Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Carpet tax

We, and by "we" here I mean Hox and Erix SRL our hugely successful company, received a registered letter the other day. Actually we received a piece of paper informing us that we had to go to the post office to pick up a registered letter, but the upshot of it all was that we had in our hands a registered letter. It was from the Romanian tax authorities and was a detailed description of our tax debts for the year, by quarter. We had, of course, already paid our taxes, this letter was just to let us know what extra we had to pay. A total of 3 Lei (three quarters of 1 Lei each, and one quarter where we owed nothing). Three NEW lei, I should stress here, not three old lei. (3 New Lei is about 80 Eurocents, while 3 Old Lei would be about .008 of a cent.) Registered mail is not especially cheap here, although presumably the government gives itself a discount, but even so, I'm guessing there is a net loss to the tax people from this letter - adding up the cost of calculating it, printing it out, stamping it umpteen times, the labour of all the signatures, and then collecting and cashing out the money to the cost of sending a registered letter. And apparently (meaning: our accountant said so) more or less everyone gets one of these letters at this time of the year. The purpose (allegedly) is to keep everyone working in the employee heavy tax office, and to make it clear to the outside world that they are gainfully employed and busy.

Temperature update

It is getting warmer! It was only -19 this morning! I wonder if I can find out what the average temerature for January was in Csikszereda this year. I reckon it was probably somewhere between -15 and -20. Average. Roll on February.

Monday, January 30, 2006


My Hungarian is progressing. Painfully slowly but it is progressing. I attend a Hungarian class twice a week with two Romanians and a German (and for a couple of weeks a Greek bloke), and this is helping a lot. Here are my latest observations about the language: It is not as difficult as people make out. People are very quick to tell you how hard Hungarian is to learn. This is particularly mentioned by Hungarians themselves who are often at great pains to let you know that their language is amazingly difficult. I am not sure if this comes from sympathy for those learning the language and a desire to be understanding of errors, or from a kind of perverse pride in having a complex and impenetrable language (I actually suspect it’s more the latter than the former).

But it’s a myth (or at least an exaggeration). To start with, Hungarian verb tenses and conjugations are relatively simple. There are only three verb tenses, for example - past, present, and future. Contrast with English, for example, and its mysterious and unfathomable present perfect tense, the correct and shifting use of which is seemingly designed to ensure that foreigners remain foreigners and never mistaken for native speakers. Now there is a catch here, in the each verb tense has two sets of conjugations – one when the verb is referring to a defined thing and one when it is referring to something less specific. To give an example from English it would be as if the conjugation of “watch” in “I watched a film last night” were different from its conjugation in “I watched Top Gun last night”. [I’d like to point out that I didn’t, and would never again watch Top Gun – the one and only time I saw it was a waste of enough of my life]. But even with this you are left with a mere 6 separate sets of conjugations. While this results in more verb forms than English, it is many many fewer than most Latin languages. This area is actually the one in which English really shines in the simplicity stakes - in that each verb has very few forms – “watch” can be watch, watches, watched, or watching. And that’s it. I’ve never encountered another language that has this level of simplicity. The most complex verb in English – to be – has a grand total of 8 forms – be, being, been, am, is, are, was, and were, Look at any Latin language and all the conjugations of each verb and your brain starts to melt.

Like most Latin languages and unlike English, Hungarian also has a very clear correlation between spelling and pronunciation. This also makes it easier for the learner. If I hear a word I can spell it (well I’m getting there – I’m still often guilty of mistaking an “a” for an “o”) and if I read a word I can pronounce it (though I sound like a 5 year old sounding words out, especially with some of the long words that exist in Hungarian. Bogi sometimes asks me to read her a bedtime story – not because she likes the way the story sounds in my deeper masculine voice, but because it cracks her up to listen to me struggling through the words).

Where Hungarian is difficult, at least for this learner, is in its cases. Now because I’m a mediocre language learner I can’t just accept cases and immerse myself in them. I have to associate them with something in English. In this instance prepositions. So, rather than prepositions, Hungarian has dense thickets of suffixes. -vol, -völ, -hoz, -hez, -ben, -ban, -rol, -röl, -ra, -re, -bol, -böl, the list is (not quite, but seemingly) endless. I hope that one day my mind will clear and suddenly I will be able to automatically suffixise words like I’ve been doing it all my life. But for now, they just leave me tongue tied and gasping for air. Which word or words should take the suffix, which order should the suffixes come in (you can add more than one onto each word), which suffix it should be, and what the vowel in the suffix should be to obey the rules of vowel harmony. All of these questions have to go through my mind every time I say a sentence. And my mind’s not that quick.

So, I have invented my own hybrid language, which I call Hunganian. This is basically Hungarian but without the suffixes and with Romanian prepositions instead. You see, Romanian, while I’m not actually studying it, is similar enough to languages I have studied in the past for me to be able to pick it up relatively easily. I can’t really produce Romanian, but my listening and reading skills are fairly OK. And here in Csikszereda, if you can’t produce the correct Hungarian, you know what everybody’s second language is and you can try that instead. So, for example I might be in a pizza place and say something like “Kerek egy pizzát cu paradicsom, gomba, es paprika, de fara sajt” This is a Hungarian sentence with two Romanian prepositions in it (and one internationally understood Italian word). It translates as “I’d like a pizza with tomato, mushroom and pepper, but without cheese”, where the italicized words are Romanian. Or I’ll be in the chemist and ask for “D-vitamin pentru baba” which means (as you may be able to guess) “Vitamin D for a baby”, with the pentru (for) being Romanian.

Now, as it goes, this works fine. I can get things done and live a relatively normal life. Sadly however, Hunganian is a language that is only very locally useful. Outside Harghita and Covasna counties in the Eastern Carpathians, I suspect it will prove to be a language of no great value. Unless I set myself up as some kind of bringer of Transylvanian harmony and promote the language as a new kind of Esperanto, uniting people in a gloriously peaceful tomorrow.

[Just to riff a little further on the pizza sentence, I'm still not sure of the correct Hungarian version of my original Hunganian. My instinct tells me that it ought to be a "paradicsomos, gombás, paprikás pizza" which would translate something like a tomatoey, mushroomy, peppery pizza, but that sounds too clunky. There must be a suffix I could add to the pizza rather than to all the toppings. And yes, paradicsom is the word for tomato, and yes it does also mean paradise. The first Magyar to sink his teeth into one after they were brought back from the new world must have been more effusively positive than most Magyars seem to be.]

Saturday, January 28, 2006

Random musings

I'm told that the "cold snap" is reaching its end. This morning for example at 8am it was a mere -30. That's a full two degrees warmer than the day before. One morning at around 6 (I think Wednesday) it got down to -36 which, as far as I know, is as low as it has got (so far). My inner masochistic lover of symmetry kind of wanted it to get down to -40 as I know that's the temperature at which the centigrade and fahrenheit scales coincide, and I could have told everyone I know that it was -40 without having to explain. Rather like the way that I always tried to pay my bills in the US on the 7th of July or the 10th of October or whatever, so I knew I was signing cheques (or "checks", I suppose)without having to think about which way round to list the date.

So cold was it that on the news there were pictures of the Black Sea at Constanta with the ice sheet extending 1km from the shore. Yes, that's the sea which froze over. It was 50cm thick too.

The US marine who killed a Romanian rock star (I mentioned at the bottom of this post) is being court martialed back home, and might get a slap on the wrist, or possibly even a clip round the ear, or if he's really really unlucky a good ticking off. This article (from the US military paper Stars and Stripes) says that he's charged with not only negligent homicide but also adultery. Who knew adultery was a crime? The best bit? The maximum penalty for negligent homicide is three years in jail, and the maximum penalty for adultery is one year. Wonder if they'll throw in a bit of torture too? Or does the US Military reserve that for foreigners held without trial?

I kind of want to write a long piece about how Hamas's election victory is a direct result of the brutal and vicious occupation and that it's exactly the kind of epitaph Sharon would have wanted, but I know whenever one writes about Israel/Palestine all these extremist psychos come out of the internet woodwork and accuse you of terrible things (the extremist psycho pro-occupation wing will tell you that you're condoning terrorism or an anti-semite or no better than Hitler for even daring to suggest that the occupation should be ended, while the extremist anti-semite wing of the internet will come out and condemn you to death for even daring to suggest that Israeli civilians ought to be able to go about their daily lives in safety). It's quite interesting in a blackly comic way to see the US govt tie itself in knots trying to big up democracy while simultaneously condemning the victors in what seems to have been an extremely well conducted election. "We respect the will of the people, but urge Mahmoud Abbas to keep Hamas in opposition" is one I heard yesterday. The endgame of this is that now Sharon has begat Hamas, Hamas may beget Netanyahu. And then we're all finished. In the meantime I will link you to this commentary by Gerald Kaufman in today's Guardian, who says it better than I ever could. (For non-British readers unfamiliar with Kaufman, he's a Labour MP whose been an MP for as long as I can remember - ie he predates Blair by many years - and is Britians most prominent Jewish MP. That last fact shouldn't matter or legitimise his views at all, but sadly in a world where criticism of Israel is painted as anti-semitism it does).

Wednesday, January 25, 2006


-32. That's it. That's all I have to say. -32. Minus bastarding thirty two. Who turned off the Thermahaline?

The window in Bogi's room:

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Gratuitous Plug

Regular readers need look no further. (I know I say that quite often in my endearing/irritating* self-deprecating way, but this time I really mean it. *Delete as appropriate)

This post is an merely attempt to use this blog's relatively high google profile, to mention that if anyone wants to come to Romania to learn to teach English, or take a one-month intensive training course in English language teaching, something like the CELTA, but actually the SIT TESOL Certificate, and to do that course in Transylvania with a highly qualified trainer, then I might suggest the following website.

This has been a public service announcement with entirely self-serving goals. I thank you for your time.

Sunday, January 22, 2006

Fatherhood - One Month In

So, as promised (or threatened depending on your point of view), something about my first four weeks as a father, with passing references to Paula, the most incredible, intelligent, beautiful baby on the planet. Honest.

My reluctance to write this post is down to my own previous reactions. Viz, that babies were not a terribly interesting subject. True, they seemed to be interesting to most women, and to men who were new fathers, but aside from that (rather large) slice of the population, they just were a kind of uninteresting subject (like other people’s holiday photos – you look, and go “ooh”, out of politeness, but you kind of hope the conversation will move on). Confronted with the dread question “Would you like to hold him?” I was always paralysed and unable to answer. What could I say? “No, not really, I don’t really know how and I’m terrified I’ll drop him, and on the off chance that I do manage to hold him the right way isn’t he liable to vomit half digested milk all over me”? I always assumed that this answer, while honest, may be somehow offensive to parents, so I either faked some kind of bizarre elbow injury or attempted to change the subject.

However, I had seen a number of previously quite normal male friends somehow turn oddly baby-obsessed after the birth of their first born, so I guessed there must be more to the experience than suddenly sharing your house with a being that spends its whole existence sleeping, eating, crying, and shitting. And I was right. It’s quite remarkable in fact.

I’m not sure, even now, if the old me would have understood my fascination. How could I explain how incredibly interesting it is to see all of the various facial expressions? To be captivated by a yawn? To think that a long stretching movement is in any way intriguing? I couldn’t possibly explain it to him (the old me).

This, then, is why I’m reluctant to write about Paula on here. Non-parents will read this and …well, let’s face it they won’t even have got this far, they’ll have clicked on some other link already. Parents will learn nothing new from my observations, and will probably find them trite and at best faintly nostalgic. But, then if I don’t write anything about Paula and father-me, then I won’t really write anything (witness weeks of posts about the weather), so screw it, here goes.

Paula, as you may already have got, is great. She’s got some killer moves already, and can and does blow me away with her cuteness. She spends a lot of her time stretching. This, I surmise, is because when she was born she was 55cm long which is actually more than a third of Erika’s height. So it must have been pretty cramped in there and she really needs to spend some time unfurling herself. I like the way she can now spend time awake without crying. The whole sitting in a chair and looking around wide eyed at the world is dead cool. The last couple of days she’s taken to really looking at things – before there was a lot of vague staring into the middle distance, but now some kind of focussing mechanism has kicked in. Yesterday she gave her first faint awake smile.

I could go on and on and on about how she has this little internal diary which has entries like “8pm – Midnight: be grumpy and moan a lot” and “9am – Midday: investigate world around me”. Or about how she makes these little squeaks and quacks. Or about which position she likes to be held in. Or about how she recently discovered by accident that she can put her fingers in her mouth. Or about a million other things, that I suspect are just not that remarkable if you’re not me. And you’re not.

So, enough about her, I can hear you asking, and what about me? How has fatherhood changed me?

Well, I’ll tell you. Just as an example, my tolerance for crying has changed beyond all recognition. While once 5 minutes (max) in the same room (or even next door) to a crying baby sent me almost insane, now crying has taken on a whole new meaning. It’s no longer something to be escaped, but something to be translated. What exactly is being communicated here? Is this an “I’m hungry” cry, or a “I’m bored and awake and what are you going to do about it, hey?” cry? Recently, she’s even invented a new cry which sounds a bit like a goat. Kind of a mair-hair-hair semi-bleat. It doesn’t seem to mean much beyond, “I’ve just discovered I can make this noise and I’m going to try it out”, but for all I know it could mean “I have come bearing some important information from beyond the womb, and I really need you to understand it before I forget it in a couple more weeks.”

Things I do much more than I used to:

Sing. Quite often singing is an effective way of calming a baby (I have learned), and so I have done more singing in the last few weeks than in the last couple of years combined. However, there is a slight problem, which is that I don’t really know any songs. The only song that I know all the way through is Billy Bragg’s “New England”, which while it does contain the classic couple of couplets "I saw two shooting stars last night / I wished on them, but they were only satellites / It’s wrong to wish on space hardware / I wish, I wish, I wish you’d care”, is hardly lullaby material. The rest of the time I find myself singing snatches of songs dredged from some far corner of my memory, most of which are even more inappropriate than that one (The other day I started tunelessly intoning “In a river the colour of lead” before mentally going on ahead and realising that this definitely wasn’t to be sung as a baby soothing ditty. For those unfamiliar with fairly obscure early Smiths songs (what do you mean?), the first verse of that song runs: “In a river the colour of lead / Immerse the baby’s head / Wrap her up in the “News of the World” / Dump her on a doorstep, girl”)

Listen to music. And not just the rubbishy cover versions of early 80s indie classics performed by me. For whatever reason we didn’t listen to that much music before she came, but now, with the TV off much more and a desire for soothing tunes to reverberate around the room, the music selection is being delved into much more, which is nice. I have rediscovered a number of old favourites.

Do laundry. It’s bloody neverending.

Spend time on baby-related websites. Looking up every possible condition that she seems to have. Spots on the face? Baby Acne, apparently, or maybe Milia. Either way nothing much to worry about. (Who knew that babies get acne?) Crying at night? Eating enough? All these questions and more can be answered by judicious googling and a bit of patience. What did people do before the Internet? Actually have conversations with people? Weirdos.

Things I do less than I used to:

Watch TV. It’s rubbish for a start, and it’s loud and distracting and keeps her awake. There is one exception to this rule, and that is sport. I can watch it with the sound muted and it’s on late at night which is perfect for those late night rocking sessions when I’m trying to persuade her to crash out. Plenty of football on TV in Romania - and now that the African Cup of Nations has started it’s even more. (Plus if she wakes up in the middle of the night there is the Australian Open tennis to watch if need be.)

Sleep uninterruptedly
. Though I still seem to get enough sleep. It’s just done in different sized chunks and involves switching beds occasionally (Bogi also wakes up and demands an adult to go back to sleep with her. She’d rather have Erika, but since Erika’s breasts need to be available to Paula at short notice, she tends to get me as a substitute adult). Having worked with new fathers before, I had wondered whether I was going to end up as sunken eyed and vacant as they often seemed to, but so far so good.

Blog. Frankly, writing about Romanian politics (even in these days of Nastase’s supicious aunt Tamara), the Romanian Hockey League, Hungarian/Romanian intercultural communication, and days out in Harghita county, even if I had any, is much less interesting than sitting and playing with Paula. And if she’s asleep then Bogi wants attention.

Go out. As alluded to above. Though this is mostly because it’s been so bastard cold of late. Paula’s experience of outside is so far limited to a couple of half hour stints on the balcony when the sun’s been on it.

But, anyway, to wrap up this overlong and not especially noteworthy piece, I am dead happy. Life begins at 40, they say (whoever “they” are), but I reckon they were a couple of months off. Plus of course, what preceded Paula was no less life, nor any less worth doing. So, it’s more like Different Life Begins At 39 Years, 9 Months, and 20 Days. Which is really not quite as pithy, though it is more accurate. Umm, yes. So, there you go then. I'll try and hold off from more such rambles until she reaches two months old.

Oh, and one last thing. A couple of days ago, a 7 month old baby (and his mum) came to visit. He looked ridiculously huge and disproportionate. I don't want Paula to be that big. It's all wrong.

Out in the Cold

The news (both Hungarian and Romanian news-es) have been banging on for the last two days about this vicious cold snap which is liable to arrive today or tomorrow. Advice has been given to people about how to avoid getting frostbite, how to avoid accidents on the road, and on how to start their cars. The predicted temperatures? As low as -15 in parts of Hungary, and as low as -20 in parts of Romania. Well, boo-fucking-hoo. We've just emerged from an entire week of being down at that level, and have we been featured on the news? Have the residents of Harghita county been given tips on national TV as to how to deal with the conditions? Have we bollocks. Romania is dead against any form of autonomy for Székelyföld, yet as far as any form of national media is concerned, it seems we're not actually part of the country anyway. Treat people as outsiders and they'll behave as outsiders.

Mind you, the low temps in Romania are apparently likely to hit Iasi and other parts of Moldavia, which I'm told, are often accompanied by some vicious wind called the Criviţ, which will of course make it a lot mlot worse than the conditions we have to face. (By the way, I've no idea how to actually spell the name of that wind, I've just transcribed it as I would imagine it to be rendered in Romanian. Apologies if its wrong.)

Long baby related post is still under construction, and will hopefully make it up here later today, to mark Paula's one-month birthday

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Degrees of relativity

It's remarkable how the body starts getting used to things. Today is slightly warmer - at present it is actually in single digits of negative numbers (though only just)- and walking around outside actually feels quite pleasantly warm. Well, not warm as such, but not as painfully cold as it has been since Thursday. The last two days I'd been out and got a screaming headache which I think comes from the contents of my sinuses (whatever's in my sinuses) freezing solid. Whatever the reason, it bloody hurt. [By the way, is sinuses actually the plural of sinus? Or is it Sini?]

So warm is it right now that it's actually snowing. I have no idea if that old "too cold to snow" thing has any basis in science, but it certainly hasn't been snowing for a while. (Maybe snow is associated with slightly warmer temperatures because it's necessarily accompanied by cloud cover, which of course has a slight blanketing effect).

Apologies if this Blog seems to have slipped over into a daily discussion of weather conditions in Csikszereda. Right now the only two things that my partially frozen brain can focus on are the temperature and Paula. And I'm trying to resist making this blog turn into a daily discussion of ever so slight gradations in infant behaviour. Though I suspect by the time the week's out, I will succumb to temptation and deliver a riveting essay on all that is new and fascinating in the world of fatherhood. You've been warned.

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Witness the Fitness

I have recently started going to a gym. This came about because (a) the winter is long and cold here, and the alternative is to basically sit around and hope that you remain vaguely fit through the six months of iceboundness; and (b) I had become increasingly aware of my expanding girth. So, anyway, to get back to the subject and without teling you exactly how heavy I was (although I can reveal that I have shed 4 kilos in a month since I started going - and that month included Christmas, New Year, and a significant amount of celebratory baby's head wetting type ceremonies), I have noticed a certain phenomenon which I am calling the Mating Dance of the Musclebound (or, for American readers, the Gym-y Johnson).

What happens is that there are a number of grunting men around, many of whom I see more or less every time I go (and I tend to go 4 times a week), and they busy themselves lifting increasingly large weights and letting everyone in the gym know through their manly and loud "oofs". There are also a few women who go. Now as I sit there and cycle or use that weird machine which kind of mixes walking and strange looping arm movements, like a drunken cross country skier, I am perfectly situated to watch the dance. Firstly one of the men will come over and solicitously enquire after the woman's fitness needs. They will offer advice on how to use a particular machine, how much weight to put on, etc (and occasionally demonstrate it themselves, only with an insane amount of weight on it just to show how big and strong they are). He will then stand around chatting to her while she uses the machine, or will possibly use some nearby weights so that she can still see him and he can still see her. (In all the days that I have been there the only person who has come over and offered me advice on how to use the machines is the bloke whose job it is to do so.) The other day, I even witnessed a man punching another machine in some peacock like spreading of the tail feahers. He hit it really hard too, and even though he hit one of the padded bits of it, I imagine it must have stung for a while. It must really be a pain for the female workouters, since they have to go through this every time. There's one particularly waifish young blond woman who has to fight her way to machines through a crowd of blokes.

The culmination of this dance is when the man suggests that the woman in question try out the inner thigh machine, which involves lots of slow inviting leg spreading. if the woman accepts, I presume the suitor knows he is in, and stands there leering and chatting while she coyly and demurely opens and closes her legs to his gaze. It's all very fascinating. It really ought to be one of the documentaries on Animal Planet, except that they take up their time making ridiculous shows like "The ten most brutal psychopaths in nature"

More weather

Regular observers will have noticed that it hasn't got above -10 since I last posted about the temperature. And indeed again today it's -22. I should point out that while the temperature on that thing there is pretty accurate the description of the conditions is way off. If it's clear and you can see for miles, it says: "Mist". If the visibility is reduced a little, and you can't pick out individual trees on the mountians overlooking the town, it says: "Fog" and if, like today, there is actually some fog it says "Heavy Fog". I suspect that whoever reports the weather to the site actually has cataracts. (The picture above of the cemetery would garner at least a "Fog" rating for example)

Thursday, January 12, 2006


Not much to report from here, except to point out that it was cold today (Those logging in this morning will have noticed the little graphic to the right read -23, and at the warmest point this afternoon it reached the giddy heights of -11. Tomorrow is predicted to be even colder I believe) and link to some pictures.

Here are the latest ones of Paula, here are the ones of Csiksomlyo in the snow last weekend, and here is the photo album from which they can all be located.

Monday, January 09, 2006

The last days of diszno

The weeks leading up to Christmas here are a time for festivity, fun, frivolity, and porcine genocide. Over the weeks of advent, I was invited to a number of these public executions at which family and friends gather to drink palinka, eat, chat, and kill and butcher a pig. It's just what you do at this time of year.

Now it's not the kind of thing that really appeals to me (well the social aspect does, but not really the death bit). I've seen and heard pigs killed before (it's a regular occurence in Micronesia) and they die a horrible screaming death. But, I'm all for community minded cultural traditions, and this seems to be one of them. I elected not to go to the ones I was invited to, mostly because I wanted to be available in case Paula started coming, and not to be standing around in some village three sheets to the wind on plum spirit when the phone rang.

But, 2006 promises to be the last year in which this tradition goes on. That is because EU regulations mean that pigs have to be slaughtered in an official slaughterhouse in the official EU-sanctioned way. So Christmases are unlikely to be the same again following accession. And I have no idea how I feel about it. How do I balance the fact that from next year onwards (assuming EU membership is confirmed) pigs will die in a more humane way (I think it involves an instant bolt through the brain or something), against the disappearance of what seems like an important social event in the lives of rural Romanians? Maybe I can institute a new tradition whereby people get together to ferment soy and make Christmas tofu.

(Diszno is pig in Hungarian, by the way).

Hope you like the new little thing that tells you what the weather is like here in Csikszereda at the moment. Frankly I could just put a permanent thing in the side bar that says "It is fucking freezing", but this way you get to see whether the temperature is -10, -20 or -30 degrees.

Sunday, January 08, 2006

Number 5!

You'll be excited to know that this blog is the fifth most influential expat blog in Central Europe. I'm not 100% convinced that Romania is actually in Central Europe, but there you go.

Don't believe me? Look here.

Still a fair way behind Doug and Claudia in Bucharest, mind you.

Saturday, January 07, 2006


It was gorgeous today. Crisp, cold, sunny and as clear as a bell. Here's a picture of the Harghita Mountain in the background with one of the chapels on Somlyo hill in the foregorund. I'll put some more up on flickr when I get around to it.

Best things in Csikszereda

Well, it's the end of the year (or at least it was when I wrote most of this), and it seems only proper that I do what every other publication does at this time of year to fill up space. And that is to provide a "Best Of" list. Now, more or less everyone reading this will probably never visit Miercurea Ciuc (although those blanket invites are still valid), but on the off chance that someone happens across this page while googling "Things to do in Miercurea Ciuc" or "Lonely Planet: Csikszereda" or something like that, here are the best things you or anyone else could do while you're here.

Best restaurant (in town): Either of The Korona – a new place attached to an equally new hotel. Good décor, nice food, and dead cheap, or Park Hotel - Pretty rubbish décor, a bit like eating in a toilet, but the best food in town.

Best restaurant (within a reasonable drive): Lobogo Panzio Good food, and a nice place in the hills. The owner is an obviously entrepreneurial entrepreneur since he has built this very nice panzio, stuck cabins in the back, created a horse-riding centre and built a ski run. The website’s a bit rubbish though.

Best pizza: Renegade Pub and Pizza. Aside from the San Gennaro where they do real Italian pizzas (which are also very good) this is the only place in town that doesn’t give you ketchup with your pizza. And that, round these parts, is enough for a recommendation

Best bar: Probably Morpheus, but it’s a bit smoky (a common problem, frankly)

Best bar for watching sport: Gosser, where they have a big screen and a projector. I intend becoming a regular when the World Cup starts.

Best place to hang out (and also buy fruit and vegetables - and meat, if that’s the kind of thing that floats your boat): The Market. Not only do they have cheap and abundant produce, but it’s the best place in town for being multicultural. Stallholders come from all over the country to sell their wares to the hungry Hungarians of Csikszereda, and so it’s the only place in town where you can never be sure of which language to use. Also, not only is it a forum for Romanian/Hungarian interaction but there are also Roma salespeople there (particularly in wild foods seasons – mushrooms, berries, etc.). The other day, I was buying olive oil and the woman at the stall asked me if my wife had had the baby yet. I’d only been there once before. That’s service for you. (Plus their olive oil – extra virgin cold pressed, from Turkey – is way cheaper that anything in any supermarket and even in the big hypermarkets, Metro and Carrefour, that you have to drive to Brasov to visit)

Best small shop within a short distance from our house: Napsugar, without a doubt. Huge range of products stuffed inside a tiny phone-box like space. Moving around in there on days when there are more than about 5 customers is basically impossible. Also they sell good wine much cheaper than the bigger shops like Madezit and Profi.

Best place for a coffee: San Gennaro. I'd like to recommend it as a restaurant too, as it is a real Italian place and the food is authentic, but the portions are small and the prices are high (in Csikszereda terms - for anyone else it's dead cheap). The pizzas are good though - being real Italian ones.

Best Hotel: No idea really. The Fenyö is the most prominent, and it seems pretty good. If you want a three star business standard hotel, it's obviously your best bet. If you want something cheaper, then there bare numerous pensions and smaller hotels, which are also probably good. Since I've never had to stay in one, I am not really ideally placed to comment in this category.

Best annual event: The pilgrimage to Csiksomlyo. I know it's based around a weeping madonna (no, not that one crying after seeing how she looks on that Hung up video), and I was kind of rude about it when I described it, way back when, but it is quite remarkable.

Romania-wide categories

Best beer: Csiki Sör obviously (that's Bere Ciuc to any Romanian readers). I'm quite getting into Silva dark too.

Best wine: Romanian wine is the next big thing in European wine drinking circles, of that I am quite sure. It's often delicious and dead cheap. The well known brands are Murfatlar and Beciul Domnesc (both very good as long as you make sure you read the labels and avoid anything dulce and demidulce). I'm going to big up these bottles that we get that are labelled (in English) "Prahova Valley". Good wine and at $2 a bottle you can't go wrong.

Best bread: The bread here is fantastic, and in other places I've not seen such good bread. The Black Sea coast is rubbish for bread. Cluj must be good, because one of the very interesting loaves you get here is called something like Kolszvari Kenyer (Paine de Cluj), and has potatoes in it.

Best city to visit as a tourist: Sighisoara, no contest. I haven't been to every city in Romania, but I've been to the ones that people talk about as being interesting, so I'd be surprised if Craiova, for example, turned out to be a gorgeous place. Central Brasov is probably in second place, followed by Sibiu (though my view of Sibiu was tainted by the fact that it was being dug up when I was there). All those cities are Saxon ones. I have no idea why it should be that they're the nicest three. Did the West German government pay Ceausescu not to bulldoze them?

As an aside to the above: Best restaurant in Romania – the Hanul Dracula not far outside Sighisoara – though it is 4kms off the road down a rutted track.

Places I have not yet visited but really want to: The Painted Monasteries of Bucovina, and the Danube Delta.

Thursday, January 05, 2006

Our micro-climate

More evidence that Csikszereda is in its very own micro-climate. A couple of days ago we had a very heavy snowfall (I think most of Romanian just got sustained pissing rain), leaving us a 30 cm addition to the already fairly deep levels around town. Then yesterday it suddenly got warm. When I say warm I mean above zero, but in the grand scheme of things that's warm. Today it was up to 5 degrees (Plus 5), which meant, among other things, that walking around involved a particularly dangeorus game of Romanian Roulette. This is the dangerous activity of walking along the pavement while large wet slabs of snow fall from the rooves of apartment buildings and come crashing down on to the pathologically unlucky.

Then I drove to Udvarhely to pick up the birth certificate and had a very strange experience. About half way - somehere around Vlahiţa - the landscape changes from completely white to completely non-white. Udvarhely had absolutely no snow in it. And it's only 50 kms away from here. It's baffling. Just to rub salt into the wound, on the way back, just as I got to the top of the pass, it started snowing and back here in the depression it was starting to fill up again.

(Vlahiţa, by the way, is an interesting place. Despite, along with most places round here, being more or less entirely Hungarian , it's generally known by it's Romanian name. I'm not sure why, but I think it has something to with the Hungarian name being repressed as being too religious. It's called Szentegyhaza in Magyarul, which means Holy One House, or House of the One Holy One, or something, and may, I strongly suspect, be a direct reference to the Catholic church. No idea why this particular name-repression took root and people stopped bothering with the Hungarian, but I have friends from there and they all call it Vlahiţa. Maybe it's just easier.)


Colic sounds like an illness. We even use it as if it is "My baby has colic", and so on. But when you start reading about it (because your baby has it), you discover that it is no such thing and it is just a symptom. And then you get lots of half-arsed medical advice to get over it "Try cutting out citrus fruit from the mother's diet", ""wind down before the evening starts, rather than do stimulating things". Because no-one knows what causes it. It's basically a procedure by which your baby becomes nocturnal, and stays up between midnight and 6am crying, and then sleeps happily all day. It's a right bastard of a symptom, and I wish the medical profession would get their act together to solve it because it's driving me insane.

On the plus side, Paula has already learned how to throw all the hand shapes required of a major hip-hop recording artiste - and she's only 2 weeks old. Put together some rhymes and she's away.

Tuesday, January 03, 2006

Székelyföld Chronicle

Today, January 3rd, 2006, is a historic day in Csikszereda. It is the day when the Hungarian Consulate opens here. I'm not 100% sure what the function of the consulate will be, but I'm told that the main thing they'll do is to issue work visas for locals wishing to go and hang out in that square where all the buses stop in Budapest and look for work as manual labourers. (Actually, thinking about it, it probably isn't for those people as they maybe work off the record).

However, assuming that Romania joins the EU as scheduled next January 1st (a very big if, admittedly), these work visas will presumably become obsolete then, so not sure what the consulate will do then, other than presumably provide trade and investment links. This opening comes a few weeks after I finished reading Ivo Andric's Bosnian Chronicle about the ructions caused by the arrival of foreign consulates in a small Balkan town (in this case, Travnik, Bosnia, at the time of the Napoleonic Wars). So, I can't get past my image of the new Hungarian consul being shaped by that (excellent) novel.

Fiercely Addictive Internet Quiz Thing

Don't ever click here. If you disobey, and are stuck, don't ask me. I've wasted valuable hours of my life getting into the mid-forties (of 100).

La Mulţi Ani

I realise that I didn't give a Romanian new year's greeting along with my buek from a couple of days ago. So here it is. It occurred to me today that I have no idea what "La Mulţi Ani" actually means. I know when to use it (for new year's and birthday wishes), but not what the literal translation is. It's that word "Mulţi" that I don't know, but I assume it has the same root as mulţumesc. So what is it? Wishing you a year full of things to be grateful for? Something like that? (I could look it up, obviously, but that would be less interesting than sharing this knowledge with literally some others)

Sunday, January 01, 2006


At some point today, this blog will receive its 10,000th vistor. (Or at least the 10,000th since I installed a site meter in May) Will it be you?

Hope you're enjoying 2006 so far.

Later update: Visitor number 10,000 came at 6.44pm Romanian Time, and was logged in from the rdsnet.ro server in Bucharest. That's all I can tell you, but if you can prove it was you, come to Miercurea Ciuc and I'll buy you a Kurtos Kalacs.

A kurtos kalacs, yesterday.