Livia Radu Featured
Galați,  Romania

The Challenges Facing Romania

Galați Church
Livia Radu
Tochitura

The Place: Galați, Romania

“Galați struck me as a city built for functionality and practicality… It’s unpolished and unapologetic, and isn’t there to cater to the needs of tourists. It’s atmosphere was neither welcoming nor hostile, carving out a middle-ground where life simply goes on, and where a vein of the Romania’s economy and industry carries lifeblood to the rest of the country. “

Read More About Galați

Close to midnight, I crossed into Romania, the border bathed in a blinding glare; an island of light against the pitch-black Moldovan countryside. Dismounted and pushing my bike beside me, I greeted drivers waiting for customs inspections, chatted with guards, and even received an offer to stay with a passer-by a few days ride away, before my first push of the pedals into new territory.

A few minutes into my 15km ride to Galați (pronounced “Galats”), I took one last glance behind me; my new friends and the border station that came with them had disappeared into a small valley. I stopped for a moment, my eyes tracing the shadowy outline of a Moldovan hillside, scanning for an indication of the villages and towns I’d left behind. Nothing. No hint of artificial light. No indication of civilisation save for the road beneath me. I turned, and left the most peculiar country I’d visited so far on the cycle tour to disappear into the dark.

Drawing closer to the city that would be my home for the next two nights, a familiar, sickly-yellow glow radiating into the night sky gradually materialised from the horizon, obscuring the stars that had been so clear and distinct on my journey through Moldova and overpowering the light of the moon. Leaves rustled in the first warm breeze I’d felt in months, once or twice fading into the rumble of an engine as Cargo trucks rolled by and, though it may have been all in my head, I felt closer to home.

I glided into the city, and became acutely aware of the newly surfaced roads beneath me, and the distinct lack of stray dogs wandering at the roadside. Gazing at the buildings floating by, it seemed that whatever history may have surrounded Galați was masked by industry, whirring and clanking away at the riverside.  My hopes for a glimpse of the Danube were dashed, and I was sealed off from the river by a wall of factories, warehouses, and shipyards.

Galați struck me as a city built for functionality and practicality, not tourism, and that sensation extended to the people, too. Passers-by seemed to be there for a purpose, rather than just out to relax. I smiled at passers-by, hoping to strike up a conversation, to no avail, and eventually gave up on befriending the locals. But the overall cold exterior of the city concealed nuggets of warmth waiting to be stumbled upon, be it in the form of a barista going above and beyond to help me find an interviewee that spoke English, a man driving past who stopped out of concern to tell me my rear light wasn’t working properly, or my stoic and initially standoffish host’s openness to letting me stay with her, despite not really having the space in her apartment and the last-minute nature of my arrival. It’s unpolished and unapologetic, and isn’t there to cater to the needs of tourists. It’s atmosphere was neither welcoming nor hostile, carving out a middle-ground where life simply goes on, and where a vein of the Romania’s economy and industry carries lifeblood to the rest of the country.

Galați Church


Please note that we do not fact-check our interviewees, and that their views do not necessarily represent our own.

The Person: Livia Radu, 29, Former Coffee-shop Owner

I moved here when I came to college to study economics… I didn’t finish my course, because I stopped to start a business; I opened a coffee shop next-door to where we are now. That was three years ago. But I closed it down three days ago, and now I’m trying to sell the place. It will be underpriced because it’s not going very well. I think I should try other things in business.”

See Livia's Full Background

I grew up 80 miles from Galați in a small town, called Tecuci. I have a terrible sense of direction, so I can’t even tell you whether that’s inland from here or closer to the coast! I moved here when I came to college to study economics and I’ve stayed here since then. I didn’t finish my course, because I stopped to start a business; I opened a coffee shop next-door to where we are now. That was three years ago. But I closed it down three days ago, and now I’m trying to sell the place. It will be underpriced because it’s not going very well. I think I should try other things in business.

After I sell it, I will probably leave the country. I’m thinking of moving to Ireland; I have family and friends that have lived in Dublin for about 20 years. It’s a nice place. The people are nice, friendly and genuine. I’m not sure whether coming back to Romania after that. But I don’t know when I’ll go because I have lots of friends here and stuff. Maybe I’ll split my time between here and there.

What does ‘home’ mean to you?

“I don’t normally get attached to people, places or things. I just love them or I don’t. I don’t see being attached as such a good thing; if I am attached to you, I give you the responsibility for my happiness. So I don’t do this.”

See Livia's Full Answer

Home is a feeling, in my opinion, and Galați is home for me. The people I love are here. Most of them, at least. It’s a positive, warm feeling. It’s like where you’re a bigger thing. One part of a whole. I don’t feel that attached to one specific place, and I don’t normally get attached to people, places or things. I just love them or I don’t. I don’t see being attached as such a good thing; if I am attached to you, I give you the responsibility for my happiness. So I don’t do this.

For example, I’m not attached to my coffee shop. I didn’t find it hard to sell, or even to close it down. It was a huge lesson, and I learned lots of things when I was running it. I only lost money, and I gained lots of other things; friends, experience and great memories. We had a lot of parties in that place! But I didn’t find it hard to close in the end because I have a strong belief that, in life, we have to go through some stages. So this was a stage that I feel was ready to end.

What is special about Galați?

“…we have lots of places where we can have fun. But its kind of subjective, because it depends on the people you’re with. For me, most of my friends live here. If my friends disappeared tomorrow, though, I’m not sure my answer would be the same. I’m not sure what exactly is special about Galați itself.”

See Livia's Full Answer

From my point of view – I don’t know if everyone here is in agreement – I think we have lots of places where we can have fun. But its kind of subjective, because it depends on the people you’re with. For me, most of my friends live here. If my friends disappeared tomorrow, though, I’m not sure my answer would be the same. I’m not sure what exactly is special about Galați itself. I don’t want to be mean. I try my best to be a positive person and see the bright side of things, but if I’m being objective and truly honest, in Galați things are not that good. Economically-speaking, things aren’t great, and the people, on a scale of 1-10 of friendliness… I’d give them a 7. 

We have the Danube, the river. Economically that helps us, because there is industry along it. A lot of people here work in the industry by the river. They build ships and things there. 

Galați Park

– I turned up at what was supposed to be Eminescu Park, only to find it was undergoing construction in the off-season –

Can you think of a time you have been proud of Romania?

“I know whenever I’m speaking with foreign people, the very first thing they will say is “ah, you’re from Dracula’s country”. It’s funny, but I like that people know some legends about my country.”

See Livia's Full Answer

Yeah! I felt proud when Simona Halep won the tennis. She won a big match, and it was the very first time in a long time that we got to the finals of the French Open. She’s pretty young – 26 or something. I saw when she was playing, and she was really ambitious. That’s good for us, because I think Romania is only usually on the world stage for our legend; Dracula.

I know whenever I’m speaking with foreign people, the very first thing they will say is “ah, you’re from Dracula’s country”. It’s funny, but I like that people know some legends about my country. Some people even know more about it than I do. It’s better that people know our stories than knowing about our Prime Minister.

What is your main concern or worry about Romania or Galați?

The population is getting older. Years ago, families would have three kids. Now they only have one, and that’s it. That means that birth rate is way down against mortality, so the population is getting old. So now, when I get old, I don’t know who’s going to pay my pension. I feel like we’re kind of on our own.”

See Livia's Full Answer

The population is getting older. Years ago, families would have three kids. Now they only have one, and that’s it. That means that birth rate is way down against mortality, so the population is getting old. So now, when I get old, I don’t know who’s going to pay my pension. I feel like we’re kind of on our own. I’m on my own, he’s on his own, she’s on her own, and so on. The system is really corrupt from the top. We have a saying here, that translates as “the fish starts stinking from the head first”. So, the problems are all at the top levels. People try to fix them; we had a revolution in 1989, when I was born. We used to be under communism, then we had the revolution. Since then, people have tried a few times to protest, and to publicly say their problems. But nothing changed, and people were hurt by the police during that process. Nobody died, but it was a conflict instead of a peaceful demonstration.

The older people here are misinformed and manipulated by the TV. I don’t want to sound mean, but they are not very smart. I think that all of us Romanians are manipulated. That happens everywhere, but here especially we are manipulated for the personal needs of the people that run the country. They are all rich, and have huge houses with pools and stuff, while somewhere in the mountains, an old lady might live on €1/month. I’m not kidding, I’ve seen cases where people worked their whole life, and got their pension and it was 4 lei (€0.85). It’s impossible, you can’t survive on that. 4 lei is not even one sandwich.

We have a famous Prime Minister now. She got famous because she’s in her 60s, and her Romanian is worse than foreigners. Her first language is Romanian, but she makes lots of grammatical mistakes. She’s very rude to journalists. Just today, I was reading an article where a famous journalist in Romania finally got the chance to meet her, and he asked “how are things going with the motorway construction”, because our roads are so bad. Her answer was “you’re so fixated on this. Why do you always ask about it?”

The infrastructure is a real problem in our country; we pay taxes, and the petrol is the same price as in Ireland, but the minimum wage is €255/month. So there is a big gap between the income and the spendings. That’s partly compensated for by all the people outside the country who are working abroad. The young people who leave to work in other countries. They send money home, and I think that’s how people are surviving here.

What are your thoughts on Stereotypes of people from Galați?

“…it’s a struggle for the people that are living here, especially the older people that don’t have relatives to look after them. Most of them will seem grumpy all the time. But if you look beyond that, you can tell that it’s not because they are mean or anything; it’s sadness. People here are sad. It’s a hard life for many of them.”

See Livia's Full Answer

Of course, there are genuinely friendly people and then some that aren’t. But, in my opinion, there is nowhere where there is a clear divide between good people and bad people. Even the bad people are like good people that didn’t get enough love. They’re like flowers; if it gets the light it needs, it will grow as it should. If it doesn’t, it won’t. That’s my thought about people.

But in Galați, we have lots of arrogant guys that drive expensive cars, and don’t care about anyone else. Then there are the regular people that just go to work, come home, and live for the weekends. And lastly we have those that want to change the world, the town, or even just themselves. In that sense, Galați is like other cities, with lots of different types of people. There is not necessarily a distinct personality, but I think if we take the sum of all of them, then I think most people here just look sad. If someone was to suddenly faint or fall over, I think most people would pass by acting as thought they didn’t see it.

If you walk down the street in Galați and smile at a stranger, I think 7/10 will look at you thinking “what’s wrong with you?”. I did that in Ireland, and I got 10/10 smiles back, and three of them even said “hi!” It’s because it’s a struggle for the people that are living here, especially the older people that don’t have relatives to look after them. Most of them will seem grumpy all the time. But if you look beyond that, you can tell that it’s not because they are mean or anything; it’s sadness. People here are sad. It’s a hard life for many of them. My mum, for example, is 51 this year. She’s never been to the seaside, and we have the black sea next to our country. She’s lived here her whole life, and she used to be a teacher, then she worked in a shop. I think it’s really sad that she is 51-years-old, and we have a coastline, 200km from Galați, but she’s never been there because she couldn’t afford a vacation. It might be difficult for some people when they see you cycling, so that might be why they can come across unfriendly.

We do have a lot of Moldovans that come to work here, and they think it’s heaven on earth. I’ve never been to Moldova myself, but I’ve heard that its worse there. So I hope we will have an impact on them when they come here. It’s like a trophic chain. Right now, I’m complaining that things aren’t great here, and I’m hoping they will improve. But they come here and they say, here it’s amazing, and things are much worse back home. I just hope that the fact they come and study and work here will help their country to change for the better.

What is the biggest change you’ve seen in your lifetime in Romania?

I think the fact that people are going outside of the country helps Romania, not only economically, when they send and bring money home, but also because it makes people more open-minded. Years ago, the Romanians used to be really judgemental, and in competition with one-another.”

See Livia's Full Answer

I think the fact that people are going outside of the country helps Romania, not only economically, when they send and bring money home, but also because it makes people more open-minded. Years ago, the Romanians used to be really judgemental, and in competition with one-another. So I think the change I am seeing now is that they are all over Europe, spread across the countries looking for a job. August is the month when a lot of them come home on holiday. You’ll see cars with Italian numberplates, Spanish ones, and so on, and you could tell the town is more crowded; the shops are doing better and there is more money coming in. The people that go abroad kind of borrow from the mentality that other Europeans have, and I can tell the difference between the Romanians that live in the country, and those that live outside it. They are more open-minded, more friendly, and not as stressed.

What is your favourite and least favourite Romanian food?

Mamalyga, which is this yellow flour. It’s best of you get flour from a village somewhere, not from the supermarket. Yesterday I went to my grandma’s, and I had it. But it’s not the main part of a course. Its goes with something.”

See Livia's Full Answer

Mamalyga, which is this yellow flour. It’s best of you get flour from a village somewhere, not from the supermarket. Yesterday I went to my grandma’s, and I had it. But it’s not the main part of a course. Its goes with something. I’m really keen on soup. They make it with lots of vegetables here – we call it chorba. When you say “soup” here, it means something with not many ingredients, but when you say “chorba” it means something with lots of vegetables, and chicken or beef. It’s healthy and tasty.

Then we also have sarmale, which is a famous traditional meal. But that one I don’t like, because it doesn’t go well with my stomach. The meat they put in it has been fried with onions and a load of other ingredients, and it’s too intense and isn’t very healthy because its all fried, which is the least healthy way to cook.

To get a taste of Romania, what food should I taste and review?

“…you must try Tochitură. Its pork with garlic, mamalyga, egg and cheese, and it’s just a calorie bomb.”

See Livia's Full Reccomendation

My Grandma used to make me milk with white flour in it. At the end it looks like a pudding or something. You have to add something to it, because otherwise the flour clumps together into little balls. But I’m not sure you’ll be able to find it in restaurants or anything, so I’ll think of a backup. 

If you can’t find that, you must try Tochitură. Its pork with garlic, mamalyga, egg and cheese, and it’s just a calorie bomb. But it’s traditional, and actually we eat it around Christmas-time!

Life According to Locals #Galați #Romania #InterviewsWithLocals Click To Tweet

Livia Radu


The Plate: Tochitură

“…with such bold, and heavy ingredients, a balance of power emerged from the anarchy; no one flavour stood out more than the others, nor did any texture. That is, until my supply of meat was exhausted, at which point, with the two heavyweights, the mamalyga and cheese, merging together and becoming evermore overpowering, I called it quits….”

Read More About Tochitura

True to Livia’s word, Tochitură was a calorie bomb. Barely visible beneath a mountain of white, a thick slab of mamalyga, compressed by the food above it to an almost featureless yellow block, supported a mound of cheese, dusted with ground pepper atop a fried egg. Scattered across the bowl, chunks of salted meat brought respite from the intense, sharp tang of the cheese and the unrelenting starchiness of the mamalyga. A quick puncture with my fork released the yolk, oozing across the meat and maize flour and coating the ingredients with a viscous golden sheen and soaking in from the top down, while the base absorbed in the liquid from the meat stew. 

Rather than working in unison and complementing one another, it seemed that each component of the dish acted antagonistically. Elements of wildly differing consistencies battled for attention, ranging from tough, stewed meat to soft and smooth cheese in culinary chaos. But, with such bold, and heavy ingredients, a balance of power emerged from the anarchy; no one flavour stood out more than the others, nor did any texture. That is, until my supply of meat was exhausted, at which point, with the two heavyweigts, the mamalyga and cheese, merging together and becoming evermore overpowering, I called it quits, reeling from the intensity of the meal, and contemplating how many years I’d just taken off my life with that dose of fat and salt.

Tochitura


Thoughts? Leave a Comment Down Below!


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Attempting to cycle from Tromsø in Northern Norway to Baku, Azerbaijan while interviewing locals en route. Despite my chequered history with bikes, here’s to me returning home with an intact facial structure and at least as many body parts as I left with.

9 Thoughts on The Challenges Facing Romania
    Dennis
    31 Aug 2019
    4:27pm

    Depressing……but puts our own Country’s current problems into perspective.

    Andra
    16 Aug 2019
    2:02am

    This was such an incredible and real article! I am originally from Romania and currently live in Chicago (I’m one of Miriam’s friends actually). This interview was thoughtful and genuine. Hope to see more articles from Romania! 🙂

      Tieran Freedman
      16 Aug 2019
      4:50pm

      That’s so nice of you to say, I’m really glad you liked it! Miriam mentioned you’d been waiting for the ones from Romania for a while. I have a massive backlog of interviews, since some of the countries I’ll be visiting later on the trip don’t take to kindly to people publishing things that are critical of the government.

      Where in Romania are you from? I cycled through it from Moldova along the coast to Bulgaria; not too far, so I didn’t spend quite as long there as in some of the other countries on my trip. But there will be another interview from Constanța in the coming weeks!

        Andra
        16 Aug 2019
        5:34pm

        Of course, I understand. I am from Brasov, more towards the central part of the country. I hope the few short days in Romania went smoothly! I actually have family in Constanța and used to visit often growing up! I am looking forward to reading the interview.

        Andra
        16 Aug 2019
        5:39pm

        Of course, I understand. I am from Brasov, more towards the central part of the country. I hope the few short days in Romania went smoothly! I actually have family in Constanța and used to visit often growing up! I am looking forward to reading the article.

          Tieran Freedman
          16 Aug 2019
          6:09pm

          Awesome, I heard Brasov is really nice. The only reason I didn’t head in that direction was because of the mountains…

          Things went pretty smoothly, it was somewhere between 10 days and 2 weeks. The ride from Galați to Constanța was pretty stunning, and took me through a nature reserve, but it got really, really cold in Constanța while I was there.

          Haha maybe I met them! I met a guy who worked at the docks who drove me around the shipyard to see all the old dock buildings, which was pretty interesting. If I go back I’d definitely like to explore further inland!

            Andra
            16 Aug 2019
            7:29pm

            Understable! I love the drive towards Brasov up the mountains. It is very scenic, yet narrow. I am glad to hear everything went well on your travels in Romania. What time of the year were you there? If you go back, I definitely recommend visiting the famous Dracula’s Castle, Peleș Castle and old fortified towns!

              Tieran Freedman
              17 Aug 2019
              10:37am

              I can imagine! Thank you for the recommendations, I’m sure I’ll be back someday.

              I was there at the end of February/start of March if I’m remembering right, so it wasn’t exactly peak cycle touring season haha. I remember the seawater froze on the groynes next to that old Casino in Constanța! But I guess it would have been difficult had I visited the mountains then because of snow and ice anyway…

    Hilda
    6 Sep 2019
    10:47am

    I do like Livia’s attitude to life and wish her well with the future. As ever the more we read about your adventure the more we realise how fortunate we are to live in this country, even though our politicians are trying very hard to mess it up.

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