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.