I’m pretty glad to have moved from Russia to Romania. Russians are actually taught not to smile in public and to strangers as it’s seen as insincere. So perverse and made me feel self conscious every time I did in fact smile. And the other thing – they are so absorbed into their own language. I’m not sure if it’s the huge population or huge landmass or a sense of “we’re the best in the world”, but there’s so very little written in English (or even our alphabet) and whilst waiters speak English, it’s often the uncomfortable halting type. Our final night we wet seeking vodka (and found a lovely restaurant on the first floor which was clearly a bit fancier than we were dressed but also empty!) at this place, there was lots of Russian just spoken at us with the hope we’d understand! She had some English, but it wasn’t anywhere near “comfortable speaking”. Actually we went to a Turkish restaurant and relished an English speaking waiter – he’d worked on cruise ships.
So, Bucharest is largely flat. Which explains why both our hotel and the city offer bikes, and there are also dedicated bike lanes in places. Also, the city’s layout is a little haphazard. Sydney’s suburbs aren’t on a grid but it can be explained by the hills and sandstone. Here, it’s not clear why streets curve and circle like they do. It does make navigating a little more challenging.
Today being Monday means there’s countless more cars parked in the streets around our hotel in addition to everywhere! Yesterday we saw two cars parked a a back streets roundabout. There’s also some curb mounting action to get cars tucked in. It’s definitely closer to the French “devil may care” parking style than other parts of the world (Sydney!).
Our Segway guide was a lanky tanned guy, who clearly was accompanied by his father. His father was the same lanky body, but long blond hair for our guides long brunette hair. The guide mentioned that his mother and sister now live in Spain. He’d lived in London for eight years.
Below are my notes from our two hour communism guide Anita, who drove use around the city in her unairconditioned Dacia, with the other tourist, Vincent from the Netherlands. He seemed incredibly knowledgable and well travelled.
Orthodox: feel god near. Catholic: fell good is big and you are small. So with this in mind there’s a lot of controversy at the biggest church being built near the people’s house. Currently the largest is in Belgrade. They follow the Greek Orthodox tradition not the Russian.
Biggest civilian building in the world, though may be second after pentagon. All materials from Romania. Started in 1984 after his visit in China. Named the people’s house. Almost completed by 1989 – when people are on minimal rations. Rations were often minimal, and due to electricity limitations, hard to store. Also, there was often a luck of the draw with other consumer goods so people called around to take and barter items. Our guide was once taken with her grandma to a store to queue for yoghurt, as there was a per person limit. The little three year old Anita would nap in her chair. Of course with just twelve people in front of them, they ran out of yoghurt. Didn’t build with air con as they were concerned for poisoning. Michael Jackson stood from balcony and said “welcome Budapest”.
Class a : government
Class b: intellectuals, separate living room
Class c: workers – small apartment, 1 bedroom, 40sqm
Class d: dormitories, unmarried people
The Russian style of communism apartments gas workers things previously only wealthy bosses have : private gardens, archways. So they built apartments with these features. And because TV and electricity was only for two hours a day, being a snoop was a good enough past time. Every building had a professional spy for the regime. If you said you drank coffee with your guest, it might suggest you got that on the black market as it was rations in the latter half of the regime after C had returned from visiting China.
Each suburb had its own factory, so that the people wouldn’t need to travel into the city.
Sorry if my notes are disjointed, but facinating!
It’s clear why this was (or is) called a Paris of the west, with the beautiful tin (?) cupolas and ornate ironwork on balconies. But it’s also gosh darn grimy and a little… disobedient feeling. There is SO much tagging (I think they could work on locking down spray cans a little more). Even on ornate stone buildings you see if not tagging, then spray painted stencils.
They seem very patriotic. There are red/yellow/blue tricolour flags everywhere! But there’s also a fair few EU flags too. And one brand of ATM offers both lei and euro withdrawals. Not that I’ve tested this out, as anz hasn’t allowed my card to withdraw cash here. So Rory’s paying if it requires cash!!
Interestingly here, when you ask for the bill, they routinely ask “cash or card”, cutting out a step in the bill paying dance (ask for bill, get bill, insert payment into folder, waiter checks and either takes the cash away or goes away to bring you the hand held device to pay). It’s ok, until Rory starts hearing things like “quiche or tart”. Admittedly we’d had two drinks a pop and Rory had been channeling a mermaid.
The whole hotel seems to have been built by a sparky or a lighting supply store! Our rooms desk is internally lit. The show head rotated through a range of colours. There’s light panel, thin and running verticals, in our room. The breakfast is clearly a strong stride to their high ranking on TripAdvisor (all three hotels so far have been top rated though all uniquely different). There’s countless bowls of nuts, seeds and dried fruits to make your own museli. There’s bowls of fruit, each bowl for a fruit, but I’d say 10 varieties? There’s freshly squeezed oj.
Wrote this awaiting to meet our Segway guide in a park. Then we went to an awesome bookstore and a super old place for lunch. And it’s now 10:30pm, no dinner and we’ve both napped. Tough life holidays!
This all leads me to say – Romanians are FAR better and more confident with English. And they smile. So it’s already nicer to be here. We can semi decipher signage. We’ve yet to speak to someone who can’t understand or reply to us.
And the foods better here! Funnily, we went local last night for dinner, a Spanish place. We walked up the stairs and noticed it was rather full – seems it was some sort of private event. We went to back down the stairs after talking to a waiter, when another came to suggest we could stay if we weren’t bothersome. We weren’t. Though we’d come from a complimentary wine and cheese at the hotel and the glass of red had gone to Rory’s head so he was online pretending to be a mermaid. It was hilarious. At least we both thought so!
We arrived in Bucharest in the early arvo and wandered another direction to a main square to find lunch at a place that may have been Moldovan. I had this filo pastry dish, they were filled with mince. Rory got a chicken salad that was more salady than he bargained for!
The architecture here is very “French” and much more variable between pretty and then utilitarian/communism style. Rory said he thought what he’s seeing here would be more of what he’d see in Russia, but Russia has some very tight Planning guidelines in st P (ie no gaps between buildings in a block) and I think being in the city centre for both, we probably saw less of grotty and derelict buildings. There’s other noticeable differences – we now see clothing boutiques which are very similar to those in Australia, Europe or the Us – right at ground level, walk in (often with the big doors wide open). We just didn’t see this in Russia. In St P a lot was a few steps down into a restaurant or a few steps up. Often walking along a street there were windows at knee level for the basement restaurant or super market. I’m not sure if that’s a function of the canal city or what, but it was difficult to become used to. Instead, all over Russia there are underpasses to cross roads. Some are dark and dingy, others low ceiling and wid we ought that there’s booths with stalls along one wall: stockings, women’s underwear, women’s clothes. It was… Odd. And the a. Few had a bank of vending machines, often mainly filled with Japanese drinks.
It seems that erotic dance is perfectly acceptable in both countries. But it’s far more in your face here in Romania. Our free map is free due all the adverts. Little brochure displays in our hotel and last nights restaurant have flyers for places and we walked past one. On the other hand, there were multiple “human trafficking” posters in Romanias airport, which is interestingly a theme of my novel set in NY.
Today, Sunday, we’re going on a Segway tour/ride which Rory got me for my birthday. Then Monday I’ve booked us a tour of communism. At some stage well go see the old town and the palace and that. We don’t intend to go to Transylvania which may or may not be a misstep.
Over and out – gotta wake the kid as it 9:27 and it’s surely time for breakfast!