From East to West: sights I miss from back home

I come from South-Eastern Europe. In my culture, we are very nostalgic about the past and despite being generally under developed, my homeland is filled with very reflective people, who are much warmer and more spiritual than I gave them credit for while living there.

To stay true to my roots, I’m gonna put some salt on this wound and make a series of posts where I list some stuff I miss from back home, which I consider inherently Eastern (and sometimes contrasting to the Western-ness of the country I now live in).

Episode 2: Communist apartment blocks

10 years ago I would fantasize about moving to Portugal and Spain (something I still do btw) and on every trip abroad I was fascinated by the neat architecture. Clean, big, renovated or modern buildings rose tall and proud, bearing the mark of the “civilized world”, as we idolized West Europe back home. Our buildings were crappy, with many crammed balconies full of stuff, grey, dirty, rained on, old looking. Some were insulated with “modern” bright colours like green, orange or red. Some only partially, because not everyone in the building could afford the upgrade, so then you had patches of grey intertwining with neon green. Delightful. Our streets have heavy cables above, our roads have holes that ruin your car. So many reasons to be ashamed and develop an inferiority complex. Something I’ve come to witness a lot in Eastern Europeans since living in the Netherlands.

Little did I know that I would get fed up of symmetrical clean buildings and their robotic, cold, somber vibe. It really takes losing something to learn to appreciate it sometimes and my love for communist flats sneaked in after years of staring at Dutch bricks and let me tell you, there’s a lot of them here! My sense of wonder at the symmetry and cleanliness started fading away once my mind seemed to almost play tricks on me when I walked on oddly similar streets. Everything was the same everywhere! On my daily walks, I would look for patterns and colours that would break the pattern, that would look a bit less like an optical illusion which makes me feel trippy, but I got dizzy trying. I started to feel such a sense of unreality in it all. I could have been living in a computer game and not know it. It seemed as if someone just copy pasted similar corners and facades everywhere.

Since I live in LegoLand, I really miss how mismatching and odd our buildings back home look. There’s something related to imperfection and humanity that resonates strongly with me when it comes to urban architecture. Walking on streets with imperfect views really makes you feel more natural and comfortable with your own imperfections.

I really like our ‘ugly’ concrete towers with pretty sunny views now that I only see them on holidays. The sunlight is so much brighter in any season, which really makes the colours of the streets and buildings look brighter as well. Also, it’s relatively easy to get a flat at a higher floor and have a nicer view of the area around you, which is something that costs you precious money in the Netherlands. You have high chances of living in a city with hills, which ensures interesting views. Also, many apartments have a balcony and a bathtub, which are - once more - luxuries in this land where just renting something that won’t make you go broke is a challenge.

This is one of my fav photos of all time from my hometown. The sunlight was almost liquid and I loved its playfulness. I love the layers and levels. Look at all those balconies :)

Communist apartment flats in Romania
Photo by me, all rights reserved

These two are the views from our apartment (we even have two beautiful balconies, one is filled with shelves of jars full of pickles, zacusca and jam). I used to watch the sunrise from my balcony, reflected in the windows of the tower building in front of us. I rarely got bored of looking at it or at the neighbours doing random stuff in their own balconies or just staring back at me.

Last but not least, I wanna share with you my favourite source of cityscapes eyecandy. This person takes gorgeous photos of Bucharest which always make me wish teleportation was a thing. You find the account here: raidenbucharest.

Stories about identity, fueled by personal reflection moments while building a life abroad