Tuesday, May 30, 2006

There Is A Virus In The Village

Romania

During our brief visit to Romania, The Operation's numbers swelled a bit. We were joined by OC veteran Janelle S. as well as new recruits Alia (Canadian) and Iain (Scottish) from London. They met us in Bucharest where we picked up a rental car and travelled with us in a grand circle. Before and after our rendez-vous with the London posse, Jason and I had some time to wander the streets of Bucharest. It is a distinctly Eastern European kind of place that reminded me a bit of Moscow. The city center was a north-south axis dominated by a few undramatic squares and unimposing public buildings. What charm we found lay in the back streets of the historic quarter. Its wide cobbled lanes were flanked by buildings remarkable both for their grandeur and poor state of preservation. There was a palpable decay to all but the most aggressively restored structures. This area was home to many hip shops and cafes that injected a bit of youth into an area that might otherwise have come off as depressingly old world.

The first stop on our motor tour was the Transylvanian town of Brasov, several hours north of Bucharest. Along the way, we stopped at a smaller town to view a castle. We were slightly too late to take the tour, but we were able to snap some shots of the impressive exterior and grounds. Brasov was famous for its quaint old town and it lived up to expectation. We capped off a day of touristing the old streets and cathedral with a cable car ride up to a nearby hilltop. From altitude, it was easiest to see that this was a place of two minds. The old town was hemmed in neatly by row after row of tower blocks and commercial parks. Development had not destroyed the soul of Brasov, but it definitely had it surrounded.

On the way north, we learned an important lesson: everywhere in Romania took longer to reach than we thought. This could mostly be attributed to the poor state of the roads. It took us two days of hard driving over mountains and potholes to get to the coast - a journey initially projected to take a mere couple of hours. The countryside was often stunning, but some of the allure was lost on a team thirsting for sun and sand. Along the way, there was one notably spooky incident at a police checkpoint. The officer in charge informed us in eerily accented English that we were to under no circumstances stop in the next village as it was victim of "a virus". If Hollywood has taught me anything, it is to avoid virus-stricken Transylvanian villages, but we boldly pressed on. The seemingly inevitable zombie attack inexplicably never materialized.

We arrived at the Black Sea coast in the early evening ready to party, and our chosen destination did not disappoint. Vama Veche was a very small town built entirely to service those attract by its decent (but far from excellent) beach. For a night and a day, we slept, dined, drank, and danced directly upon or very close to the sand. The service was typically slow and the music in the buzzing beachfront pub was cheesy, but the beer was cheap and the crowd friendly. The water in the hotel shower was super cold, but our beds were within easily stumbling distance. It was not a luxury stay at the coast, but it had all the most important ingredients of a good time. Two details of note: 1) there was a fair bit of geriatric nudity on Romanian beaches; and 2) there were almost no children around. I am not sure if these two were related.

After a day and a night on the beach, we had to head back to Bucharest. Predictably, the journey took about twice as long as we thought. We missed the beginning of the sole stretch of motorway in the entire country and ended up veering far to the north before getting our course corrected. The unexpectedly lengthy drive provided opportunity to reflect on recent travels. I think there was general agreement that Romania is a middle-of-the-road sort of nation. It seems a bit richer than some neighbors, but it has definitely not turned the corner from Developing Avenue onto First World Boulevard. Even the big cities are dark, dirty, and a bit dilapidated. Smaller towns are full of agrarian locals spending equal times blocking traffic with their horse carts and idling around staring at the passing cars.

Our last night we slept in a hotel occupying part of a wonderfully old and character-ridden building in the heart of old Bucharest. After saying goodbye to Iain and the girls, Jason and I had a few hours to kill before catching the overnight train to Zagreb, so we decided to have a look at the capital's premiere tourist attraction: The Palace of the People - the world's second largest office building (after the Pentagon) and an enduring monument to the mad ambitions of Romania's much-detested communist-era dictator. To our surprise, there was a free concert being held out front sponsored by the Tuborg brewing company. This afforded us the dubious pleasure of again sampling Brazil's most popular beer, Skol, while watching some pretty horrible pop trash. The real show was in the crowd, though. Romanian kids seem pretty much like teenagers the world over: oddly dressed, self-conscious, and full of life. It was nice to end our visit with amused chuckles rather than detached nods.

4 Comments:

Blogger Juan C Nuno said...

They must've gotten hit by the T-Virus. Those damn Umbrella bastards. If four Resident Evil sequels have taught me anything, it's that that virus is just bad news. Good you guys stayed away.

Tiffany says hi.

6/12/2006 6:29 PM gmt

 
Blogger jason said...

Tiffany says hi? Tell that girl to email me.
Damn.

6/13/2006 10:49 PM gmt

 
Blogger Juan C Nuno said...

I ain't got no way of reaching Tiffany directly. Gonna have to do it indirectly through Thao. If I remember. Which I probably will.

6/14/2006 3:21 AM gmt

 
Blogger Juan C Nuno said...

Thao says Tiffany doesn't have access to a computer so it might take some time.

6/14/2006 6:21 PM gmt

 

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