Bucovina, you stole my heart

Rarely has any place surprised me, perhaps due to the high amount of research I do beforehand or partly due to my preconceptions of the world around. This is not to say that places like the Maldives haven’t taken my breath away, or that Italy is not my favourite overall country; I am referring solely to places that surprised me because they were not what I expected. Of the few places that surprised me South Africa was one of them and Bucovina was the other. Where is Bucovina you might ask? I am happy to report that Bucovina is in the northern part of Romania, my own country of birth.

Why hadn’t I discovered this region before? I had been to many places in Romania growing up, including Bucovina. I thought I had “seen it all”, and though I had flashes of Bucovina, my memories were mostly of the people I had met when I was a child, not so much the place. So what sets this region apart and what made it so magical for me? The people, the landscape and the food cannot be one without the other, and that’s where for me, Bucovina exceeded all my expectations. Because of its rather secluded location up north close to the border of Ukraine, I found the people to be genuine, welcoming and very connected to their land. In our travels, these qualities are becoming increasingly difficult to find as the internet has bridged most cultural gaps. Guests delight them, and the people who live in this area will boast their hospitality and welcome you with arms wide open. They are proud of their land and they want you to love it too. For this, they will go out of their way to ensure you have the best experience.

Although the young generation does have iPhones, they seem to still know how to ride horses, what time it is based on the sun’s location and just how to make the perfect polenta over a charcoal open fire. Kids have a freedom here that we no longer enjoy living in the suburbs in Canada. They are free to roam around the villages and stay out as long as they want, without parents having to worry about where they are, as most people know each other. Alessia enjoyed picking up freshly cut grass and loading it on the horse-drawn carriage. She ran around at sunset with green cliffs in the backdrop while waiting for the carriage to be unloaded so she could go for a ride. The horse drawn carriage was certainly the highlight of her trip as she got to ride in the “driver’s” seat.

The lush green forests in this area are well manicured and maintained with love. Roads are contoured by curvy low mountains with perfectly cut green cedar trees to compliment the nature of the people connected to this land. The air is crisp and clean, with notes of balmy mountain freshness. Once in a while, alongside the road, you will see shepherds selling cheese made that day or wild raspberries which require utmost care to pick and transport yet we bought them at a minimal cost. The wild raspberries were more fragrant than any raspberry I had ever tasted, small, red and beyond scrumptious. Romania is home to a vast population of bears, and now I understand why, given the taste of those raspberries.

Food in general in Bucovina is simple. The staples are polenta with fresh cheese and homemade pork products. Simple as it is, the polenta our relatives made for us while we were there was like no other. We haven’t figured out if it’s the smoky flavour of the corn or the cooking process over the open charcoal fire that makes it the best polenta, but the polenta in Bucovina remains a mystery and a pleasant memory. The more people are connected to the land, the better the food tastes. Generally speaking, we have had better food in the streets than 5 star restaurants around the world.

So if one day you make it to Romania, by a fluke or on purpose, do visit Bucovina, it will not disappoint you. And maybe go now, go now before the whole world is overtaken by Wal-Mart and McDonalds, because to me, that world will be a lot less captivating. I want to see cultures as they have developed over time, in their own habitat. I see more of us becoming antisocial, selfish, addicted to a virtual world while ignoring real life happening in front of our eyes. Cultural assimilation is eliminating the beauty of our uniqueness. That is why I am in a rush to get to those places, those places that do not have tour buses rushing to get to them, places where traditions still exists. I fear it will all change all too fast, so I urge you to take the plunge now, and discover this beautiful planet we call home.

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