I like this city. I like the people, they are not at all highly strung and they get things done without fuss. I'm finding everyone friendly and sincere, a little shy perhaps, but none the worse for that. On my first night here, I described it to a friend as "a bit like the 90s but with 4G". There is rampant consumerism, the music blasting from the cafes is Celine Dione and the Backstreet Boys, and the men on the whole are very badly dressed.... yes it has a feel of the 90s.
Some things are quirky. The zebra crossings take a bit of getting used to. The "green man" does NOT mean traffic stops, only that you "can" cross. But they give you plenty of time to cross and for the most part the drivers stop. The cooling fans at the open air cafes are unpleasant, they insist on spraying out some sort of water vapour and I avoid them and can't help thinking "legionella". The local supermarket does not sell rice, dried pasta or cleaning products, though it is part of a chain that is commonly found in Spain where they do. But they are the only people in the wolrd apart from Lancastrians and the Chinese who can cook tripe beautifully and for that I am impressed and grateful.
I haven't taken to the Old Town much. The place needs fewer Irish pubs and kebab shops. It doesn't feel real. The place is blandly European without an identity of its own. There seems to be a push towards promoting the leftist, liberal, metrosexual "immorality" of the "beautiful people": the "Euronormal" is like a parasite that will kill its host. Does that have to be the price for regeneration?
But all is not what it seems. The city as a whole has more balls. There is a genuine depth of faith in the people, a genuine sense of the numinous, a genuine closeness to the angels and saints, a genuine love of the Mother of God. I'm still exploring the Catholic churches, there will be a post about those later.
Architecturally, there are some gems, more gems than horrors. Nothing is jaw dropping. Ceaucescu's "people's palace" was promoted to me as being rather impressive, and I walked up there this morning to find myself not being stunned by it in the slightest. It isn't to my mind jaw dropping like Moscow State University or indeed Glasgow Infirmary. It nearly feels homely. Indeed, I'm finding the city homely all round, which is a jolly good thing as it will be home for a while to come.