. As one of the owner is a designer, you can find clothes and objects for sale designed by her.
The Intercontinental Hotel I visited once. This is a landmark in city centre. I went to one of the high level floors, where the business area is located. From there you have an excellent view over the city.
Another nice place with a view is 18Lounge in City Gate South Tower. Good food, nice staff and great view. Further, I liked "360 Sky Lounge" very much. This is a party location on 2 top levels with also a great view over the city. An insider tip for another great view experience in Centrul Vechi is the "Rooftop" at "Pura Vida".
For drink, food, fun and dance in a concentrated way you have to visit Centrul Vechi (Old City). Here you can find almost any kind of restaurant, bars and clubs. I was lucky to get introduced to this part of town enjoying a pubcrawl.
Old Town in Bucharest
Old-new in Bucharest
I have enjoyed a tour of 2 hours of Bucharest very much, which leads you through Centrul Vechi and gives a nice insight of Bucharest and Romania.
Another thing I enjoyed was walking around the gardens of Bucharest. Many hidden spots are available. You have to talk to locals to find them (for example Eden Garden, Strada Verona, Gradina IOR or Park Tineretului). A good way to travel is by metro. For 20 RON (less than 5 eur) you have 10 rides. Good and cheap.
I also joined the protests on Piata Victoriei. This was a great experience. On the 5th of Feb I was one of 300.000. Peacefully pushing for change. I got to know a lot of people there, all looking for a better future for Romania.
Ceptura de jos, Prahova (Bike&Wine tour)
Biking around and getting into the vineyards. Well organised tour with supporting car following, securing the group, just in case. The tour was combined with a wine tasting at a craft Winemaker and a museum.
Jan in Ceptura
Although we had a lot of rain at the end, I enjoyed this tour very much. Completely different side of Romania than being in the city.
Sighisoara and Sibiu
Definitely cities one should visit.
The Saxons build in the middleages at the, in those days, Hungarian border, fortified churches to defend these outer perimeters. A lot of old building remember these times.
Streets in Sighisoara
Next to that nice cafes, restaurant and bars. Both great cities to spend a day and a night.
This is a small village were we had lunch.
House in Cincsor
With great eye for detail the school and parish house were renovated and made into cosy stylish hotel/restaurant. Very quiet oasis of peace and tranquility. Definitely worth a visit.
Quick run through the city after a business meeting. Great impression. Had a lunch in the pedestrian area. Very lay back atmosphere. Need to return here to have a more detailed look.
Cluj Napoca city center
Q: 3 things to do in Bucharest
A: -Walk the city with a local guide
-Go out and party in Centrul Vechi (a pubcrawl might be an option)
-Visit a park (Gradina Botanica maintained by the University or IOR with some coffee at the "Handsome Monk" in the Titan Park Lake Mall)
Verona Garden in Bucharest
-Visit a local market, where producers sell their products
Local market in Bucharest
Q: 3 places to see in Romania
A: I can only speak from what I`ve seen so far:
- the countryside
Q: 3 gifts to take back home
A: I usually don't bring gifts, because 9 out of 10 the receiver cannot use it anyway.
Waste of money and resources
The things I would bring along should be typical local:
-Wine produced in Romania with Romanian grapes (Feteasca Negra)
-Cheese sheep or goat from a market, I can recommend
-Carnati sausages, try to find the spicy one also at a local market
Q: Here are some of the slogans that tried to promote Romania as a travel destination abroad along the years: “Come as a tourist, leave as a friend”, “ Romania, always surprising”, “Romania - explore the Carpathian garden”. Which of them do you think would be more appropriate to the Romania you got to know and please explain why :).
Do you maybe have in mind another sentence to describe Romania?
A: It is difficult to choose between “Come as a tourist, leave as a friend” and “Romania, always surprising”, because both describe my experience here in a good way. If I need to choose, then it would be “Romania, always surprising”. The reason is that I don't like to describe myself as a tourist, especially not in this specific situation. As a new sentence: Romania('s diversity) will surprise you.
Q: 3 things/places/ to come back for in Romania/Bucharest
A: There are so many things I did not see yet:
-Carpathians Mountains (for skiing, mountain biking and hiking)
-Timisoara and surroundings
On the other hand, I got to know a lot of people I consider friends now. So I have to come back to Bucharest to meet them again.
House with eyes in Sibiu
Q: Just like people, every destination has something unique. Did you find something unique here? What would that be?
A: The people are extremely friendly. If you have questions, people are in most cases willing to help. Also, I found Bucharest the safest city, I have ever visited.
Q: Romania in 3 words would be…
Two days and a lot of preparation later, Jan left for Germany, to race at Trackdays, Motorsport Arena Oschersleben. Next, on the same week, he went to other German places, to tour with his street bike or race with his motorcycles. No other holidays planned yet, except that he would like to explore Western Romania sometimes this year.
As for us, we are here for you, ready to guide you through Romania.
Photo source: Jan Hopman