Tuesday, July 24, 2012

First day in Romania * Monday, July 9

“Your ancestors come from Romania – why not go there?”  For an entire year, I and three other CSUN faculty planned an educational trip to Berlin and Poland for July 2012, and I was eager to investigate Berlin but not too keen on chaperoning 20 college students through parts of Poland I had recently visited.  Lucyna’s transparently self-serving advice – since she would, of course, accompany me to visit the one place in Europe she’s never seen – had great appeal.  On July 3 I flew out of L.A. with 20 young adults, 4 other faculty, and 2 adult friends hangers-on; we spent an extraordinary July 4 – 8 in Berlin; and after the train to Warsaw and settling the group into the hostel in Warsaw, I was ready to go off on my own.  I would go off to Romania with Lucyna on Monday morning and re-join the group in Wroclaw the following Monday. 
I met Lucyna at the Chopin Airport in Warsaw, where we went through the many steps required to get on a Lot flight to Bucharest, Romania.  Someone forgot to tell them about the right of free movement guaranteed in the new European Union, where it is not necessary for an EU citizen to possess a valid passport or national identity card to travel between member countries.  Everybody went through three passport checks, two more than were required to depart Los Angeles.  Exhausted from the previous few days’ travel and uninspired by the airline food, I snoozed much of the way until we landed in Bucharest and tottered off the airplane into 98 degree heat.  We got a shock at the airport when my efforts to withdraw cash were met by “refused by your bank” by three separate ATMs.  I can’t withdraw cash from my credit card (never got a pin), and Lucyna’s resources were limited.  There we’d be, two feckless and Romanian-illiterate females, melting in the heat with no money! 
We found a cab and took the first of many harrowing car rides in this country.  
old residences on one-way street
The taxi driver went along
relaxed Lucyna at Flowers B & B
lawfully enough on the roadways leading from the airport, but he became frenzied and impatient when he reached the crowded urban areas.  Thank goodness only Lucyna noticed when the last few blocks of speeding through a residential area was the wrong way on a one-way street.  I was delighted with the air conditioner in my room at the lovely Flowers B & B, but the clerk informed me that my credit card would not be accepted because it didn't have the computer chip that is the norm in Europe.   
But we did manage to enjoy the first afternoon in Bucharest.  It took us lots of guessing and instructions from people on the street where we could catch the Bucharest hop-on  and hop-off double decker bus.  I discovered another major challenge of this trip with Lucyna: walking slowly.  She has this theory, which may actually have some basis in reality, that when it is very hot out one should walk slowly.  It was like walking with a 90 year-old.  There was no convincing her otherwise, not that I tried to, so I had to keep slowing myself down and that wasn't easy.  Not that I want to race around in the heat, but I do like a good aerobic walk, and my new sneakers were so wonderfully bouncy.   

glorious wiring
glorious old buildings
On the way we discovered beautiful churches, highly decorated buildings, and the craziest electrical wiring I've ever seen.  Also there are these mangy-looking dogs on the street.  According to the Lonely Planet Guide, Bucharest has about 100,000 stray dogs, a problem dating from the Ceausescu era.  Every problem in Romania can be traced back to Nicolae Ceausescu – how many years has it been since 1989?  No one’s had the time to catch them?   
Palace of the Parliament

The tour bus boasted the full employment legacy of the communist era: there was a driver and two workers to take our money and write receipts, and at the next stop an inspector came on board and asked to see our receipts and match them to the records kept on the first floor.  We went upstairs to the rooftop seating where we would bake in the sun but there was wind, far superior to the inside first level with its failed air conditioning.  The audio tape was triggered by where we were in the city, and we saw all the tourist sites from up high.  The Romanians take particular relish in recounting the awful carnage and waste that Ceausescu caused in building the gargantuan Palace of the Parliament of Romania: this number of hectares of farmland destroyed and businesses cleared away, that number of workers crushed during construction, and of course all those dogs that escaped their leashes.  It contains 1,100 rooms and a bunker underneath for the Ceausescu family to escape to in case of a revolution.  Too bad that plan didn’t pan out: in the violent 1989 revolt, Nicolae and Elena were dragged out of their apartment and within hours were tried and executed.   

new and old and wiring

a neighborhood church
Bucharest is a hodge podge of great beauty, lots of it faded, and astonishing ugliness in the communist-era buildings and the post-communist disrepair.  My eyes were drawn to the wiring.  We found an Italian restaurant for dinner.  Lucyna decided she would be a vegetarian on this trip, so she ordered gnocchi and I had a Greek salad.  We walked home and I found an excellent city map at a gas station store.  A man in a car stopped us while we were in the gas station lot and cautioned us about the dangers of the city, and could he drive us home?  We decided to walk by ourselves, and for the first time in Bucharest we trotted at a healthy pace.  We arrived back at Flowers unmolested. 

1 comment:

  1. Your trip sounds amazing. A little too much on food, but otherwise interesting. More about the grand old hotel, please.