Cymraeg

Cymraeg
Location
London, UK
Birthday
August 17
Bio
I live in London with my wife and three cats. Or maybe we live with them. Oh and now we have a puppy!

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Salon.com
OCTOBER 8, 2009 10:37AM

Oh, The Places I've Seen... Part One

Rate: 14 Flag

One of the highlights of being a journalist is that sometimes I get sent off to pastures new in order to cover a business conference. These tend to be very mixed blessings at times – on the one hand I love travelling but on the other I hate leaving Kathleen behind.

 

 

This is a shame, because in recent years I’ve been to some very interesting places indeed. So – here’s part one of a quick guide to the odder places I’ve been.

 

 

Romania.

 

I flew into Bucharest 3 days before the start of the conference, as there was at that time only one British Airways flight a week into the country.

 

Bucharest has to be the saddest city I’ve ever seen. Once upon a time it was a gem, the Paris of the Balkans, stuffed full of French architecture, interesting churches and fascinating nooks and crannies.

 

 

Then it got bombed by the Nazis and then taken over by the Communists. It was the latter, under a lunatic called Ceausescu, who did the bulk of the damage to the city as he demolished large chunks of it and replaced it with hideous concrete apartment blocks with all the aesthetic value of a rusty cement mixer. I was told that the mysterious concrete huts on top of each one was for anti-aircraft guns. Go figure.

 

 

People who were forcibly moved from their old houses could not take their pets with them, so there was a serious feral dog problem in the city – until the government employed squads of people with rifles, making everyday life sound as if there was a coup going on in the background.

 

 

The conference itself was in Sinaia, not a million miles from Transylvania. My hotel wasn’t bad, but the food was… um… imagine very bad school dinners and then add gristle, reduce the temperature of everything down to lukewarm and put a dirty thumbprint on each plate.

 

 

Bless them the people were lovely, and there was a very polite man I used to pass every morning as he walked his cow next to the shattered electricity sub-station that had been built right besides the river that passed down the valley.

 

 

The hospitality was excellent and I’ll always remember three nights. The first one was the official reception, when we were assembled for the “surprise” part of the evening, which was for a female synchronized swimming team to swim into the indoor part of the pool and then display their skills. I’m not sure how cold it was in the outside part (it was April and there had been a dusting of snow on top of the hills nearby the previous night) but let’s just say that a lot of people had nipples on the brain for a while.

 

 

The second night was the official Romanian dinner experience (the best food in the entire trip by a long way), when we were all given a bottle of Romanian plum brandy. It had a picture of Vlad Dracul on the label and it had roughly the same properties as rocket fuel. I saw an idiot English broker throw half a tumbler of the stuff down his throat and about 30 minutes later two waiters had to find his false teeth and then carry him back to his hotel room. My bottle sits, untouched, under the stairs, just in case I need a guaranteed Molotov Cocktail. That or the sideboard needs its varnish stripped off.

 

 

On the last night the English “pub” under the hotel (which called The Old Nick, although I don’t think that they realised that this was a nickname for Satan) was the location for the post-conference party. They made the mistake of getting some real Guinness, which vanished in I think about half an hour, with one Irish broker being reduced to tears at getting a taste of home.

 

 

It was at that point that the organizers, for reasons that still escape me, gave us all a carved wooden spoon and a used horseshoe that gave me some very odd looks from the customs officers at the airport the next day.

 

 

Oh and I forgot the money. At the time Romania had a slight inflation problem so I had 100,000s of Romanian Lei in my wallet. They were very proud of the fact that it was washable, which I suppose give a new meaning to the phrase “laundered money”.

 

 

 

Next – Monte Carlo or Dubai? Any thoughts?

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Great stuff!! Keep On Trucking!!
Looking forward to Part 2! I choose Monte Carlo as well. Mmm...
Oooo yeah, Monte Carlo!!!! Was there once a long time ago. What a magical place!
monte carlo - can I give you a fiver to put on the wheel?
Poor Romania. I always feel pretty lucky being American - cynical, jaded, etc. but ultimately lucky - and especially when learning about the ongoing, systematic destruction of countries for decades/centuries.
More, more, more! I don't have a preference so listen to them. ^^^^
Yes! I love travel stories. You've really given us a taste of Bucharest . I can't wait to read about more of your travels. Someday I'll get to wander all over the world. Until then, I'm soaking up all the information and stories that I can.
"imagine very bad school dinners and then add gristle, reduce the temperature of everything down to lukewarm and put a dirty thumbprint on each plate."

Mmmm, just like mama use to make it!! :)

Dubai just to be out of the norm!! :)
oh my god, both Dubai and Monte Carlo!!!! this is so freaking funny. i love you for life now. thank you. shit, man, synchronized swimming and a used horseshoe and gristle and dracula's plum brandy?????? i LOVE your eye for details. more more more mero moer. please. love love love and gratitude (i'll try to be more effusive next time because i know i'm subtle in my expressions.)
I'm tempted to say "Aha I'll follow Tink's advice!", but I'll write up Monte Carlo next - and then Dubai!
Any place is fine with me if you keep writing sentences like the one I was going to quote, but Tinkertink got to first. Fabulous. I also just went and read your swine flu post. This is good reading! Rated.
Great stuff, Cymraeg! I imagine the one great benefit of all travelers to Bucharest--Being free to leave it, again. Nevertheless you give a good feeling of time and place, even though my heart breaks for those poor dogs who got left behind, then shot.

Never entrust Urban Planning and/or beautification to Communists, this much seems clear!
There are so many places I want to see but never will (barring a sudden million falling in my lap)
Looking forward to reading the one on Dubai!
Sorry to come to this so late. This was an enlightening and well-written piece. Can't wait to read more.
Doing some back reading and enjoying the heck out of your observations! Love your sense of humor...does come in handly on these trips...along with some common sense!

R
the etiquette here, love, is to thank the peopel who comment. individually is best. selfishly? i like to hear people's responses when they are as fucking funny as you are. can't wait for next one but have to. i got a lot of comments -- wont' match ratings, never do -- and im' an attention whore. be there later and i love you, man!!
Oh my - am nearly finished reading "The Historian" which takes place, in part, in Romania! Gotta love Soviet Block architecture - it makes everything else pale in comparison.

I vote for Dubai!
Very interesting. Rumania really was the bastard child next to Hungary. I say Dubai next. I lived in Monte Carlo for several years.
Of all the places you've traveled, what country is your favorite?
Patricia - Italy! I always thought that it would be France, but no it has to be Italy, hands down.