Club music that was popular ten years ago pulsed off the brick basement walls. In one corner was a flaming, sparking tower of glasses set on fire by Jägermeister, the other was covered in artwork strangely depicting Hitler. Young women danced in groups in the dark, but so did gaggles of men fist pumping and shaking their hips just as enthusiastically. Smoke filled the air, unfiltered and unapologetic. It is 4AM and I am in an Eastern European nightclub as it pissed down rain just outside the heavy metal doors. Bucharest, Romania, certainly knows how to have a good time.
Adventure through film
For the second year in a row, this city has hosted a wonderfully creative wonderful event. The Hip Trip Travel Film Festival brings incredible talent from all over the world so show off their movie projects that inspire wanderlust. From India and Nepal to the Midwest of the U.S. and the Middle East, each film is a strong voice for those seeking adventure, meaning to life, or just merely checking some new places off their bucket lists.
The best part is many of the movies’ creators and stars are made accessible to the audience. For instance, the film “Hit the Road: India” has both filmmakers and one of the subjects flew in for a fun Q&A as well as a casual workshop the following day. And although some of the intros to the films were in Romanian, most flicks themselves were in English with Romanian subtitles.
During the Q&As, I got a real taste for what makes Romanian people tick. They are a no bullshit group. It doesn’t matter that the man in presenting had climbed Mount Everest and filmed it – one local audience member insisted he knew the real reason people used oxygen for their climbs. Another woman excitedly commended his efforts, then continued to do so for the next ten minutes while she gripped the microphone and refused to let it go until she was fully heard. Romanians are honest and take chances when they can.
Romanian dark times
I bet this is partly due to the history surrounding this mesmerizing, breathtaking country. Let’s go back 25 years ago when Romania was run by a dictator named Nicolae Ceaușescu. Suppressed, scared and seeing little hope on the horizon, the people in the capital city had had enough. Nicolae gave his last speech in what’s now named Revolution Square before he was airlifted by helicopter. He was caught, given a trial and sentenced to death along with his wife, ending communist rule in 1990. In his wake, there was dilapidated infrastructure, pollution and loss of opportunities. But there’s been major improvements in the capital city and beyond, making for a really interesting atmosphere blending together progression, innovation and a rough history.
Nowadays, these events are marked throughout Bucharest. While many of the structures are new or have been rebuilt, there still are plenty of ghosts that stand from the city’s recent past. For instance, the giant Parliament building resting on a hilltop is actually the second largest administration complex in the world behind the Pentagon. People are very torn about its presence – some like that it now holds a democratic government and helps put Bucharest on the map, but others think it’s a remaining monument to the horrors that once were.
I went inside the Palace of Parliament and marveled at all the grand ballrooms, marble staircase and silk curtains weighing hundreds of pounds. Handing over my passport for entry and being forbidden to take photos without paying a fee did make me uneasy though. Still, my favorite part was taking a peek at the balcony where Michael Jackson addressed a massive crowd before his concert in 1992. However, he did say “Hello Budapest!” instead of Bucharest. Considering how many fans the King of Pop still has in Romania, it didn’t’ seem to inflict too much damage.
This experience was also a nod to the Romanian spirit though. Our unfiltered, older tour guide breezed through amazing facts about the old palace mixed with sassy comments about how ugly its design was. She didn’t try to sell us on one of the city’s biggest tourism draws – she told it like it is. But later, she was particularly fond of the large, elegant hotels downtown and insisted we go in and check out all the lobbies. She also mentioned her favorite place in Bucharest was the grandiose Romanian Athenaeum. We spent a long time relaxing and admiring the view out front of the circular shaped concert hall. Maybe there was a pride in how far the city has come, as it now attracts high-end tourists, business and even plain curiosity on a larger scale than ever before.
Is this the force that led me into a dark, smoky nightclub for hours? Not really. The new generation of Romanians have a different outlook on life. This was prevalent in the organizers of the film festival, who were young, intelligent and more than confident in the future. All of them had insight and were doing what they could to bring other fresh minds to Romania through art, tourism and even academics. Although we weren’t having many enlightened conversations in the nightclub, the same hope was there as well, spoken through freely dancing, drinking and carrying on with a smile.