Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Rediscovering Bucharest

Bucharest, Romania, which I visited last month, was a nice discovery and quite a different place than the city I visited in 2001. To be bluntly honest, Bucharest's Center looked like an unfinished maze of communist architecture which badly needed to be blown up.  There were lots of buildings left unfinished since the 1989 revolution that overthrew and executed Nicolae Ceausescu and the his Mao like cult on Christmas Day 1989.  Even better, Ceausescu was replaced by what some called second rate communists(or first rate job-creators) who renamed themselves the Social Democratic Party.  While Ion Iliescu might have stabilized the politics after 1989, the governments of Romania have been plagued by corruption and scandals from these former comrades renamed socialists who have controlled Romanian politics for the majority of the past twenty years.  (History and Political Nerd Note:  this is the only former Warsaw Pact member who has had former socialists control government for such a long period of time.)

Protests to salary and pension cuts:  
I like the blurred vision of this picture, as it shows
people protesting the 25% cut to salaries and pensions.
To me, it represents what politicians have done to the country.
While Bulgaria has not seen tremendous growth,
it has not had to decrease monthly salaries or borrow
billions of dollars, as Romania, Greece, and Serbia have had to do.  
Walking around the center of Bucharest truly made me feel terrible.  The hangover from Ceausecu was evident, with the center unfinished in his grand plan to have a paradise like promenade, the only side effect was most of the old town was destroyed in order to have what the people, mostly Nicolae Ceausescu and his wife, wanted. Despite this, the rest of Romania was amazingly beautiful in 2001.  One of my favorite places to visit is Brasov, and there are many other cute towns about Romania.  

Bucharest 2012 was a much better version than 2001.  The only sad part of Bucharest 2012 is that in 2001, Romania was a few steps ahead of Bulgaria it seemed, and salaries were higher.  There seemed to be hope that at least they were not like Bulgaria, and they could move forward.  Now, while there have been some improvements, Romanian public salaries were recently cut 25% because of the economic crisis, while Bulgaria is allegedly going to slowly increase public salaries after no increases in the past 4-5 years.

It looks like Romania is trying to overtake Bulgaria as the EU's poorest member.  This is like Mississippi trying to reclaim the worst public schools in the U.S. title.   Just watch out Romania.  Bulgaria may fight to maintain the title once they realize Romania is trying to overtake them.   Bulgaria could vote the socialists into power in 2013 to overtake Bate Boyko's GERB, to be the next Messiah to save the country from ruin.  (Political Nerd Note:  One thing I am certain of is that Stanishev and the socialists will ruin whatever progress Bulgaria has made in the past four years if they win in 2013. While I am not a big GERB fan except for the mayor of Sofia, there sadly seems to be no other alternative at this moment.  That's right Bulgaria, you're going to get your Romney vs. Obama election next year to vote for the lesser of the two evils.  Or maybe Bulgaria has always had these types of elections.)

Bucharest can be cool and beautiful as their women who look like supermodels.  This woman depicts what Bucharest can be.  Really interesting, really cool, really sexy, but doing this in spite of the imbeciles running the government. 
My optimistic future hypothesis for Bucharest will be something like Sofia:   This means being a pretty cool city that is trying to develop itself, despite the best intentions of the Romanian politicians to be corrupt and inept.  Enjoy the photographic journey of my trip to Bucharest, a city trying to overcome politicians and build itself into something cool.  

The old style communist apartment block I stayed in the center of Bucharest.  This apartment block is right next to the Radisson and Hilton hotels.  Great location, IKEA remodeled apartment, could get a private parking spot, and a quirky elevator that sometimes did not cooperate.  Yes, you can notice how cars will park anywhere on the sidewalks of Bucharest.  You learn quickly that pedestrians are secondary to cars on Bucharest's sidewalks.
Divalicious:  A diva trying to look fabulous on the only sidewalk free of cars.  While he tries valiantly, he simply cannot match the ultra-cool vixen above. I will refrain from commenting on how he is strutting on the catwalk, but you can insert  comment here:  

The view from my 8th floor apartment.
Yeah, I wasn't at the Radisson, but I also paid A LOT LESS for a comfortable bed.

Cross in memory of those who died protesting Nicolae Ceausescu. 
Cross in memory of the 1989 revolution.  
A statue of the stray dog
 issue in Bulgaria and Romania???

Another statue signaling the blood spilled.  
The People's Palace, which is now the location of Parliament.  I still could not go into this monstrosity, as it reminds me of what could have been done instead of building this palace. There was no need for me to see the room Michael Jackson visited once for thirty minutes.  

Bike paths: It took Sofia awhile to get some proper ones made, and I remember the creative ways to make a bike path.  Bucharest has not learned this lesson yet, but they are more creative than their Bulgarian counterparts.  This is the 'bike path'that goes around the People's Palace.  For those less observant, please notice the following two things:
1.  People and bikes must share this path.
2.  The path itself is about wide enough for one bike to get by, or two people walking by.
3.  There is what one might call a minor hazard by having a large tree growing in the middle of the bike path.
4.  There is no such thing as a passing lane. 

The other side of the People's Palace not many tourists see I guess.  It might appear there are cranes building something, hopefully divalicious, but probably not.  As a casual tourist, I did not inquire as to what might be being built.  

The palace walls crumbling.  What would Nicolae say????

Incomplete in 2001, and now complete today.
 Makes for a nice change.

Yup, Bucharest has street dogs too: This is a great picture of a large, fat street dog sunning himself on a warm October afternoon.  Like Sofia, there are plenty of them, and it is an issue that plagues both cities.  

Old town Bucharest and great eats and drinks:  This is one of the many places one might find in Old Town, the only remaining section not destroyed by war or Nicolae.  During communism, I guess it was not acceptable to live here, so it was run down completely and now has been taken over by all these cool places to eat and drink.  This place has gyros and while they were good, it was no where near as great as Duner Iztok with the Syrian guys who make an amazing falafel and garlic sauce.  

Bulgarian Mineral Water:
I found Devin in a mini-market in the center.
I could not resist, and bought three liters.  
I (heart) Devin.

Mountain Dew in Bucharest:  To whoever runs Pepsi in Bulgaria, you are complete idiots for not having Mountain Dew available.  Do you know how cool you would be to skaters, rappers, and kids with your skating, Xgames, and other commercials depicting coolness.  Mountain Dew could easily take over Fanta in the Bulgarian cola wars.
Covrigi: YUMMY!!!!  These are the Romanian version of a pretzel, but it looks more like a bagel sometimes.  They can have poppy seeds, be plain, have yellow cheese(kashkaval), or be filled inside with cherry jam or chocolate.  They are super cheap incredible to eat.  I would go back to Romania just for this.  Mmm, mmm, mmm, sooooooo good.  

Ultimate Freedom for Cars:  While I thought Sofia
 had some terrible driving and parking habits, I now
 believe they are tame compared to Romanians.
Pretty much, Romanians drive and park like maniacs.
And just like in Sofia, there is no such things as
 parking garages.  This car is one of a series of six
 cars parked on or near the bike path.  

A driver from Ruse proving she could join the crowd
by parking on the sidewalk and avoid
paying for parking in the center.  Bravo!
Even more blockage:  This van blocked the entrance to the garage my car was parked in for over 30 minutes.   This driver assumed all cars entering and exiting the garage were less than one meter wide.  I should point out this was Sunday and there were plenty of spaces withing 50 meters of this garage, but I guess this spot was desirable and the driver could not be bothered to walk the extra fifty meters.