The Dacia Amfibie

And we thought James Bond’s sea-faring Lotus was original.

Indeed, you think you’ve seen it all and then you come across this, the Dacia Amfibie: a Dacia 1307 (papuc) specially adapted for the water.

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We spotted this absolute gem of a motor in the car park of the Maritime University in Constanta, where a friend of ours keeps his boat (a far more conventional affair, alas).

We have no idea if the floating Dacia is still seaworthy, but intend to find out. We’d pay good money to see it in action, even more to take it for a spin on the lake.

On second thoughts: Slanina

Long-suffering, regular readers may well remember that last year we bravely admitted that we did not like tuica, coming out as visinata drinkers instead.

While a year on we have yet to change our opinion of tuica (in fact we dislike it even more: the mere smell of the stuff makes us run a mile) there is one Romanian speciality (or peculiarity, depending on your viewpoint) which – over the past 18 months or so – we have come to rather like: slana, or slanina (smoked pork fat).

Some slanina, yesterday. Click for source.

How things change. We well remember the first time we were confronted with the stuff. We asked (in all innocence): What did you do with the good bit of the bacon?

We really couldn’t understand why anyone would choose to eat the fat of the pork instead of the lean. At the time we genuinely didn’t know that the lean had of course been put to other – very good – uses, either as ham or kaiser or numerous other tasty, piggy treats. It seems stupid now but we did – for a while – actually think that those funny locals cut off the actual bacon, threw it away, and ate the fat instead. For such nonsensical thinking we would like to take this opportunity – a couple of decades too late perhaps – to formally apologise.

As an act of contrition for all this, however, what could be better than actually having to completely change our opinion on the matter?

We are not sure exactly when it happened, but our conversion to the delights of pork fat has been complete for at least a year now. It was our father-in-law’s increasingly good slanina which finally won us over, and we are grateful for the fact that he never gave up on us. Like it or not slanina would appear on our plate every time we ate a meal, and one day it was so good we couldn’t get enough. Believe us: when good, it is very, very good. What looks so inedible in fact melts in the mouth (if it has been smoked properly), and despite the fact that it’s incredibly unhealthy, a heavily smoked piece of slanina, eaten with a crispy baguette, a strong onion and some cheese is fabulous: Romania’s culinary gift to the world. (Romanian pork in general by the way is worthy of the highest praise, in all its forms, be it ceafa, kaiser, costita or – our favourite – ciolan).

A ciolan, yesterday. Click for source.

Ironically, the usual liquid accompaniment to slanina is of course a glass of tuica. Maybe we will come to like that in time. Don’t hold your breath though.

Badly Parked Cars: Bucegi Edition

Magnificent piece of parking this:

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We have to ask, however, who is to blame? The dickhead behind the wheel or the even bigger dickhead who decided to pave the road up to Piatra Arsa, allowing cars to get up here in the first place? (Until recently it was all but impassable for most vehicles).

Piatra Arsa is a cabin up at an altitude of 1960 metres up in the Bucegi Mountains, halfway between the top of the Sinaia and Busteni cable cars. In an ideal world the motor car would have no place up here: this is hiking territory, and should be accessible by leg power or by cable car only.

Alas, this is far from an ideal world, and since the end of last summer it has been possible for anyone to drive up here, thanks to what is known as the Transbucegi. (Why it is called the trans anything we do not know, as it doesn’t trans anywhere: it comes to an abrupt stop a few hundred metres from Piatra Arsa).

The road begins back at the DN71 (the road from Sinaia to Targoviste) and en route it crosses several important hiking routes, forcing walkers – simply trying to have a nice romp in what is in theory a protected nature reserve – to have to watch out for the small penis and pitipoanca brigade which seems to think it is entitled to drive just about anywhere.

Anyway, imagine our mock surprise when a quick Google search revealed that the original idea to spend more than €10 million on paving a road even more pointless than the Transfagarasan (which at least has the decency to go through a tunnel at the top, and does not force hikers to cross it) belonged to none other than former Minister of Tourism and Regional Development Elena Udrea.

Yep, back in 2010 Udrea decided that what one of the last refuges of those of us who like their mountains car-free really needed was a road. The results have been predictable: on summer weekends the area around Piatra Arsa now resembles a car park.

How nice.

Bucharest’s sex / adult entertainment scene (Update)

We received an email last week from a punter who wanted to share with us the details of a rather unfortunate incident which took place at the Stars Night Club, on Strada Ion Campineanu opposite the Novotel.

(We have written about this particular place before, by the way. See this post, from January 2011).

Please warn explicitly again about clubs as Stars Night Club, on Strada Ion Campineanu opposite the Novotel, as I was ripped off on Friday evening. I just read on http://www.bucharestlife.net/2011/01/26/we-always-wanted-an-excuse-to-get-bucharest-and-sex-into-a-post-title/ to avoid that place.

A girl opened the door, and led me downstairs without saying anything about an entry or extra consumption fee. There were a few mediocre looking women, and one came over and wanted to force me to buy a small bottle (800 ron). I had 400 with me, so I bought a beer and a cocktail for a girl, for 300 in total. After 10! minutes she asks for another drink, else she would have to leave. Instead, I asked for the bill. It suddenly was 440 (140 entry fee added). I said that nobody told me about the fee. The girl said that it is written in the menu, and yes, it is there, very small in the same red as the light it was written (and invisible without a flashlight). I argued with her and said that I have only 400 in cash and that my credit card I had (gladly) left at home. So she took the 400. After 2 min she came back and said that I have to leave. Which I did, telling that I will “promote” the place.

So 400 for aprox. 20 min having a beer and a cocktail for a girl. And a very unpleasant experience. Please stress in In Your Pocket that that place is a ripoff.

Consider yourselves warned.

If you must partake in a bit of the other, head for one of the erotic massage parlours.

It’s time to start charging a fee for driving over the Transfagarasan Highway

transfagarasan-south-side-valley-viewMore than sixteen years after moving to Romania, and more than a quarter of a century since we first visited this rather splendid country we finally ‘did’ the Transfagarasan last week.

It really was about time.

For the benefit of anyone living in a cave, we should point out that the Transfagarasan Highway is Romania’s most celebrated mountain road. Though the Transalpina a little further west is higher (and, some purists claim, more spectacular) the northern side of the Transfagarasan is one of Romania’s defining images and – since being featured on BBC Top Gear in 2009 – one of the country’s most popular tourist attractions. It just goes to prove that Ion Jinga, the Romanian ambassador in London, was being a total idiot when he wrote to the BBC demanding that they re-edit the programme, which he thought caused great offence. Yes, Jeremy Clarkson is unquestionably a provocative arse, but we said it then and we say it again: that episode of Top Gear was just about the best advert for Romania seen on UK television at any time over the past 20 years.

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The Transfagarasan – as with everything else in Romania at the time, it would seem – was built from 1970-1974 on the personal orders of Nicolae Ceausescu, who, legend has it, wanted to create a strategic route across the Fagaras Mountains to ferry troops north should Romania be invaded by the USSR (as Czechoslovakia had been in 1968). This legend of course ignores the fact that a perfectly good and far quicker route around the mountains (the Valea Oltului) already existed, and that any strategic impact of a road open for only a few months each year would have been minimal. Still, who are we to question a good urban myth?

A far more likely explanation for the construction of the road was the simple fact that the mountains were there, and that the road across the very top would serve as a proud example of just what socialist Romania – with Ceausescu as its leader – could achieve. Much like the Danube-Black Sea Canal project of the 1980s the Transfagarasan was therefore built as a status symbol with little regard for cost or usefulness. (Indeed – whisper it – but the Transfagarasan is fundamentally useless).

Yet whereas the Danube-Black Sea Canal is today the biggest white elephant in the country (it carries very little marine traffic), the Transfagarasan has never been more popular. Always a favoured weekend trip for Romanian drivers, its international fame now means that motoring enthusiasts from all over Europe (particularly Poland, in our experience) beat a path here each summer.

As such, we have to ask a simple question: why is there no charge for driving over this amazing road? It is purely a tourist attraction which – beyond Arefu on the southern side and Balea Cascada on the northern – serves no villages. Anyone who drives the road is doing so purely for leisure purposes. Charge every car going over the top 10 lei and use the money for the upkeep of the road (which is in generally good shape but has some portions which could do with work). You have to pay to ride the cable car up to Balea Lac, why not pay to use the road?

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Anyway, we have put together a just-about definitive guide to the highway over on inyourpocket.com. You can see it here.