Thursday, 5 December 2013

Romania: Day 2

Man, what is it about being on holiday that it leaves you feeling like you're in a complete trance? Only last week I was a contributing member of South African society, and here I am wandering around in a sea of Romanian, buying an unhealthy number of pastries, trying to not get run over crossing these MASSIVE intersections, and snapping photos of whatever catches my eye.

If yesterday was about getting set up, today is the day I finally got to tick off a bunch of experiences. Ate my first covrigi (salty!), road my first two trams (old) and one Metro underground train (new), opened my bank account at BCR (easy - just with a passport!), and learned to always look three times when crossing the road because the car driving illegally on the tram lines just might get you!

It's still WAY too early to claim that I've got any sort of a sense of Bucharest - like any massive city I reckon you could live here your whole life, and come away with a lifetime's worth of impressions - but I have noticed a few interesting things (again only 'news' for people outside Romania):

* Do you know where you find the most English in Romania? All doors literally have the words 'Pull' or 'Push' underneath the Romanian equivalent. Good on some door manufacturers!

* Ambulance sirens are LOUD. Seriously louder than their equivalents in Johannesburg, or at least that's how it feels to me.

To be fair, I think it might be because I'm hearing them for the first time while standing on the side of the road and they roar past, as opposed to just in the distance.

* I'm yet to find Romanian people, even professionally, who speak English comfortably. All my interactions have been restricted to Romanian workers saying hello to me, and then speaking about me and whatever I need with my wife in Romanian. It works for me, because my wife is good at solving problems.
* I'm impressed by the amount of technology at work in Romania: digital price-tags in main grocery stores, automated announcements on the train line, 20 MB/s download speeds, touch-screen ATMs ... you really don't expect these things given some of the other crumbling infrastructure.

* You'll never go hungry in Romania. There's a sophisticated vending machine, a corner 'minimarket' grocery store and streetside vendors of everything from car tyres to fish (literally I saw those two right next to each other today) wherever you look. Best of all, the prices of most things are cheap: you rarely see a price above 10 lei.

* It really IS better to rely on the public transport system rather than a car. Traffic is gridlocked almost wherever you drive, and cars are parked along every road and pedestrian walkway (no kidding) you come along. Trams seem to be the only mode of public transport which haven't been upgraded in the past 20 years: buses are modern Mercedes-Benz units, and the Metro trains are made by Bombardier Transport (I only know this because I happened to be staring at the logo between stations today while hanging from a pole).

* I haven't walked anywhere near all over Bucharest, but I have done about more walking in one day than I think I've done in Johannesburg in a year (where you rely on your car to get everywhere), and I've actually enjoyed it. Not a moment of feeling unsafe ... other pedestrians on the road generally just ignore you, or in my case shoot me inquisitive glances whenever I speak English and then look away quickly.

Ok, that's enough for now ... let's see what the weekend brings! Plenty of 'firsts' remaining (I'm told many are more beautiful) ...

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