*** Friday, 29 Nov 2002
This trip I observed the impact of economic activity that I had not seen
before. Streets were now paved, homes were being refaced, sidewalks were
being macadamed, there were fewer potholes, building seemed cleaner, and
I could identify new buildings constructed in the last few years. Hope
is in the air.
I had lunch at a self-described Chinese restaurant with mostly local employee.
I avoided the "Bull balls, 5 flavors", the "'O.K.' beef
on hot range", and "Fried Milk", the "Soup with cat
ears", the "Buddha's fingers", and the "Ants in a
Tree" and settled for pan fried ravioli and some beef in pepper sauce.
Not good, not bad. Worth going back for more samples. I kept wondering
what "Fried Milk" was.
*** Saturday, 30 Nov 2002 ***
Up at 9:30 after a nice sleep.
Bucharest still has a lot of wild dogs, and a much smaller number of very
nervous cats. Yet, on the whole, there does seem to be fewer dogs than
in the past. I've seen individual dogs and groups of up to three but haven't
seen the packs (of nine!) I used to see.
To someone who has not been here for nearly three years the increase in
economic activity seems evident. Streets have been paved, buildings are
being constructed and reconstructed, there is fresh paint in many places.
The weather is bleak and gray for days on end -- I guess it's the season.
The Bucharest Metrou, like
those around the world, has advertising posters on its walls. The
above product, despite its "lasting power" is not a likely
sell in the USA.
The Metrou at 5000 lei a ride (about fifteen cents US)
is cheap for me. I use it every time I can.
I managed to take my first bus today. Staff had told me how to board the
bus before it gets to its busiest stop. I love being able to find my way
I ate at the self-styled Belgian Cafe, La Belle Epoque, at Dorobantsilor
and Beller. The food (Croque Monsieur sandwich with Belgian fries) was
I visited the department store in Uniri; in contrast with my previous
visits there (4 year ago) it was full of people and expensive goods. There
is an economy here now. Unfortunately it didn't have any cheddar cheese.
When I asked, i just got a blank expression; they don't even know what
The Rough Guide (no, its not an attitude about travel but rather the name
of a quite good travel guide company!) to Romania mentions in a sidebar
titled "Bucharest Hassles" that "if you're approached by
two or three men demanding to see your passport . . . ignore their demands
and do not give them anything." This is excellent advice which I
wish I had read before I was robbed on a street in Piatza Uniri.
It was the slickest scam I have ever experienced. It was ten minutes after
the event before I realized that I had actually been scammed. Here is
how it happened:
A man walked up from behind me and spoke to me say something like "Madama".
This distracted me and as I was saying "No", two more men wearing
black leather jackets were sudden in front of us. The principal one stated
that he was a police officer and demanded my identification. I was too
put off to demand his identification. His partner concentrated on the
"Madama" guy who quickly disappeared while I was subjected to
I produced my wallet and the lead guy smelled my money as if for drugs.
He ask what the white papers (receipts) were and I said "bank paper"
which seemed to excite him. He took the papers and currency out of my
wallet, fanned it and shuffled it and asked if I had money anywhere else.
He warned me to be careful, saying that there were crooks around and finally
let me go. Ten minutes later I realized I was short three to five 500,000
lei notes ($45 to $75).
It was the swiftest "lightening" of my wallet I have ever experienced.
it reminded me of the scene at the beginning of the movie "Casablanca"
when a pickpocket warns his victim that the victim should "be very
careful, be very careful, there are vultures everywhere" as he walks
off with the victim's wallet.
Allen, who was smart enough to have read the Rough Guide, told me that
the scam was hi-lighted in the text and what you are supposed to do is
to refuse cooperation but insist that they accompany you to your (any?)
hotel. Live and learn.
I revisited the Web Club and was told that maybe Costel was now working
for "Angels" in Piatza Dorobantsilor which was actually on Strada
Paris and on my way home (or else I doubt I would have found it). I enquired
there and was told that he might be working at Cosmos in the Banesa area,
north of the city. I talked to the young lady who told me this and remarked
that there seemed to be much more economic activity now than when I had
been in Bucharest four years ago. Observantly and cynically she replied
that "you only think that because you have not been here for four
years." In other words, progress has been very slow for the last
That is a depressing because what Romanian needs more than anything is
economic growth to provide jobs for its population. Probably the single
most hopeful event on the horizon is Romania's entry into the EU which
has absorbed weak economies in the past (Ireland and Greece for example).
The EU has a policy of make major grants and loans to these economies
and really turning them around. There is hope for the future.