Communism tour in Romania

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.
Monument to the people's revolution against communism - it's much derided!
Monument to the people’s revolution against communism – it’s much derided!
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!).
Pretty park for segway touring
Pretty park for segway touring
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.
At the base of the communism statue at the top of the post, is a cross in the ground made of these wodden circles - small representing the children and large the adults who died in the revolution
At the base of the communism statue at the top of the post, is a cross in the ground made of these wodden circles – small representing the children and large the adults who died in the revolution
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.
The People's Palace
The People’s Palace
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”.
Russian 'Communist' apartments
Russian ‘Communist’ apartments
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.
This was a library near Revolution square, th ebooks were burnt in the revolution. Over the past decades, universities around the world have donated books to allow it to reopen
This was a library near Revolution square, the books were burnt in the revolution. Over the past decades, universities around the world have donated books to allow it to reopen
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!

Romania Day 2

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.
Does this not scream 'PARIS!'
Does this not scream ‘PARIS!’
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!!
If I forgot to mention it's hot!
If I forgot to mention it’s hot!
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.
A bookstore I read about before leaving, and sought out
A bookstore I read about before leaving, and sought out
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.
Is it not lovely, for a bookstore?
Is it not lovely, for a bookstore?
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!

Another country starting with R… Romania

Sadly the snap missed the white gloves of Aeroflot's hostess!
Sadly the snap missed the white gloves of Aeroflot’s hostess!

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.

Aeroflot - the carrier of Russia (and a branded plane we've NEVER seen - no Airbus or Boeing here)
Aeroflot – the carrier of Russia (and a branded plane we’ve NEVER seen – no Airbus or Boeing here)
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.
Ornate Bucharest (a university)
Ornate Bucharest (a university)
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!
The more run down Bucharest buildings
The more run down Bucharest buildings – but capitalism has arrived!
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!
Moldovan pastry filled with lightly spiced mince
Moldovan pastry filled with lightly spiced mince
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.
Bucharest feeling French
Bucharest feeling French
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.
Safety is sexy!
Safety is sexy!
Our guide, who was incidently a POkemon Go fan!
Our guide, who was incidently a POkemon Go fan!
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!
Such an expansive breakfast buffet one shot wouldn't get it all!
Such an expansive breakfast buffet one shot wouldn’t get it all!

Holiday planning

As I mentioned in my annual goals post and my bucket list – I want to visit much of Eastern Europe – Russia, Romania and Bosnia.

Russia is one of the BIG national powers.  I loved Paullina Simon’s books, particularly the Bronze Horseman, and I am in awe of the majestic religious buildings, particularly in a communist country, which in other nations has totally destroyed religious buildings.  I used to think the ‘cold war’ was over – having just watch The Bridge of Spies, but then I applied for my visa and I’m not so sure.  It was incredibly thorough!

(this routine was in the film, and I can guarantee they match!  Though the film’s music was even more emotive)

Romania is definitely off the ‘usual’ tourist path.  Since 2006’s trip was cancelled whilst I live in France, it’s been on my ‘one day’ list.  The first reason for Romania is my fanatical interest in Nadia Comenici – when mum had to go into school on school holidays, she used to put this on to keep us kids quiet.  I am not one for learning to rote a movie’s script – but this film (Nadia) I can!  The film is SO old I have a copy on VHS! It doesn’t exist in DVD or anything new fangled like that.  The second reason is that I made a very close friend in first year university who was Romanian, so I’m curious to see his home town.  In 2006, I booked flights to Romania, however it wasn’t part of the EU and required evidence of USD100 per day! As a young student, I didn’t have that sort of cash sitting idly (I was working as an au pair)!  It was just too hard to get a visa, so at no cost Air France let me change my fare and I went to Rome, which was memorable and delightfully crisp.  To ensure I wasn’t just a dreamer, I’ve read two books set in Romania recently – one at a beachside town where they defect to Turkey.  Another was an American based in Romania with a few other shady characters, trying to survive in the communist state that was slowly dis-assembly all relics of the past.

I read a novel based on the true story of a cellist who played for 27 days after a massacre in a bread queue (via)
I read a novel based on the true story of a cellist who played for 27 days after a massacre in a bread queue (via)

Bosnia is probably best described as ‘trauma tourism’ or similar. The same things that draw me to Holocaust memoirs and visiting Jewish museums interests me in the war.  And… I have an ex boyfriend who is Bosnian.  He shared so little of his culture, but I was always incredibly curious about him and his childhood, having migrated at the age of 12.  Again, I’ve tried to read to ensure I have a better idea of what I’m visiting, and I’m incredibly curious to see this junction of ‘East meets West’ particularly as we’ll now also visit Turkey, which has similar parallels.

So, to date, I’ve booked the long haul flights, in addition to accommodation in two cities of Russia, a flight to Romania, and accommodation in both Bucharest and Sarajevo.  It’s a solid start and I just need to keep chipping away at booking for air travel and hotels.  Thankfully my younger brother is a champ, and happy to go along for the ride.  I bet he ends up knowing all sorts of quirky historic facts, cause he’s that type 😉