Csíkszereda Musings

My life in and around Csíkszereda, also known as Miercurea Ciuc.

Archive for March, 2005

Boldog Husvet

Posted by Andy Hockley on 23 March, 2005

More Cartoons

Bogi is now into the Japanese cartoons that come in after 8.30pm. These are bizarrely fascinating. Her favourite is “Yu-Gi-Oh”, who is this big-eyed spiky-haired kid of indeterminate age (frankly all Japanese cartoon characters are big-eyed spiky-haired kids of indeterminate age) who, every episode, plays top trumps with someone. Yes, that’s right, the cartoon depicts a game of what is essentially top trumps. Strangely, it’s absorbing watching two exaggerated animated characters playing a game of top trumps, even when you can’t understand the dialogue (something which I’m sure doesn’t detract from the experience) – sadly it’s top trumps monsters rather than test cricketers or something genuinely interesting, but still. [Good god. I’ve just googled “Yu-Gi-Oh”. It’s frigging terrifying. Makes Dungeons and Dragons look like a pleasant hobby for the well-adjusted kid about the school yard]

Going for a Halliburton

I have been discovering more about Gigi Becali, the president of Steaua Bucharest, who I suggested looked like a gangster. Well, his money apparently came legally. In as much as he has basically made it by buying things and selling them to the army, or somehow otherwise getting cash from the Romanian army. So, basically, not a gangster but a legitimate businessman – like a Balkan Dick Cheney.

The first Easter of the year

We’re off on a tour of Saxon Transylvania for the next few days on an Easter break. It’s actually not the national Easter, but what is known here as “Catholic Easter” as the Orthodox church celebrates Easter later, and the country is mostly Orthodox. However the Hungarian community is mostly Catholic or Reform, so Csikszereda is having a long weekend. Perhaps we’ll get another one when Easter II rolls around. Tomorrow, we head to Sibiu for a couple of nights (meeting up with some friends from Budapest). Sibiu is supposed to be gorgeous and I’m really looking forward to seeing it. From there on Saturday we’ll head to Sighisoara via a number of fortified Saxon churches many of which appear to be on the UNESCO world heritage site list. Should be good. Sunday we’re doing some family thing in Targu Mures, and then Monday back here. On Monday there is some curious Transylvanian tradition in which men chuck water on women, and get eggs in return. I’ll investigate and let you know what it’s all about.

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Posted in media, transylvania | Leave a Comment »

Boldog Husvet

Posted by Andy Hockley on 23 March, 2005

More Cartoons

Bogi is now into the Japanese cartoons that come in after 8.30pm. These are bizarrely fascinating. Her favourite is “Yu-Gi-Oh”, who is this big-eyed spiky-haired kid of indeterminate age (frankly all Japanese cartoon characters are big-eyed spiky-haired kids of indeterminate age) who, every episode, plays top trumps with someone. Yes, that’s right, the cartoon depicts a game of what is essentially top trumps. Strangely, it’s absorbing watching two exaggerated animated characters playing a game of top trumps, even when you can’t understand the dialogue (something which I’m sure doesn’t detract from the experience) – sadly it’s top trumps monsters rather than test cricketers or something genuinely interesting, but still. [Good god. I’ve just googled “Yu-Gi-Oh”. It’s frigging terrifying. Makes Dungeons and Dragons look like a pleasant hobby for the well-adjusted kid about the school yard]

Going for a Halliburton

I have been discovering more about Gigi Becali, the president of Steaua Bucharest, who I suggested looked like a gangster. Well, his money apparently came legally. In as much as he has basically made it by buying things and selling them to the army, or somehow otherwise getting cash from the Romanian army. So, basically, not a gangster but a legitimate businessman – like a Balkan Dick Cheney.

The first Easter of the year

We’re off on a tour of Saxon Transylvania for the next few days on an Easter break. It’s actually not the national Easter, but what is known here as “Catholic Easter” as the Orthodox church celebrates Easter later, and the country is mostly Orthodox. However the Hungarian community is mostly Catholic or Reform, so Csikszereda is having a long weekend. Perhaps we’ll get another one when Easter II rolls around. Tomorrow, we head to Sibiu for a couple of nights (meeting up with some friends from Budapest). Sibiu is supposed to be gorgeous and I’m really looking forward to seeing it. From there on Saturday we’ll head to Sighisoara via a number of fortified Saxon churches many of which appear to be on the UNESCO world heritage site list. Should be good. Sunday we’re doing some family thing in Targu Mures, and then Monday back here. On Monday there is some curious Transylvanian tradition in which men chuck water on women, and get eggs in return. I’ll investigate and let you know what it’s all about.

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Who wrote all the Pis?

Posted by Andy Hockley on 22 March, 2005

Athens was stunning. It was no doubt helped by the a number of external factors not necessarily Athenian in nature (the weather, which was warm and sunny, and to me heralded spring; the fact that it was Orthodox carnival which meant a party time; and the food which due to the climate was fresh and delicious), but all the same it is a great great city. I had heard that Athens was polluted and chaotic, but (perhaps as a result of the Olympics) it wasn’t. It was pleasant and well organised and the public transport was clean and fast. We stayed on the very edge of Plaka, the old town on the hill atop which sits the Acropolis. Parts of the district are as you’d expect – touristy restaurants with menu in English German and French, but other parts, including some which are literally a stone’s throw from the Acropolis itself are quiet and peaceful and village like. To be in the very heart of this huge city, next to its biggest tourist attraction and yet find yourself in quiet narrow alleyways between run-down whitewashed houses with blue shutters is quite amazing.

As I mentioned before it is definitely now in the top 5 cities I’ve been to. I don’t think I’ve yet included a “my favourite X” list on this blog before, but that kind of anal and self-absorbed list making is what made the Internet what it is today (not the bit about it being a place full of pop-up ads and spyware, but the non-corporate bit about it being a haven for the egotistical), and so as a tip of the hat and an exaggerated genuflection towards the origin of blogging, I will present my top 5 cities of the world. I thought about inventing some scientific formula to justify the positions of these cities, based on climate, attractive architecture, friendly people, food, natural beauty, and having a quiet yet beautiful central neighbourhood where you can get away from it all. But I’d be inventing it after the fact, and in reality it’s just a bunch of subjective bollocks anyway. So, without further beating in the environs of the bush, and recognising the fact that by the time you read this it will probably have changed, here goes:

  1. Rome – the weather is perfect, the food is fantastic, the people are great. You can walk down a side street and find a small church with a Caravaggio in it. If you stand on that hilltop between the Vatican and Trastevere in the late afternoon the sun hits the rooftops and the buildings in such a way as to gladden the heart of the world’s most miserable bastard.
  2. Rio de Janeiro – Frankly it’s a rubbish city architecturally. But really, who cares? It’s always warm, they have carnival, and it has to be the most perfectly situated city in the world, the bay, the beaches, the mountains, the sea. What could be better? Plus of course there are the Cariocas themselves, good food, and the relaxed pace of life. And there’s even the barrio of Santa Theresa which can fulfil the cute neighbourhood criteria
  3. Athens – New entry at number 3. In my mind, it’s constantly 22 degrees, there are very few tourists and everyone’s friendly and hospitable. It just possible that in the depths of August with temperatures hovering around 40 and the city teeming with foreigners I might not like it quite as much. Like the others on the list, though, I suspect it’s big enough to absorb its incomers.
  4. Istanbul – When I first went it was noisy chaotic and dirty. Now it’s kept the energy but lost the unpleasant aspects. Walking around Sultanahmet in the shadow of the Blue Mosque. Wandering down to the Glden Horn, eating delicious food, having a hamam, drinking endless cups of tea at the behest of storekeepers, even though they know you’re not buying. It’s dead good.
  5. Jerusalem – It does have its drawbacks of course, such as gangs of tooled up IDF kids wandering around the old city making everyone nervous. But the old city (and to a lesser extent the run down but infinitely hospitable East Jerusalem) are great. Again, filled with tourists it may lose its appeal, but without them it is just great to wander around, getting lost. I’m less enamoured of the Western more modern bit as a city, but the people are friendly there too. Good weather too.

So there we are. The world’s top five cities. Looking at that list I can see a number of common factors. The weather is high among them. A lot of history (all bar Rio), and as I see in fact three of them are actually to some extent parts of the foundation of what I might term “my culture” (London would have made it too, were it not for the weather and the hurriedness of its citizens). Bet you’re glad you read that aren’t you?

One day on our Greek trip we took a catamaran (the Flying Dolphin) to the gorgeous island of Hydra which is about 1 ½ hours away (or 3 if you go by normal ferry). I’d never been to a Greek island before (well, I’d never been to Greece at all), and obviously I’d heard how nice they were and so on, but I thought it was mostly hype. Well, Hydra is not a famous island (it doesn’t have much in the way of beaches as far as I could see), but god it’s gorgeous. Tiny seaside town built up into the hills, crystal clear blue water, little taverna’s tucked away on flower filled side streets. Perfect for strolling around aimlessly wandering up and down the back streets and over the hills. I would have swum, but the water where we could go in was full of sea urchins. I’m told that sea urchins are an indicator of clean unpolluted water, but they’re also an indicator of getting your foot filled with tiny painful spines. So I decided against it.

I suppose I ought to do my “name 5 famous Greeks” bit, since it’s become something of a habit. So here goes. Name 5 famous Greeks. Too easy? OK, name 5 famous modern Greeks. Hah, not so easy now is it?

On that tack, why is it that we really only remember “cultural” ancient Greeks? All the famous Romans are emperors and warriors while all the famous Greeks are philosophers and mathematicians and writers. Even the famous Greek warriors are literary figures (Achilles) rather than actual documented human beings. The more I think about this the more I like them. The ancient Greeks I mean.

The food in Greece is ace. Beats Central/Eastern European cuisine into a cocked hat. It’s the vegetables, the salads, the sunniness of the food that does it. It’s a salad cuisine rather than a soup one. Not that I’ve anything against a good soup from time to time, but you can have too much of a good thing. A fresh tomato, I find, is more versatile than a dumpling. But hey, that’s just me. Managed to buy myself a box of extra virgin Cretan olive oil (or should that be Cretan extra virgin?) Yes, a box. Greece is such an advanced olive oil society that they have it in wine boxes. €12 for three litres. You can’t beat those prices.

Greek script is as good as Cyrillic, with the added caveat that at times it can feel that you are marooned in a maths textbook. The word for Spanakoptika (those kind of little greek pasties), I’m sure approximates to zero. It is something like (I’m making it up to be quite honest, before any Greek speakers get onto me) this: ΣπάηάκΩπτικά (that may not come out on your browser, but trust me it’s an equation of some sort).

My answers to the quiz above: Demis Roussos, Nana Mouskouri, Aristotle Onassis, Costa Gavras, Melina Mercouri. I would have had a couple of members of the Euro2004 winning squad, but I didn’t get to watch any of it and they all seemed to have inordinately long and difficult to remember names anyway. Charisteas? Anyway, what this proves (if we can use the verb “prove”) is that if Austria produces Nazis, Greece (since the halcyon days of Plato, Homer, Euclid, Sophocles et al) produces rubbish entertainers. And shipping magnates. Is someone who’s made a fortune on refrigerators a fridge magnate? On that note, I’ll sign off. I’ll put photos in this post when I get round to it, maybe tomorrow.

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Who wrote all the Pis?

Posted by Andy Hockley on 22 March, 2005

Athens was stunning. It was no doubt helped by the a number of external factors not necessarily Athenian in nature (the weather, which was warm and sunny, and to me heralded spring; the fact that it was Orthodox carnival which meant a party time; and the food which due to the climate was fresh and delicious), but all the same it is a great great city. I had heard that Athens was polluted and chaotic, but (perhaps as a result of the Olympics) it wasn’t. It was pleasant and well organised and the public transport was clean and fast. We stayed on the very edge of Plaka, the old town on the hill atop which sits the Acropolis. Parts of the district are as you’d expect – touristy restaurants with menu in English German and French, but other parts, including some which are literally a stone’s throw from the Acropolis itself are quiet and peaceful and village like. To be in the very heart of this huge city, next to its biggest tourist attraction and yet find yourself in quiet narrow alleyways between run-down whitewashed houses with blue shutters is quite amazing.

As I mentioned before it is definitely now in the top 5 cities I’ve been to. I don’t think I’ve yet included a “my favourite X” list on this blog before, but that kind of anal and self-absorbed list making is what made the Internet what it is today (not the bit about it being a place full of pop-up ads and spyware, but the non-corporate bit about it being a haven for the egotistical), and so as a tip of the hat and an exaggerated genuflection towards the origin of blogging, I will present my top 5 cities of the world. I thought about inventing some scientific formula to justify the positions of these cities, based on climate, attractive architecture, friendly people, food, natural beauty, and having a quiet yet beautiful central neighbourhood where you can get away from it all. But I’d be inventing it after the fact, and in reality it’s just a bunch of subjective bollocks anyway. So, without further beating in the environs of the bush, and recognising the fact that by the time you read this it will probably have changed, here goes:

  1. Rome – the weather is perfect, the food is fantastic, the people are great. You can walk down a side street and find a small church with a Caravaggio in it. If you stand on that hilltop between the Vatican and Trastevere in the late afternoon the sun hits the rooftops and the buildings in such a way as to gladden the heart of the world’s most miserable bastard.
  2. Rio de Janeiro – Frankly it’s a rubbish city architecturally. But really, who cares? It’s always warm, they have carnival, and it has to be the most perfectly situated city in the world, the bay, the beaches, the mountains, the sea. What could be better? Plus of course there are the Cariocas themselves, good food, and the relaxed pace of life. And there’s even the barrio of Santa Theresa which can fulfil the cute neighbourhood criteria
  3. Athens – New entry at number 3. In my mind, it’s constantly 22 degrees, there are very few tourists and everyone’s friendly and hospitable. It just possible that in the depths of August with temperatures hovering around 40 and the city teeming with foreigners I might not like it quite as much. Like the others on the list, though, I suspect it’s big enough to absorb its incomers.
  4. Istanbul – When I first went it was noisy chaotic and dirty. Now it’s kept the energy but lost the unpleasant aspects. Walking around Sultanahmet in the shadow of the Blue Mosque. Wandering down to the Glden Horn, eating delicious food, having a hamam, drinking endless cups of tea at the behest of storekeepers, even though they know you’re not buying. It’s dead good.
  5. Jerusalem – It does have its drawbacks of course, such as gangs of tooled up IDF kids wandering around the old city making everyone nervous. But the old city (and to a lesser extent the run down but infinitely hospitable East Jerusalem) are great. Again, filled with tourists it may lose its appeal, but without them it is just great to wander around, getting lost. I’m less enamoured of the Western more modern bit as a city, but the people are friendly there too. Good weather too.

So there we are. The world’s top five cities. Looking at that list I can see a number of common factors. The weather is high among them. A lot of history (all bar Rio), and as I see in fact three of them are actually to some extent parts of the foundation of what I might term “my culture” (London would have made it too, were it not for the weather and the hurriedness of its citizens). Bet you’re glad you read that aren’t you?

One day on our Greek trip we took a catamaran (the Flying Dolphin) to the gorgeous island of Hydra which is about 1 ½ hours away (or 3 if you go by normal ferry). I’d never been to a Greek island before (well, I’d never been to Greece at all), and obviously I’d heard how nice they were and so on, but I thought it was mostly hype. Well, Hydra is not a famous island (it doesn’t have much in the way of beaches as far as I could see), but god it’s gorgeous. Tiny seaside town built up into the hills, crystal clear blue water, little taverna’s tucked away on flower filled side streets. Perfect for strolling around aimlessly wandering up and down the back streets and over the hills. I would have swum, but the water where we could go in was full of sea urchins. I’m told that sea urchins are an indicator of clean unpolluted water, but they’re also an indicator of getting your foot filled with tiny painful spines. So I decided against it.

I suppose I ought to do my “name 5 famous Greeks” bit, since it’s become something of a habit. So here goes. Name 5 famous Greeks. Too easy? OK, name 5 famous modern Greeks. Hah, not so easy now is it?

On that tack, why is it that we really only remember “cultural” ancient Greeks? All the famous Romans are emperors and warriors while all the famous Greeks are philosophers and mathematicians and writers. Even the famous Greek warriors are literary figures (Achilles) rather than actual documented human beings. The more I think about this the more I like them. The ancient Greeks I mean.

The food in Greece is ace. Beats Central/Eastern European cuisine into a cocked hat. It’s the vegetables, the salads, the sunniness of the food that does it. It’s a salad cuisine rather than a soup one. Not that I’ve anything against a good soup from time to time, but you can have too much of a good thing. A fresh tomato, I find, is more versatile than a dumpling. But hey, that’s just me. Managed to buy myself a box of extra virgin Cretan olive oil (or should that be Cretan extra virgin?) Yes, a box. Greece is such an advanced olive oil society that they have it in wine boxes. €12 for three litres. You can’t beat those prices.

Greek script is as good as Cyrillic, with the added caveat that at times it can feel that you are marooned in a maths textbook. The word for Spanakoptika (those kind of little greek pasties), I’m sure approximates to zero. It is something like (I’m making it up to be quite honest, before any Greek speakers get onto me) this: ΣπάηάκΩπτικά (that may not come out on your browser, but trust me it’s an equation of some sort).

My answers to the quiz above: Demis Roussos, Nana Mouskouri, Aristotle Onassis, Costa Gavras, Melina Mercouri. I would have had a couple of members of the Euro2004 winning squad, but I didn’t get to watch any of it and they all seemed to have inordinately long and difficult to remember names anyway. Charisteas? Anyway, what this proves (if we can use the verb “prove”) is that if Austria produces Nazis, Greece (since the halcyon days of Plato, Homer, Euclid, Sophocles et al) produces rubbish entertainers. And shipping magnates. Is someone who’s made a fortune on refrigerators a fridge magnate? On that note, I’ll sign off. I’ll put photos in this post when I get round to it, maybe tomorrow.

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Some Bogi things

Posted by Andy Hockley on 21 March, 2005

It’s a constant learning experience dealing with a 5 year old. Yesterday I was cleaning the windows in the house and Bogi insisted on helping me. This helping, however, involved squirting inordinate amounts of Windex (the blue stuff you use to clean windows, I know in the US it’s known by that brand name, but probably something different elsewhere) over the glass and smearing it in a way that I didn’t believe possible. In short, any window that she cleaned needed to be cleaned more than all the others. Eventually I discovered that the way to best deal with this was to give her one pane and let her douse it to her heart’s content, while I got on with cleaning the others. Occasionally, she “finished” and wanted to clean something else, and once, infuriatingly* cleaned a pane I had already actually cleaned. Now it may be that there are women reading this – particularly those who may have had the good fortune to have lived with me – who are thinking “Hah! Sounds like he’s getting a taste of his own medicine”. It’s quite possible however that those women never got past the sentence that started “Yesterday I was cleaning the windows…” as they would have assumed the rest of the paragraph to have been a figment of my imagination or something written with extreme poetic licence. To those women I will point out that later, of course, after I had cleaned all the windows and re-cleaned the ones cleaned by Bogi, Erika came along to make them really clean.

We went for a walk yesterday and as we passed a cemetery she asked which kind of grave she’d have when she died. It’s a tough question to answer, not least because I don’t remember ever even thinking about it for myself. In the end she answered her own question and concluded that it would (of course) be in one which was empty.

No, I don’t know why the sidebar has gone all the way down the bottom of the page. It must be some function of me putting photos in.

(*She has a cunning way of being infuriating and impossibly cute ate the same time. I have no idea how she carries it off)

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a Comment »

Some Bogi things

Posted by Andy Hockley on 21 March, 2005

It’s a constant learning experience dealing with a 5 year old. Yesterday I was cleaning the windows in the house and Bogi insisted on helping me. This helping, however, involved squirting inordinate amounts of Windex (the blue stuff you use to clean windows, I know in the US it’s known by that brand name, but probably something different elsewhere) over the glass and smearing it in a way that I didn’t believe possible. In short, any window that she cleaned needed to be cleaned more than all the others. Eventually I discovered that the way to best deal with this was to give her one pane and let her douse it to her heart’s content, while I got on with cleaning the others. Occasionally, she “finished” and wanted to clean something else, and once, infuriatingly* cleaned a pane I had already actually cleaned. Now it may be that there are women reading this – particularly those who may have had the good fortune to have lived with me – who are thinking “Hah! Sounds like he’s getting a taste of his own medicine”. It’s quite possible however that those women never got past the sentence that started “Yesterday I was cleaning the windows…” as they would have assumed the rest of the paragraph to have been a figment of my imagination or something written with extreme poetic licence. To those women I will point out that later, of course, after I had cleaned all the windows and re-cleaned the ones cleaned by Bogi, Erika came along to make them really clean.

We went for a walk yesterday and as we passed a cemetery she asked which kind of grave she’d have when she died. It’s a tough question to answer, not least because I don’t remember ever even thinking about it for myself. In the end she answered her own question and concluded that it would (of course) be in one which was empty.

No, I don’t know why the sidebar has gone all the way down the bottom of the page. It must be some function of me putting photos in.

(*She has a cunning way of being infuriating and impossibly cute ate the same time. I have no idea how she carries it off)

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A Becs of a Drive

Posted by Andy Hockley on 18 March, 2005

We didn’t leave the house in time for the overnight train to Budapest. This was my first clue as to the nature of the weekend. It was clear to me that we would be driving somewhere – and as Erika had drunk a glass of wine with me I suspected it would be with other people. Plus, I was fairly sure we were leaving Romania (unless the passport thing was a red herring) and we live about as far as it is possible to live from any borders. With this in mind it seemed unlikely that we would be going in Erika’s Daewoo Tico, which is small and uncomfortable.

So it was that I found myself on the pavement outside our house at 8.30 on Thursday night suitcase beside me waiting for the driver to turn up. And turn up they did, Marika and Tibor, friends of ours in their Renault Clio ( a much more comfortable ride than the Tico). Their family name is Kedves, which means “nice” or “kind”, and that just about sums them up. Although Tibor can sometimes become not-so-kedves Tibor when he whips me at table tennis on a regular basis. I had surmised that they may have been involved with this birthday experience when I had been talking to Marika on my actual birthday and she had declined the opportunity to offer me a happy birthday and had said she would do so later with Tibor. Which of course had sent my mental sniffer dogs out after a hint of a suggestion of a scent of my birthday surprise.

So we set off, across the shite roads of Hargita County. Heading west to confirm my susipicions. We crossed the Harghita mountains to Udvarhely, and continued on to Sighisoara. From then we continued westward to Medias and Alba Iulia and thence on towards Arad. We reached the border west of Arad at about 4am, just under 8 hours into the journey, and from there crossed into Hungary. At that point I actually managed to sleep for a little bit and woke up somewhere on a motorway between Szeged and Budapest. But I didn’t think we were going to Budapest as a final destination ( I knew a hotel was involved as my credit card had been used to secure it, and I didn’t think we would say in a hotel in Budapest – we have far too many friends and acquaintances in Budapest for that to be an option, we’d offend far too many people if we did that), and I was proven correct when we started skirting it on the orbital road. From Budapest we headed northwest on the road to the Hungarian town of Gyors, and crucially the two other capital cities of Bratislava and Vienna. One of these two would be our final goal, of that I was sure, and I had a suspicion that it would be Vienna. After all, who goes to Bratislava? I’m sure it’s nice and all, but you know, it’s not famous for much. Whereas Vienna is all that and a bag of chips (whatever that means, I just thought I’d throw that expression in there for no reason other than it sounded like a good occasion).

As we left Budapest, a blizzard spung up, and our pace slowed significantly. As te radio switched to a Gyors based station, we learned that this weekend was the Gyors spring festival, to which we responded with the wry chuckles of the weary travellers. “Hah, spring”, we opined, sarcastically, as the snow whipped across the windscreen, and we neared the border.

The border post between Budapest and Vienna was the scene of the defining moment of the late 20th century. It was here that in 1989, the Hungarian government decided to pull aside their side of the iron curtain, and allow people to cross. Which they did in large numbers very quickly – and not only Hungarians, but Czechoslovakians and Yugoslavians and East Germans and loads of others who packed their stuff into their Trabants and Yugos and Skodas and Ladas and Moskviches and set out for the promised land. Or Austria at least, which apparently was an important way station on the road. Obviously that breach in the dam led quickly to a flood, which then in turn precipitated a series of revolutions all over Europe, and all the monumental changes that followed. To read the recent obituaries, it was all the doing of that senile old bastard Ronald Reagan, rather than the people of Eastern Europe, but that’s historical revisionism for you.

On this day (Friday 4th March, 2005, fact fans), the border was also crowded. The line we were waiting in was jammed solid with non-EU citizens. This confirms my suspicion that the recent enlargement of the EU, was less about expansion and more about creating a buffer zone. If you look at a map you’ll see that the Eastern European additions to the union form an unbroken line from the Adriatic to the Baltic – Slovenia, Hungary, Slovakia, the Czech Republic, Poland. So we were already technically in the EU, but were being held back at this border, as we were from the undesirable end of the continent. It’s successfully created a double border for those outside the EU. If you can get into one of the new states you still have to get across another border into the “old EU”. We waited. And waited. Among the Ukrainians and Moldovans and Romanians and Bulgarians who made up our line of cars. I could have got out and strolled through the EU line, but (a) it would seem rather churlish to do so, having been driven all the way there; (b) what was I going to do on the other side anyway?; and (c) there was a frigging blizzard going on – don’t you remember? It took us more than an hour to get across.

Not long after the border, the final turn off to Bratislava passed and we were clearly destined for Bécs. Bécs is the Hungarian word for Vienna and sounds a little bit like “bitch” (well, not really, it sounds like betch, but that’s not a word, and it amuses me more to say that it sounds like bitch, so bear with me here). So all through the years of the Austro Hungarian empire the people of Budapest were laughing behind their hands and referring to Vienna as their Bécs. (See? That halfarsed joke wouldn’t have worked if it was betch).

Hapsburg
Mr and Mrs Hapsburg’s place

We drove into the capital of Austria (name five famous Austrians, my answer to follow), and now that I had been made aware of my surprise I was at liberty to be the navigator through the city to our hotel. This I did with laser like precision, with nary a wrong turn or a missed exit. If the US military wanted a non-computerised system to direct their missiles to kill some unsuspecting Arab family in their dining room, they ought to hire me. Well, they didn’t, as I would instead turn their missiles on them and send them into the White House, but I would do so with precision accuracy.

Ostentatiousness
These days having Christmas lights outside your house is often regarded as a bit naff

And so, just under 16 hours (16 hours!) after we had left Brotherhood Street, Csikszereda, we were parked outside our Viennese hotel. 16 hours is a seriously long drive for a weekend, I think you’ll agree. Not even Californians would do that, I’m thinking.

Mozart
Mostly Mozart. In no way tacky. No sirree

So, Vienna. Nice town, cold as hell, but nice. A tad obsessed with Mozart, I suspect, but that’s understandable I suppose. It could be worse, and they could be obsessed with some of their other more famous sons (my answer to the question posed above was W.A. Mozart, A. Hitler, K. Waldheim, A. Schwarzenegger, and N. Lauda. When you look at that list packed full of murderous far right loonies (and Niki Lauda) you can understand why Vienna has latched onto Mozart as its favourite son. Though wasn’t he actually from Salzburg?). For the most part this is done with taste and elegance (the Mozart café was particularly nice), but there are occasions when it gets a bit naff.

Rathaus
Rathaus – disappointingly, not a house for rats

There is a musical going on in Vienna called “Falco Meets Amadeus”. I had, I confess, forgotten about Falco and his curious brand of Austrian proto-stadium-rap. I’m not that happy that I have been reminded of it now. On the plus side it dislodged the Ultravox earworm from my brain temporarily, but on the minus side replaced it with “Rock me Amadeus”. I’m quite intrigued about what happens in this musical, and whether the great man himself appears in it (or is he dead? I’m thinking possibly he snuffed it). Do they link his songs in some kind of thematic loop culminating in the man’s big hit? Did he have enough songs to do this with? Other than Rock me Amadeus, I can only remember the even more classic “Der Kommisar”. Presumably in Austria he had a string of high profile hits. Was he the Robbie Williams of Austria? Prolific hit machine in his own country, virtually (and rightfully) ignored outside it?

Kunst for Kunst sake
The KunstHaus

One day we ended up going to the Kunst Haus (I don’t know much about Kunst, but I know what I like), which houses the permanent collection of an old (well, dead, actually) hippy artist called Hunderdtwasser. I’d never heard of him before, but he’s frigging brilliant. He’s my new favourite artist. I love his pictures, his architecture, his philosophies, his all round hippy-ness. Really. Here’s a link to something about him, in case I have sparked your interest. (a link to something about him)

The rest of the weekend was equally fun, though we didn’t go up in the ferris wheel a la The Third Man, or see much Klimt (another of my favourite artists), but as a birthday present it was spectacular. No-one’s ever taken me away for a weekend to Vienna for my birthday before.

me being arty like
A big U

More thoughts on driving in Romania

Romania has an (I presume, unofficial) system of roadside whores. You’ll be driving on a major-ish road at any time of the day and at a petrol station or a lay-by in the middle of nowhere, there’ll be one or two women standing waiting for a ride, so to speak. It’s a bit like the Happy Eater or Little Chef chains in the UK, only for cheap and rough sex rather than cheap and rough food. Unhappy Shagger perhaps. Joking aside, when you’re driving round in the depths of winter and it’s below zero outside, it really brings home to you the misery of this particular occupation. They stand there stamping their feet against the cold, wrapped up to the point of shapelessness (thank god they are not forced to go for the full on beminiskirted outfit), and waiting, presumably, for some fat bastard truck driver to stop for them.

When you cross the border into Romania by car, you see this informative little sign telling the unwary foreign driver of the speed limits that he or she should obey in the country. There’s a picture of a town with the number 50, a picture of a town with a line through it accompanied by a 90, and the universally recognised symbol of the motorway with a 120 next to it. All well and good you might think. Except that this is in fact a cunning ruse to make you think that there are motorways in Romania. There aren’t. Well, there is one. It runs from Bucharest to Pitesti. I have a friend from Pitesti, so I can’t badmouth the place, and besides, I’ve never been there, but it’s not exactly one of Romania’s major cities. It’s neither big nor does it feature prominently in tourist guide books. Having the only motorway run to it is akin to having the only motorway in England run from London to Swindon or something similar.

Because Romania is scheduled to join the EU in 2007, and also lined up to join the 21st Century in about 2012, they have decided to build some motorways. The first of these is due to be built from Bors (on the Hungarian border a fair way north of where we crossed) to Brasov. This will provide much greater and quicker access to all of Transylvania. However, there is one decided oddity about this project. As this road construction is part of Romania becoming part of Europe, the EU will fund 75% of the costs, provided they use a European contractor. But, instead, the government (or the previous government to be exact) signed a deal with Bechtel, an American company. Now, I do have a sense of how Bechtel operate, and reading between the lines it seems they set up shell companies which enable them to participate fully in any backhanders and bribes that may be needed to make things happen. So, my guess (and I stress it is a guess only and not even so much as an allegation) is that Bechtel and members of the previous government have stitched up some deal whereby they all get nice brown envelopes in exchange for the contract. The only victims are the Romanian taxpayers, and any foreign aid that may be used to help finance the deal – possibly from the US government who are closely linked to Bechtel, and who are not averse to channelling US taxpayer money to corporations affiliated with the Texan money mafia, as an alternative to the Swiss bank accounts normally favoured by corrupt fascist dictators (see the great Iraq Money Laundering Scheme, for the best example.) But as I say, before anyone shows up to kneecap me, I am merely speculating what might have happened rather than making any concrete allegations. OK?

And on that conspiracy theory, I will sign off. Those looking for me will find me helping to prop up a motorway bridge outside Cluj.

Posted in EU, pictures, travel | 2 Comments »

A Becs of a Drive

Posted by Andy Hockley on 18 March, 2005

We didn’t leave the house in time for the overnight train to Budapest. This was my first clue as to the nature of the weekend. It was clear to me that we would be driving somewhere – and as Erika had drunk a glass of wine with me I suspected it would be with other people. Plus, I was fairly sure we were leaving Romania (unless the passport thing was a red herring) and we live about as far as it is possible to live from any borders. With this in mind it seemed unlikely that we would be going in Erika’s Daewoo Tico, which is small and uncomfortable.

So it was that I found myself on the pavement outside our house at 8.30 on Thursday night suitcase beside me waiting for the driver to turn up. And turn up they did, Marika and Tibor, friends of ours in their Renault Clio ( a much more comfortable ride than the Tico). Their family name is Kedves, which means “nice” or “kind”, and that just about sums them up. Although Tibor can sometimes become not-so-kedves Tibor when he whips me at table tennis on a regular basis. I had surmised that they may have been involved with this birthday experience when I had been talking to Marika on my actual birthday and she had declined the opportunity to offer me a happy birthday and had said she would do so later with Tibor. Which of course had sent my mental sniffer dogs out after a hint of a suggestion of a scent of my birthday surprise.

So we set off, across the shite roads of Hargita County. Heading west to confirm my susipicions. We crossed the Harghita mountains to Udvarhely, and continued on to Sighisoara. From then we continued westward to Medias and Alba Iulia and thence on towards Arad. We reached the border west of Arad at about 4am, just under 8 hours into the journey, and from there crossed into Hungary. At that point I actually managed to sleep for a little bit and woke up somewhere on a motorway between Szeged and Budapest. But I didn’t think we were going to Budapest as a final destination ( I knew a hotel was involved as my credit card had been used to secure it, and I didn’t think we would say in a hotel in Budapest – we have far too many friends and acquaintances in Budapest for that to be an option, we’d offend far too many people if we did that), and I was proven correct when we started skirting it on the orbital road. From Budapest we headed northwest on the road to the Hungarian town of Gyors, and crucially the two other capital cities of Bratislava and Vienna. One of these two would be our final goal, of that I was sure, and I had a suspicion that it would be Vienna. After all, who goes to Bratislava? I’m sure it’s nice and all, but you know, it’s not famous for much. Whereas Vienna is all that and a bag of chips (whatever that means, I just thought I’d throw that expression in there for no reason other than it sounded like a good occasion).

As we left Budapest, a blizzard spung up, and our pace slowed significantly. As te radio switched to a Gyors based station, we learned that this weekend was the Gyors spring festival, to which we responded with the wry chuckles of the weary travellers. “Hah, spring”, we opined, sarcastically, as the snow whipped across the windscreen, and we neared the border.

The border post between Budapest and Vienna was the scene of the defining moment of the late 20th century. It was here that in 1989, the Hungarian government decided to pull aside their side of the iron curtain, and allow people to cross. Which they did in large numbers very quickly – and not only Hungarians, but Czechoslovakians and Yugoslavians and East Germans and loads of others who packed their stuff into their Trabants and Yugos and Skodas and Ladas and Moskviches and set out for the promised land. Or Austria at least, which apparently was an important way station on the road. Obviously that breach in the dam led quickly to a flood, which then in turn precipitated a series of revolutions all over Europe, and all the monumental changes that followed. To read the recent obituaries, it was all the doing of that senile old bastard Ronald Reagan, rather than the people of Eastern Europe, but that’s historical revisionism for you.

On this day (Friday 4th March, 2005, fact fans), the border was also crowded. The line we were waiting in was jammed solid with non-EU citizens. This confirms my suspicion that the recent enlargement of the EU, was less about expansion and more about creating a buffer zone. If you look at a map you’ll see that the Eastern European additions to the union form an unbroken line from the Adriatic to the Baltic – Slovenia, Hungary, Slovakia, the Czech Republic, Poland. So we were already technically in the EU, but were being held back at this border, as we were from the undesirable end of the continent. It’s successfully created a double border for those outside the EU. If you can get into one of the new states you still have to get across another border into the “old EU”. We waited. And waited. Among the Ukrainians and Moldovans and Romanians and Bulgarians who made up our line of cars. I could have got out and strolled through the EU line, but (a) it would seem rather churlish to do so, having been driven all the way there; (b) what was I going to do on the other side anyway?; and (c) there was a frigging blizzard going on – don’t you remember? It took us more than an hour to get across.

Not long after the border, the final turn off to Bratislava passed and we were clearly destined for Bécs. Bécs is the Hungarian word for Vienna and sounds a little bit like “bitch” (well, not really, it sounds like betch, but that’s not a word, and it amuses me more to say that it sounds like bitch, so bear with me here). So all through the years of the Austro Hungarian empire the people of Budapest were laughing behind their hands and referring to Vienna as their Bécs. (See? That halfarsed joke wouldn’t have worked if it was betch).

Hapsburg
Mr and Mrs Hapsburg’s place

We drove into the capital of Austria (name five famous Austrians, my answer to follow), and now that I had been made aware of my surprise I was at liberty to be the navigator through the city to our hotel. This I did with laser like precision, with nary a wrong turn or a missed exit. If the US military wanted a non-computerised system to direct their missiles to kill some unsuspecting Arab family in their dining room, they ought to hire me. Well, they didn’t, as I would instead turn their missiles on them and send them into the White House, but I would do so with precision accuracy.

Ostentatiousness
These days having Christmas lights outside your house is often regarded as a bit naff

And so, just under 16 hours (16 hours!) after we had left Brotherhood Street, Csikszereda, we were parked outside our Viennese hotel. 16 hours is a seriously long drive for a weekend, I think you’ll agree. Not even Californians would do that, I’m thinking.

Mozart
Mostly Mozart. In no way tacky. No sirree

So, Vienna. Nice town, cold as hell, but nice. A tad obsessed with Mozart, I suspect, but that’s understandable I suppose. It could be worse, and they could be obsessed with some of their other more famous sons (my answer to the question posed above was W.A. Mozart, A. Hitler, K. Waldheim, A. Schwarzenegger, and N. Lauda. When you look at that list packed full of murderous far right loonies (and Niki Lauda) you can understand why Vienna has latched onto Mozart as its favourite son. Though wasn’t he actually from Salzburg?). For the most part this is done with taste and elegance (the Mozart café was particularly nice), but there are occasions when it gets a bit naff.

Rathaus
Rathaus – disappointingly, not a house for rats

There is a musical going on in Vienna called “Falco Meets Amadeus”. I had, I confess, forgotten about Falco and his curious brand of Austrian proto-stadium-rap. I’m not that happy that I have been reminded of it now. On the plus side it dislodged the Ultravox earworm from my brain temporarily, but on the minus side replaced it with “Rock me Amadeus”. I’m quite intrigued about what happens in this musical, and whether the great man himself appears in it (or is he dead? I’m thinking possibly he snuffed it). Do they link his songs in some kind of thematic loop culminating in the man’s big hit? Did he have enough songs to do this with? Other than Rock me Amadeus, I can only remember the even more classic “Der Kommisar”. Presumably in Austria he had a string of high profile hits. Was he the Robbie Williams of Austria? Prolific hit machine in his own country, virtually (and rightfully) ignored outside it?

Kunst for Kunst sake
The KunstHaus

One day we ended up going to the Kunst Haus (I don’t know much about Kunst, but I know what I like), which houses the permanent collection of an old (well, dead, actually) hippy artist called Hunderdtwasser. I’d never heard of him before, but he’s frigging brilliant. He’s my new favourite artist. I love his pictures, his architecture, his philosophies, his all round hippy-ness. Really. Here’s a link to something about him, in case I have sparked your interest. (a link to something about him)

The rest of the weekend was equally fun, though we didn’t go up in the ferris wheel a la The Third Man, or see much Klimt (another of my favourite artists), but as a birthday present it was spectacular. No-one’s ever taken me away for a weekend to Vienna for my birthday before.

me being arty like
A big U

More thoughts on driving in Romania

Romania has an (I presume, unofficial) system of roadside whores. You’ll be driving on a major-ish road at any time of the day and at a petrol station or a lay-by in the middle of nowhere, there’ll be one or two women standing waiting for a ride, so to speak. It’s a bit like the Happy Eater or Little Chef chains in the UK, only for cheap and rough sex rather than cheap and rough food. Unhappy Shagger perhaps. Joking aside, when you’re driving round in the depths of winter and it’s below zero outside, it really brings home to you the misery of this particular occupation. They stand there stamping their feet against the cold, wrapped up to the point of shapelessness (thank god they are not forced to go for the full on beminiskirted outfit), and waiting, presumably, for some fat bastard truck driver to stop for them.

When you cross the border into Romania by car, you see this informative little sign telling the unwary foreign driver of the speed limits that he or she should obey in the country. There’s a picture of a town with the number 50, a picture of a town with a line through it accompanied by a 90, and the universally recognised symbol of the motorway with a 120 next to it. All well and good you might think. Except that this is in fact a cunning ruse to make you think that there are motorways in Romania. There aren’t. Well, there is one. It runs from Bucharest to Pitesti. I have a friend from Pitesti, so I can’t badmouth the place, and besides, I’ve never been there, but it’s not exactly one of Romania’s major cities. It’s neither big nor does it feature prominently in tourist guide books. Having the only motorway run to it is akin to having the only motorway in England run from London to Swindon or something similar.

Because Romania is scheduled to join the EU in 2007, and also lined up to join the 21st Century in about 2012, they have decided to build some motorways. The first of these is due to be built from Bors (on the Hungarian border a fair way north of where we crossed) to Brasov. This will provide much greater and quicker access to all of Transylvania. However, there is one decided oddity about this project. As this road construction is part of Romania becoming part of Europe, the EU will fund 75% of the costs, provided they use a European contractor. But, instead, the government (or the previous government to be exact) signed a deal with Bechtel, an American company. Now, I do have a sense of how Bechtel operate, and reading between the lines it seems they set up shell companies which enable them to participate fully in any backhanders and bribes that may be needed to make things happen. So, my guess (and I stress it is a guess only and not even so much as an allegation) is that Bechtel and members of the previous government have stitched up some deal whereby they all get nice brown envelopes in exchange for the contract. The only victims are the Romanian taxpayers, and any foreign aid that may be used to help finance the deal – possibly from the US government who are closely linked to Bechtel, and who are not averse to channelling US taxpayer money to corporations affiliated with the Texan money mafia, as an alternative to the Swiss bank accounts normally favoured by corrupt fascist dictators (see the great Iraq Money Laundering Scheme, for the best example.) But as I say, before anyone shows up to kneecap me, I am merely speculating what might have happened rather than making any concrete allegations. OK?

And on that conspiracy theory, I will sign off. Those looking for me will find me helping to prop up a motorway bridge outside Cluj.

Posted in EU, pictures, travel | 2 Comments »

Greece is the Word

Posted by Andy Hockley on 13 March, 2005

Not really a proper blog post, as I’m in a cafe, and don’t have the time, wherewithal, or desire to spend a long time writing. However, I am writing a longer post on my own computer and will hopefully be able to post it before long.

So, I’m in Athens (the one in Greece, not the one where REM come from), and it’s brill. It’s shot into my top five cities of the world list. It’s also carnival in Greece at the moment (being Orthodox, Greece has a different easter from the Catholic/Protestant world, and carnival is moved accordingly), so lots of late night japery is ongoing. Last night we walked back to out hotel from a restaurant at 2.30 and the streets were packed. This may have just been a normal Saturday night thing though. I’ll send a full report next week sometime.

Last weekend, the one I didn’t know where I was going, was spent in Becs (there’s an acute accent on that e but I can’t work it out on this keyboard). If you know where Becs is you know where I was, if you don’t you’ll just have to wait until I send my report (or google it if you’re desperate). It was great.

Oh, and you’ll need to know that the scum of Steaua beat the mighty heros of Ciskszereda 4-3 in the final game, and hence won the series by the same score. It’s an old old story – rich capital city based playthings of alleged dangerous mobster with a compliant media, helpful officiating, and plastic fans beat passionate and deserving team from the provinces.

Posted in ice hockey, travel | Leave a Comment »

Greece is the Word

Posted by Andy Hockley on 13 March, 2005

Not really a proper blog post, as I’m in a cafe, and don’t have the time, wherewithal, or desire to spend a long time writing. However, I am writing a longer post on my own computer and will hopefully be able to post it before long.

So, I’m in Athens (the one in Greece, not the one where REM come from), and it’s brill. It’s shot into my top five cities of the world list. It’s also carnival in Greece at the moment (being Orthodox, Greece has a different easter from the Catholic/Protestant world, and carnival is moved accordingly), so lots of late night japery is ongoing. Last night we walked back to out hotel from a restaurant at 2.30 and the streets were packed. This may have just been a normal Saturday night thing though. I’ll send a full report next week sometime.

Last weekend, the one I didn’t know where I was going, was spent in Becs (there’s an acute accent on that e but I can’t work it out on this keyboard). If you know where Becs is you know where I was, if you don’t you’ll just have to wait until I send my report (or google it if you’re desperate). It was great.

Oh, and you’ll need to know that the scum of Steaua beat the mighty heros of Ciskszereda 4-3 in the final game, and hence won the series by the same score. It’s an old old story – rich capital city based playthings of alleged dangerous mobster with a compliant media, helpful officiating, and plastic fans beat passionate and deserving team from the provinces.

Posted in ice hockey, travel | Leave a Comment »