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18 Nov 2001 :: Have you ever died on an electric chair? Have you been shot in a dark basement? Or awakened at 6am by a sound of gas saw? Exactly this happened with me yesterday. I woke up because some asshole was sawing planks. At 6 o'clock... [ more.. ]

26 Sep 2001 :: All of my communication problems here seem to be solved now. I connected my mobile and got a dial-up account. The computer arrived last Saturday. I managed to get it, though must admit it was a real adventure... [ more.. ]

26 May 2006 :: Emigration to America, the widely promoted in the modern world culture country, is a dream for many young people. When I was 17-20, among my friends, mostly computer-oriented youth, such ideas were very popular. Some folks were really obsessed with them... [ more.. ]

[ 12th Oct 2002 ] Bucharest sketchings | leave a comment |

Preamble

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

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.

Bucharest Subway

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, another 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 with that.

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 world.

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 I was already invited to a party, fashion show and something else I don't remember what exactly it was. I kept on answering kindly that in the evening I was to leave. As to the pictures, it's quite a pity that my digital camera was about to come only in two days, so the majority of the sketchings you'll be able to see in the text form. But if I find a good scanner it will be possible to see some shots in the gallery, for I had my old good Kodak 35mm 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.

Beer Time

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 the munte.20m.com site 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 small centericq application, 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.

Conclusion

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.

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