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Day 20 in Romania

According to my phone, we are on day 20 of our trip to Romania, and we still have 5 more days to go. This seemed like a great time to update you guys on what's going on, since yesterday we completed everything we came here to do.

Our goal was simple. We wanted to come to Romania, open a business here, get set up with phones and an official address, a bank account, and an accountant. We finished all of that just yesterday, so I can proudly say that we've accomplished everything we wanted to do, and have learned a lot along the way.

First of all, the Romanian government has made it really easy for Americans, and doubtless those from other countries, to open businesses here. I assume that change came due to the fact that so many Romanians have moved to other European countries to earn a better living, leaving a dearth of income generating businesses here. So many have left that there must have been a negative impact on the national economy. My hunch is that these folks will all eventually come home, with loads of money to invest and spend here... but until then, these appear to be lean times in Romania.

Having said that, this place has changed a lot since I moved away in 2006. Membership in the EU has made many positive changes to the infrastructure of the country, and most things work better than when I lived here before. The driving seems much better. Uber is a godsend. And stores seem to have the things that you need. ATMs work, roads and sidewalks are in much better repair, and in general, everything seems to function more smoothly than before.

Bucharest is still a hot mess, and so many of the stately, historic buildings in the city are in terrible disrepair. They just sit empty save the pigeons that inhabit them. There are still nets protecting pedestrians from falling balconies, and wires draped like garlands from building to building. Graffiti covers most every flat surface and traffic and parking are dismal. But still, it's better. There are electric scooters everywhere, and I mentioned that Uber is a life saver. Taxi's are plentiful, and the Metro is an option now. The subway was not safe for tourists when I left here in 2006. I feel like I'm painting a negative image of the city, and I'm not trying to. Romania is still rough around the edges, so I don't want to gloss over that part. It is better than I remember, and definitely a place I could live if I had to.

But after 20 days, I've confirmed my suspicion that I don't want to live in Bucharest. That was never really the plan anyway. I was surprised to learn that you can rent an apartment here for around $500 USD and can even rent a storefront just off one of the main shopping boulevards downtown for around $400 USD per month. Those realizations made us wonder if we could buy a place to live outside the city, and still afford to rent a space where foot traffic could actually justify a gallery in the capital. We spoke with a restaurant owner who is only paying $1,000 per month for a complete restaurant, with kitchen, dining room, bar.... all in a historic building in the center of town. I don't know who would buy art from our studio, but there are people into the arts here, and tourists looking for mementos of their holidays. I mean let's be honest, how many vampire inspired trinkets can you actually bring home as gifts?

So yes, so far the vote is still in favor of spending a lot of time here in Romania. Right now, it is fairly inexpensive to buy land, and we have looked at a few properties while here in the country. We are focusing on two areas, close to Bogdan's relatives. The idea is that, if we need to return to the States for a while, or travel on the art fair circuit in Europe, we would have someone trustworthy available to watch over the place while we are gone. That has limited our search to Plataresti, and Campulung in Arges. Apparently there is another Campulung up north.

Plateresti is a very small village about 20 minutes outside of Bucharest. It's flat, agricultural, but doubtless a great investment as Bucharest grows it's suburban sprawl. Bogdan has quite a few relatives there, and the proximity of the place makes coming to Bucharest daily an easy option. Currently there are no properties for sale, and the place is small enough that word of mouth is the only way to determine which landowners are open to the idea, as long as the sale is to someone they know and like. We have Bogdan's aunts searching for us, but currently we have found one property that is too small, and another that is over priced for the plot.

Campulung however, is roughly 2.5 hours away by car, and nestled in the foothills of the Carpathian mountains. The town is filled with picturesque, historic homes, and much cooler than the Bucharest area. It's a larger city, around 10,000 people, and has everything you need available in town. It has lovely boulevards for walking, easy access to the mountains, and a much more peaceful and higher quality of life. We have also looked at properties there, where you can purchase a traditional home, with a yard, for 30 to 40,000 USD. Campulung would be so lovely, and Bogdan's mother and brother live there. It makes Bucharest much less accessible say for an evening art exhibition or group meeting, but the environment there would be much less expensive, and far more enjoyable.

There are other centers in Romania these days, specifically Iasi, Cluj-Napoca, Oradea,, and Timisoara, but they are so removed from Bucharest that they would almost preclude any participation in the art community here in the capital.

Both Bogdan and I feel that it would make financial sense for us to invest in some property in Romania at this time. Prices seem low right now, and we feel certain that as the war in Ukraine resolves, and as the Romanian diaspora begins to return home, property values will rise. The whole idea of opening a business here was to afford me the ability to obtain a residency status here in the country. If I come to Romania as a tourist, I'm not allowed to make money, nor can I stay beyond the 60 day timeline. I would need to cross the border every two months to honor my tourist restrictions. The residency would allow me to stay in the country for longer periods of time, as well as to earn money while here.

A huge unanswered question for us revolved around the art community and art market in Romania. Who are the players, who are the leaders, and what opportunities are there for creating and selling art? We've spent some time trying to answer those questions too. We attended an art exhibition reception here in the city, and spoke with the artist Mic Rasvan Dan, about his first solo show, and his work in general. We also met with two other artists, Catalin Tzetze Radulescu, and Iulia Paun. What we're gathering is that artists are more then willing to connect and develop friendships, but that there is virtually no community of artists established. Tzetze even told us "we are like gladiators". So the idea of stepping into an association of artists, or an organized networking opportunity is just not going to happen. I guess we could create something ourselves, once people know who we are.

So that's where we stand after 20 days in Romania. We have accomplished all we set out to do with the business. We have connected to at least three artists working in the country, and have a clearer sense of what options we have for purchasing property. We still have 5 days to go, and we plan to spend that checking out specific galleries (and gallery owners), and researching just what opportunities exist around Europe for freelance artists like us.

Wish us luck. It ain't over yet.

“Art Life Blog with John & Bogdan” is a weekly blog/vlog/podcast that creates a community, a conversation, between creatives in all sorts of fields at all sorts of levels.  We want to discuss what we’re learning, what we’ve experienced, and whom we’ve met in our journey of running a freelance creative business. John Bishop is a visual artist living in Houston, Texas. His work is largely abstract, and explores how to turn mythic, archetypal symbols into individual experiences allowing us to see them in a new way, with fresh eyes. Bogdan is a videographer and fine art photographer who constantly seeks to stretch the boundaries of traditional photographic work, with the added flare of his artistic eye.  Both artists’ work can be seen online, or at their studios at Silver Street Studios, 2000 Edwards Street, in Houston.

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