Ah, Brasov…today I consider the medieval city of Brasov to be my home away from home. It is a beautiful, quaint, strikingly Eastern European city nestled in the valley of Tampa mountain. Apart from it’s charm and history, the people of Brasov are incredibly warm and welcoming and the cafe culture in the city center is easy to get used to.
The crest of “Crown City”
Brasov holds onto many symbols, medieval and modern. For instance the crest of Brasov – an ode to the German name for Brasov, Kronstadt or “Crown City.” But during our first couple of weeks living in Brasov, the modern symbol that I could not escape was the one for which the city is best known: the enormous Hollywood-esque sign of the town name that is perched at the crest of Tampa mountain and is visible from virtually every part of town. I learned quickly that the locals of Brasov generally hold negative feelings toward the Brasov sign. One of my professors had to install black-out curtains in her apartment in order to block out the bright white light that the sign projects at night. And travel blogs often refer to the sign as “kitschy,” a term often used to describe low-brow cultural icons.
My first Romanian experience consisted of eight hours of gallivanting around Bucharest’s Old Town. My husband and I had arrived in Romania a week before our Romanian language program was to start in Brasov and were staying one short night in the capital before we jetted off to Istanbul for a 5-day trip, a mini-vacation before we immersed ourselves in a language in which we had no previous knowledge. My first experience in Romania was also my first experience in Eastern Europe, as I continuously reminded myself while we took in the sights and sounds of the city. “You’re really in Eastern Europe, this is really Eastern Europe,” I thought to myself repeatedly in disbelief that we had actually made it there, fulfilling a lifelong goal of mine. We lost ourselves in the bustle of the popular downtown district – the street violinists, fashionable women, and lack of English speakers. We did our best to soak in the surroundings in an attempt to understand the new culture we would soon find ourselves studying intensely. It wasn’t long before wandering the streets led us to the steps of the National History Museum and we were faced with a, somewhat disturbing, tangible example of Romanian nationalism.