Tag Archives: Bucharest

Brief Romanian encounter

Apologies for radio silence – the last few days I have had the joy of a brief return to lovely Romania, where I was speaking at a conference in Bucharest. This is the first time I’ve been back since my PhD fieldwork 5 years ago, so I was really happy to be there (even though Bucharest is far from my favourite place in Romania). I was pleased that my language seemed to hold up and I could understand and be understood, and I think it is the first time that I have ever been to Bucharest where I haven’t felt on edge or like I need to be looking over my shoulder (it’s not helped by the fact that I usually stayed somewhere else in the country, and whenever I mentioned I’d be going there absolutely everyone would go “ooh, you really don’t want to go there” and be full of tales of ne’er-do-wells, muggers and thieves). This time I was relaxed, and wandered round more than I ever had before.

The conference went well I thought, and it was great to revisit my PhD material, particularly now that I’m not working on anything related to central/eastern Europe in my new job. I was a bit nervous about speaking, I had run through my paper in the hotel the night before and it went way over the allotted time, so I had to chop out quite a bit of it and I was worried it wouldn’t make sense, but people seemed to like it and asked interesting questions. I also chaired and acted as discussant for another panel the following day, I’d never been a discussant before (it involves summing up and generally making intelligent comments about the presented papers, and asking questions, pointing out areas for development etc) so was a bit nervous about that, but it seemed to go OK too.

The day before the conference I had a free day so as well as picking up some Romanian books from the university bookshop that I’d really struggle to get hold of over here, I did what I’ve been meaning to do but never had the time before, and went on the tour of the Palace of Parliament (known more colloquially as the House of the People – Casa Poporului) which is the massive building that Ceausescu had built in the 1980s, razing thousands of homes and churches in the process, and which is probably the most famous building in Romania, most likely to appear on pictures from Bucharest. I’m really glad I did it, though it was also pretty sobering, remembering all those who had suffered for its construction, and the megalomania that was behind it. The tour took the best part of 2 hours, at the end our guide told us we’d only seen about 5% of the building and had probably walked about 3km.

Here are various photos, firstly the Arcul de Triumf and Herastrau Park, near where I was staying:




Then various photos from inside and outside Casa Poporului (including me on the balcony – apparently Ceausescu intended it to be the place where he and visiting dignitories could wave to the people; this ambition was thwarted by the revolution and the only person who has actually waved to the people from it was Michael Jackson). The first chandelier is apparently the largest chandelier in Europe, and requires 4 people to change a lightbulb – I must admit I couldn’t help but think of *that* Only Fools and Horses scene:








Finally the logo of the Academy where we had the conference. We were given a tour of the building and talk about its history, where it has to be said women were noticeably lacking. In fact amongst all the portraits and photos of distinguished members, this was the only woman we found!


Hooray for wifi!

For the first time since being in Romania I have found a wifi connection that actually works. Too bad I’m in the airport waiting to leave! Oh well.

I’ve been up since 4 this morning – had a very early flight to Bucharest (too far from Cluj to risk the bus or train) and then a 10+ hour wait before the flight to Chisinau this evening. I went into town to wander round for a bit, but it was so so so so hot I just came back to the airport to benefit from the aircon(and wifi). How sad is that?!

I’m a bit nervous about going to Moldova. I’ll be fine when I get there (not least because I’m being met by my best friend there), but right now, right this minute, I just want to go home and have a normal life for a bit. Not that 3 months of frantic wedding planning will be normal, but you know what I mean!

Once I get there though I’m going to be all excited and enthusiastic all over again. I hope.


Thank you Ian, I am definitely not undead. At least, I wasn’t last time I looked.

Dracula’s birthplace (aka Sighisoara) was fantastic, it hadn’t been McDonaldised (being a UNESCO World Heritage Site probably helped in that regard) though it had been somewhat taken over by cheap souvenir sellers all over the place. I got some good photos, but forgot to bring my memory stick to the internet cafe tonight, so I’ll have to put them on the blog tomorrow.

After getting back on Sunday HD was going to cook, but most of the veg was either uninspiring, mouldy or both, so we ate out instead at my favourite restaurant here. Oh well, such is life – it’s tough but someone has to do it.

Then Monday we got the bus to Bucharest, where it was very very very hot. Bleurgh. I did say to him I’m really looking forward to Greenbelt, I’m not expecting temperatures in the high 30s there so it means we will be able to have a cuddle without sticking to each other (I know, it’s a lovely image – probably best not to dwell on it). When there we went to a wonderful Lebanese restaurant not far from the hotel – I really don’t like Bucharest much, but one thing it really has got much more sussed than anywhere else in Romania is eating out. Apart from this Lebanese meal, we’ve basically had either pizza or pasta (but mostly pizza) every time we’ve eaten out anywhere else, and I’d say that was pretty typical for just about every town and city I know here.

Yesterday we had a quick walk round Herastrau Park (probably my favourite place in Bucharest – much calmer and greener than the rest of it), including an amusing incident near the Arc de Triomf (yes Bucharest has one too – it’s smaller than Paris’s but bigger than Chisinau’s) where some passing Roma tried to ask HD about his camera. We’d had a bit of attention from Roma in Sighisoara too, and I think it was mainly because of his hat (which is somewhat like the hats that Roma men wear, and nothing like the hats Romanian men wear), plus as he pointed out pretty much the only men with any facial hair here are Roma, most men are clean-shaven, so I’m pretty sure they thought he was Roma. The Roma in Sighisoara looked at us as we passed and made a comment about “gadji” which I’m pretty sure is the Roma word for “non-gypsy” – I think they were commenting on me (far too blonde to be Roma) holding hands with this hairy hatted guy (I mean he’s hairy and had a hat, not that he had a hairy hat).

Anyway, after that, we got on a (very very very very very hot) bus and went to the airport, where I only cried a little bit (unlike when I left in May when I howled), and then he flew off to Wales (which according to the TV was 20 degrees cooler than Bucharest yesterday) and I caught the bus (with less than 10 minutes to spare!) back to Sibiu. It feels very strange not having him here – I did often go out to do interviews or observations or whatnot and leave him in the flat (he had work with him too, he wasn’t just twiddling his thumbs), and it was great that he was here to come back to. Fortunately I’ve had a very very busy day today, including a good interview with an even Bigger Cheese than the last Big Cheese, so at least I’ve had things to distract me. And it’s still boiling here. Tomorrow, according to the paper, temperatures in Transylvania will be hitting 39. Oh joy (but at least the washing will dry).

Photos to follow (of Sighisoara, not of washing!).

I can’t believe I only have a week left in Sibiu! It’s gone so quickly. After that I have 3 nights back in Cluj, and then I’m off to Moldova for 2 months (with a Greenbelt break in the middle). The adventure continues. Eek.

Red and yellow and pink and green …

Well, you did ask …

Bucharest - Bulevardul Unirii, beautiful pink fountainBucharest - Bulevardul Unirii - more pinkness
Bucharest - Palatul Poporului - blue fountainBucharest - Bulevardul Unirii - more pink fountains

In other news, HD and I are just back from a day in Targu Jiu, where we saw the outdoor sculptures by Constantin Brancusi (along with the very non-Romanian Anthony Gormley my favourite sculpture). They were fabulous, but I’ve not got the photos onto the memory stick yet so will pick out the best ones for next time. But, just like I felt when I stood under Angel of the North, when I was standing under Brancusi’s “Endless Column” I felt like I was in the presence of greatness. Wonderful stuff.

In other other news, all of a sudden (with only a couple of weeks to go before I pack up and leave Sibiu and head on to Moldova for the next bit of the adventure) interviewees are coming out of the woodwork! Argh! I’m trying to have a smoochy relaxing time with HD and I have to keep working!

Still here!

So, HD is here, and life is very good 😀 Lots of wine, talking (possibly those are related), and general wonderfulness. The culture I have to say has been a bit disappointing since he got to Sibiu – after last month’s lots-of-cool-things, at the weekend there was a fashion show in Piata Mare, we stayed for a few minutes but left when a woman started singing a Eurovision-style power ballad. And then yesterday when we walked past the stage there were a lot of Germans in lederhosen slapping their thighs, as is their wont. Today we tried to go to the History Museum (I’ve not been there yet, and thought I’d save it for when he came) but got there just as it was closing for the day. Doh! On his first day, as we were in Bucharest heading from the hotel to the bus station, I took him to see Casa Poporului (the big wedding cake, ugly govt building with humungous boulevard etc), as you can’t go to Bucharest and not see it. Amazingly, and I’ve no idea why, all the fountains in the boulevard contained coloured water – as if Bucharest isn’t ugly enough, there was a humungous pink fountain, plus smaller green, blue, yellow and purple ones. The town that taste forgot, for sure (I haven’t put the photos on flickr yet, but will show you when I do!).

So far then, since being in Sibiu HD has mainly accompanied me to the laundrette, tried to fix my leaking toilet (fortunately leaking clean water and not, er, not clean water), and cooked me a lovely meal. So I’m getting my money’s worth, and I’m sure he’s having a great time too. 😀

Yesterday I had my Big Cheese interview, which went really really well, and she is going to contact some other people (1 Big Cheese and a few Medium Sized Cheeses, hopefully) on my behalf so that I can then talk to them too. So I’m very happy, and currently not walking round declaiming that my research is doomed. So that’s good 🙂

Romanian adventures – week 4 (end thereof)

So here I am in Bucharest – as grotty as I remember it, I’m glad I’m leaving tomorrow, but I haven’t felt personally unsafe at all so that’s something – thanks for prayers. I’m staying in a youth hostel and remembering again (too late) that actually I’m an antisocial old fart who doesn’t do dormitories. Oh well, at least the french guys who were drinking beer at breakfast had been at the bar all night and not disturbing us (they’re leaving this afternoon so were planning to sleep on the train), so apart from the mozzie in my ear (how do they do that? How do they know it’s your ear? It’s DARK!) I actually didn’t have too bad a night’s sleep.

[talking of mozzies – the bite is now much better. So I was wrong in my diagnosis and was just being a drama queen. Whoever would have guessed?]

This morning’s adventure involved trying to visit the organisation I’d emailed/faxed/written to and who hadn’t contacted me at all. I found myself in the middle of a suburban Bucharest housing estate, and my goodness it took me ages to find the right block, but eventually I got there – with the organisation’s name on the postbox and everything – and … the apartment was totally empty, being rewired by the look of things, and so although according to Google they were still at that address and receiving EU money at the end of last year, they’re certainly not there now, which at least explains the lack of a reply. More happily for me, it means that I can justifiably tell my supervisors that I don’t have any Bucharest contacts and it will be much better for me to do my fieldwork elsewhere. There is a good reason for this, as well as the personal “I don’t like it there” reason – as Bucharest is so big you generally find that if things happen, they happen there first. So what’s happening (or not) in other parts of the country may well be more interesting, as well as more representative of the country as a whole. Do you think that sounds convincing enough for a supervisor?

I took a quick peek at the Palace of Parliament (previously the Palace of the People, known to the locals as the Madman’s Palace), and even if you know nothing else about Bucharest you’ve probably seen a picture of this humungous wedding cake. It’s reputedly the 2nd largest administrative building in the world (after the Pentagon), and was built by the Ceausescus after bulldozing large parts of historic Bucharest to the ground (it used to be known as the Paris of the East – now the boulevard leading up to the Palace is modelled on that well-known architectural hotspot Pyongyang). It really is a monstrosity, but is strangely compelling (kind of like staring at a car crash). Just incredible to see the lengths to which one man’s ego will go.

Anyway – I bought my bus ticket to get to the airport tomorrow. I’m really looking forward to seeing my friends in Moldova again, and also seeing how the two countries compare (this is the first time in 10 years that I’ve done both countries in the same trip, and the last time I was only passing through Romania so could only make a superficial comparison). I’ll catch up when I can.

Plan D

I’ve been trying to arrange a meeting with someone important in Romania who would be really brilliant to work with on my fieldwork next year, but have been coming up against some snags. Teacher and I wrote an introductory letter in good academic Romanian, which we both felt was the perfect mix of interesting without sounding desperate (even though I am really). Plan A was to email them, however the email bounced straight back. Undeterred, Plan B (contact via the organisation’s website) swung into action. However apart from the window saying “thanks for contacting us” I’ve heard nothing else. Plan C was attempted this morning (faxing my letter) but all we got was Mrs Electronic BT Woman telling me I’d put in too many 00’s for the international access code (even though I hadn’t, and my Dept’s administrator kept trying for me and she got the same message). She also tried phoning the number (as phone and fax number are the same) but the same thing happened. Undeterred, it looks like Plan D is next – snail mail. If I don’t hear anything before I leave next month then I may have to get onto the carrier pigeons. Either that, or just turn up unannounced, but being a bit of a chicken I’d rather not do that if I can help it. This is all par for the course dealing with Romania, and something I’m going to have to reaquaint myself with, but I’d love it if it would go just a wee bit more smoothly.

Besides, being a chicken in Bucharest is not a good thing at the moment. 40 streets have apparently been quarantined for up to 3 weeks because of bird flu, not in the sector where this person is based, but even still it could make life interesting. Oh well, never a dull moment…