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[19.10.02] funny pictures
[18.10.02] digicam-2
[12.10.02] Bucharest sketchings
[11.10.02] the next move
[09.10.02] through the Dracula's places
  [06.09.02] information shortage
[03.09.02] applied ethnography
[28.08.02] 424 volts
[20.08.02] little pleasures
[11.08.02] Marea Neagra
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20 Jun 2003 :: As the chaos communication camp approaches, the guys behind centericq.de ask me to try to come there with a speech on instant messaging. CCC is a European hackers party which takes place every 4 years near Berlin... [ more.. ]

15 Apr 2001 :: Yesterday my friends and I went to the cinema to watch it. The only thing is that I still don't know who of them was Miguel de Icaza. As to other stuff, I wouldn't mind working in such conditions as NURV employees did... [ more.. ]

24 May 2002 :: First of all, I would like to congratulate all the Slavs, half-Slavs, quarter-Slavs, pseudo-Slavs and super-Slavs with the holiday, the day of the Slavonic culture. Here in Romania noone knows about it.... [ more.. ]

[ 9th Oct 2002 ] through the Dracula's places | 4 comments | leave a comment

Finally, my dear readers, I got around to updating you with some news. I cannot tell you how many times during these three weeks I thought maybe I should run a text editor and voila! a new note would be ready. But then, thinking about how to start it, how to finish it and especially how many things I need to write about -- it got postponed. Of course in any kind of endeavor the most difficult part is starting - putting the pen to the paper or fingers to the keyboard in this case. Also the nice autumn weather that has descended on Eastern Europe in recent days isn't so conducive to quiet and thoughtful literary work. Instead, I feel like walking around kicking up dry yellow leaves, being a part of nature and dissolving in it. A very romantic season this autumn is. Sometimes because of it I almost can't recognize myself...

Well, keeping in mind those of you who have missed my writings all this time, I propose a new article (sorry, only in Russian, though translations are extremely welcome) that recently got published in the "argc & argv" magazine, with the truly infernal title "Superforces of the dark side of UNIX". But don't worry, for it's about daemon programs, and more precisely -- about using them with the standard inetd and xinetd services. Quite a specialized topic and no romanticism :) Can be found in the publications section.

Now about Brasov (pronounced Brashov with the accent on "o") -- the city in the mountains at the geographical center of Romania where my friends and I travelled about three weeks ago. In spite of the fact that I've forgotten some details about it, the most bright impressions remain. I think it will be better this way since I hopefully won't digress and tell you about various non-important little things.

Brasov is an unique region where a lot of historical and cultural monuments are located. In addition, there are mountain skiing resorts and the deep Carpathian forests with a real mystical atmosphere. When you enter such a place, seeing all of those ancient firs, you just can't help but be impressed by it, feeling like you are a little insect that will end up its age and then pass away into non-existence. While nature will remain and trees will rustle together, and the depths of the mountains will keep on shaking the Earth surface with earthquakes, a death sentence for civilization. On the other hand, the human is also quite a tricky being and adapted to living in a seismically dangerous environment. The ancient castles of the region prove this point. I have to admit that it's impressive to see buildings dating back to the 12th Century that haven't fallen to pieces.

We had only two days time to see as much as possible. That's why our movements were kind of muddled and the guys were at times nervous. Some of us were eager to see the city, to walk through its streets and bars, others wanted to the mountains. It was really difficult to find consensus in such a situation. Anyway, in order to save some time we left on Friday in the evening wanting to arrive the same day so that we could the "Cerbul de Aur" festival that was happening in Brasov. I already mentioned in my previous note that the "Scorpions" and "TATU" were going to perform there. Well, they did what they wanted, but in our absence. By the way, the show of the lesbian girls caused quite a buzz in the local media. I won't use the word "scandal", since it's obvious that is exactly what the organizers wanted. You know as well as I that in show business all publicity is good publicity. This was a perfect example of that truth. The same day the band "TATU" was scheduled to perform in the central square of Brasov -- Piata Sfatului, a lot of old timers gathered. Leaders of the older crowd wanted to see the "Scorpions" -- the idols of their youth. Obviously this generation has more coservative views, so when they imagined two young women french kissing in public their minds reeled against such an "immoral" display. The next day protests started, about who paid the girls for the performance and how much it was, were they sponsors' or public money. I myself couldn't figure out where there money actually came from, but the amount was written in the local "Evenimentul zilei" news-paper. From what the articles said it was $30,000. Also I liked the author's point. He tried to analyze the reaction of the audience and made the following conclusion. He said that the society -- consumers of the musical output, where judging from the charts, the most popular and professional music is produced by a group of several "sweet" boys -- "3 sud-est" (a Romanian copy of "Back street boys", one of many, in fact). The guys really have big banners on their foreheads saying "MASS-PRODUCTION" and "MONEY". So, such a society cannot be ready for brave experiments with sexuality and other tabu-like topics. Myself I see the problem here with a excessive religiosity of people who automatically don't accept what the church doesn't.

The trip from Iasi to Brasov has some very interesting scenery, since starting from a plain it gradually transforms into mountains and goes through passes. On the latter we had to deal with sharp turns on a continously rising road. Rises and falls were so frequent that our ears sometimes got blocked because of the pressure changes. I won't mention here how many times we got lost. I've got two theories about getting lost. We had the wrong directions of the signs along the road were wrong. Our destination was the town of Targu Secuiesc, which is situated right next to a mountain pass. From there we drove about 20 kms towards the sea, in the other direction. Fortunately we looked at the map and found the names of the nearby villages, since we had noticed a drastic change in the quality of the road surface which told us we were headed the wrong way. So, since we were lost and night had fallen, we had to stop at a motel in the place called Lacul Rece (the cold lake) about 80 kms away from Brasov.

Here we finally managed to eat and to have a sleep. As is usual with motels and hotels in Romania, at least those I've seen before, are easy on your eyes and your pockets. A night in that one cost 275.000 lei (8$), two-bed rooms had bathrooms inside, everything was clean and nice. One interesting thing kept catching my eye - the owners and workers at a lot of restaurants and hotels are Hungarian. Local ones. As I already wrote once in the report about the trip to Lacu Rosu, there are a lot of them in Transilvania, and they usually speak a funny version of Romanian. For example, our waiter used to pronounce loudly and in a deep voice "bine" (good) while taking an order.

Our plans for the morning were a bust. Since we did not get to bed until 2 a.m. it was impossible to wake up at 7. As far as I remember we left the motel about 9 in the morning. Since it was only a short way from Brasov, we got there quickly. All of our good impressions about Romanian roads were spoiled by the one leading to the city. It looked like the asphalt machines had not been there yet. Such huge pot holes can hardly be found even in my country - and that is saying something. In order to join the city life we switched our radio to "radio Brasov", there were a lot of billboards along the road with the FM frequency written on them. The whole the weekend was misty in the region, thus the big forest-covered mountain normally visible from everywhere in the city wasn't so easy to spot. But when we finally did see the mountain and were impressed by it.

Before we got busy finding a place to stay we decided to walk. Having left the car on the main street -- boulevardul Eroilor (the Heroes boulevard), we went to stretch our bones.

It appeared that boulevardul Eroilor is connected with the main square of the city by two streets. One of them was paved and pedestrian only, with houses build under the Austrian rule, without yards. Another street had a carriage-way and a lot of yards and shops. On the main square which was called Piata Sfatului (the Council square) we saw the scene where the above-mentioned artists performed before. It was partly dismantled, but not removed, since the next day a football match was supposed to be shown there. As far as I remember Romania was scheduled to play the Croatia. Also there was one of the main places of tourist interest -- Biserica Neagra (the Black Church) which is several hundred years old. Myself I saw a real gothic church for the first time in my life there -- it was constructed exactly in this Medieval style. Tickets to enter were between $1 and $1.50. Inside we saw ads for organ music concerts that take place several times a week in the church. Outside at the side of the church we saw a monument for some kind of a religious man, and above him there was a clock with an inscription in Latin that ment, as far as I understood, "the Lord's word remains in Ethernity". A very impressive sight.

Unfortunatelly I didn't find out the name of the paved street. But we took it back to the car. It was a real tourist heaven with a lot of items for sale, like pictures, postcards, cups and t-shirts with various views of castles, mountains, forests and vampires. Quite an impressive selection was on display. The appearance of the street reminded me of Medieval Europe, with all of those houses and buildings. Even side-streets had names of non-Romanian guys -- Austro-German or something. Also there were inscriptions in Hungarian, but not that a lot like we saw before in provinces on our way. In some of the villages there you could hardly see a sign in Romanian.

Looking for a room didn't take us long. As usual, we found out prices at hotels and having understood that it would be weird to pay such money, decided to do like our Romanian colleagues told us before we left. They said that in front of the hotels it's possible to find people who are involved into renting their appartments to tourists. And since the city itself is about tourism there is always someone. Indeed, soon we found two guys near a hotel. When I came to them one appeared to be a middleman, but another was an owner. The middleman first talked to me. In the best traditions he asked me where I was from and how much we were going to pay. Couldn't help teasing him by asking if it mattered just to rent a room. Decided it would be 300.000 lei (9$) per night and went with the owner to take a look.

The old guy who had already "fueled up" (he had a scent of some alcohol, though wasn't really drunk, just relaxed a little), appeared to be a friendly one. He offered us two rooms of the three-room appartment with two bathrooms, hot water, bed-linen, kitchen and help with everything else we might need. Quite insistently was proposed to take us on a trip to a strip-bar nearby where he knew everyone and could arrange "close communications" with a lady one of us might like. But even though our plans didn't include something like that, he said that it was nice anyway just to take a look at dancing naked beautiful ladies, even if we were not planning on going to a special back room with them. Well, I did appreciate his offer but since we did not have a lot of time and there two desperately married guys with us and remembering that in Iasi there was also a strip-bar which is worth a special story, we didn't take the man up on his proposition.

BTW, after we took a look around the place to stay for the night, made sure we'd got all the conditions and it came to the payment, we managed to haggle over the price and got it lowered. This means we paid one million lei for all of us. We saved 250.000 lei for the one night and the owner agreed without any discussion. "What if we pay a million for all of us?" - I asked, "No problem" - he said. Well, I heard it before that Romanians are open to price negotiations... Romanian by mentality anyway, because our landlord wasn't an ethnic Romanian... He was Hungarian and his wife was speaking with the same funny accent. It was also interesting to discuss with him the situation with Hungarians in Romania. The point is that Romanians who don't know them don't like Hungarians -- this is because of the propaganda which was started by the collaborationist regime and continued by the local communists who didn't really share the internationalist ideas. An interesting statistuc was learned. It was really weird to notice that 2-3% of the population is ethnic Hungarian from my own travel experience, because I saw a lot of them in Lacu Rosu, Lacul Rece and now in Brasov. I think the guy was right saying that they form about 7-9% of the country population. However, it's not that important since problems are usually invented by politicians who need enemies to fight with. In everyday life, both nationalities are absolutely tolerant to each other.

The same day we planned a trip to one of the main attractions of the region. We had to choose between Sinaia, an old tourist place in the mountains and Bran -- the famous Dracula castle. For the Saturday we found the first option more suitable. Thus, we directed our feet, I mean tyres, there.

Among my first impressions on the way there were mountains. Their silhouettes were outlined here and there despite the mist. We passed through neat villages, a nicely asphalted road and a lot of flowers caught our eyes. For the first time here in Romania I saw an interesting social ad near the road. Besides of the usual "Drum bun" (good travel) there were banners that said the following: "Citizens! In order to have a good workplace and salary buy products with the "Made in Romania" label".

Without hurry, we stopped at Azuga where we ate some sandwiches with local fat and cheese, and we got to Sinaia. The schedule of the visit became clear as soon as we saw the "funicular" inscription. It was about 4pm and the cabin was making the last rise and descent for the day, so we had only half an hour to see the earth from 2000 meters up. The round trip ticket cost 130.000 lei ($4). We went up with a company of old jerks who being drunk were screaming loudly. Fortunatelly, they got off on the 1000 meters height to continue their party there. It appeared that on the slope there were a lot of hotels where it would be fun to spend a week-end. I'm going to go back for that some day..

At the very top of the mountain it was quite cold, and Sinaia was seen clearly like on a palm, including the Peles castle of Carol I. That's how we decided on the next stop for our trip ;) On the other side of the mountain there was a big mountain high peaks and slopes. In the same direction, there was a ski-lift rope. Of course it wasn't functioning, but in the winter it definitely should be interesting to ride such a thing.

The way to Peles branched from the main road on the entrance to Sinaia and lay across the forest near the same mountain river. The latter was fixed with rapids so that its flow became slower. In my opinion it was dammed up so that it doesn't crash something. A guardian lady told us on the territory gates that the museum had already closed and we'd only be able to look at it from behind a fence. The museum's schedule is from the early morning and till 4 or 5 pm, but it was better to take a look this way than not to see anything - especially remembering that we were deeply impressed by its look from the cabin. But it looked even more impressive as soon as we came closer..

Having passed a walk to the entrance on the territory of the castle we found a box and several guardians in uniform near it. They noticed our interest and talked to us. One asked a couple of cigarettes from the only one of us who smoked, and then told about the museum's schedule and recommended to come the next day. Because of our limited time we couldn't really come on Sunday, - that was what I told them. Then, having looked at us more attentively one of the guys said in this case one of the guides could arrange an excursion for us for the normal price of 30.000 lei (less then $1) per person. Another "fueled up" guy gave a tour adding some comments to what we saw. I was translating his comments to my friends. I could not help but notice it's a special feeling, walking alone through a famous tourist place like that. You just feel free to do what you want, I mean there was no need to ask other tourists to stand apart when you wanna take a picture, and it was possible to scrutinize various statues, monuments and mouldings without being bothered.

The Peles castle is quite a new construction, since the beginning of its building is dated by the 80s of the XIX century. Though in the beginning of XX it still was being finished. The Peles was one of the first castles in Europe with electrical illumination, and the sum spent on it was extremely high for that period. Being non-giant it was indended to serve for representative aims, not like Bran which was a defensive fort. Thus, from all points of view Peles reminded me of Medieval movies: non huge, but very beautiful with a yard filled by fountains and a lot of statues; in front of the castle there was the Carol I monument, and a bit deeper in the garden -- a statue of his wife sitting on the throne. Apart of that there were terraces arranged in various styles: barocco, antique, ancient-Rome. It was a combination of a really rich environment with a good and delicate taste -- that is the best description of what we saw. The guide said the floors on the terraces must had been of marble, but because of the lack of funds no new marble was put down after the old one had gone. Nevertheless, one of the terraces was closed because of repairs so I conclude that the Ministry of the culture here is not that poor ;)

From the same man we heard an interesting story. It appeared that the Peles was one of the few castles where the regal Ceausescu couple had never lived. Of course they tried to, but some wise man told them something either about a seismic danger or ghosts. Thus, because both Nicolae with Elena were pretty paranoid, they decided not to settle there.

The Sinaia trip was finished by walking through the rest of the territory where between walks and lawns there were a lot of different types of buildings, including several restaurants and hotels. Near one of them a bus with a number-plate from Chisinau was parked, and there was quite a party in a house nearby. So, everything's all right, our own post-Soviet people got there too ;)

Having dinner on the way back to Brasov at a road restaurant named "Gustav" (I remembered it, since it's the name of a good buddy of us -- the man who tought me Romanian), we came back to the guy's appartment in order to get ready for the walk through the city. However, we didn't walk a lot, because the next morning we were supposed to go to Bran; We visited a bar where everyone had what he wanted... cognac, cocktails and beer. The bar was located on the same paved street, had an intere sting interior with a lot of photos on the walls. Though our nice impression of the place was a bit changed by the kind of nervous waitresses.

The next day was promising with thoughts about the most famous place in all of Transilvania, or maybe Romania itself -- the castle of Vlad Tepes, called Dracula by the people because of his logo with dragon (It comes from the word "drac" in Romanian, which means devil). With difficulty we managed to get up at 8am and took a short cut - it was closer than the way to Sinaia.

Actually, Bran is not only a castle name. The locality where it's situated shares the name. It doesn't really differ from other Transilvanian villages and has several houses and churches. It was maybe even a smaller village than the rest we'd seen before. From all the points of the place the silhouette of the famous ancient castle with towers and white walls visible. It is a very interesting sight when the castle becomes rock and vise-versa. However, I had already see the same thing in the Ukraine in Slavyanogorsk. We were not permitted to go inside, because of the danger of a collapse. But it did not look ready to collapse. We got fed up and with the castle itself and went to eat something at a local restaurant.

After a short ride through the place we noticed a small hotel with its own restaurant. This was the highlight of the day so far for us because we did not eat when we got up to save some time. Inside there was a roomy hall with original stained furniture and the prices from menu didn't make us tremble. It was rather cold outside, but because of couriosity we went out to the yard where the summer place was situated. There also was a pool and a place for an orchestra. During our trip I was eating only local dishes asking directly like: "Please propose to me something that I wouldn't eat in other places". Here they brought me some kind of a fried mutton. Though it still smelled a bit mutton, it was quite eatable. There was another interesting part in the restaurant I did not believe when I read it Russian tourist sites about Romania -- It wasn't really recommended to leave tips. The source stated that the more tips you leave the bigger sum you'll be cheated the next time. However, the "interesting arithmetic" of our waiter made me doubt my previous opinion. The science itself consisted in the following trick. Our bill was written by hand and it was absolutely impossible to read the names of the dishes. Since we wanted to pay separately we asked the waiter to calculate it for everyone of us, and the sum of the re-calculation was less than the original by at least a dollar. "Be attentive" -- is the first warning needed in a place full of ancient legends of medieval battles, mystical fears and vampires.

In order to get to the castle you have to pass the parking place and then go through a short pedestrian walkway up to the hill where it's located. In our case it was a necessity to leave the car near the entrance and it appeared to be not such an easy task. The parking (paid) looked like a small are on the perimeter of which there was all kinds of tourist stuff being sold. There were t-shirts with "original from Transilvania" and "someone in Transilvania loves me" inscriptions, cups and postcards with views of the castle and portraits of Tepes. It was kinda difficult to find a place for a car in such a parking lot, but finally we managed to do it with our joint efforts. Viktor was wheeling and the rest were standing around the car showing how exactly he should direct the vehicle so that the "Dacia" to the left and the "Opel" at the right side remained intact. And finally, we are several steps away from the blood-chilling ancient legend..

I'd recommend to see the Bran before going to Peles, because the former won't make you enraptured by its decorations. Strategically good position on the land plus sound and thick walls show why the people who built it were not really interested in decorations. Their aim was to build a defensive fortress while Peles was constructed to be a summer residence and a place for festival receptions. The age of the two castels differs too. While Peles is quite young, since it was built in XIX-XX, Bran's history started in XII century, and that's why it reminds me of Ivan the Terrible's mansion from inside. Of course, it was something extremely advanced for those times, but nowdays its interiors look like an regular village house: white walls, stone stoves for heating in the rooms, wooden furniture.. Though dimensions are different and there are a lot of rooms. Plus there is an observation post upstairs: a small place where two people can barely stand. It's possible to get there from the attic. Like in the majority of the castles inside the Bran there is an interior court (not a very large one) with a balcony that goes around and up. There is also a well, not a real one, for it has bottom, in which tourists throw coins. It was really nice to see several Russian and Ukrainian kopeikas among all of those leis, cents and eurocents.

As you understand well, such a big place of interest like Bran cannot stand still without hordes of tourists walking up and down it, including foreigners. Of course, it was difficult to call our small group of four people a horde, but besides of us there were a lot of people that day, like several Canadian retirees and a group of youngsters from the US. They were walking together with an English-speaking guide. However, several minutes later the guide stepped out somewhere and another one took his place. Even though the second guide was speaking Romanian, the visitors from over the ocean kept on listening to him attentively, even though they couldn't understand a word. One of the retirees complained to me: "He's telling the story well, though it would be better if he speaks English so that I undestand too" :) And in the courtyard we saw an absolutely heart-rending picture. The same Americans youths were taking a picture as a souvenir. All of them stood on a parapet and simultaneously pulling faces a-la Jim Carrey posing as vampires, like they bite each other, etc. Viktor, a colleague of mine managed to take a picture with this bit of Hollywood from the balcony in the yard. Quite a funny shot, I've gotta scan it now.

Like all the tourists we couldn't help going through the small market there. So my tableware was replenished with two more cups: one is with the "to be used only for blood" inscription and with a recipe of a cocktail of several blood groups, and the second with a portrait and story about Vlad Tepes. Especially for trips to Ukraine I bought a t-shirt with a vampire face saying "Dracula" (we noticed an influence of globalization here, since it also says "Made in India" inside).

We had some more free time after Bran, thought it a good idea to see another place of interest - Poiana Brasov, a famous mountain-ski resort. Though the same day in the evening we had to be back to Iasi.

Actually I heard it before that Poiana Brasov was a place for foriegners where you could find it comfortable and nice, and that only oldies had good times there. At least those over 40. The youth prefers Sinaia. It wasn't really difficult to notice at soon as we got there. The "face" of Poiana is a wooden church on the main square (meadow) of the town. Inside it there were icons with inscriptions in modern Russian for sale. As far as I understood it was a typical production of the Moscow patriarchate, though the guy who were selling them answered that they were from Greece. (More globalization)

By the way, whole the day on Sunday we were kept passing a column of small new yellow cars -- Mercedeses with two seats. It was some kind of advertisment or somet hing. It was quite a cute sight, I must admit, especially when all of them going the same speed appear from behind a turn. Unfortunatelly I don't know the name of the model of Mercedes.

The way home to Iasi did not appear to be that easy. The potholes on the exit road from Brasov worked well this time and we got our tire broken soon, exactly near the motel we spent the first night at. Another misfortune was that the jack we had was incomplete, it was missing a handle that you need to rotate in order to lift a car. I was trying to hitch a ride, but no one stopped, so we had quite a difficult task to take care of. And I wanted to praise the Romanian roads so much in this report.. We spent two hours because of them, but solved our problem in the end. The guys bought a big screw-driver at a shop and we used it in place of the missing part of the jack.

However, after replacing the wheel we noticed another problem.. The pits on the exit road worked so well, that the second tire on the same side was infected with an oncological disease, i.e. a bump had blown up. The thing could break in any moment, as it was explained to us at the next auto-service. But we had a whole way over two mountain passes ahead. So I still wonder why we didn't stain our pants while crossing them.

And the final adventure was looking for a fresh milk in the villages we were passing, exactly in the place where Transilvania region was finishing and Moldova began. Personally yours truly hadn't enjoyed such a titbit for several years, and the idea was supported by others. In the first locality I got off and knocked to a house where they told me they had a cow, though it wasn't yet back from pasture. As for yesterdays milk, they didn't have it. It looked like keeping the milk in a refrigirator is not widely practiced there, for it's much easier to make other products out of it, like cottage cheese or cream. Plus you just sell them for higher price. Though the people's desire to talk astonished me. In the yard of an old man I got kept for several minutes because he started telling me about his cow and how he lent it to his grand-sons from a village nearby.

Finally we kept on asking exactly till the time they milked the cows had come. Several women were drinking wine near their house and told us they would call their friend to get milk for us. And really after milking he brought us a one liter bottle. But while all this was happening I managed to discuss everything possible with the ladies. It appeared that they drank wine only on Sundays gathering together in front of one of their friend's house. I also learned that some of them had textbooks on Russian at home, and added several words in it to demonstrate us their knowledge. It is really amazing what a big enthusiasm the Russian language causes in older people in Romania.. Also the ladies told us about what they heard about the festival from Brasov, asked about Bran, our impressions, how we liked it. They made jokes about us and each other and said several unflattering words about Americans when I shared our observations on tourists in the castle. Frankly speaking, the village women left very good impressions. I think their life pace and values are much more wise then the ones from the city. And I really was surprised when as the answer on "How much is the milk?" she answered it was a gift and I would offend her by offering money, making me take it back. Maybe such an attitude is a real value?

I won't describe the pleasure combined with tiredness that I felt on the entrance to Iasi (and on finishing this report -- 8 Oct 2002 ;). It's always nice to feel yourself more or less at home. As soon as I got to my appartment my dreams could only be interrupted by the direct hit of a ballistic rocket with a nuclear warhead..

P.S.: Photos are here.

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