We have passed many ‘property developments’ and even remote building sights that give encouragement to the belief that the construction industry is booming in Eastern Europe and particularly Romania. En-route I saw a builder reading a plan. This astonished me as most modern buildings in Romania look like woks of creative spontaneity while searching for new levels of constructive bizarreness. Perhaps he was reading a ‘Playboy’ magazine – indeed – it would have provided far more valuable guidance. I’m certain the Architects are all on, what we subtlety refer to as ‘hallucinatory substances’. We are puzzled as to why many of the houses reach about half way in the construction before being abandoned. It may have been result of the 2008 international financial collapse – but we prefer to think that perhaps the builder, or even the owner, sobered up one day and decided to abandon the abomination to the senses of the passing populace.
Our Bucharest guide was a lovely young ambitions lady who holds down 3 jobs and hastened to reassure us that she wasn’t a Gypsy. (Gypsy’s make up only 2% of the population but are credited with 84.73% of the countries problems.) As a University graduate she was well qualified to explain the education system – which I will, in turn, sum up for you. On top of the huge principal university building is a tall delicate tower with a large globe impaled near the top. Evidently structural experts all agree that the globe will never fall until the day virgin graduates.
Bucharest is a crumbling city. The quality of materials and workmanship used during Nicolae Ceausescu's megalomaniacal rule during the 1970/80s is very poor. Without serious maintenance, which the country cannot afford, this city, which has been compared with Europe’s finest, will be lost forever. It’s bad. Most blame the gypsy’s. The people do have a sense of humour. They are proud of their many statues and artworks and there is currently a raging debate about the latest - a tall thin pole with a large dark lump of globular ‘matter’ near the top. Even some ‘artists’ concede that it looks like an ‘Olive on a toothpick’ while the great pragmatic majority have named it the ‘potato on a stick’.
My role on our journeys is kicking HeeHaw in the ribs and making sure the beast is feed, watered and obeying the Sat Nav. That leaves the other few tasks that require attention while traveling to Flypaper. Stuff like carrying the bags upstairs, laundry, checking in and out of our hotels, pouring my nightcap, anything to do with money and of course documentation – to mention a few. In a much shorter period than usual, after sparing with Bulgarian Immigration and Customs to achieve legal entry, she had an agitated look about her. I dutifully enquired regarding the worrying deterioration in efficiency, to be told she was confused. I don’t wonder. This is the country that had bagpipes long before the Scots and invented the Cyrillic alphabet - which was then adopted by Russia and its satellites to confuse potential invaders. Believe me, if you role up at an intersection in your tank and see a Cyrillic signpost, chances are you will have a change of heart and decide to invade the British Isles where at least you will know where to find the best pubs for lunch. Flypaper has risen to these challenges before but the one that beat her was one that she hadn’t encountered since we were in India many years ago. The Bulgarians shake their head to say yes and nod for no. This can make for an interesting conversation if you are relying on sign language.
Our research on Bulgaria uncovered the fact that they have a habit of being on the loosing side and have been perfecting this skill ever since they laid claim to being the first ‘Europeans’ … about 1.1 million years ago. Being born with a genetic loosing streak is a disadvantage worse than a stutter or a nervous twitch. I suspect it is one of the principle reasons they concentrated on winemaking. Bulgaria is one of those ‘crossroad’ countries that have had people trampling all over them since antisocial behaviour became the best measure of success. If you have a big hairy person with a long spear pointing at your tender spot it is quite prudent to whip out a stone tumbler and offer him a wine. (It seems to work with waxed heterosexuals’ as well.)
The lyrics of a popular Bulgarian song explain the attitude in this country very well. - “We win, we loose … either way we get drunk, we’re Bulgarians!” - Eloquently and accurately expressed.
Bulgaria is also a rubbish orientated society. They orientate themselves upwind of where they throw it. The difference between Bulgaria and Romania is that there is a well organised army of people who look grateful for a job scurrying around picking it up again. Perhaps it’s a work creation scheme.
We departed Sofia on a glorious Saturday morning en-route for Stara-Zagora (a place with little to recommend it). The road we chose evolved into 4 hours of the finest ‘B’ road in Europe. We concluded they must have employed German consultants with big sticks. Strangely, the motorists were all driving very sedately. It was a beautiful scenic route through mountainous forest but we didn’t see any signs saying, “If you speed we will turn you into a frog that will be hunted down and gobbled by a stork” I also drove with much care and polite consideration. Flypaper became concerned and gently enquired if I was feeling well. We concluded that on Fridays the ‘orthorities’ must put something in the water. Along the way we stopped at an historic village where we absorbed some cultural history – without being bothered by the shrieking children (June 1 is children’s day and the little b#*@&%ds are allowed to do anything) and commented on the profusion of wild flowers in beautiful bloom. I then stopped at Flypapers request to steal a plant from a field crop so that she could examine in up close to determine its reason for covering most of the Bulgarian agricultural land. WOW … that medication in the water must be REALLY strong! With relief I can report that it had worn of by Sunday and I was back driving with my normal obnoxious distain for other road users.
It’s easy to tell when the Romans have been prowling around a country. They discovered the fact that the shortest distance between two points is a straight line. One straight we traversed was 32km. The Romans also left a lot of stuff lying around. If you dig anywhere in Bulgaria you will discover ancient treasure. That could be the reason the current inhabitants spread their leftovers around with reckless abandon – they expect someone in the future will get a thrill when they dig it up and some visiting sucker will pay good money to look at it behind a rope barrier. It’s a smart and easy way of leaving a legacy for your children’s great grandchildren – don’t use the rubbish receptacle - leave some ‘treasure’ lying around.
I love private utilization of public resources. It’s not unusual to drive through a village to find your planned way blocked. An example was a Sunday morning when a guy decided to pave the footpath ‘tween his house and car parking space. (It’s not good to drive with muddy shoes). This required concrete. As he did not have one of those rumbling rotating machines that every young married man owned in ‘my’ day, he resorted to mixing the sand and cement with a shovel. This requires a clean, flat, hard surface. Where better than the road in front of ones house? I do admire initiative. If Flypaper hadn’t snorted in indignation I would have leapt out, shook his hand, taken a photo … and offered him some advice.
I suspect that every Eastern European is a qualified biologist I the field of Porcus disseco (or more correctly for the educated reader - Sus scrofa domesticus dissectus.) 60% of every restaurant menu is dedicated to the various cuts of Pork and the myriad ways of presenting them on a plate. I love pork … but one can be overwhelmed. I’ve now experienced it from the form of a humble sausage made from the leftovers that should have passed through the waste disposal unit – right through to a selection of cuts presented on a wicked sword described as ‘food for a King’ … and presented by a maiden who would have probably been kept by a real King as his personal serving wench. There remains a mystery. We have seen the origins of the ‘Beef Pattie”, the feathered supplier of the ‘Chicken Chests’ and even the humble vegetable garnishes … but we haven’t seen the pigs. We have finally concluded that they are so important to the collective National Wellbeing that the ‘guvmint’ have taken over the industry, secritized it … and the pigs live in high rise apartments. Certainly many look suitable.
By the way, did you know that the dental formula of adult pigs is 126.96.36.199 / 188.8.131.52, giving a total of 44 teeth. Isn’t that something?
All of these countries are well pleased to have moved on from Communism. Although each has a communist party, there is little fear of them ever gaining power. However, it is still possible to be seriously hurt by communism … keep a careful eye out. One of the remaining poor quality statues could fall on you.
A comment on religion, just to offend those remaining few. Religions of various persuasions remain very popular – particularly those that generate a bit of smoke and wear tall hats. I’ve deduced that the principal reason for the popularity of the churches of Eastern Europe is that they are the greatest benefactors of the ever popular Lottery’s. Everyone goes to church to pray that they will win the next jackpot.
Sadly, ‘progress is coming to this Eastern European region. Given time they will follow headlong into the trap of Western consumerism and gross consumption - which is inevitably followed by rules to make each of us conform to someone else’s ideal. Today we saw the perfect example. A young lady with great ambitions modeling herself on an American icon. Her business was humble in the extreme but she is on the ladder. One day you just may see a McJennys in your neighbourhood.
If you are contemplating a holiday – consider Eastern Europe. Come now while it is chaotically disorganized, full of rubbish, has some of Europe’s finest driving skills and retains none of Dracula’s well known habits. Everyone we have met has been delighted that we called on them and have tried very hard to please. Their Romanglish, Hungarilish or Bulgarilish is good enough to enable communication of the essentials … and Flypaper rates their collective toilet paper as 6 out of 10. She’s not just a recipe girl – she knows about this sort of stuff too.