Thursday, August 14, 2008

Romania: General Remarks

My remarks are based on my 2-week trip in Transylvania, during which I drove ~6500 km. One of the most frequent sites I saw was stray dogs. They come in every size, shape and color and usually beg for food.

Roads: Although I've been worned that the roads are bad, I was surprised to find out how bad they really are. Apart from a few major roads, most roads have one lane for each direction. Overtaking is dangerous and many times you find yourself behind a truck (of which there are many), driving at very low speeds, especially if the road goes uphill. Many roads are full of holes and you need to slalom between them to protect your car. Many roads are also under construction and you need to wait behind temporary traffic lights to pass through the only lane available. In urban localities, asphalt is scarce, many streets are not paved at all. When it rains, the dirt gets slippery and you need to take extra care where you park, to avoid digging in.

On the side of some roads, you can buy vegetables, fruits and dairy products, or local workmanship produces among a myriad of tastelss souvenirs. If you are interested in doilies and tablecloths, it's your heaven. They come in every shape, size and decoration. Unfortunately I have lots of these at home (I barely use 10% of what I have), so there was no point in indulging myself in browsing the endless selection.

Buildings: A new house painting fashion has developed lately, houses are painted in extremely bright, vivid colors. You can find electric pink houses next to orange houses, blue, green and yellow ones. At first this color overdose seems tastless, but my theory is that it's a communist era backlash, when buildings tended to be just gray. Perhaps the over-reaction will mild with time. Anyway, it's preferable to gray.

Villages: Roads pass through village (and city!) centers. Typically, the houses on the main street have 2 windows facing the road and tend to continue inwards, with the other windows facing the back or side. The impression is like they all croud up to get a precious place on the main road. There are no restaurants in villages, just basic food stores, sometimes with a few benches and tables in front of the store.

Cities: At the entrance of every city there is quarter of ugly, communist era blocks of flats and huge branches of chain stores and shopping malls. These stores are clean, western-level with a nice selection of products. The only problem I saw is that if you don't own a car, it's very complicated to reach them and take your goods home.

Service: Don't expect the somewhat phoney "have a nice day", but a lack of "thank you" and even a smile are evident.

Food: The most popular food you can find everywhere is ... pizza. I've been told that the reason for this is that the first wave of investors who came into Romania after the revolution were the Italians. There was one thing I didn't get about these pizzas though: what are you supposed to do with the extra sauce they offer on the menu?

Most restaurants have impressive menus, but they serve the same food all over. Same soupes, same main and side dishes, same deserts and same beverages. When we got tired of the selection, we were happy to find a chinese restaurant in Pitesti. The food wasn't really chinese, but when I pointed that out to the waitress (she asked me how it was), she was very upset. She claimed that both the chef and the owner were in China (not clear doing what). For some reason, Romanians believe that if you use local ingredients and methods, but drown the dish in an "ethnic" sauce, you have a genuine ethnic dish. Sorry do disappoint you guys, but Chinese food comes in bite sizes (not like the fried eggplant meetballs I got), since the Chinese use chopsticks to eat and no knives. In many restaurants, they charge you for items you don't order, such as bread. However, if you insist, they take it off the bill.

A great restuarant we found (it was in the guide) was Bella Musica in Brasov. It is very stylish, located in a nicely decorated basement. Unfortunately, when we got there, it was too early for dinner, so we just ordered coffee and desert. Needless to say, they were superb, and so was the service.

Museums and the like: There is an extra fee for taking stills and videos. However, once inside, they don't verify whether you have paid this fee, when you use your camera. And no, I haven't done that. Don't tell me it didn't cross you mind I did.

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