Joe Mabel > Travel writing > Letters from Romania > A slight return
5 May 2006
I'm briefly back in Bucharest, again on a project for Active Voice. The short version is that the last few months I've been at AV in Seattle as a major contributor to the specifications for the next generation of their product. I can't really talk about the product here, because (as of May 2006) it is still under wraps. But the upshot is that about half of the developers are in Seattle and half are in Bucharest, so I'm over here for a little over two weeks to help the developers on this side get their heads around what we are trying to build.
Unidec RDC has moved twice since I was last here, and are now in a more spacious building a little over two miles out of the center of town, in a neighborhood called Drumul Taberei. A lot of military in this area: the Army HQ is nearby, the Romanian equivalent of the Secret Service is even closer, and the Army Academy is just down the road. Unidec RDC have a building to themselves (well, them plus the Romaian Aikido Association that Domnul Ionescu heads); there is even a rather pleasant fenced outdoor space in front of the building with some tables with awnings: the perfect spot to take a break, weather permitting. I gather that the building (which is yellow on the outside) used to be the HQ of the Romanian Yellow Pages. They've adopted three (very even-tempered) dogs that more or less came with the territory; the dogs now have doghouses and have the run of the fenced area. I don't think they have much guard dog potential, unless someone would be afraid of being sniffed and licked. Or maybe the dogs know aikido?
I just got in about 20 hours ago after a 20-hour journey, and my body has not yet fully adjusted, though I seem to be awake and alert. Seem. I mean, I've got myself fooled, so what else is there to say? I'm staying in a short-term rental apartment quite near where I stayed last time. It's a nicely remodeled, well-furnished apartment in a slightly run-down but solid building overlooking the Sala Palatului (which is an exhibition center and hall behind the National Art Museum, the former royal palace). The only low note (except for a slightly rickety elevator) is the plumbing: it can take about 4 minutes to get hot water, and you have to drain the tub in slow increments, or it floods back up through the drain in the (otherwise lovely) bathroom floor. An odd contrast to furniture that is definitely nicer than any I've ever owned.
The trip over was very smooth, my suitcase came off the plane in record time, I was out of customs and immigration within 25 minutes after the plane got to the terminal, Eugen (one of my colleagues) met me at the airport and heroically drove me back into town through evening rush hour traffic, we coordinated with a man from the apartment rental company (who was not set up to deal with the money end of the transaction, so right now I'm checked into an apartment on little more than a handshake), Eugen took off, having done yeoman service, and said he would be back in the morning to show me to the office; I went to the bank machine across the street from the apartment to get some Romanian currency and... the machine wouldn't take my card. Hmm, I thought to myself at that point, it is a good thing this isn't happening to me on a tourist trip, because at least if worst comes to worst we will work out the cash thing somehow, but this could still be ugly. In any case, there would be no real crisis, just a hassle, because I was carrying some dollars and some euros and knew I could exchange them, even if at an unfavorable rate.
So I went back to the apartment, relaxed from the flight over by taking a bath (which is when I discovered the minor flooding problem in the bathroom), put on some fresh clothes and decided to wander over to the cash machine I had mainly used last time I was here. And, mercifully, it worked fine. I have no idea why CEC doesn't like my card, but as long as one bank here will take it, problem solved.
After just driving in, plus a few hours walking around yesterday evening, I have to say: in just four years, the amount of change is pretty palpable. There are still plenty of things that tell you that you are not in the West (far less street lighting than any Western capital, a lot of facades even on showpiece Calea Victoriei that could use a sandblasting or a coat of paint), but people are visibly better dressed, shops (which were by no means poorly stocked before) are better stocked, Piata Amzei (the most central public market) is a bit spruced up and was at a level of activity at 9 in the evening that I never saw last time I was here, many buildings have been or are being renovated. Still, there are child beggars (though the ones I saw looked a bit, shall we say, professional) and miscellaneous other signs of relative poverty (coming in from the airport we past some road construction, which you could immediately see was being done in a very labor-intensive manner).
From my apartment I have a peek-a-boo view of the new (and rather controversial) monument to the '89 Revolution, the Memorial of Rebirth. "In person" it actually looks better than in the pictures I've seen, but like many modern monuments it has its issues: since we've gotten away from heroic representational sculpture, monuments don't come easily.
Since so many people have been telling me that they "await the next installment" of my travels here, I'll write about this trip, but 2-1/2 (rather work-intensive) weeks revisiting a place I now know moderately well is just not going to be as good a story as half a year in a place that was totally new to me. Feel free to ask questions, it may make it more interesting.
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