Wednesday, February 10, 2016

when in rome-ania

So. Romania is mental.
 A mangled pay phone = actual neo-modernist hipster art.

Despite missing my son like my arm had been torn off my body (honestly, it's got worse since he was younger. I really missed the hell out of the little blighter), Romania was a pleasant break from the incessant work, grey and windy drizzle that is London at the moment.

 Happy mama. Dogs balls cold, but dusted off sunnies.

Firstly, it' was starkly bright and sunny. See, this is where Europe can be a welcome escape from this island I live on. It was -3, but walking outside wasn't even vaguely unpleasant. It was crisp, the sun was on my skin, and there was no fucking wind.
This is where all the issue lies with winter in Britain. Wind chill factor. It makes things 8 000 more cold than they need to be, and coupled with the rain lashing down at you at a 60 degree angle, you really do think about offing yourself multiple times a day sometimes.

So the weather really made Romania for me. While I thought it would be dreary and lend itself completely to its communist past, it really didn't.

It also helped that our friend doubled up as a local guide. So we went to the tourist places that really counted (like the massive Parliament Palace and the square where the Communist Revolution against Ceausescu's dictatorship, started), but otherwise she took us to all the hipster so-cool-my-tits-actually-ache places that Bucharest had to offer.

There were scenes in Bucharest that reminded me of East London. Grimy, raw and endlessly cool.

We spent most of our days pootling around, stringing it together with local foods. It wasn't all cabbage and dumplings, as one might think, although did eat a frightful amount of cheese. Encased in pastry. There was also jellified/gelatinous meats on offer, but someone had to take one for the team because, no.

Like any post-Communist country, it had a delightful array of old, pristine and slightly decrepit buildings squeezed next to formless clod blocks, all higgledy, piggledy and makes no architectural sense at all.
Or new things built directly on top of old things.
Which is why I love visiting these places.
You find this, when turning a corner:

Just sort of crammed together.

Romania is also slightly set apart from the rest of the Eastern Bloc countries, and it's leader during the Cold War, made sure of it. He wanted complete autonomy over his own system, and didn't want to just fall in line with the Soviets.
Nikolai Ceausescu (and his wife, to a large degree), were considered one of the worst and most destructive leaders of 20th century history.

He bankrupted the entire country - on experts on purpose - drove most people in abject poverty, while deploring a North Korean/Chinese slant on his communist approach.

After an official meeting to North Korea and China to meet Mao Zedong and Kim Jong Il, it had a profound effect on him and he decided to bring a bit of them, to Romania. He loved the idea of having his face plastered everywhere, people bowing down to him, ensuring all visitors couldn't go to certain "poverty corridors" to hide the fact he was starving the nation, while building a billion dollar palace for himself in the city.

(Sound familiar, Jacob Zuma?)

The Palace is so fucking massive, that when we toured it, we walked 2 kilometres and then that was only 7% of the entire building. It's the second biggest administrative building in the world (after the Pentagon), and it's the heaviest. It sinks 6mm every year. It's encased in marble. Marble and crystal. Even the brocade curtains weigh 250 kilograms in one window.

It's an ostentatious display of [false] economy.

Nadia Comaneci, the famous Romania gymnast who scored a perfect 10, got married there. 

It wasn't even finished by the time he died, and communism fell. All of it's grand 450 odd rooms aren't all done, even to this day. They have to hire a few out for conferencing just to pay the heating bills.

What Alin, our tourguide lacked in personality - oh boy - he made up for by allowing me to pose with communist relics found in the bunker underground.

Ceausescu was toppled violently and dramatically in 1989, when Communism fractured; after his famous speech from a balcony,  addressing an angry and erupting public below him.
Instead of listening to him, the crowd started rioting, and it all ended badly with 1 000 people being shot and thousands injured in a bloody scene around the balcony square.

There are still bullet holes in some of the surrounding buildings; and the square is dedicated to those who basically overthrew him.

After this, he and his wife tried to escape, but were taken hostage by the military who cornered them in a kangaroo trial, then bound their hands and shot them, 120 times, up against a wall.
It was filmed, all rather hastily, and made public.
 In a delightful twist of irony, this impaled testicle is the monument symbolising the downfall of Ceausescu, and memorial to the people who overthrew him.
Still to this day, Romanians being big conspiracy theorists, people don't believe he was actually shot, even though the footage proves it. They exhumed him and his wife's body in 2010 to do DNA testing to ultimately show he had, indeed, been taken care of.

Since then, Romania, like most poor Eastern European countries has battled to rebuild itself, especially in the face of dire corruption. Only three months ago, a nightclub caught fire killing almost 100 people, due to club owners being paid off and health and safety standards being non-existent. Once again, there were huge mass protests and the president resigned.

The fire was a tragedy and still very raw; many people weren't going out and lots of clubs had closed when we visited, the atmosphere was quite sombre at night.

We were going to travel to Brasov, a city to the north for a night, but decided against it because of work commitments. Maybe next time. To see Transylvania and the castles.

Until then, between the Dacia's and the Dracula fables, Bucharest did tick all the boxes.

The Dacia. Romania's answer to East Germany's Trabant.

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