Csíkszereda Musings

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

Archive for May, 2005

Vasarhely Vasarnap (and Szombat)

Posted by Andy Hockley on 31 May, 2005

We had a good time in Vasarhely (as we locals refer to it). It’s a nice city that I like more and more each time I visit. There’s more going on than Csikszereda (not especially difficult, it must be said), it’s more active, and just generally a nice place. I also like the fact that it’s basically 50/50 Romanian/Hungarian population wise, which adds a certain soupçon of intercultural spice to proceedings. (Can you have a soupçon of spice? Or am I attempting to mix my culinary metaphors with an egg brush?) It’s significantly bigger than Csikszereda – somewhere around about 170,000 I think compared to 40,000 – and it has suburbs and neighbourhoods and public transport and all those things you get in real cities. The public transport is these minibuses that are known as maxi-taxis that ply routes just like regular buses and fill quickly (they’re a bit like Turkish dolmuses and Kenyan matatus and no doubt thousands of other similar systems round the world). Erika thinks they are pretty much unique to Targu Mures in Romania, but someone will no doubt write and tell me how they’re to be found everywhere. Apparently the public transport was rubbish (unreliable, crowded, uncomfortable, and infrequent) and these minibuses just appeared and started taking away the business (since they were all the things that the buses weren’t). Eventually the council gave up fighting them and actually bought into the system so now they’re run by some private company/local government consortium.

Erika’s dad Laci (short for Laszlo and pronounced, not Lacey as you may be wondering, but Lotzi) has just bought a piece of land on a hillside near their apartment that he can garden and turn into a little space of his own. He in fact already has such a space, which has been in the family for 50 or so years, but which is not actually owned by anyone (it’s a long involved story involving hospital employees in the post war years, communism, post communism and intractable bureaucracy which I could tell if you were interested, but I probably won’t bother). One day, the assumption is, they’ll lose the garden and that day had been weighing heavily. Now, though, he officially owns a garden and he is very happy and excited about it. It was just great to see his joy as he took us to see it and proudly show it off. It’s in a great spot, and once it’s cleaned up it’ll be fantastic. I was extremely happy for him. He said it has been his life’s dream to own some land, officially, and that can’t be taken away. He works with a bunch of Lipovans (ethnic Russians from the Danube Delta region) who he employs on just such occasions. They will no doubt descend one weekend and clean the place up ready for use. Right now, however, it’s got more mosquitoes than a pool of stagnant water in Mombasa at dusk. I got bitten to shit. Laci still persists in talking to me in German, despite my utter lack of knowledge of that language.

Other things that are good about Vasarhely: There is this large open air public water park called “The Weekend” (in English). A section of the Mures River has been diverted to build the place, and on a summer day it’s just like being by the sea – pools, paddling areas, showers, beach bars, concerts, the works. It’s dead good. The Kulturpalota in the middle of town is a beautiful building with a colourfully tiled roof. It has an airport from which, according to the local paper, you can now get relatively cheap flights to Germany and Italy via Timisoara on something called CarpatAir. (That’s Carpat, not Carpet, just in case you were wondering). It also, we discovered to our cost, has more than one cinema.

We had been downtown on Saturday and had seen the poster outside the cinema for Hotel Rwanda, a film I was pretty interested in seeing despite knowing very little about it. So, having checked and re-checked the dates and times (Maius 27 – Junius 2, at 15, 17 and 19.30) we made up our minds to come down that evening and watch it. Bogi’s grandparents could watch her and we could have a night out together. It was a great plan. We showed up, bought our tickets and sat down in the seats we had chosen. Slowly the cinema began to fill up and Erika expressed surprise and happiness that maybe the cinema going culture was coming back to Romania (in Csikszereda the one time I’ve been there were 6 people in the theatre – and three of those were us). Even though it was the main showing on a Saturday night it was still only Hotel Rwanda – a film that seemed unlikely to grip the action-blockbuster-centric public. But this place was actually close to capacity. While we waited, Erika regaled me with tales of coming during communist times and watching the pre-film Ceausescu shorts and it being packed owing to it being the only thing you were allowed to do. Finally the trailers were over and the movie began…and it started with those familiar scene-setting yellow words sliding up the screen toward a distant vanishing point in the star-filled background. Somehow, terribly, we had been tricked into coming to the new Star Wars film. Having paid good money (70,000 Lei each! A whole €2!) to be there, we weren’t about to leave, but it was disturbing, to say the least. At the end of the film, we went back to the front entrance to see where we had gone wrong…the poster for Hotel Rwanda had some small print telling careful readers that it was actually being screened in the other cinema. Still it’s nice that they were using it as a ruse to get people to see Star Wars and not the other way around.

[Brief film review: Spectacular special effects, half-arsed plot and rubbish acting. Haydn Christensen (Anakin/Darth) has three expressions – normal (bland facial expression, head untilted), troubled (head tilted back slightly, pupils rolled back) and evil (head tilted back, pupils down). George Lucas also makes his point about the Bush empire (“You are either with me or my enemy” “Only a Sith deals in absolutes”) as the Sith take power through persuading the democratic structures to hand it over in the name of war. At the end the republic becomes the empire. It’s not, as you can probably tell, subtle. Still, if it gets a few of the imbeciles who voted for Bush to realise what’s going on then it’s worth doing. But it’s not Chomsky. Look! Sith is an anagram of Shit! That’s cutting satire of the highest order. I think to ram the point home he should really have made one of the baddies Darth Cheney]

The only bad thing about Targu Mures is the presence of a McDonalds. Luckily in Csikszereda we don’t have one of these things, but whenever we go up there Bogi absolutely has to go. She doesn’t actually eat the food (aside from a few “chips”) but she wants to get a Happy Meal, so she can have the gift. I mean we could buy her a piece of cheap plastic tat and not contribute to destroying the rain forests of Central America or the nutritional Armageddon caused by their food. I don’t know why they are allowed to get away with promoting themselves to children to be honest. No-one would put up with Philip Morris including a toy in every packet of Marlboros or advertising their brand with a large clown, so why do we let McDonalds do it? Their product is incredibly unhealthy and their environmental and worker’s rights records are terrible too. So why have we fallen victim to this repulsive corporation? Children, that’s why. We can’t ban McDonalds because our kids will be upset. Frankly I think we should just bite the bullet and put up with a wave of temper tantrums as our offspring are forced to go cold turkey from their regular fix of fat and sugar and crap-in-a-bun.

Mind you, we were forced to do something for her as she excitingly lost her first tooth on Saturday morning. In the absence of a Romanian equivalent of the tooth fairy, we instead bowed to pressure and took her to McD’s. Ironic really that she gets to eat their food and drink their drinks as a prize for losing a tooth when it will probably end up being the place that causes her to lose her real teeth when they come along.

Other news from Romania this week: Bucharest staged its first ever Gay Pride parade on Saturday. I saw pictures on the news, which all seemed to be of transvestites. Either this was representative of the paraders or the news felt it uninteresting to show pictures of gay men in suits or in traditional regional costume. There were, it said 500 marchers and an unspecified number of protesters most of whom seemed to be Orthodox priests. One of them was quoted as saying “Homosexuality has been scientifically and theologically proven to be wrong”. I presume the scientific bit is that it doesn’t actually lead to the propagation of the species (but then neither do jogging, watching films, or reading a book, and they don’t get the same bad rap). “Theologically proven” on the other hand wins this year’s award for biggest oxymoron.

There was also another tornado this weekend, which flattened an entire village somewhere in Moldavia. Erika’s mum says she never remembers hearing of one tornado in Romania before, let alone two. We’re all doomed I tell you.

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Vasarhely Vasarnap (and Szombat)

Posted by Andy Hockley on 31 May, 2005

We had a good time in Vasarhely (as we locals refer to it). It’s a nice city that I like more and more each time I visit. There’s more going on than Csikszereda (not especially difficult, it must be said), it’s more active, and just generally a nice place. I also like the fact that it’s basically 50/50 Romanian/Hungarian population wise, which adds a certain soupçon of intercultural spice to proceedings. (Can you have a soupçon of spice? Or am I attempting to mix my culinary metaphors with an egg brush?) It’s significantly bigger than Csikszereda – somewhere around about 170,000 I think compared to 40,000 – and it has suburbs and neighbourhoods and public transport and all those things you get in real cities. The public transport is these minibuses that are known as maxi-taxis that ply routes just like regular buses and fill quickly (they’re a bit like Turkish dolmuses and Kenyan matatus and no doubt thousands of other similar systems round the world). Erika thinks they are pretty much unique to Targu Mures in Romania, but someone will no doubt write and tell me how they’re to be found everywhere. Apparently the public transport was rubbish (unreliable, crowded, uncomfortable, and infrequent) and these minibuses just appeared and started taking away the business (since they were all the things that the buses weren’t). Eventually the council gave up fighting them and actually bought into the system so now they’re run by some private company/local government consortium.

Erika’s dad Laci (short for Laszlo and pronounced, not Lacey as you may be wondering, but Lotzi) has just bought a piece of land on a hillside near their apartment that he can garden and turn into a little space of his own. He in fact already has such a space, which has been in the family for 50 or so years, but which is not actually owned by anyone (it’s a long involved story involving hospital employees in the post war years, communism, post communism and intractable bureaucracy which I could tell if you were interested, but I probably won’t bother). One day, the assumption is, they’ll lose the garden and that day had been weighing heavily. Now, though, he officially owns a garden and he is very happy and excited about it. It was just great to see his joy as he took us to see it and proudly show it off. It’s in a great spot, and once it’s cleaned up it’ll be fantastic. I was extremely happy for him. He said it has been his life’s dream to own some land, officially, and that can’t be taken away. He works with a bunch of Lipovans (ethnic Russians from the Danube Delta region) who he employs on just such occasions. They will no doubt descend one weekend and clean the place up ready for use. Right now, however, it’s got more mosquitoes than a pool of stagnant water in Mombasa at dusk. I got bitten to shit. Laci still persists in talking to me in German, despite my utter lack of knowledge of that language.

Other things that are good about Vasarhely: There is this large open air public water park called “The Weekend” (in English). A section of the Mures River has been diverted to build the place, and on a summer day it’s just like being by the sea – pools, paddling areas, showers, beach bars, concerts, the works. It’s dead good. The Kulturpalota in the middle of town is a beautiful building with a colourfully tiled roof. It has an airport from which, according to the local paper, you can now get relatively cheap flights to Germany and Italy via Timisoara on something called CarpatAir. (That’s Carpat, not Carpet, just in case you were wondering). It also, we discovered to our cost, has more than one cinema.

We had been downtown on Saturday and had seen the poster outside the cinema for Hotel Rwanda, a film I was pretty interested in seeing despite knowing very little about it. So, having checked and re-checked the dates and times (Maius 27 – Junius 2, at 15, 17 and 19.30) we made up our minds to come down that evening and watch it. Bogi’s grandparents could watch her and we could have a night out together. It was a great plan. We showed up, bought our tickets and sat down in the seats we had chosen. Slowly the cinema began to fill up and Erika expressed surprise and happiness that maybe the cinema going culture was coming back to Romania (in Csikszereda the one time I’ve been there were 6 people in the theatre – and three of those were us). Even though it was the main showing on a Saturday night it was still only Hotel Rwanda – a film that seemed unlikely to grip the action-blockbuster-centric public. But this place was actually close to capacity. While we waited, Erika regaled me with tales of coming during communist times and watching the pre-film Ceausescu shorts and it being packed owing to it being the only thing you were allowed to do. Finally the trailers were over and the movie began…and it started with those familiar scene-setting yellow words sliding up the screen toward a distant vanishing point in the star-filled background. Somehow, terribly, we had been tricked into coming to the new Star Wars film. Having paid good money (70,000 Lei each! A whole €2!) to be there, we weren’t about to leave, but it was disturbing, to say the least. At the end of the film, we went back to the front entrance to see where we had gone wrong…the poster for Hotel Rwanda had some small print telling careful readers that it was actually being screened in the other cinema. Still it’s nice that they were using it as a ruse to get people to see Star Wars and not the other way around.

[Brief film review: Spectacular special effects, half-arsed plot and rubbish acting. Haydn Christensen (Anakin/Darth) has three expressions – normal (bland facial expression, head untilted), troubled (head tilted back slightly, pupils rolled back) and evil (head tilted back, pupils down). George Lucas also makes his point about the Bush empire (“You are either with me or my enemy” “Only a Sith deals in absolutes”) as the Sith take power through persuading the democratic structures to hand it over in the name of war. At the end the republic becomes the empire. It’s not, as you can probably tell, subtle. Still, if it gets a few of the imbeciles who voted for Bush to realise what’s going on then it’s worth doing. But it’s not Chomsky. Look! Sith is an anagram of Shit! That’s cutting satire of the highest order. I think to ram the point home he should really have made one of the baddies Darth Cheney]

The only bad thing about Targu Mures is the presence of a McDonalds. Luckily in Csikszereda we don’t have one of these things, but whenever we go up there Bogi absolutely has to go. She doesn’t actually eat the food (aside from a few “chips”) but she wants to get a Happy Meal, so she can have the gift. I mean we could buy her a piece of cheap plastic tat and not contribute to destroying the rain forests of Central America or the nutritional Armageddon caused by their food. I don’t know why they are allowed to get away with promoting themselves to children to be honest. No-one would put up with Philip Morris including a toy in every packet of Marlboros or advertising their brand with a large clown, so why do we let McDonalds do it? Their product is incredibly unhealthy and their environmental and worker’s rights records are terrible too. So why have we fallen victim to this repulsive corporation? Children, that’s why. We can’t ban McDonalds because our kids will be upset. Frankly I think we should just bite the bullet and put up with a wave of temper tantrums as our offspring are forced to go cold turkey from their regular fix of fat and sugar and crap-in-a-bun.

Mind you, we were forced to do something for her as she excitingly lost her first tooth on Saturday morning. In the absence of a Romanian equivalent of the tooth fairy, we instead bowed to pressure and took her to McD’s. Ironic really that she gets to eat their food and drink their drinks as a prize for losing a tooth when it will probably end up being the place that causes her to lose her real teeth when they come along.

Other news from Romania this week: Bucharest staged its first ever Gay Pride parade on Saturday. I saw pictures on the news, which all seemed to be of transvestites. Either this was representative of the paraders or the news felt it uninteresting to show pictures of gay men in suits or in traditional regional costume. There were, it said 500 marchers and an unspecified number of protesters most of whom seemed to be Orthodox priests. One of them was quoted as saying “Homosexuality has been scientifically and theologically proven to be wrong”. I presume the scientific bit is that it doesn’t actually lead to the propagation of the species (but then neither do jogging, watching films, or reading a book, and they don’t get the same bad rap). “Theologically proven” on the other hand wins this year’s award for biggest oxymoron.

There was also another tornado this weekend, which flattened an entire village somewhere in Moldavia. Erika’s mum says she never remembers hearing of one tornado in Romania before, let alone two. We’re all doomed I tell you.

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Road Rage

Posted by Andy Hockley on 31 May, 2005

I got road rage on Friday. I’m not typically one to be bothered by other road users, but on Friday I lost it. The previous weekend returning from Iasi when I had got stuck behind the Tour of Moldavia cycle race, was, looking back, the initial cause of Friday’s outburst. On that occasion we had been a long snaking line of traffic behind the peloton, with no opportunity of getting past the race itself since overtaking the cyclists was forbidden. Even I, about 30 cars behind the bikes, could see that. But, this didn’t stop cars jockeying for position, passing the queue and then getting stuck nearer the front. I was semi-amused and semi-bothered by this ridiculously macho behaviour. Getting further up the queue was obviously something that made these particular drivers feel better about their small penises, and so I (being comfortable with mine) felt able to merely ridicule these losers. But, then, on Friday, I had the same experience, and this time I couldn’t be so sanguine about it. The road between Sighisoara and Târgu Mures snakes up and over a number of hills, creating short switchback sections of climbs and descents. Obviously getting behind a lorry or two on these sections (particularly the uphill bits) can be a frustrating experience, and so it was. There were a number of slow moving vehicles all in a line, a couple of petrol tankers and another two trucks. It was obvious that the line of cars behind would all have to wait until they got to the front of the queue before making their dash past the bottleneck. It didn’t take genius to work it out, and the switchback actually made it possible to see what the situation was hundreds of metres ahead. But of course a number of drivers couldn’t possibly wait their turn and so started streaking up the outside of the car queue, beeping their horns to get back in when confronted with an oncoming car. It took all one’s effort to actually let them back in and not let them die in a ball of flame (but then the people coming the other way had done nothing wrong, so it seemed a little bit unfair on them – even if they would be giving up their lives in a noble cause). Then on one hairpin curve, climbing upwards at a crawl, while I watched vigilantly for some nutter to attempt to pass me in the other lane, someone did so on the inside. I couldn’t believe it. It was one of those cars with a “baby on board” sticker too, which always seems to be an excuse to behave doubly scummily (like wearing body armour). I beeped, shouted, swore, gave him both the universal sign of the wanker and the middle finger salute. In short, my normally relatively relaxed façade slipped away and showed me in my true colours. I hope Erika and Boglarka can put it out of their minds and think of me the way I like to think of myself. We’ll see. Oh, and guess where the car that did this was registered? And in fact all the cars driving like shitbags? Re-read this one, and now guess again. Yep, you’re quite right. I’m off there for a couple of days on Thursday, fortunately not by car, but I will certainly be very watchful while crossing roads.

Posted in rants, travel | Leave a Comment »

Road Rage

Posted by Andy Hockley on 31 May, 2005

I got road rage on Friday. I’m not typically one to be bothered by other road users, but on Friday I lost it. The previous weekend returning from Iasi when I had got stuck behind the Tour of Moldavia cycle race, was, looking back, the initial cause of Friday’s outburst. On that occasion we had been a long snaking line of traffic behind the peloton, with no opportunity of getting past the race itself since overtaking the cyclists was forbidden. Even I, about 30 cars behind the bikes, could see that. But, this didn’t stop cars jockeying for position, passing the queue and then getting stuck nearer the front. I was semi-amused and semi-bothered by this ridiculously macho behaviour. Getting further up the queue was obviously something that made these particular drivers feel better about their small penises, and so I (being comfortable with mine) felt able to merely ridicule these losers. But, then, on Friday, I had the same experience, and this time I couldn’t be so sanguine about it. The road between Sighisoara and Târgu Mures snakes up and over a number of hills, creating short switchback sections of climbs and descents. Obviously getting behind a lorry or two on these sections (particularly the uphill bits) can be a frustrating experience, and so it was. There were a number of slow moving vehicles all in a line, a couple of petrol tankers and another two trucks. It was obvious that the line of cars behind would all have to wait until they got to the front of the queue before making their dash past the bottleneck. It didn’t take genius to work it out, and the switchback actually made it possible to see what the situation was hundreds of metres ahead. But of course a number of drivers couldn’t possibly wait their turn and so started streaking up the outside of the car queue, beeping their horns to get back in when confronted with an oncoming car. It took all one’s effort to actually let them back in and not let them die in a ball of flame (but then the people coming the other way had done nothing wrong, so it seemed a little bit unfair on them – even if they would be giving up their lives in a noble cause). Then on one hairpin curve, climbing upwards at a crawl, while I watched vigilantly for some nutter to attempt to pass me in the other lane, someone did so on the inside. I couldn’t believe it. It was one of those cars with a “baby on board” sticker too, which always seems to be an excuse to behave doubly scummily (like wearing body armour). I beeped, shouted, swore, gave him both the universal sign of the wanker and the middle finger salute. In short, my normally relatively relaxed façade slipped away and showed me in my true colours. I hope Erika and Boglarka can put it out of their minds and think of me the way I like to think of myself. We’ll see. Oh, and guess where the car that did this was registered? And in fact all the cars driving like shitbags? Re-read this one, and now guess again. Yep, you’re quite right. I’m off there for a couple of days on Thursday, fortunately not by car, but I will certainly be very watchful while crossing roads.

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Promotion

Posted by Andy Hockley on 30 May, 2005

No, not a two-for-one offer or anything like that. Just my happiness at Sheffield Wednesday having won promotion to the English second division following an heroic 4-2 win yesterday. I have things to write about the weekend, but for now, this is all that matters (to me at least, if not to the vast majority of you). Woohoo!

A picture I nicked from the ‘net, possibly illegally.

And another

Posted in football | 1 Comment »

Promotion

Posted by Andy Hockley on 30 May, 2005

No, not a two-for-one offer or anything like that. Just my happiness at Sheffield Wednesday having won promotion to the English second division following an heroic 4-2 win yesterday. I have things to write about the weekend, but for now, this is all that matters (to me at least, if not to the vast majority of you). Woohoo!

A picture I nicked from the ‘net, possibly illegally.

And another

Posted in football | 1 Comment »

In praise of karalabe

Posted by Andy Hockley on 27 May, 2005

Karalábe (I could have misspelt that) is the Hungarian word for kohlrabi (I’ve given up trying to crowbar in a joke involving the former German chancellor and a Jewish religious leader). I don’t remember ever seeing it in such quantities anywhere in the world, and even then I haven’t ever seen it in its young green form before. (Although having just done a google image search for it, that seems to be its common form, so maybe I’m just misremembering). I don’t know what the Romanian word for it is exactly, but it sounds something like Julie. It’s ace. Tasty, full-textured and with a little zing on the tongue. Last night Erika made them stuffed with a kind of mushroom risotto. Nagyon, nagyon finom. (very, very delicious)

We’ll be away in Targu Mures/Marosvasarhely this weekend, visiting the in-common-laws. All the while my insides will be churning with nerves as Sheffield Wednesday take on Hartlepool United on Sunday afternoon for the right to be promoted to the second division in England. Nojer, occasional commenter to this blog, will (I hope) be keeping me updated via the miracle of SMS as he will be at the game. I wish it was on Saturday so it would be over with quicker.


Karalabe

Posted in food | 3 Comments »

In praise of karalabe

Posted by Andy Hockley on 27 May, 2005

Karalábe (I could have misspelt that) is the Hungarian word for kohlrabi (I’ve given up trying to crowbar in a joke involving the former German chancellor and a Jewish religious leader). I don’t remember ever seeing it in such quantities anywhere in the world, and even then I haven’t ever seen it in its young green form before. (Although having just done a google image search for it, that seems to be its common form, so maybe I’m just misremembering). I don’t know what the Romanian word for it is exactly, but it sounds something like Julie. It’s ace. Tasty, full-textured and with a little zing on the tongue. Last night Erika made them stuffed with a kind of mushroom risotto. Nagyon, nagyon finom. (very, very delicious)

We’ll be away in Targu Mures/Marosvasarhely this weekend, visiting the in-common-laws. All the while my insides will be churning with nerves as Sheffield Wednesday take on Hartlepool United on Sunday afternoon for the right to be promoted to the second division in England. Nojer, occasional commenter to this blog, will (I hope) be keeping me updated via the miracle of SMS as he will be at the game. I wish it was on Saturday so it would be over with quicker.


Karalabe

Posted in food | 3 Comments »

Journalists – captive, free, and those who work for Sky.

Posted by Andy Hockley on 24 May, 2005

Big news weekend for Romania. Most importantly the three journalists being held hostage in Iraq were freed on Sunday. Basescu has assured the world that Romania didn’t pay any ransom and nor will it make any foreign policy changes. So, we are being asked to believe that the people who kidnapped them decided out of the goodness of their hearts to just let them go. Right. I’m glad they’re free, and I frankly don’t care if Romania did pay for it, but this myth that they were just let go is a tad far fetched.

The other big news for Romania this weekend was the film “The Death of Mr Lazarescu” winning the “Un Certain Regard” prize at Cannes. I can’t tell you much more about that except what I already have, but I’d like to see it. The clip I saw on Euronews looked pretty interesting.

On the subject of Euronews, some time ago early on in the life of this blog, I gave it a serious panning. Having spent the night in a hotel in Iasi on Friday in which the only English language news channel was Sky, I’d like to retract that panning. It’s not that Euronews has got better. It hasn’t (though I have to confess I have become slightly more fond of it). But, god, Sky. Why, oh why is it shown outside Britain? It’s the most parochial one-eyed bollocks ever committed to “journalism”. You’d think nothing goes on outside the UK, and even what goes on inside my homeland is defined as things that happen to C-list celebrities. “Last year’s Big Brother runner-up breaks nail” wasn’t a story on it on Friday, but that’s the kind of level we’re talking about. With CNN International turning into a mouthpiece for the Bush Administration (how did that happen? CNN in the US has always been a bunch of right wing propaganda, but CNNI used to be good. Did some right wing fundamentalist whackjob actually travel somewhere and see it, and then go back home and whip up some kind of lobbying campaign against “liberal bias”?), and Sky News being “Things that happened today in London of no great importance”, Euronews is most definitely in second place in the “commonly available English language news channels in Europe” category, and with the Beeb slowly going Blairish since the Hutton Report, it still has the chance to go top. Not a comment that ought to fill anyone with pride, even those at Euronews.

Crossing the Carpathians

Driving home from Iasi on Saturday, I got every piece of bad luck going. Every level crossing was down (and in Romania level crossings go down 15 minutes before the train arrives), herds of cows and flocks of sheep wandered across my path seemingly every time I passed a field, trucks, bad roads, everything. But worst of all was getting caught behind “Turul Moldovei”, the “Tour of Moldavia” cycle race. I’m very impressed by how fast cyclists can race, but when you’re in a car behind them travelling at 30 km/h most of the time, it can be a little frustrating. Especially when it goes on for mile after mile (about an hour, for me). Thankfully they took another route when we got to Piatra Neamt, and I didn’t have to follow them up the hill to Bicaz which was my route.

I had chosen this slow route (as opposed to my “normal” route down the Csango Valley) because I wanted again to see the Bicaz Gorge road. This is one of the most dramatic roads I have ever seen. It runs through the upper stretch of the Bicaz river valley – the river cuts through huge rocks and the road follows along the path it has carved. It’s well over 1000m up and it really has to be seen to be believed. Amazingly it may not even be the most dramatic road in Romania. I have never travelled on it but it seems to be commonly accepted that the Trans-Fagaras Highway is even more stunning. The Trans-Fagaras runs from near Sibiu to Arges across the highest part of the Carpathians. I think it was one of those monuments to power beloved of dictators [Old Nic: I want you to build a road here (draws line on map with finger). Engineer: But that’s a ridiculous place to build a road, it’s the highest mountain range in Romania. Old Nic: And how are your children doing at school these days?]

Once you make it through the gorge the road continues to climb, although now, as you have entered Hargita County (ie the county in which I live) the road surface is absolutely shocking. This time around I knew I was fully settled in here as my reaction on driving along this pockmarked disaster was no longer one of amusement or annoyance but of embarrassment at my own home county. The gorge had been full of tourists and I imagined them continuing on over into Transylvania and wondering what the hell they had let themselves in for. The road finally peaks at 1256m, which is, I believe higher than any mountain in the UK [Edit: I’ve just looked it up and it’s not, coming in at 87m lower than Ben Nevis]. For those nostalgia buffs still living in the British empire, that’s approximately 4120 feet. (The Trans-Fagaras peaks at 2034m. Two thousand and bastard thirty four! 6,673 feet!).

Finally, after a few more livestock delays I made it home. 6 hours on the road when it had taken me less than 4½ to go the other way the day before. I was knackered. But still, I made it back in time to see the FA Cup final for the first time since 1996. I don’t think I’ve missed much in those years. God it was rubbish. I could have been drumming my fingers behind the wheel while all the farm animals in Romania crossed in front of me and it would have been more interesting.

[More on the Trans-Fagaras: An article from the Guardian, and a blog post from Halfway Down The Danube.]


Bicaz gorge pics

stalls selling cheap tat


note car and children specifically placed here for scale


view from the top down into Transylvania

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Journalists – captive, free, and those who work for Sky.

Posted by Andy Hockley on 24 May, 2005

Big news weekend for Romania. Most importantly the three journalists being held hostage in Iraq were freed on Sunday. Basescu has assured the world that Romania didn’t pay any ransom and nor will it make any foreign policy changes. So, we are being asked to believe that the people who kidnapped them decided out of the goodness of their hearts to just let them go. Right. I’m glad they’re free, and I frankly don’t care if Romania did pay for it, but this myth that they were just let go is a tad far fetched.

The other big news for Romania this weekend was the film “The Death of Mr Lazarescu” winning the “Un Certain Regard” prize at Cannes. I can’t tell you much more about that except what I already have, but I’d like to see it. The clip I saw on Euronews looked pretty interesting.

On the subject of Euronews, some time ago early on in the life of this blog, I gave it a serious panning. Having spent the night in a hotel in Iasi on Friday in which the only English language news channel was Sky, I’d like to retract that panning. It’s not that Euronews has got better. It hasn’t (though I have to confess I have become slightly more fond of it). But, god, Sky. Why, oh why is it shown outside Britain? It’s the most parochial one-eyed bollocks ever committed to “journalism”. You’d think nothing goes on outside the UK, and even what goes on inside my homeland is defined as things that happen to C-list celebrities. “Last year’s Big Brother runner-up breaks nail” wasn’t a story on it on Friday, but that’s the kind of level we’re talking about. With CNN International turning into a mouthpiece for the Bush Administration (how did that happen? CNN in the US has always been a bunch of right wing propaganda, but CNNI used to be good. Did some right wing fundamentalist whackjob actually travel somewhere and see it, and then go back home and whip up some kind of lobbying campaign against “liberal bias”?), and Sky News being “Things that happened today in London of no great importance”, Euronews is most definitely in second place in the “commonly available English language news channels in Europe” category, and with the Beeb slowly going Blairish since the Hutton Report, it still has the chance to go top. Not a comment that ought to fill anyone with pride, even those at Euronews.

Crossing the Carpathians

Driving home from Iasi on Saturday, I got every piece of bad luck going. Every level crossing was down (and in Romania level crossings go down 15 minutes before the train arrives), herds of cows and flocks of sheep wandered across my path seemingly every time I passed a field, trucks, bad roads, everything. But worst of all was getting caught behind “Turul Moldovei”, the “Tour of Moldavia” cycle race. I’m very impressed by how fast cyclists can race, but when you’re in a car behind them travelling at 30 km/h most of the time, it can be a little frustrating. Especially when it goes on for mile after mile (about an hour, for me). Thankfully they took another route when we got to Piatra Neamt, and I didn’t have to follow them up the hill to Bicaz which was my route.

I had chosen this slow route (as opposed to my “normal” route down the Csango Valley) because I wanted again to see the Bicaz Gorge road. This is one of the most dramatic roads I have ever seen. It runs through the upper stretch of the Bicaz river valley – the river cuts through huge rocks and the road follows along the path it has carved. It’s well over 1000m up and it really has to be seen to be believed. Amazingly it may not even be the most dramatic road in Romania. I have never travelled on it but it seems to be commonly accepted that the Trans-Fagaras Highway is even more stunning. The Trans-Fagaras runs from near Sibiu to Arges across the highest part of the Carpathians. I think it was one of those monuments to power beloved of dictators [Old Nic: I want you to build a road here (draws line on map with finger). Engineer: But that’s a ridiculous place to build a road, it’s the highest mountain range in Romania. Old Nic: And how are your children doing at school these days?]

Once you make it through the gorge the road continues to climb, although now, as you have entered Hargita County (ie the county in which I live) the road surface is absolutely shocking. This time around I knew I was fully settled in here as my reaction on driving along this pockmarked disaster was no longer one of amusement or annoyance but of embarrassment at my own home county. The gorge had been full of tourists and I imagined them continuing on over into Transylvania and wondering what the hell they had let themselves in for. The road finally peaks at 1256m, which is, I believe higher than any mountain in the UK [Edit: I’ve just looked it up and it’s not, coming in at 87m lower than Ben Nevis]. For those nostalgia buffs still living in the British empire, that’s approximately 4120 feet. (The Trans-Fagaras peaks at 2034m. Two thousand and bastard thirty four! 6,673 feet!).

Finally, after a few more livestock delays I made it home. 6 hours on the road when it had taken me less than 4½ to go the other way the day before. I was knackered. But still, I made it back in time to see the FA Cup final for the first time since 1996. I don’t think I’ve missed much in those years. God it was rubbish. I could have been drumming my fingers behind the wheel while all the farm animals in Romania crossed in front of me and it would have been more interesting.

[More on the Trans-Fagaras: An article from the Guardian, and a blog post from Halfway Down The Danube.]


Bicaz gorge pics

stalls selling cheap tat


note car and children specifically placed here for scale


view from the top down into Transylvania

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