Bucharest might be nice when it’s finished

We returned to the Romanian capital last night after a few weeks away to discover much of the city has become an enormous building site. From Piata Sudului to Casa Scanteii almost all of Bucharest’s main roads and junctions appear to be undergoing serious repair or construction work.

The north of the city is the worst affected.

An underpass is being built at Piata Scanteii, affecting traffic into and out of the city. The Arc de Triumf is being renovated, and while this has yet to impact on traffic, it soon will when construction of a pedestrian underpass begins. At Piata Charles de Gualle the road surface is being repaired, and a lane of traffic around the roundabout is closed. Of the three, it is this which is causing the biggest traffic jams, with queues all the way back to Piata Victoriei not uncommon, especially in the morning. We do not remember the road surface being in particularly bad shape here, and wonder if the city council couldn’t have waited until the work at Casa Scanteii and the Arc de Triumf was finished before opening a third building site within less than a kilometre away.

Visitors to Bucharest taking the Sightseeing Bus Tour might want to get off the bus (as it heads north) at Piata Victoriei: beyond that you will sit in traffic for some time for little reward.

To anyone wanting to get to Herastrau Park (or the Village Museum) we recommend the metro (to Aviatorilor).

And we have yet to mention the ongoing widening of the pavement along stretches of Calea Victoriei.

South of the river, chaos reigns on Soseaua Mihai Bravu, where it meets Calea Vacaresti. Here, the city council recently opened half of a flyover (taking traffic coming from the south over the busy junction. The other part of the flyover is under construction now, and is causing delays for anyone heading south. Why the two parts of the flyover couldn’t be built simultaneously is – like much else today – beyond us.

A couple of kilometres down the road yet more roadworks await drivers, at Piata Sudului, where an underpass is being built. Of all the projects currently underway, this is probably the most essential: traffic in the area will be a nightmare for the time it takes to complete, but once finished anyone who travels via Piata Sudului will count their blessings.

Note that this is not a full list of Bucharest’s current major roadworks: if you know of others worth adding to the map, let us know.

La Ministressa

Much outrage in Romania today at the rather pathetic way in which the country’s finance minister Ioana Petrescu crumbled last night when asked some very simple questions by President Traian Basescu.

Petrescu – along with Prime Minister Victor Ponta – had been summonsed by Basescu to discuss the government’s decision to reduce by five per cent the amount employers pay in national insurance (CAS) contributions.

The recordings of the discussion were made public by the president’s office, and can be seen here. Petrescu comes across as a timid, scared little rabbit caught in the headlights of an enormous articulated lorry whose driver has just watched every episode of Top Gear from start to finish. That wonderful English phrase ‘not fit for purpose’ springs immediately to mind.

That Petrescu is not up to the job does not come as a surprise to us. When she was appointed back in March we did ask if her background in the bubble that is American academia was the best preparation for dealing with the problems of a banana republic in Eastern Europe. We don’t like to say we told you so, but hey: we told you so.

Ponta’s motives for bringing Petrescu – whose name usually cannot be uttered without her Harvard qualifications being mentioned – into the government have always been clear. Young and unquestionably intelligent she was meant to give Ponta and his tainted regime an air of youthful hope. Alas, a youthful-looking turd is still a turd, and yesterday Petrescu had the look of somebody who has just realised the size of the turd she has stepped in: it’s the size of a country.

For her sake, she should do the decent thing and resign, and return to the cosseted world of academia. With the more anti-government parts of the local media now commenting on frivolities such as how she looks – from her hair to her choice of shoes – she can be sure that things are about to get very rough indeed. Romanian politics is no place for little girls. Any woman who wants to make their mark in politics in this country needs to be a bit more, well, a bit more Udrea.

We have a winner

Take all the crap travel pieces you’ve ever read about Romania, put them together in one place and still you are a long, long way short of having a turd the size of this effort from those self-proclaimed too-cool-for-school hipsters at Vice.

Clearly the work of adolescents who think that it’s like, really edgy to use swearwords and talk about drugs the piece reveals little – if anything – new about Bucharest. Romania is a homophobic country? Wow, what a scoop: stop the presses.

What the piece does reveal however is that Vice - far from being the counter-culture bible it so desperately wants to be – is little more than an effortlessly mainstream publication with predictable middle-class values.

The revolution will not be reported by Vice. They will be too busy trying to score drugs because that’s where it’s at, man.

We will comment no further. Go read the piece for yourself here.

Three covers

Three covers from our three latest In Your Pocket mini-guides to Bucharest, Brasov and Sibiu.




Victor Ponta just gave one of the world’s richest and most profitable companies your money

In a stunning new victory for Romania’s beloved prime minister Victor ‘Copy Paste’ Ponta in his neverending quest to find new ways of wasting the taxpayer’s money, we read with not a little outrage yesterday that he had handed a whopping €8.19 million to those needy people over at, ahem, Vodafone. (Yes, the same Vodafone which made a post-tax profit of €74.6 billion last year and whose CEO took a salary of €11.8 million).

Isn’t it nice to know that our money is going to such worthy causes? After all, schools and hospitals in Romania have all the money they need, so why not hand a few million over to a foreign-owned company like Vodafone?

The details of the government’s hand-out came during the opening of a new Vodafone ‘Service Centre’ (call centre) in Bucharest to serve various markets, including the UK.

Ponta, present at the opening along with Vodafone Romania’s new boss Ravinder Takkar, said that the state aid had been awarded ‘in order to create jobs’: up to 600 people already work at the call centre, with vague promises that as many as 2000 will eventually be employed there. While Takkar added that Vodafone’s decision to open the call centre in Romania had not been based on Ponta’s €8.19 million sweetener, we are inclined to think that the cash couldn’t have hurt, especially as the total investment in the call centre was just €6.52 million.

Now, leaving aside the subject of state aid and whether or not the €8.19 million is money well spent, what we find most telling about this affair is the total lack of interest shown in it by the local press, who have in the main simply reproduced the Vodafone press release word for word. Usually, any excuse to bash the government is gratefully accepted by the television stations, newspapers, websites and blogs opposed to Ponta. He has been hauled over the coals for far less.

What’s different of course is the subject. Vodafone is one of the biggest (if not the biggest) buyers of advertising space in Romania, across all platforms. It also finances much of the so-called Romanian blogosphere via a number of events it sponsors (at which the country’s high-profile bloggers appear in order to boost their profiles). As such, Vodafone is more or less bulletproof. The same goes for Orange, Petrom and a handful of other huge companies: given that they pay the bills they are immune from criticism. It’s a shame.

A couple of other bits of news have caught of eye over the past few days, as we catch up with events in Romania following our return from holiday.

Firstly, the noose appears to finally be tightening around the neck of Dan Voiculescu, the former Securitate informer and boss of Intact Media which owns the Antena 1 and Antena 3 TV stations, alongside numerous over holdings. Voiculescu was sentenced to five years in prison in September 2013 for corruption, but remained free pending an appeal. That appeal has been continually delayed by Voiculescu’s lawyers in the hope of dragging the case beyond its six year statute of limitations in December (the case has been ongoing since 2008).

A hearing on Tuesday however rejected all of Voiculescu’s new requests for a delay, and the appeal will now finally be heard on July 8th: next Tuesday. Voiculescu’s assets have in the meantime been frozen.

Secondly, we had to laugh when we read that Romanian football fans will have to pay 10 lei per month to watch Liga 1 football this season. What’s more, only one cable operator – UPC – is offering the package. The others have simply dropped the channel which will show games (Look TV). We predict a take-up rate of almost zero: who will pay to watch the nonsense that passes as first division football in Romania?