Oh they love a freebie, those Romanian bloggers. Send them a crate of plutonium and they’d wax lyrical about how fantastic it is, just as long as they got to keep some.
The latest product to turn up on their desks is the new-to-Romania Strongbow, that awful would-be cider which no right-thinking cider drinker would ever touch. Indeed, it makes Real Cider’s list of ‘Ciders not recognised as being real‘ and indeed it isn’t: it only has a 25 per cent apple juice content. Strongbow is basically alcoholic fizzy-pop. Cider it ain’t.
Here are just a few highly objective reactions to Strongbow’s recent Romanian launch:
(There are hundreds more. Note how similar all these posts are: almost all mention how good Strongbow is with ice, as though it were some kind of contractual obligation. That’s what happens when you copy and paste the same press release).
The good news however is that the real thing is on the way, and it’s being made in Romania, with 100 per cent Romanian apples. (That’s if anyone is still interested: if they taste Strongbow they might be put off cider for life). The Romanian cider is called Cidru Clarks, a labour of love for its producer, long-time Romanian resident and all-round good egg Alan Clark. He told us today that his brew is ready, and is just awaiting the final authorisations from the powers that be. He expects it to be available in two to three weeks.
Our Dear Leader Robert Negoita – Mayor of the Peoples’ Republic of Bucharest Sector 3 – today invited fresh ridicule with the statement that Bucharest was ‘the greenest city in Europe.’ Negoita said that he had visited Vienna, Berlin, Rome and Paris and yet had never seen a city as green as the Romanian capital. ‘Our problem is that we don’t do the calculations properly,’ he said.
Now, while Bucharest does have some smashing parks and public gardens it could never, ever be said to be particularly green: one of the reasons the city is so impossibly hot in high summer is the lack of green space. And we should not forget that if the likes of Negoita had his way what little green space there is would be gone overnight and replaced with two and three bedroom luxury apartments or mayoral follies (as indeed it sometimes is).
Which brings us nicely on to some other Negoita news.
You will no doubt not be hugely surprised to discover that the Great Wall of Unirii, which appeared back in November remains as unfinished as ever, six months on. We took a photo of its progress this morning:
It has, however – and all credit to Ionita for this – been joined by an equally unfinished fountain/pond, which at least offers a little symmetry:
Green Bucharest: File under ‘tell a big enough lie and you will make people believe it.’
We shouldn’t pity these migrants; we should admire them, for using guile, gumption and perseverance to come here. They’re precisely the kind of people sluggish Europe needs more of, an antidote to our students who can’t even clap without having a mental breakdown and our new generation who think that being told to ‘get on your bike’ to look for a job is tantamount to abuse. Let’s relax the borders and let them in to try their luck in our countries and see how they fare.
It’s only, what, five years (?) since Bucharest’s Old Town area – which had been dormant for decades – became the city’s central entertainment district, but that’s more than enough for the backlash to have begun.
Pro TV ran a story last week proclaiming the death of Lipscani: Falimentul Centrului Vechi (The Bankruptcy of the Old Town) they called it, adding that far from being party central, the area had been transformed into ‘poverty central.’ Apparently, the kids are now partying on Calea Victoriei, in Herastrau, in Piata Amzei and on Bulevardul Decebal.
Are they bollocks. There are of course venues in those locations, but then there always have been. They cater to very different markets than the Old Town. No, as usual, As usual, Pro TV are making the facts fit the story rather than the other way around. In doing so they are betraying the fact that they know fuck all.
Pro TV‘s entire argument – if you can call it that – appears to be based on the fact that large numbers of venues open and close each year: almost 100 annually, the report suggests.
We do not dispute the numbers: we know better than just about anyone else in Bucharest how many venues open and close in this city: it is what earns us a living. The point is, venues are always opening and closing, in the Old Town as well as elsewhere in the city.
It’s called the market.
Crap venues open and close, good venues open and, ahem, stay open. For every crappy bar and restaurant which opens with great fanfare but then lasts about five minutes there are plenty of others which stand the test of time by being, you know, quite good. It is not rocket science: the horeca business has always been – and always will be – one of the most attritional there is. That’s valid for Old Town, for the rest of Bucharest and for just about every district of every city in the world. Unfortunately, far too many people think that there are short cuts to success, and that a good location is one such short cut. It isn’t. If your venue is crap it will fail wherever it is.
Of course, now we think of it there is actually nothing new about the Old Town backlash. Ever since the area became popular five or six years ago there have been plenty of snobs declaring their hatred for it, based mainly on the fact that those frightful working classes go there.
Old Town has certainly become seedier: there is an awful large number of dodgy night clubs and massage parlours in the area now, at least some of which are not-very-subtle fronts for brothels. Again, this is not unique to the Old Town.
In short, Pro TV‘s report is trying to say that the days of an Old Town location guaranteeing success are over. Well, if they knew anything about anything they would know that an Old Town location never guaranteed success.
Old Town will continue to be the city’s liveliest district for some time to come. It remains rough around the edges, seedy and often way too crowded. That does not put off the thousands of locals and foreigners who head for the area every weekend, however. There will continue to be a cull of bars and restaurants which are not up to scratch – a good thing. But those Old Town venues which have been around for years, and which continue to do well (we are thinking here of places like Lacrimi si sfinti, Mojo, Divan, La Bonne Bouche, Bordello, Beer O’Clock and Van Gogh – amongst others) are going nowhere.
Your correspondent very much in the pink at an Old Town location on Friday night
If, like us, you’ve had enough of articles about Romania by foreigners which – when paraphrased – basically amount to ‘we like this country because it’s backwards’, then you have come to the right place. For this rant is intended to be the antidote to such clichéd rubbish, as well as a riposte to the loonies on the far-right of Romanian politics who see enemies everywhere, usually dressed in provocatively homosexual clothing.
Let’s take two simple questions:
Why then, do we like Romania? Why do we choose to live here?
They are questions we get asked often – as recently as last week in fact by a nurse at St. George’s Hospital in Tooting who was looking after our mother. She was insistent that we’d got it wrong. We had ‘gone the wrong way’, she said. Romania to England is the sensible move, not the other way around.
Truth is of course, it totally depends on the individual. For a Romanian nurse life might well be better in England. For us, life remains better in Romania than it would be in the UK.
Here are just five reasons why.
1. Cost of living
This is a list of five reasons but it could, ultimately, be reduced to just this one: Romania is a cheaper country than the UK in which to live. And whatever anybody might say, such things matter, hugely so.
Our modest income goes much further in Romania than it would in the UK. Replicating our lifestyle in London would take an income way beyond that we currently enjoy.
Of course, the UK offers potentially higher earnings, but that would involve getting a proper job and commuting to an office every day: something we don’t fancy much.
No, for a lazy bastard somebody who likes a relatively easy life and is prepared to forego a potentially higher income in exchange for having one, Romania is hard to beat.
2. Low taxation
Both income tax and local taxes in Romania are low. The flat rate of income tax has been at 16 per cent for a decade and no political party appears brave enough to even consider raising it. Indeed, all talk is of lower income tax rates, not higher.
Local taxes (or council taxes) are also cheap. For a four-room apartment in central Bucharest we pay 536.88 lei per year: that’s just under £87. In exchange we get two (yes, two) rubbish collections per week: read it and weep, Londoners.
The only tax which sometimes bites in Romania is VAT: stuck at a whopping 24 per cent for most items. It is set to fall this year, however, perhaps as low as 20 per cent.
3. A small state
There is much bureaucracy in Romania, as anyone who has ever tried to do any paperwork can testify to. Despite that, Romania is a country which since 1989 has by and large left its citizens alone to live their own lives. CCTV is rare. We don’t get messages telling us that ‘Your internet service provider has blocked access to this website’ when trying to search for torrents. We doubt we will see any Steaua fans (or fans of other teams) jailed for singing offensive songs any time soon. You can smoke where you like (not always, we admit, a good thing). There are no calls for the minimum pricing of alcohol.
4. World’s fastest internet
Which brings us nicely on to the internet. We now enjoy one of the world’s fastest internet connections, regularly topping 900Mbps. With two kids who spend half the day on various devices, and with us having to send enormous files to printing houses this is a massive bonus. Indeed, the latest issue of Bucharest In Your Pocket was sent to our printer from London: it took almost an hour to upload, so slow are internet speeds in suburban Britain. In Bucharest it takes a couple of minutes.
And then there’s the matter of cost again. In the UK we pay £35 for internet alone (with Virgin Media). That’s for the top speed they offer in the area (Wimbledon): around 75Mbps. In Romania (with Telekom) for the same money we get our high-speed internet, plus landline, plus IPTV with all sport and film channels (HBO etc.)
5. Bright, dynamic young people
Romania is not the worst place in the world to run a company. We had to hire a couple of new members of staff recently: it wasn’t difficult. We were inundated with applications from bright, dynamic, multilingual young people ready to work for a relatively small basic salary but with the potential to earn plenty more if they met their targets. We were able to select the best of the best.
What’s ironic is that such people are available in the UK, but they are often immigrants.
All told, we guess that what we are saying is that these are the best of times for Romania.
We really struggle to fathom the logic of the increasingly vocal pan-Slavists who rail against the EU, against globalisation and against the modern world in general, and who call for a return to ‘traditional’ Romanian values, which they feel are somehow being eroded.
What exactly do these Luddites want? A return to the shortages of communism, when people queued for hours in the hope of purchasing basic foodstuffs? A return to the fascism of the 1930s, when thuggish legionnaires roamed the streets killing people for fun? A return to the feudalism and the slavery of the 19th century?
No, despite the fact that the idiotic Victor Ponta remains the country’s prime minister, this is the best Romania there has ever been. (That might not be saying much, but it’s true). Of course, it could be much, much better – there are still awful levels of poverty in this country, not least in the countryside – and there is much to be done.
Yet let there be no doubt about it: today’s Romanian (or, indeed, Anglo-Romanian) children are the luckiest there have ever been. The wealth of opportunity they enjoy is beyond the wildest dreams of even our generation.
They are healthier, better educated, freer, will live longer and will be richer than any generation of Romanians before them. And there is more to come. What’s to complain about?