I visited Bucharest for my job a couple days ago --- It is the Romanian
capital. My superiors from Websci
decided to send me there (as the only one among Ukrainian citizens
working here who can speak Romanian) after it appeared that our own
border policemen won't loose a chance to claim a bribe every time one of
us crosses the border, till we have a stamp from the Ukrainian consulate
in Romania in our passports. Since our beautiful recently independend
state shares responsibility between its representative offices in
interesting ways, I had to go exactly to Bucharest, though we've got a
much closer consulate in a neighbour city of Suceava. It appeared that
the latter is responsible only for those who live in the Western part of
Romania, while Iasi is included into the area covered by the consulate
from the capital. Yeah, sounds complicated and weird. For your
information, the capital is about 400 kms away from Iasi, while Suceava
is only on the 150 kms distance, but the consulate there has no right to
work with Ukrainian citizens from here.
It's been just an introduction. The point is that the trip is the first
one in my life paid by the company and arranged in official way. Plus I
had never been to Bucharest before, though I heard a lot about the city.
The majority of opinions said the Romanian capital is a gray, ugly and
dirty city. However, I had stopped to believe such common opinions a
long time ago, and was very courious to see it with my own eyes to make
my own conclusions.
My task was extremely easy: to arrive, go to the consulate, get the
stamps for the passports of my colleagues and my own and then go back to
Iasi the same day. Now here's a small story about what turned out from
all of that.
The way to Bucharest from here isn't that long -- about 6 hours by
train. The last one leaves at 11 p.m. and arrives to the end point at 5
a.m. My company booked the most expensive and thus the most comfortable
train for me. It was called vagon de dormit (sleeper) and was built up
of compartments. Each compartment, unlike our ones, has 6 instead of 4
places. Though, nobody was there on the last shelf neither on the way
there, nor while I was going back. An interesting difference from our
trains -- lack of a table, which makes it rather difficult to do commong
things like drinking beer or talking to fellow-travellers. All you can
do in such conditions is talk in the common hallway and then go to your
compartment and to go to bed. Besides, such a design can be easily
explained by the size of the country where train trips longer than one
day can hardly be found.
By the way, it's quite comfortable to sleep in such train cars. Although at
the very beginning of the trip it was getting cold outside, the heating
worked well. To keep people from falling from the bed shelves a handle
was provided. When you lie down it should be put up. I forgot to mention
the price of the a trip, it was 445.000 lei ($13.50).
Naturally, a day before leaving I talked on ICQ with all the guys I knew
from Bucharest, to see if we could possibly meet. Several things came as
a result of this. First, with a former colleague of mine, who is from
Republica Moldova and first worked here in Iasi with me, but then moved
to the capital, we decided to meet at the railway station at 5:30 a.m.
Also I got invited to the office of the PC Magazine Romania
magazine. With the rest of the guys from Bucharest who told to me about
either my programs or articles we discussed an opportunity to meet up
and to have some beer in the evening.
Finally, it was an early morning, the steward was walking through the
car saying we'd arrive in 10 minutes. When I was boarding there were two
more men in the same compartment with me. Seemed like one of them got
off somewhere on the way since I didn't find him in the morning. The one
who remained was continuing sleeping. Just in case I pushed him and said
it was time to get up. He answered he'd been travelling frequently and
he's not that disabled to not to be able to jump into his shoes, take
his bag and get off in a minute. All I could do was to apologize :)
Railway Station (Gara de Nord)
The railway station appeared to be roomy, though quite a simple building
. Sure, it couldn't be compared to the one
which was recently built in Kiev by a project of an airport (I heard it
was, though I'd rather say it was a spaceport project :). Quite clean
and neat though it had nothing extraneous. We were supposed to meet with
Viorel near the main entrance, but there were several gates, which I
decided to explore one by one. On the first one I saw an ad in English
was written. It said "How much are you going to pay for a hotel? We
propose only $69 per day, plus $8 for a dinner. "A usual Romanian
trick", - I though, - "the guys won't die because of being too modest".
So I went out and looked around. There were several taxies and a small
street. It definitely wasn't the main entrance, thus I returned back to
the station where got stopped with two guardians immediately. They asked
for my ticket. "No problem", - I answered, - "Here it is. But please
tell me what would be if I wouldn't had taken it from the train?".
Meanwhile, the guys made out the ticket and said it wasn't vaild
anymore. I was extremely courious why a valid ticket was needed there.
It appeared that in order to enter into the railway station for free you
should have a leave ticket. Otherwise you have to pay a tax of 4.000 lei
(funny sum, about 12 cents). I really hadn't seen such a stupid thing
before, and I told the guardiands what I thought. I also added they
would make more money by knocking over a beggar instead. Moreover, I
suggested them to be more attentive next time taking a look at those who
leave the building too, since I stepped out for less then a minute and
returned back immediately. Displeased, they shook their shoulders and
let me go.
I kindly asked the next guardian how to find the main entrance. The
place where I appeared had pillars, a bus stop and a taxi station. There
is the following difference between the public transport in Iasi and
Bucharest. Almost the whole taxi car-pool in the latter consists of old
models of "Dacia" (such little monsters), while in Iasi the majority of
the cabs are quite new "Daewoo" of different styles. On the other hand,
the buses in Iasi are no way inferior to the ones in Bucharest. So there
is a kind of parity.
Start of The Day
While we were sitting at Viorel's place eating fried eggs, having tea
and drinking splendid Moldavian cognac (at 6 a.m. -- the day was
beginning well ;), the time to go to the consulate came. In order to
learn about its location we got the map of Bucharest. It appeared that
the Tuberozelor street was placed in one of the oldest and prestigious
city districts near the Triumph arch (yeah, like the one in Paris),
branching from the Pavel Kiseleff road. I don't know who that guy was,
but with such a typical Russian name he couldn't really be Romanian ;)
Actually there are many streets with good names in Bucharest - like,
Chaikovsky and Russia street.
I was walking to Tuberculosilor (the first association that came to my
mind when I heard the street's name) though the Kiseleff road, I managed
to talk with two old men. I asked them if they knew where the street
was. When they found out I was looking for the Ukrainian consulate, they
asked if I was from Bucovina. Bucovina is the Ukrainian city of
Chernovtsy nowdays, which was under the Romanian rule some time ago, so
some of them remained there. However, I was born in the opposite part of
the Ukraine, near the Russian border, it's quite a long distance.
Anyway, the retirees had no idea how I could speak Romanian so well.
"Ok, thanks for the compliment", - I said, and added that about a year
ago I didn't know a word in their language.
The Nice Consulate Guys
The road was full of various embassies, consulates and offices of
various political parties. Right behind a big headquarters of PSD
(partidul social democrat) there was a turn to Tuberculosis. Finally
there was the flag of my own state in front of me. There also was a sign
saying "The Ukrainian consulate in Romania", so I took my camera to make
a picture, but was immediately stopped by the guard of the street where
some more diplomatic offices were located. No way. And even if someone
from the consulate lets me, no way anyway. Ok, if so..
As soon as I pressed the bell near a window inside, the lady I talked to
before on the phone about coming appeared. I was phoning her to find out
what papers we needed to bring, and we had quite a funny talk:
- Lady, I have already phoned you before. I'm from Iasi, about the registration. Do you remember me?
- Yeah, I do.
- Great. So finally I must know exactly what papers we need.
- Well.. First you gotta bring us the certificate about your family status.
- What for? What kind of a certificate?
- From Ukraine, from a registry office..
- How come? We work here, what does it have to do with a registry office?
- Oh, sorry, I though you wanted to register a marriage?
- Nope, it's about registration in your consulate, stating we're leaving here temporarely, since we keep on having troubles on the border. Marriage.. You think about the only thing, lady..
We were laughing on the phone several minutes after the talk, and I
asked her several times if it surely wasn't about marriage. For
otherwise I wouldn't come. Now at the consulate the lady gave me several
simple forms to fill in, each one for a colleague. I wrote their details
there and gave the papers back along with other necessary documents.
Processing them was to take some time, thus I had some time to look
around and see the interior. Though it wasn't a small building, the
visitors could only walk the corridor that started at the entrance, and
sit in a room with a table, a chair and a sofa. Quite ascetic. There
also was the Ukrainian Emblem on the wall and a little photo exhibition
with views of Kiev and not only that, there were the Supreme Rada
(parlament), the central square of Kiev and Kuchma.
Finally, everything was ready, i.e. I had stamps in the passports I
brough with me, also there was a special stamp on my trip paper. Then
the consul came out to say hi to me. There are not a lot of Ukrainian
citizens who work in Romania, and he was definitely courious about our
particular case. An impressive man, about 45-50 years old with a very
deep voice. He introduced himself and he started speaking with me in
Ukrainian, but as soon as he understood it was a bit difficult for me to
express myself in this language, switched to Russian. Actually, despite
of the fact I learned Ukrainian 7 years at school, but after that I only
had a chance to speak it several times. Fortunately I can still read and
write in it correctly, though the lack of oral practice resulted into
the need to think about every word in order to find out if I should say
something similar to Russian or look for an appropriate thing in my
Ukrainian vocabulary. However, I found nice the fact that I still can
communicate in it with people who know Ukrainian, but don't know Russian
(like diaspora guys) without any problem.
Also mister general consul asked me about the problems we had on the
border that appeared when border policemen saw the lack of the consulate
stamp in our passports. Since both of us are adult people, and we know
very well the specific of our state, I told him about my experience,
when this summer during my travelling to Ukraine a border policemen
claimed a bribe saying he'd put some kind of a restrictive stamp in my
passport. I had to give him equivalent of $13 then (I had a lot of
Romanian leis left in my pocket and gave him it in small banknotes ;).
Here the most interesting thing in the story appeared. The consul said
it was true that every citizen of Ukraine who temporary lives in another
country has to register himself at a consulate. BUT! There is no charge
for not doing that provided by the law. Damn surprise! And the fact that
the majority of people don't know the rules, the issue is successfully
used by our border police. It's clear that such an extraneous care of
the state about its citizens and their movements would mean only one
thing -- totalitarism, the consul said. I thought the same thing when
heard about the rule for the first time, so that I even considered an
option to take Russian citizenship, for my historical Homeland doesn't
have such weirdnesses. Then, of course, having thought a bit further if
I really needed that, I gave up the idea.
The consul also shared his own experience with me. He told that during
his trips to Ukraine on a car with diplomatic number-plate he was
stopped by road police and asked to show the documents on the car.
Absolutely not surprising thing was that being a property of the
Ukrainian state abroad, the car has only documents issued by the
authorities of the country it's used in. The number-plate though gives
an opportunity to cross the border on it. But the "smart" road guys
every time try to read the technical passport and say they don't
understand. "Don't read if you can't understand", - says the consul
general to a sergeant who because of his illiteracy cannot imagine the
situation even after the car disappers behind a turn. Though the
diplomat can stay calm expecting the next idiot will stop them again and
he'll have to explain everything from the very beginning.
Also, he described the mission of his insitution. He said any kind of
problems with the local authorities or our own affairs like passport
changes, marriages, divorces, funerals and births are his
responsibility. "The consulate's task", - he said - "is to make you feel
like you are at home here". He assured that in any case the necessary
legal assistance will be provided and the necessary notes will be
written where needed so that the rights of our citizens are respected.
Finally just in case I asked him if it was possible to solve the
problem with the guard who didn't allow me to take a picture of the
entrance. Immediately the consul stepped away and talked to the guard. I
took a photo of the flag and the sign and then the consul himself took a
photo with me near the installation. After that he gave me his visit
card and told me to phone any time when help is needed. He's a really
good guy, with him all the best.
The next think I observed was the Bucharest subway. After I asked
Alexandru Voiculescu of "PC Magazine Romania" how to get to them, I went
on the underground expedition. The metro wasn't like the ones I'd seen
before. I mean the ones from Kharkov, Moscow and Kiev. The stations were
not arranged with pictures or monuments, they were just bare concrete.
Though more spacious, everything was quite huge and massive. The subway
cars were also wide, the seats in them were situated only near the
windows, in the rest of them you could easily play football. No ads in
the cars, not even a sheet of paper on the windows or walls. It wasn't
difficult to figure out the three lines, for on every station there were
maps with an arrow showing your whereabouts. It would be really
difficult to get lost there. Also, there were no entrance counter coins.
In order to pass to a platform you have to put a magnetic card into a
device. The cards are sold in every station, and it's possible to buy
one for two travels minimum which costs 14.000 lei (about two times more
expensive than in Kharkov).
PC Magazine Romania: Inside Look
The office of one of the Romania's most popular computer managazines is
located in a business building in one of the central districts of
Bucharest. The office buildings here look completely different than the
ones in the former USSR. A typical post-Soviet practice is when rooms in
a building of a former scientific institute are rented to various
companies, and such buildings do have quite a specific look. On the
other hand, the block where the magazine's office was located looked
like a usual one with apartments. Though as soon as you enter you start
seeing the differences. There was a modern elevator in quite an
office-like hall. Near the entrance there were several garages. As it
appeared later, they served as warehouse for the magazine. Immediately
in the elevator we meet up with the chief editor Ms. Mihaela Carstea and
after arriving to the floor -- with the rest of the team. The atmosphere
was typical for a journalists' abode: someone was running up and down
with drafts, someone was discussing ideas for new articles and someone
was playing around with examples of various new electronic gadgets and
software distributions being tested for the publication. Myself I had to
do something similar. The point is that the guys do already have three
"pilot" articles written in Romanian by me for Netreport
publication of theirs. Though, recently in the latter some changes had
happened, thus they had to tighten the budget for collaboration writers.
Miss chief editor commented it the following way: "What do you need
"Netreport" for? Go publish with us!". Well, I really had nothing to
object to, especially having in mind that "PC Magazine Romania" has far
more draw than "Netreport" ;) I was asked about publishing the already
written articles as well as about ideas about upcoming ones. The guys
were interested in material about dynamic content of web sites, and they
asked me if I could handle it. Of course I could. So I have to get busy
So we had a very warm meeting in the office. When I came to one of the
rooms, one of the ladies there shouted out loudly: "I saw your photo in
the magazine!". She must be a fan :) When I was leaving already
Alexandru took me to the warehouse and gave me as many issues of the
different magazines as I could get into my travel bag.
The Walk: Casa Poporului
Done. Now I was free to walk through the city. The first thing in
Bucharest I wanted to see was the first largest building in Europe, the
second the world - Casa Poporului
(the People's House) built during
Ceausescu's rule in the very center of the Romanian capital. BTW, the
largest in the world (we're speaking about size, not about the height)
is the Pentagon, the biggest target of all the Islamic warriors in the
Despite the fact that I was already in the city center, the way there
wasn't short. My first impression of the architecture was the following.
First it looked like someone had thrown a lot of giant stones
chaotically (the houses seemed exactly this way), but then they got put
in order. Though the feeling of a monumental giantism remained. Looking
around I reached a big park with a fountain, where several roads were
crossing. Towards one of the directions I noticed a piece of the massive
building. Immediately I thought that the old Freud would gladden to see
it, for he would make up a parallel between the size of the thing built
by Ceausescu and the size of the dictator's genitals.
A big road led to the edifice. For Bucharest it was suprisingly green, I
must admit. On both sides of it there were high blocks with apartments,
and in the middle there were fountains. I just tried to imagine the
prices for the real estate in the area, got scared, and kept on walking.
As the building was approaching, the number of windows I saw in it was
rising. I didn't even try to count them, but I'm pretty sure there were
thousands. Nowdays there are various government institutions, services
and ministries situated inside it. But some of them didn't find a place
inside. On the other side on the street next to Casa Poporului two
buildings were standing symmetrically. I was curious to read the
inscriptions of them. One said "Ministry of anti-corruption" and another
one -- "Ministry of European integration". Well, there's definitely no
place for such things in the People's House.
In order to undestand the city better and to feel its rythm I usually
use the following method. I just go out on the street and start walking
where my eyes lead me. I walk slowly, look around at buildings,
people, shops and signs. Obviously, in Bucharest I used the same
tactics. Seeing I wasn't in a hurry various ad people talked to me. So
was already invited to a party, fashion show and something else I
remember what exactly it was. I kept on answering kindly that in
evening I was to leave. As to the pictures, it's quite a pity that
digital camera was about to come only in two days, so the majority
the sketchings you'll be able to see in the text form. But if I find
good scanner it will be possible to see some shots in the gallery
, for I had my old good
film camera with me.
During the further walking I saw the Iraqi embassy with a street
exhibitions of Saddam Husein's photos. It was situated pretty near the
diplomatic offices with other Arab countries, like Egypt and Syria. Also
I walked through some seven story high store and ate some ice-cream in
McDonalds, because after walking so much my feet began to hurt and I had
to sit down somewhere.
Slowly, the evening came along with the time to have some beer like all
regular guys. I found a good place for that on the map. The Herastrau
park had quite a large lake on the bank of which there must had been
various cafes, as I imagined. That's where we went to Viorel. Others
were promised to be giving a call as soon as we decide where exactly
we're supposed to have a small party.
Bucharest catastrophically lacks greenery, and in the center of the city
the air is polluted quite a lot. On the other hand, the parks are great.
Accurately mowed lawns, a lot of trees and benches make them a perfect
place for pensioners, lovers and owners of domestic animals. Also it's
good for the rest of the jerks who like walking. To my own
disappointment, there were not cafes on the lake's bank on the side we
came from. So we had to sit down in an open-air bar somewhere inside the
park. You couldn't see the water from there, but still it was ok. Since
the main valuable thing remaining was the communication..
Having explained to two Internet-pals of mine where we were sitting, we
ordered some beer. One of the ivited guys was a confirmed tourist who
liked my notes on the site. He came with a friend who was the owner of
dedicated to mountain tourism. Another one was a UNIX guy who worked as
a system administrator at kappa.ro
, a major Romanian web-portal. He liked my
discussed something related to it with me, and that's how we met. The
meeting resulted in an interesting conversation. Aside from all of that
I was asked, as is tradition, if I came to the capital to look for a
job, if my parents were Romanian and if not how come I knew language so
well. Unfortunatelly, Alexandru of "PC Magazine" got stuck with some
problems with his car and couldn't join us. It's ok, for I'm sure we'll
have an opportunity to meet another time as well.
It was so nice to stay there with the guys talking that about 22:15 we
took a look at our watches. The time of my train's departure (23:00) was
approaching quckly. Finally we did manage to reach the railway station
in time with a taxi and I left back to Iasi.
So I conclude. Bucharest is a very big city so when it's compared to
other Romanian cities that are considered big too (about 400.000 people
against 2.500.000 in the capital) they found it ugly, dirty and gray.
Obviously, it's much more difficult to keep order in a bigger place
than in a smaller one. In a small town you can make every square meter
shine. Also because of the earthquake back in 1977 a major part of
Bucharest was destroyed, and the new houses were built very quickly.
Time mattered a lot those days, for the people didn't have places to
live. That's how the standartized architecture is explained. On the
other hand, the city had its own spitit, you feel the center place
there, for it's the place where a lot of roads of this country cross.
There are hordes of people who come to Bucharest to work and study from
all the regions of Romania. You can see something happen in the city all
the time, and I found the place really interesting. I will definitely
come there once again.