I was in Iași again the last weekend of April 2014. I was there for a long time — nine days, which might be a new record for me — between two holiday weekends, and staying there over a weekend, which usually isn’t necessary. Romania, as we discovered last fall, isn’t particularly foreign-tourist-friendly. And I try not to obligate my work people to spend more of their free time with me than, say, one evening once per visit. But the team surprised me with an exciting day trip around the region, including all new stuff for me to experience.
I’ve been visiting Iași since November 2006. I’ve eaten at most of the restaurants you’d take a visiting foreigner who likes local cuisine. On Friday afternoon they said “bring a jacket (in case it rains), comfortable shoes, and your camera. Be ready at 9:00 sharp Sunday morning out front at your hotel.” Mysterious! I had no idea this was going to be a roadtrip through Northeastern Romania — or a wide swath of it, anyways. Continue reading →
So I’m staying, reluctantly, overnight in Iași. I’m in Little Texas (www.littletexas.org), which is kind of ironic, given that my VPN’d proxy usually reports my IP as being in San Antonio.
I’m staying here an extra night because of an undisclosed technical problem with the Austrian Arrows plane that arrived late from Vienna this afternoon, intending to scoop up passengers and return with them to Vienna.
After it arrived in Iași late, we boarded and then proceeded to sit. And sit and sit. Then, from my choice seat under the wing, just across from the engine cowl and landing gear on our Dash-8 turboprop plane, I saw some ground crew pointing and gesturing at a growing puddle on the ground and drips coming out of some kind of exhaust port on the plane. Eventually the pilot left the cockpit and came out to check it himself and touched the fluid, sniffed his finger, and returned to the cockpit.
Not too long after that, we deplaned and started making plans for the night, since that was the last flight of the day in a direction useful to me. Austrian Arrows tried to convince me to get on a bus to Bucharest (5 hour ride to catch at least two more planes? No thanks!) so that I could take a plane from there. I said “What else you got?” When he tried to offer me a stay overnight and some more Austrian flights out of Iași in the morning, I said “I’d rather fly Carpatair tomorrow at 07:30. Can you make that happen?” He swallowed and reluctantly made me a reservation for flights home to Munich and an overnight stay and dinner at Little Texas on Austrian’s Groschen.
I have never had anything but pleasant prompt service from Carpatair. I have always had complicated, delayed, stressful travel with Austrian Arrows — including sprints through the lousy Vienna Schwechat airport and luggage arriving days later than I did, which is why I didn’t bring a suitcase on this trip. I’m thinking this was Austrian’s last piece of business from me.
Got some local help on the evening activities on my most recent trip to Iași — mulțumesc to all. They helped me to see some aspects of their town — perhaps even their country — that were new to me, even though I’ve been to Iași more than ten times by now. Apparently, ancient art and architecture like these examples are abundant all over Romania, but as one of local friends said, they don’t put any effort into promoting foreign tourism. He noticed how easy it was for him to navigate around Austria’s treasures without speaking any German, because they have signage and guides and websites and brochures all catered to speakers of English, French, Italian, etc. Certainly Romania could profit greatly from visitors who can function in these languages, if not Romanian. So why not capitalize on it? It seems like such a small step to take to bring in money from tourism.
Or is the intent to keep Romania an insider’s secret?
I’m back in Iași this week for something like my 7th (is that right? that number seems pretty low) trip to Romania since the initial one in November 2006. I’ve not been back here for a visit since March 2009 — it’s really unusual for me to not visit for a whole year, but then again, my team has come to visit me in Germany in whole and in part, so although I haven’t been here as much as I like, I think the contact to my group is still good — I hope they agree.
I’m making a little bit more* of an effort with the language this time, thanks to a nifty Berlitz phrasebook from my parents. I think it has helped a lot with my pronunciation, too: I learned that I have been saying some things incorrectly since the beginning. Oops. And this is despite the fact that modernization has been tricking me. How? Well, view this post in Windows (XP or earlier) and take a look at the character between the a and i in the title. Does it look like an ‘s’ with a little comma below it? Or just a box? Odds are, it’s just a box (unless you’ve already installed the European Union Expansion Font Update). Boxes instead of proper characters are ugly, so while the rest of the Latin (more or less) alphabet world was getting their personal computing and desktop publishing and graphical design on with all the characters they needed for their languages, Romanian has not been patiently waiting for the s-comma and t-comma characters to become part of Unicode 3.0 standard, and for the biggest share of the computer-user market to support it. Instead, they by-and-largely just pressed on ahead, substituting ‘s’ and ‘t’ for ș and ț. Perhaps locals had to compromise — they wanted to use computers and had to settle for incorrect characters (or sometimes using t/s-cedilla substitutions, which are a little better, but still not correct).
What’s the big deal? Maybe nothing at all for native speakers who know what the words sound like, or kids who started learning to spell in the post-XP / Unicode 3 world. But I sound like a schmuck ordering “mamaliguta” instead of “mamaliguța” and “papanasi” instead of “papanași.” But after living in Bavaria for six years, I know a șnițel when I see one — no matter how it’s spelled.
I’m leaving tomorrow on a business trip to Iași. It will be my first trip there in over a year, and a bit longer than my normal trips (a full work week; something I don’t normally do).
Now that I’ve got this iPod touch thing though, and it has injected itself into many aspects of my life, I decided to try to take advantage of its 32GB storage capacity. I have several DVDs sitting around waiting to be watched. Why not watch them on the plane on my iPod tomorrow? But how can I rip the DVDs (something I’ve never done before) to a format my iPod touch can handle?
I downloaded a few trial versions of payware DVD rippers, and they didn’t work so hot (wrinkly distortions in the final product, plus the watermarked logo until you cough up for the software registration). My favorite geek reference site — ISCABBS, a place so geeky you have to use telnet to get in there — came to the rescue with a recommendation to use Handbrake together with VLC. At least on Mac OS X and Linux, having these together on your computer will allow you to rip right from a DVD into an iPod/iPhone compatible format — for free. Handbrake also nicely converts other video formats — apparently pretty much all of them — into a few of the more modern ones, like MP4 via the H.264 codec. I ripped the DVDs (and converted a few other video files I had lying around) in Handbrake and then dragged the converted files from the Finder windown onto my iPod in iTunes.
I’m headed out to Romania again today, this time back to Iași. I found it oddly appropriate that this comic was published today and I’m headed to a place that is straddling geographical and political, historical and present-day definitions of “East” and “West”.
It was a good trip — we got some important stuff done, planning some short-term projects to get us over the hump we’re expecting in the coming months. It was nice to get to know my team’s local boss better, show my own boss around town a bit, and get to see Iasi what Iasi is like outside of extreme weather conditions — I’ve been during the hot spells and one of the few snowstorms in recent memory.
Apparently the food delivery service they used to use in Iasi in lieu of a canteen has started to declie in service but rise in price, so they go out for lunch much more often now. Here we are at Alila for pizza. It was pretty good!
What struck me on this visit (number 6 or 7 since November 2006…I’ve lost count) the most were are all the changes since July 2007. My team has moved to another building completely — one that took less than two months to construct. It’s made out of old shipping containers that have been hitched together. It sounded pretty terrible to me when they described it, but the interior is a completely modern and well-equipped office building.
When I first started visiting Iasi, all purchasing stuff was happening in the main building — with the goofy architecture. Then my department moved to the building on the right for a while, and since August last year, they’ve been in the one on the left. And the whole location is pretty much out of space at the moment. They’re looking for a new home in another part of town that will allow them to effective double their current head-count by this time next year.
It’s not just the office that’s changing though — the rest of the town appears to be in an upswing as well. We spotted a Mercedes-Benz Taxi, halied him and arranged for him to pick up my boss early Wednesday morning for an airport trip. He had good results, so I called an reserved a trip with him as well. This seems be the entreprenurial spirit that probably was lacking under the communist regime.