Saturday, June 04, 2011

Bucharest redux

Many many years ago, when I was keen and enthusiastic and actually used to write things in this blog, I wrote about my first real trip to Bucharest, here and then again here. Well since that time I haven't really spent a great deal of time in the nation's capital, coming on average once or twice a year for a day or two max. And though I was sort of partially complimentary on those two posts, I had also had some fairly bad experiences (once trying to drive through the city, which is an act I wouldn't wish on anyone, even my worst enemies. I don't think I have many worst enemies - is that something I need to cultivate do you think?), and I also get highly frustrated with the political and media system in Romania being so ludicrously Bucharest-centric (not that I expect it to be Ciuc-centric, but it would be nice if there were to be some acknowledgements from time to time that there is life outside the capital's ring road. This in turn sort of naturally predisposes me against the place, as does the entirely natural envy/resentment of the capital city that every normal person should have in any country.

But now I am back here, and this time for two whole weeks, by far the longest time I've ever spent here. Not that I've had the chance to see and do much as I've been working flat out all this last week. But now it's the weekend and I intend to sleep,laze around all day, doing sod all, go out and experience something of the place. Well, at least after I've written this.

So, stuff that's notable about Bucharest (as far as I have seen this week)
  1. You can buy things. I know you can buy things in most places, but you can buy a wider range of things in Bucharest than you can in somewhere like Csikszereda. To give an example, there is a supermarket just round the corner from the apartment I'm staying in. In that supermarket you can buy things like the ingredients for sushi, or Thai curry paste, or y'know, shit like that. This is very definitely a step up.
  2. As a corollary to that there are restaurants and interesting bars and things. Within 3 minutes walk of my front door here there is an Indian restaurant, a Lebanese place, a Tapas bar, and a Szechuan restaurant. In Csiksereda foreign food is basically Italian or, if you want to be very generous in your description, a Mexican. (But I'm talking seriously generous. Unreasonably generous)
  3. Life is lived on the street much more here. You walk around the city and there are groups of people standing around outside every shop, or just outside houses having loud conversations. I sort of thought it was a cliche that the south of Romania was more Mediterranean and Transylvania more Germanic, but it's actually pretty true in some ways. It does feel like a different country (and I don't just mean to Szereda where the language and stuff is different, but to other cities in Transylvania too)
  4. Traffic in Bucharest seems not as bad I had imagined. I mean I haven't been driving, so perhaps I don't get an accurate picture, but it just seems like a normal big city to me for the most part (the sort of image I had was of near permanent gridlock and really aggressive drivers)
  5. However, the problem with cars here is one of parking. I am told that there just aren't enough parking places in the city, but frankly as a pedestrian it's a right royal pain in the arse, because you can barely walk on the pavements anywhere as there are cars parked on every free bit of space. So you have to walk on the road all the time and then other drivers honk at you for being there. It's really really fucking irritating and it makes me want to key every badly parked car (though if I were to do that it would take me about half an hour to walk one block). If there isn't enough space find someway of limiting the number of cars in the centre of the city. Others cities seem to be able to manage it. If it means banning half the cars one day and the other half the next, then do it. The problem is that drivers here are somehow seen as more deserving than anyone else. I really don't know how people stand it living here. It has driven me mad in a few days, in a year I think I really would snap and start genuinely vandalising cars.
  6. They still have this ridiculous thing on the metro whereby the clock at the end of the platform tells you how long it is since the last train left. This is taking pointless nostalgia to ridiculous levels. Someone assured me yesterday that they have changed this on some stations and they now say when the next one is coming (like someone finally realised that this information might be of slightly more interest), but I have yet to actually use one of these possibly mythical stations
  7. The supermarket mentioned in (1), is called "Mega Image". This is a chain of supermarkets throughout the city. It is a very good supermarket, but it's a really fucking stupid name for a supermarket. What kind of coked-up focus group came up with that? "It'll be great, just think - Mega - punters love mega-stuff. And Image - that's brand conscious right there" "But wouldn't it be better to have a name that at least sounds like it might be a supermarket?" "Hell no, Mega Image is perfect"
  8. Stuff here is expensive. Really expensive. Some things cost the same, but a lot of things seem to cost significantly more. You'd think given distribution costs and economies of scale that things would be cheaper. But no. I guess people charge what they can get away with.
So there you go. Bucharest. That's all you need to know, frankly. Anything else you might read about the city on the internet is just people's opinions. Whereas my opinions, being mine, are actually facts.



16 comments:

E.B. said...

"Someone assured me yesterday that they have changed this on some stations and they now say when the next one is coming (like someone finally realised that this information might be of slightly more interest), but I have yet to actually use one of these possibly mythical stations"

Neah, they aren't mythical, they are aliiiive! :) Unirii, Eroilor ... I also think there are more than three such stations.

Anonymous said...

Howdy,

In a strange way ... I hear you :)

I am Romanian, have stayed in the States for a ridiculously long time but have been back since 2007 (last year in a large Transilvanian town you didn't really care for :)).

It's kind of interesting that your experience is, in a certain way, similar to mine: New Mexico/Secuime
are both areas that are somewhat poor (with respect to large urban areas of both countries, California/NY and Bucharest/Cluj/Timisoara, respectively); both areas are somewhat "looking inwards".

Your opinions on Bucharest are spot on; the place is really not as bad as it it is made to be (if you like large towns) and might be in 20 years a sort of Athens of Romania.
It's certainly been improving the past few years - and it's a local saying it, one that is not born there, was a student there, and still doesn't quite like it.

It's clear to me - Bucharest is the ONE PLACE in Romania that is becoming global for the moment - you see it in stuff, prices and economy

http://www.riscograma.ro/4172/capitala-e-motorul-economiei-sau-o-capusa/

(please use Google Chrome if can't quite read that)

B.T.W., you HAVE TO experience (longer-term) Timisoara. It's latin "street culture" combined with a decent amount of central european influence - granted, not as much as in Transilvania :), but to my mind the best of both worlds. My favorite place in .ro.

Best,
G.

P.S. E.B. is right about the subway. I experienced the new signage as well, about a month ago when I was there.

Andy H said...

EB: I'll keep my eye out for these stations. I do believe it, but so far it's still something that I've been told rather than seen.

Anon: What town was that? I'm not sure that there's a Transylvanian city I don't care for, though there are towns which haven't really grabbed me in the same way that some have.

In terms of that article, which was interesting, I have a question regarding point 1:
Peste un sfert din banii produși de România sunt raportați în București sau Ilfov. Mai exact, 30 de miliarde de euro dintr-un total de 120.
(roughly for those who can't read it: about a quarter of the money produced in Romania is produced in Bucharest).

Now I've been told (though I haven't done any real looking into it, so I'm prepared to believe this is not exactly how it is) that many companies have their headquarters in Bucharest and so the money generated shows up in tax terms as being "Bucharest money". To give a concrete example, one of the biggest employers in Miercurea Ciuc is, unsurprisingly, the brewery. But the HQ of the company -Heineken Romania- is in Bucharest (although they have about 6 breweries round the country none of which are in Bucharest). On the figures, Heineken Romania generates X amount of money each year, but that money officially is generated in Bucharest.

Now were this to be absolutely the case then i would expect the statistic quoted in the article to be more like half than a quarter, but I think there are likely some statistical anomalies in the data that this article is based on.

But going back to your other point, I certainly feel that Bucharest is the most outward looking and cosmopolitan of Romania's cities (with possibly Timisoara being the only other major one that really has that sense. I will one day spend more time there, I'm sure. Mrs H loves it, and it was where she went to university, so i am certain I can persuade her to spend a while there in the interests of research)

Pistefek said...

"(Bucharest) might be in 20 years a sort of Athens of Romania"

Well, let's hope not, Athens is grim!

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Anonymous said...

They used to announce the next station when I lived in Bucharest, some 15 years ago. "Atentie, se inchid usile. Urmeaza statia Timpuri Noi, cu peronul pe partea dreapta". I know we Romanians have a lot of ridiculous customs, but this one seemed pretty logical to me. And it was functioning for the whole metro network, I am surprised that someone told you it was a new thing...whereas the mythical names did exist and I see they still do, indeed, something like Kossuth ter, Blaha Luija etc. in Budapest.:)
Well, enjoy, I personally loved Bucharest for the theaters, parks, museums, etc. for the je'ne-sais quoi that Bucharest still has in some parts of the city, reminding of better times and normal development, nothing like the "urbanisation" plans communists had. :(

Cheers
C.

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Anonymous said...

Hi Andy,

I can tell you the whole story about the startup of Mega Image. Michel, the Lebanese guy who founded it was going out with Cristina's sister for a while and was at our wedding in Pitesti. He started out selling contraband ciggies out the back of a pickup in '90 before trading up and eventually opening up the first branch of MI of Stefan cel Mare in about '94. At the time it wass genuinely revolutionary - Bucharest had seen nothing like it.

I'm not sure who owns the chain now, as last time I heard anything about Michel was in about '97 when he was fleeing the country with the feds on his tail.

Anyway, he chose the name because he thought it sounded cool. That sort of thing was still considered cool and Western in those days. As was the big elephant logo (do they still have that?)

Richard A.

E.B. said...

No more elephant logo. Now their symbol is a lion - but it should really be some half-ant-half-elephant logo, since Mega Image bought some time ago - 3 or 4 years - another supermarket chain called La Fourmi. :D :D

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Buna ziua
Numele meu este Iacob Constantin si va scriu pentru a va propune sa facem un schimb de linkuri - 3 way link exchange - in sensul ca eu voi pune linkul dumneavoastra pe http://iasimylove.blogspot.com/ iar dumneavoastra imi adaugati un link catre http://iasi365.com cu titlul Anunturi Iasi (fara diacritice).
Daca doriti sa facem schimbul doresc sa-mi spuneti titlul linkului dumneavoastra.
O zi buna va doresc

liana said...

anyhow, Bucharest is a nice city!

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