vineri, iunie 14, 2024

Why I Love Bucharest

I’m looking at a map of Europe and trying to work out if there are any European capital cities where you can reach the sea or a high mountain range within a couple of hours. I assume you can do this in Lisbon, Rome, and Athens but I’m not sure. I know you can do it in Bucharest – for the last few weekends I’ve been testing it out – and this is one of the reasons I love the city. Romanians often say they are blessed by geography but cursed by their politicians, and it’s a wonderful thing to be able to escape the unbearable summer heat by basking in the sea or enjoying the cool air of the mountains.

Last Saturday morning I was deeply engrossed in writing my travel book, an activity I do every morning, and I told myself I wouldn’t eat until I had finished writing. It was a lazy morning and I didn’t finish until midday, when I went out to buy some porridge. Stepping outside was like going into an oven and I thought “why not go into the high mountains?” So as I ate my porridge (with milk and brown sugar) I checked the train times on and by 14:00 I was on the personal to Sinaia. By 17:30 I was 2000 metres above sea level, enjoying the cool air (14 degrees celsius) and wishing I had brought some warm clothes.

I have been to over 25 countries but I only know a handful of capital cities where you can get into the high mountains so quickly (Lhasa and Kathmandu spring to mind). I stood on the top of the world and let the cold wind blow the summer heat out of me. But where was everyone else? I was the only one in the cable car up, apart from the grumpy operator, and there was nobody at all on top, just a couple of massive dogs that looked at me without interest.

Not only can you get onto this mountain range really easily but you can walk between the two cable car stations (Sinaia and Busteni) in about two to three hours. If you were better organized than me you could leave Bucharest early morning, walk along the top of the Bucegi mountain range and be back home by mid afternoon. Surely the ideal day trip for people escaping the Bucharest heat. Where were they all? Why isn’t it packed up there? To find an answer I only have to look at myself and ask why I haven’t done this walk more than once in the last 10 years.

I had another reason to go to the mountains. I am going to Scotland this weekend, with my kids, and will meet up with my three brothers and we will head into the wilderness and go camping. I thought I would test out my camping gear and I’m very glad that I did. Half an hour into my trek the heavens opened and it was pouring with rain. I had no waterproof trousers or boots. What to do? Put up my tent or keep going? I put up my tent but everything was soaked by the time I got inside, and I spent the night shivering from the cold. The next morning it took 30 minutes of hard walking until I could feel my hands and feet. Now I know what to take to Scotland: hiking boots, gloves, a 3 season sleeping bag, a sleeping mat, waterproofs and a warm jumper. There’s nothing worse than being cold on a mountain.

Two weekends ago I went to the Black Sea coast and by midday was at 2 Mai, swimming in the cool sea. I had a friend who happened to have a spare tent, and sleeping bag, so I could travel light. For someone who gets rapidly bored of lying on the beach for too long, a day and a half at 2 Mai was an ideal weekend break. And I love the fish soup they make on the Black Sea coast.

But I have a prejudice against 2 Mai and Vama Veche. My problem is that I went there in the summer of 1990, and again in the mid 90s, when 2 Mai was just a simple village and there was nothing but an army shooting range at Vama Veche. I thought I had landed in paradise. When I went back a few years ago 2 Mai seemed to have become one big, chaotic shopping centre – a bit like the chaotic Red Dragon on the outskirts of Bucharest – it seemed to be one big sprawl of jerry-built shops, selling every sort of junk, and shack-like restaurants. A shanty town of garish colours, loud music, speeding cars, huge stomachs and a sea of people.

Vama Veche was different, but equally repellent. The people were younger, cooler and a lot more arrogant than those at 2 Mai. They are the cool and trendy people who work in the media, in ad agencies and multinational companies, get paid better than most and know the difference between skunk, dope, weed and resin. The place reeks of cannabis and beer at night, the beach is full of 4x4s and tents and it is treated like an outdoor nightclub where anything goes.

This year I visited Costinesti and this helped me change my view towards Romania’s two southerly resorts. Costinesti is grotesque, crowded, garish and noisy and I realized “this is what it could be like at 2 Mai and Vama Veche if the builders and developers hadn’t been held in check by Mircea Toma and his Save Vama Veche campaign.” It made me look at 2 Mai in a new light – maybe it wasn’t as crowded or ugly as I’d remembered – and at Vama Veche I appreciated the drinks, the skill of the windsurfers and the cleansing power of the waves. Neither village has the kind of high rise concrete blocks that have ruined the northern resorts.

By Sunday evening I was back in Bucharest, thanking my lucky stars to be living in a city where such wonders can be accessed so quickly, and at such low costs. My next priority is to take the sleeper train service to Romania’s far flung cities – Vatra Dornei, Arad, Baia Mare – arrive on Saturday morning and be back at work on Monday morning. I can’t think of any other European cities with such a low cost, albeit rather old fashioned, sleeper train service is available.

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  1. Thank you Rupert,
    it’s a nice article , but you din’t convince me why you love Bucharest.
    You don’t love Bucharest because you love to live in it, you love it because
    of easy to escape from it…:) Mountains and See are 3 hours away, but what can you do in the rainy/windy autumn days when is nothing to do in the mountains ( cabins are close ) ?
    I give you few reasons to live the city of Bucharest: 1.You can buy flowers at every corner 24/7
    2) Cheap and profesional Culture (Opera, Concerts, Books,etc)
    3) Old city nightlife, if you are coming from Scandinavia or UK and you are used to pay 7 -10 Euro for a beer , this is paradise
    4).The Underground.Is one of the cleanest and safest in the world
    5) The parks and lakes . Open 24/& , you can enjoy the shadow laying on the grass or sailing on boat on Herastrau lake
    6) People, especially young generation. Easy goibg, smiling and english speaking …:)
    7) From Oslo, with love, missing Book…arest,


    • I think love is a very subjective matter, it is not reasonable to question one’s motives to love something or somebody. I personally disagree with some of Rupert’s criteria, but then hey, my opinion is just as subjective as his, or yours.
      At the end of the day this is what I see: someone unexpectedly loves something, our beautiful capital in particular, and a bunch of `well-intended` people offer to explain him that he’s only imagining things, that it’s impossible for every reasonable person to love such a city like Bucharest, and if he does, he sure must be nuts. I guess we’re trapped in some kind of paradigm of pessimism, we cannot accept that some people really can see all the good things that happen all around them.

    • Thank you Rupert, and thank you too, Cristi!

      From Antwerp, a nostalgic Bucharestan :) (older generation, but still easy going, cool and smiling:) )

    • What other links are there between the city and the mountain or the sea except the two (or more than just sometimes 3,4,5,6…) hours?
      The fact that many are rushing anxiously towards the mountain or the sea is only supporting the fact that the city is not by far a nice place to spend the weekend but on the contrary.
      It seems that people from Bucharest are not innately attracted by mountain or sea but are more likely negatively polarized by the urban and inevitably attracted by the positive potential of nature. Probably because of a lack of self potential.
      Unfortunately the difference in potential is rapidly decreasing due to many who are running in the nature only to transform it in another kind of Bucharest, as you are also pointing.
      You love Bucharest because you can easily escape from it? Must be a tormenting love. Do you have good enough reasons to come back from the end of the sea or the peak of the mountain? You should probably expose those reasons in trying to convince us of your love for Bucharest. You went the wrong way on a one way street.

      • Yes, any city can eat you alive but the article is about the chance of a gateway that everybody needs and should do. He is pointing at the choices we have. And that many others doesn’t have.

  2. Just continue two love Bucharest, I wlill stay with Budapest, a much more beatiful and civilized capital. There is no way to compare the two cities. In fact you love the countryside in Romania, where I agree fully with you. You write about the sea and the mountains and just mention Bucharest as a transit area to get out to the mountains or to the sea.

    • Oz, what he is saying is that you cannot live your whole life in the city and that its good to have easy weekend escapes.
      I used to love Budapest too in the 90’s but I think it changed. Too much graffiti on boulevards and foreigners are cheated with prices.Also I’ve noticed that not too many people can speak English.

    • Yeah, cause this article is about Budapest. Hmmm, let’s see, Vienna is nicer than Budapest, right? But then again, this article is not about Vienna either.

  3. Well… Bucharest may be lovely just as you aren’t living here for too long. This also applies to the rest of Romania. Come and live here for more than 6 months and this city/country will eat you alive. Run as long as you can.

  4. i think you need a better map of Europe if you can’t find other big cities in the same situation:) It’s anti-lobby to say you like a city because of its position only. Do you like the bad roads, filthy Ferentari, stray dogs all over, poverty? or you live in a nice posh area and then it doesn’t really matter

  5. I like mountains, I like sea and lakes. And most I like where the mountains meet the sea.

    But I will never like București.

    P:S: @Dear Rupert,
    Does it have to be a country capital ? I traveled in 22 countries (just counted), but I never targeted capitals.

  6. Hello all,
    I live in Timisoara and I can say that the Bucharest it’s a beautiful city but still there are things that need improvement.
    It is shameful to see from the train the garbage from entering the city but this is the level of development at the moment. Anyway it is not as dangerous as they say and has many beautiful places to visit, the arrangement of boulevards resemble those of Paris.
    Do not compare with Budapest because here is Romania and we don’t like hungarians!
    Romania is a thousand times more beautiful than Hungary and Bucharest is our capital.
    And it is an advantage to be able to go from Bucharest to sea or mountain within a few hours.
    There is work to do in Romania but we are working to get closer step by step to development of the Western countries. I am sure that Romania will be different in ten years and Europe will look us to another level. Romania will prove it.

  7. Hellow all my Romanian friends

    I’ve been in Bucharest twice and it’s one of my beloved cities abroad. For it’s monuments, for it’s so picturesque old town buldings and pubs, it’s culture, it’s history and it’s WONDERFUL people with whoom we have SO MANY common things. It’s parks, and it;s opened roads.
    I’d really like to come to Bucharest again and again if I had this posibility.

  8. I have been to over 25 countries but I only know a handful of capital cities where you can get into the high mountains so quickly (Lhasa and Kathmandu spring to mind).
    Who’s doing you translations…Google? What your native tong if you don’t mind…and please don’t say it’s English.

  9. I studied, worked and lived in Bucharest for some good years before emmigrating from Romania. I keep some good memories about that part of my life and I still enjoy revisiting few places that remind me of happy times when I was young. However, I never connected with that city, I never felt as part of it. Overall, it’s a filthy place, traumatized by wars, communist regime agenda (see demolitions and horrible projects) and population’s general lack of education. Years ago, the chief-architect of the city, overwhelmed with the problems the capital city of Romania has faced over the last decades, was saying that inhabitants (of Bucharest) enjoy puking around and then they never stop complaining about the smell of it. He was right on! That’s the signature attitude of that place. But in the end all boils down to everyone’s personal taste, life style and decisions.

    I found the description of the Romanian Black Sea „resorts” very accurate. Just finalized a quick visit in that area and I am totally grossed out. I feel bad for honest and educated Romanians with families and kids that spend money on such poor quality entertainment. Do not go there over the weekends unless you enjoy wasting time, getting angry and burn your savings! By the way, the beach in Mamaia is a huge ash-tray and nobody seems to care! Actually, you can find endless objects in the sand from lost toys, fragments of cheap sun glasses, trash, empty bottles. Needless to say that most of the hotels have no parking and tourists leave their cars everywhere, including pedestrian lanes (there is no parking structure in Mamaia!!!).

    Sorry, but the author has not convinced me why he loves so much living in Bucharest. :-) Wishing him a pleasant time in the country of endless possibilities! 4 millions Romanians have already had enough.

  10. Look Rupert, have you heard of pear’s review? Sometimes, before you decide to publish something is prudent to have someone else read it. Or get yourself an editor and save us the pain and yourself a bad review.
    I know, English is not your native language, and is ok. My Romanian stink as well, but I don’t pretend otherwise and I’m always willing to learn and welcome any help I can get.
    Take care!

  11. Great article. Well done! Sometimes we need foreigners to spot our marveles and tell us about them. Is so good that not many Bucharest people rush to Bucegi. Not to mention Ciucas, Leaota, Baiului, Piatra Mare, Postavarul, Piatra Craiului, Iezer, all within 2 hours by car. And then 2 hours on the new highway to the see side. We are lucky indeed!
    Just remember days when we skied in Sinaia 9;30 to 2 and then ride the bicycles in Carol Park and Tineretului after 4 pm. Or ski in the morning in Sinaia, tenis in Bucharest in the afternoon and riding the motorcycle in the evening of that Saturday. I am thankful for that.

  12. Rupert, it’s nice to see a foreign spending his time to speak about Romania and a real pleasure when you can find a good knowledge of our people and places and a real desire for new travelling experiences. Thank you for that.
    I will put some words for my compatriots and – sorry – I’ll use our language.
    Tocmai am citit un material in care un domn scotian calatoreste din Bucuresti la Sinaia cu personalul, se bucura de zilele insorite pentru a evada din Bucuresti catre litoral pentru o baie in mare si o ciorba de peste si apoi vine sa ne impartaseasca cu bucurie si placere experienta sa. Iar noi, cu o netarmurita abnegatie tinem sa ii explicam ca este intr-o profunda eroare, sa caute mai bine pe harta de acum incolo cand isi alege destinatiile, sa incerce sa isi evalueze experientele personale cu mai multa inteligenta. Incredibil… dar adevarat!

    • Exact !!! Daca scria un roman despre asta am fi zis cu totii: da mah, omu reuseste sa gaseasca diamante in rahat, bravo lui! Insa domnului scotian ne chinuim sa ii explicam ca alte locuri sunt si mai tari. Bunaoara, Sofia. E adevarat, am fost in Sofia, cred ca bate Bucale. Inca ceva, am fost si eu in multe capitale din lumea asta si in 90% din ele se ajunge mai repede in natura. Am si o explicatie: domnul de sus a vrut sa se puna bine cu romanii, si stie ca un cuvant bun face mai mult bine decat o insulta.

    • This is my favourite comment of them all (and many of the others are very intelligent)

      In this comment I think you have just summarised the Romanian personality crisis; that tendency to tear down all that is good and great


  13. It does not take 2h to reach the seaside…it takes 1h to reach Gara de Nord, then the train will certainly hae 1h delay, 2 1/2 hours to get there…it’s a 5h journery…By car it might seem shorter but it will take you 2h to get out of Bucharest. There are other capitales where u can do this…Lisbon, Amsteram, London, Dublin, Athens, Rome, Monaco, Bruxelles not to mention Zagreb, Skopje, Tirana, Sofia, etc etc…
    Mountains? It takes min 4h (including going to station) to get to Prahova Valley and you will find there no peace…I guess you were lucky, in the weekend is usually fully packed – high prices, poor services, stupid people all around. To get to some quite places you need to reach Piatra Craiului or Fagaras and that will take you at least 5-6 h…Other capitals where you can do this faster? sure…Zurich, Prague, Bratislava, Vienna, Skopje, Ljubliana, Athens, Monaco, etc etc…Plus if you think of the fast french or german connection trains you can add any frencg or german city to that list.

    • It only takes me 10 minutes to reach the station, but I have a big advantage because I ride a bike – certainly the quickest way of getting round Bucharest. It’s rare that Romanian trains LEAVE late, and they usually arrive on time.

      My friend in Mangalia can get to Bucharest in about an hour, but he has a big BMW

    • Dear Tetra,

      Your arguments on this article are completely beside the point of it. The idea presented by the author is that for a country, whose capital city lies below 100 meters altitude, to be able to travel the same distance/time to reach the seaside and mountains from the capital is a great experience. The beauty of this is that you can leave in the morning, experience something completely different than in a big city, and return in the evening recharged. Of course this is a personal thing and depends on whether you like to reconnect with nature from time to time. You can also be fully satisfied by remaining in the concrete jungle for 11 months so that in your month of vacation you go visit another concrete jungle, and worry why your jungle is more intense than others (i.e. thinking other major cities are better than the one you live in).

      So Tetra, the capitals that you listed: Zurich/Berna, Prague, Bratislava, Vienna, Skopje, are of countries which do NOT have seaside, but whether in your opinion these are better cities to reconnect with nature..well that’s another thing. By the way, did you know that the highest altitude in The Netherlands is some 300 meters and that Ireland and England barely reach 1000? Mind you, I listed the countries and not the capitals, because then the distance is not somewhat equal between the mountains, the sea and the capital.

      It is a matter of taste and perception, and I would like to thank you Rupert for the time you took to write this article as well as to travel outside the city.

  14. Dear Rupert,
    After reading your impresions of Bucharest I decided to offer you my guidance for whenever you decide to come/go to Vatra Dornei. It’s a beautifull place…not only the town but the whole area named „Tara Dornelor” in translation „Dorna country”.
    I am working in Bucharest and I go there by car almost every weekend since I was born there and my parents live there. I also have a small equestrian tourism centre there and if you are interested you could make a trip up the mountains riding a horse.
    So for any information or help you need you can contact me by phone at: (+40) 751.618.303

  15. Rupert, one can love Bucharest for the city itself but it’s an adventure. It had a certain charm when I lived there and that is some time ago so I cannot recommend places had stayed the same

    There are other cities that have theaters and groomed avenues and bustling areas. What I lkeep in my memory were the eclectic houses on the back streets, between Plantelor and Calea Mosilor. And there are still other places like this in the city. There was he fragrance of the linden trees in the melting heat, the good weather, the trips outside the city at the lakes. And then there are the names: Colentina sounds Italian but is not. Cismigiu, the name of a French park, is of Turkish origin. Dambovita has a Slav ending,
    I miss the markets – Obor is the largest and you could find , apart produce, aquarium fish, parrots,, live animals, pottery and wood made utensils.

    The blizzards and the earthquakes make you curse the Impaler. Jassy is another city that puts one under a spell and I would have favored it as a capital of Romania after ’59. For there is a sense of more permanent tranquility, a connection with Central Europe apart the French, that you cannot feel in Bucharest. Surely in Bucharest one can idle, and I’ve done it but you in cannot ignore the whirlwind caused by inhabitants and the rhythms of the city.

    As for capitals close to mountains, Sofia is right near Vitosha and I thought this was so cool but Ii’ve never been there. Ankara and Teheran are not far from the mountains. Teheran is not on my list of visiting places, Ankara is a too new city and pales compared to Istanbul. Istanbul – that is a city to die for living in.

  16. Any 3rd grader can publish anything with you guys as long as they tell you in a broken English how smart Romanians really are or how beautiful Romania is, anything else doesn’t matter at al. It’s pitiful how low you can sink in defending the indefensible.
    It’s one thing to make wise guy comment in a language other than your own and it’s an entirely different thing to publish a poorly written material in a language you can barely speak or comprehend.
    To me, this is more like rudimental translation of a text conceptualized in Rumanian and that’s why it sounds so Romanian. Look folks this is not the way we English speaking people talk, think or write and please stop pretending that you know better.

    • Dear Audrey,

      I would like to point out a few interesting errors in your comment:

      – The word „all” is not usually spelt like this: „al” (end of first sentence). Al is an important word in Arabic though.
      – When describing your country the word „Romanian” replaced the word „Rumanian” sometime after WW2.
      – I’m not familiar with the word „rudimental” but I do know the word „rudimentary”

      Thank you very much for your most entertaining comment. It brought some much needed laughter to my working day and if you have any more comments about my poor grasp of the English language I’d be delighted to hear them (and you’d be in good company: my mother always used to say that my grasp of written English was a disgrace, and she was a publisher so she knew what she was talking about).

      • The English are evil, agreed (I finally managed to watch Braveheart the other week), but at the very least they brought us all that very special sense of humour.
        Thanks for this message; I fully agree with it. Isn’t Audrey (Andrey, Darnell, Dorel, whatever) great???
        Please, Andrey, keep them coming; your messages couldn’t be funnier even if you’d struggle making them up. Since I was a schoolboy (‘bout 40 years ago) I always thought involuntary humour is the best of them all.

  17. Interesting read, although sort of idealistic. Being an expatriate myself, it’s quite refreshing to see my country of birth through the eyes of a long-term visitor and compare this with my own view of things.

    A. Depending on where you live in Bucharest, it might take you anywhere between 0.5 and 2h to get to the railway station. It’s fine if you ride a bike and have a small backpack – but what does one with two suitcases, a wife and two kids do?

    B. Romanian trains are notoriously slow, particularly in the summer. The tracks haven’t been well maintained for decades and the average speed is somewhere around 35 km/h (about the same it was some 80 years ago).

    C. The Romanian sea side is the dirtiest, most crowded and overpriced junk of sorts in Europe, no matter where you go. Some places are worse than others indeed, but there are no good places.

    D. I find the travel times by train mostly irrelevant in this day and age, when one can just get a plane ticket for 1-200 euros to pretty much any destination. Yes, it does require a bit more planning than just deciding at noon you want to be on the beach the same afternoon – but it’s well worth it to think one week in advance. Personal example, last week: 4.5 hours door-to-door from my place in the very center of Europe to a waterfront hotel in Malta (1h to the airport, 1h in the airport, 2h flight, 0.5h to the hotel). Mind you, I live at the complete wrong end of the city – otherwise, the train ride to the airport would’ve been 10-30 minutes.

    E. Some words about the the cleanliness and personal safety standards of Romanian trains – and of the „Personal” ones in particular? Should I dare mentioning the toilets there?

    Bottom line: if you just look at Google Maps and plot the distances, then yes, Bucharest is very well placed. Once you get down on the ground and raise your expectations above bike-train-tent-and-a-sleeping-bag level (nothing wrong with that, each to their own, but I’d take anytime one hour of extra travel time over watching my belongings on the Romanian beach 24h a day), the picture is significantly different.

  18. It really never ceases to amaze me how we are simply not able to accept a nice, honest compliment. Like just say „thanks”, instead of insisting on telling that person „oh you know, actually, you’re wrong, you didn’t get anything, you thought you got it cheap but instead got ripped off, you thought you liked it but it was a mere illusion”. But I guess that since we don’t even give ourselves any credit, it’s even harder to give it someone else, trusting them to know what they are talking about, even more so when they seem to be speaking from experience.

    It’s almost as if only „our” experience of Romania, Bucharest etc were the legitimate, authentic one. But, as educated people commenting on a debate platform such as, we all know this is not true. Because if it were so, then none of our experiences of the „West” are actually real, legitimate or authentic either. And of course, no one really thinks that about their own experiences of living in another country. So why then deny the truth of his Romanian life experience to Rupert? (And please, if this comment gives way to any replies, avoid explaining the eternal romanian soul, the essence of Romanian-ism, our fatal Balkanism that condemned us to sit at the back of History’s train etc. I don’t really believe in Santa anymore, and you hope you don’t either.)

    Would this be some kind of jealousy? I.e. „I hate you ‘cause you love my country and I can’t, I hate you ‘cause you can still see things with a fresh eye, I hate you ‘ cause you can say what you liked and didn’t like without making it either an hymn or a self-pitiful tragedy.”

    What’s up with all the untrusting comments? they seem a bit paranoid – „Of course, no foreigner in their right mind would ever say these nice things if they really… – it must be some nationalistic old commie who went undercover as a Scot. Look, he can’t even write in proper English, how could he be a „real” Scot? oh dear, what a shame”

    I hope, some day, with the help of all the ruperts, philips, johanns, juans, francoises, etc etc who „insanely” decide they want to live here AND ENJOY IT, we too will learn to do the same.

  19. Hi Rupert,

    reading your article I suddenly felt the need to push „Like” but here is not possible so I’m obliged to write down few words. In order to avoid any misunderstanding I will mention that I’m born in Bucharest living here for all my life but with intensive travelling everywhere in this world (let’s mention more than 400 flights that I have in order to get the dimension). I will just start with one comment coming from an Austrian about Bucharest and Romanians, he said 2 things, first Bucharest is not a Balkan city and Romanians are like french. I will explain why I started with this comment because I was asking him why he is thinking like this (I was not satisfied or angry about his comment but curious). He said that Balkan cities are closer to bazaar concept that you see usually in Istanbul and Sofia. I had to agree because I know quite well both cities and Bucharest is not in that style. But the second explanation, related to Romanians, was the one that really showed me another face of my country, he said we are permanently unsatisfied like french. No matter what’s happening we don’t like. So, this explains all the comments above and the ones that are going to come later.
    From my point of view I appreciate when somebody, anybody, shows me a different face of my city, country and my life because maybe sometimes we are stuck in our ideas and lost of imagination.
    So, thank you Rupert for showing me another face of my city and enjoy your staying here ;)

  20. It’s just a trendy and very helpful little bit of facts. I am just grateful that you simply provided this handy details with us. Please remain us all up-to-date like this. We appreciate you sharing.


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Rupert Wolfe Murray
Rupert Wolfe Murray
Rupert Wolfe Murray este consultant independent pe probleme de comunicare. Scotian cu resedinta la Bucuresti

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