Roadtrip through Northeastern Romania

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 Roadtrip through Northeastern Romania

Romanian Road Trip

I’ve been traveling to Romania periodically for a long time (here are all the posts tagged with Romania).  Until now, it’s never been for personal travel — it’s always been business trips to towns where our company has R&D or factories.

But finally, after about 7 years, we planned some personal travel over the Tag der Deutschen Einheit holiday.  We flew in to Bucharest, drove to Brașov and back, and met up with an old pal (and ex-colleague) and his wife for the last bit. It was an eye-opener, for both of us, in a number of ways. Continue reading Romanian Road Trip

Be prepared: granola bars and Google Maps save the day

A perfect record is pretty difficult to sustain. Even my favorite airline for business trips to Romania let me down pretty hard last week. A trip with eight hours of planned travel ballooned into 19 hours, thanks to Carpatair. Continue reading Be prepared: granola bars and Google Maps save the day

Romania: Paradise for Sour Cream Fans

(Alternative title: Rumänien, das Schmandsland)

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I’ve been visiting Romania for almost six years, several times per year, for about a week at a time. I don’t get much exposure to the language (though I find it exceedingly interesting) because these are all work trips and we work in English or German (depending on who is visiting with me). Basic conversation, travel-related vocabulary, and all the other first-year language lesson topics have mostly remained a mystery to me. But there’s one area in which I am starting to feel more comfortable: food. Continue reading Romania: Paradise for Sour Cream Fans

Grounded in Iași

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.

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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.

Salut de Iași!

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).

papanașiWhat’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.

*Zero plus 10% still isn’t very much.

Romanian Airports: ce faci?*

I just got back last night from another trip Romania. I think the trip was a success, but we’ll know for sure in a few days (hopefully not weeks) and ultimately in the long term over the next year or so.

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I was headed to Iaşi, my most frequent destination in Romania (I have been known to visit Timişoara from time to time and Sibiu once — so far). There are no direct flights to Iaşi from Munich or Nuremberg. But you can get to Iaşi after stopping and changing planes in Timişoara, Vienna, or Bucharest (or maybe others?).

It’s fine, as airports go, I guess. But it really gets on my nerves that that there is apparently no way to go from the domestic arrivals to international departures (or the way around) without going past the ticketing windows and through the security lines a second time — the first being when you boarded your first plane.

Am I just crazy, or don’t other airports allow you to exit one plane and get on another without an additional trip through the metal detector and x-ray machine? The infuriating thing at Bucharest is that when you’re exiting the plane, you can see a clearly labelled path intended for transfers so you to shortcut past the ticket windows, but there’s a security dude there (looking mighty bored and scowly) shooing anyone who tries to use it up the stairs and out of the secured area. So everyone taking a connecting flight has to get re-screened.

*”Ce faci?” (pronouced like [chay fahtch]) means “How are you?” or “Zup?” or “What’s going on?” as near as I can tell. I wonder if it’s a literal translation of “what does [he/she/it] make?” Romance language experts, what do you think? I like looking at Romanian words and finding their cousins in Spanish and the little bit of French I’ve gleaned from three vacations there the past couple years.

Reminds me of
Romanian PhraseSpanishFrenchItalianEnglish meaning
(Bună) dimineațamañanademain(good) morning
la revederearrivedercigoodbye
Nu înțelegI don’t understand
urgențăemergency
târziutardelater
Cum te cheamă?¿Como te llamas?What’s your name?
Cu plăcerewith pleasure (you’re welcome)
AtențieAttention!Look out!
setesedthirst
Unde e toaleta?¿Dónde está ..?la toiletteI’m off for a slash
șăptămânăsemanasemaineweek

I’m back and I’m tired

Whew. I’m tired. That week was bumpy, even with a one-night stay at home from Thursday night to Friday morning.

dinner in Sibiu #1 Arriving in Sibiu was fine and smooth for me, but one of the guys from Iași had a six-hour layover in Bucharest — travel inside Romania is not always easy. And my travel buddy from Nuremberg on this trip got there with about two hours late, which caused us to postpone the plant tour to next morning…cutting into our work time. But we had a lovely dinner at a very traditional restaurant.

I thought we would be able to get past the slightly bumpy start after a night’s sleep at the Ramada Sibiu. Maybe it was too comfortable — when we finally finished the plant tour and started to get down to business, I realized I’d left my little bag of cables and connectors and Elektroschrott back at the hotel. Which means I couldn’t get us onto any part of “my” company’s network (since we got bought last year, our networks have been completely separate). How embarrassing. But I tried to rectify the situation by grabbing a taxi back to the hotel on my lunch break. It took a half an hour just for the taxi to arrive, and then forty-five minutes to get from the plant (outskirts of town, 1 minute from the airport) to the hotel and 15 minutes to get back from the hotel to the plant. What did I learn? Traffic in Sibiu can be extremely chaotic.

PA144758_autoexposure_adjust_ufraw We had another very nice, traditional dinner in Sibiu that evening, and I was playing around with my tripod and remote shutter, trying to take some interesting low light (no flash!) pictures. I think I still have some learning to do in that realm. Oh, and it would help if everyone would stop moving while I’m shooting, please.

PA144763 Checking out of the Ramada Sibiu the next morning was also somewhat chaotic. There was a mad dash of businessmen yelling at the lone receptionist guy about how they were going to miss their flights because their taxis to the airport hadn’t yet shown up (even though the poor receptionist guy called twice, pleading for a taxi to show up, etc.). I was a bit stressy too, but it turns out we had nothing to worry about. We got to the airport just fine and were delayed in boarding our plane for TWO HOURS due to foggy conditions both in Sibiu and Timisoara. Then after boarding, we waited another one hour in the plane on the tarmac before the weather finally broke.

Of course, all of this put a big time squeeze on our meeting in Timisoara and frustration levels there rose again. Walking around downtown Timisoara at night after a meal at a fancy restaurant helped us relax a little. The next day in Timisoara was stressier again (fortunately not for me — I was mostly observing on this part of the mission) due to time constraints and personal objectives of the participants, but thanks to the team assistant in Timisoara, I budgeted plenty of time for the trip to the airport and all went smoothly on the way home.

10 hours after arriving here though I was already on a train headed out to Nuremberg, in meetings all day with my boss and his boss and my Nuremberg travel buddy from the first four days of the week. I’d planned to finish the week with a 16:31 departure from Nuremberg to Regensburg, but the discussion got kind of involved, so I opted to catch the 18:31 instead. And then the discussion caused me to miss that train as well, despite running all through the Nuremberg Hauptbahnhof and actually pressing the button to open the door to the train. Missing a train by less than 5 seconds is really, really frustrating. So I waited an hour at the train station and finally made it back to our apartment around 21:00. I am glad that week is over.

Ramada Sibiu

Ramada Sibiu Hotel
Emil Cioran Str, No 2
550025 Sibiu
Romania

This is a pretty snazzy place! Nice room with a great bathroom and a classy design. My only complaint: the breakfast options were pretty meager (plenty of horrid coffee though, if that’s your thing) and although they offered to pack us a snack to compensate for our early departure, there was no coffee available at all that morning. Here are some pictures from the room:

PA134750 PA134749

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