Mother nature can be fickle.
Ever since i managed to squash the fly with my foot in Hvar, mother nature has been acting against me. I've been shat on by 3 pigeons and a seagull, taken my usual roll as Mozzie special feast and had an altercation with a cow amongst others, so i suppose it reached it's logical conclusion that i was biten by a rabid dog. But lets go back a bit first.
I love Romania. I always have, and i always will, so despite everything (anything) that happens i will keep going back. I'm even one of the very few travellers who likes Bucharest. Most people seem to think eeek or uck and leave straight away, many then pigeon hole the entire country as Bucharesti, but i think its the most amazing city. It's a huge, mad, chaotic, mismatched jumble, yet it somehow works.
After arriving overnight from Sofia (slow but ok), i chucked my stuff in the hostel, disspointed that the imnstructions of turn down the road with the Pole in didn't refer to Polish people. An hour or so later i met up with Oana, a local girl i'd been talking to on CS for a while. In itself that was a major acheivement - Oana works the kind off stupid hours i tend to during the TSM project, and has a similiar number (i.e. none) of days off. During TSM we even had a small bet as to which of us would have a day off first, which i lost, chickening out after only a couple of months... Amazing that someone would be prepared to waste their solitary day off by playing tour guide to a random foreigner.
(((Note – Apologies, but I’m havng serous problems with the letter ‘I’ on this keyboard, hence why it's missing in so many places!!))
To begin with, we took a tour of some of the more hidden treasures of the city, including a the few remaining small arcades and alleyways full of cool little shops, bars and café’s which of which the city had many before Ceauceascu’s family got hold of it, and the sort of place that f you don’t know still exists, you would never find them (as i never had before).
Arcades such as this are now very rare, to say the least
Of course we also took n the famous People’s Palace, designed as the largest bulding in the world and to be the centre pece of an area of the cty which had been ht by an Earthquake n (I think) 1979, and whch Nicky C used as an excuse to demolish almost a quarter of the city – includng lovely hapsburg style buldngs, arcades, shops and resdental areas - and dsplace huge numbers of people, despite the overall damage being nowhere near that severe. Ceauceascu had been very mpressed by the way Kim Jung Il had remodeled Pyongyang, and wanted to do somethng simlar, but on a larger scale.
The people's palace from 2 angles
Even now the People’s Palace is described as either the second or thrd largest buldng n the world (depending upon your source and pont of vew – the Pentagon is the largest offce buldng n the world, whilst i am farly sure the Boeing factory s actually the largest buldng, but how you defne large probably makes a big dfference – regardless, its stll enormous).
According to Oana, they hadn’t even fucked up the bulding n the way i had always beleved. Always thought that t was meant tobe the worlds largest and they’d got t too small somehow. However,she nfomred me that Ceaucescu had a competton of allthe archtechts to desgn the buldng according to the certan scales/guidelines, and the wnner – a recently qualfed woman – somehow fucked up her scales and t was only supposed to be a third of the sze!
Peoples Palace from the main approach and view from the bar on the top
I know its hard to ignore the past, but f you look at the palace from a now perspective (gnorng the total destruction in the area to make space for the palace, sheer human suffering and cost, monetary cost and gross stupdty involved), it isn’t really even an ugly building. Hugely oversized and out of place (and even now, unnfnshed) yes, but aesthetcally i‘ve seen many, many worse. The fact that t s well set apart fromany oterh buldng, and a large chunk of the other buldngs nearby are of a smlar scale and desgn means that t doesn’t look as daft as much of the cty centre wthch s hopelessly muddled n scale. Bucharesti is just that way – lots of vsually not unattractive buldngs, but virtually all ncomplete, hopelessly out of scale and stuated n the most stupd postons (i.e. n the mddle of a row of shops, or sandwchng a small brck church) whch make them seem even huger!
Part of the Peoples Palace has also now been turned nto a gallery of Modern Art (in the past couple of years i‘ve really started to love modern art,just for the comedy value) , allowing entrance without the main tour, but ths just seemed to make the whole experence dafter, especially gvng that they had swanky new glass elevators up the outsde of the building, metal detectors and security guards, but no cashier and barng us, no vstors! Of the 5 floors, 2 were closed off, and the top empty apart from a roof top bar/cafe whch we vsted after takng n the two open exhibits, an odd selecton of Romanan water features, and a seres of surreal videos made by an Estonan who probably should have been commted years ago.
Earler, i had been hugely honoured to receve an invtaton to accompany Oana to the private openng party of her Brothers frst restaurant, “Culmea Meche”, and depste beng amazingly out of place – the only foregner n 70+ people, knowng nobody bar Oana who I’d only met n person for the frst tme that day, and wearng trousers held together wth a safety pn [zp off trousers, and the rght leg zip had fecked up earler that day leaving the bottom attached, but mostly unzipped and stuck], t-shrt wth holes n and the standard rope belt and odd socks – it was the most fantastic evenng. Everybody was so welcoming and friendly to the oddly attired unknown foreigner n ther mdst, and i just wish that I spoke enough Romanan to converse or at least thank her famly properly for allowing me to be involved. The restaurant is specalsng in traditional Romanan cusne – something oddly lackng in the Romanan captal - and had been a stunning achievement to go from frmng idea rght through to opening n just 6 weeks, so as to open on their weddng anniversary.
Oana and I in Culmea Meche, and the celebratory cake cutting
There was a band playng tradtonal music, and the atmosphere was amazng, although admittedly helped by the fact that as t was a frends/famly do, virtually everybody knew at least half of the other guests, and the food was utterly excellent, although slightly challenging in order to manage to at least try a bt of everything, as there were so many dshes. I later discovered that the head chef had n fact been the Ceauceascu head chef for a perod n the 80’s, whch was knd of scary until looked at vaguely logcally – Normal people had to make a lvng, and obvously the famly would only employ the very best, whlst i ‘m guessng that an ‘invtaton’ to work for the famly wouldn’t be easy to turn down unless he had no plans for along and prosperous life. And besides, t wasn’t as if Nicolae died of food poisonng…
Anotehr feature of thecity, and far more noticeable than in Sofia (and less friendly) for example are the huge numbers of stray dogs around. Much of the problem stems from the same 1979 earthquake and Ceacescu subsequently usng t as an excuse to demolsh a chunk of the cty. Lots of famly homes were destroyed and people located to concrete hgh rses on the outskrts where they had no room for ther pets, many of which had then just been set loose. And Bridget Bardot (i thnk?) hadn’t helped either. I had a friendly remnder of this the following day, when with Oana away to Cluj to vst frends, and me havng taken u my normal roll of wandering at random and on my return,a lovely black dog decded totry and take a chunk out of my left leg. I’m not sure f he thought I was scaryng away hs pigeons, worryng the nearby newborn puppies (not his, and wth lots of other people around), thought was gong to steal his ball or smply thougt would make a good meal, but he gave me a decent np. I was close to the hostel, and so had t cleaned out quckly, and the brillant (all along – more people like her and her famly should run hostels) landlady gave me antiseptic cream etc to smother over it, and so with a bit of luck, won’t die of rabies, although i probably won’t know how true that is for another few months…
On my wandering I had took n the city, took a trip to the stadum to be there for the early football celebrtatons as Steau clinched the title on the last day, and also receved my frst introducton to Cows. It was Budapest Cow Parade 2005, and whlst many of you have probably come across ths phenomenon before (much later research shows that they have been all over the world), t was my first ntroducton to it. Bascally, the cty had been dotted at random with life size cow statues, whch had been gven to local artsts to decorate/paint however the heck they liked. I though t was a brilliant idea and way of addng colour and surrealism to normal cty lfe.
Cows, from Cow Parade 2005
That evenng, after talking to the cool Zimbabwean tenns player at the hostel who had just demolished a random Brit 6-0, 6-1 n a challenger tournament (wonder if he could beat Cliff Richard as easly?), i was persuaded by Katie, a Canadan grl ‘d orgnally met on the train from Sofa to help her n her search for money. Kate had the nterestng problem that none of her Credit/bank cards seemed to work in Bucharesti for no apparent reason, so we’d all been tryng to help out and come up with cunning ways of getting her money. The prevous nght, we had taken a walk into town for a couple of hours and been amazed to discover just how empty and deserted the centre had been, bearing in mind it was a friday nght (there’s a story from that nght too, but that’s best left untold). And as well as the money aspect, we were interested to see if Saturday was any less of a ghost town.
The hostel owner had gven a tp as to a specific bank whch seemed to accept a much wder range of cards,and t was worth a try. Back past some cows to the machne we trawled, culmnatng n the ATM decdng that t was the moment to show that inanmate objects dd get the concept of comedy, but proudly displaying “out of order” signs. Determined to fnd something, we trawled through exchange machines, Atms, hunted casinos (they always fnd ways to let you have money) and tried to get cash advances at the Hilton and Intercontinental hotels and joined the Steau revelers at Placa Unverstai until fnally managing to get an advance from her card at a small change bureau, 2.5days after frst attempt. And being Saturday, wth money fnally n hand and Steau celebrating, we really had to find a bar, so headed to one i‘d passed earler and had wanted to return to.
Untouched church - A rarity in Bucharesti
I don’t know its name, but ts absolutely one of my favourte bars ever, and knd of sums up Bucharest properly. On one of the man shoppng streets, they had knocked down a building n the mddle of a terrace (but left thngs lke plumbng and some wooden beams stll attached to the buldngs on ether side hangng into thin air), and left the ground as a pile of rubble and broken bricks/roof tiles. On top of that, they had done the obvious thng and bult a Hawaiian beach style bar, complete with fake palm trees, BBQ’s (lit for smell and smoke only – no food beng cooked) straw brollies, and were playing music ranging from the utterly obscure (Johnny Clegg and Savuka, anybody?) to really, really bad Euro pretend pop and rock. The tolet was a hole across the street. Anywhere else it would just seemed wrong, but n the jumble of Bucharest it more or less fitted in perfectly, and i loved it!
I‘ve sad t before and will again, but I really do love Bucharest. It’s large, alive, mad, chaotic, jumbled and screwed up, but its a real city full of normal workng people and to me, utterly intoxcatng.