Vitan eyesore to be demolished. One day

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Remember the story from last year about the Bucharest post office with no electricity?

Well, turns out that yesterday a Bucharest court ruled that the illegally constructed ten-storey eyesore in which the post office (which is now on Bulevardul Unirii, by the way) was housed should be demolished.

What’s more, to prevent the local council from ducking out of its responsibility to knock the building down, Maria Dinescu – the poor woman who lived in a building next door and who brought the original case against the developer – was given the right to do so herself.

We would like to say here and now that if she needs any help, we would be glad to lend a hand.

Of course, this being Romania the decision is not definitive: the developer (a total shit called Ion Chirita who also allegedly owns an illegal building on Strada Aurel Vlaicu and is apparently behind the illegal construction going on in Parcul Tineretului) can appeal.

It will therefore be sometime until we actually see the back of this unfinished monument to corruption, but the fact that the court has given Dinescu the right to knock it down herself means that one day, albeit at some stage in the distant future, it will indeed be gone.

Live and let die, Mr. Tariceanu

We’ve long heard stories of candidates in Romanian elections handing out gifts just before polling day. This kind of thing primarily goes on in the poorest areas of the country, where obedient local mayors are (allegedly) tasked with handing a carrier bag of essential goods – oil, flour, sugar, that kind of thing – to the desperate in exchange for votes (usually in favour of the PSD or its candidate).

In all our years living in Romania however we had yet to actually see such things going on. Yesterday evening, however, all that changed.

We were coming out of a chemist on Strada Baba Novac in the People’s Republic of Sector 3 when we were handed, by a supporter of former prime minister Calin Popescu-Tariceanu – running as an independent in this presidential election – a James Bond novel. Live and Let Die, to be exact.

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Stuck to the back of the book was this:

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Translated, the main text simply means ‘Change your luck: Vote position 13′ (13 being the position of Tariceanu’s name on the ballot paper, decided by the drawing of lots. The full order, if you are remotely interested, is here). Note the four-leaf clover and the black cat too.

Whether the choice of a James Bond novel is a less than subtle reference to Victor Ponta’s past as an employee of the Romanian secret police, we couldn’t possibly comment.

The Romanian meaning of the word ‘communist’

Had this delightful exchange on Twitter at the weekend with somebody (who may or not be real) called Dana Sultanescu:

It all came in response to Son of Bucharest Life’s latest blog post about the Romanian presidential election, in which he rather amusingly (and quite correctly, in our opinion) labels Victor Ponta as a ‘baby-faced communist.’

Ms. Sultanescu felt ‘insulted’ by our lad’s use of the word ‘communist’. Quite why, we don’t know: even if he meant it as an insult towards Ponta, why would anyone else be offended on a third person’s behalf?

More importantly, however, is the whole idea of what ‘communist’ actually means in today’s world, for it is clear that it means different things in different places. There are parts of the world, after all, where, rightly or wrongly, the word is very much a badge of honour.

In Romania, however, the word ‘communist’ is used almost exclusively in a derogatory way. It has become a word used to describe a person, organisation or mentality which is stuck in the past, reactionary, pro-state and – more often than not – nepotistic, tainted by corruption and linked to the old regime of Nicolae Ceausescu.

In that context, in describing the current Romanian prime minister as a communist Son of Bucharest Life used the word correctly: Victor Ponta is the leader of a party (the PSD) which is a byword for corruption, which wants to increase the power of the state, which eschews real change and which is the direct successor of Ceausescu’s Romanian Communist Party (PCR).

If you feel insulted by that, tough.

Otopeni Airport has a smartphone app: it’s totally pointless

With the kind of fanfare you would expect at the launch of something worthwhile, Bucharest’s Otopeni Airport last week launched a smartphone app which – we can confirm – is about as useful as a chocolate teapot.

Take a look at this, the app’s English webpage (it’s worth a look for the comical English). Here’s a taster:

Do you think airport experience and relaxation are not to be used in the same sentence? We just did! Download Henri AppPort, the mobile app of Henri Coanda International Airport and airport time will be as pleasing as the rest of your trip!

Magnificent.

So, what does this wonder of the modern age actually do? Well, not a lot. It shows a mirror of the departures board, has a map of the airport and offers some discounts at what are the most expensive cafes and shops in Bucharest and which any right-minded traveller avoids like the plague. It has a few other bells and whistles but that is pretty much it. What it does not do is ‘make your life easier’, as this wonderful review would have us believe.

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Let’s be honest: if you need a smartphone app to help you find the right check-in desk or departure gate in a little airport like Otopeni (indeed, in any airport) then you probably shouldn’t be flying anyway. You probably shouldn’t even be in charge of a smartphone.

There are ways, of course, an airport smartphone app could be genuinely useful: it could automatically connect to the airport’s Wifi network – for free – for a limited period (an hour is more than enough), and could allow arriving passengers to order cheap taxis or buy bus tickets direct from within the app. Otopeni’s app does none of these things. It also forces you sign up before you can use it – either with an email address or a Facebook account.

Even worse is some of the information it does offer. For a start, besides telling arriving passengers about the touch screens where you can order taxis into town, it also points people in the direction of the ‘Fast Taxi’ sharks charging 3.50 lei per kilometre (if you’re lucky) who lurk downstairs.

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Not good.

Romanian National Opera: Season 2014-15

Photo courtesy Romanian National Opera

Photo courtesy Romanian National Opera

Wow.

When we first started Bucharest In Your Pocket back in 1999 one of the greatest challenges we faced was convincing the Romanian National Opera to handover information about upcoming performances. It was often impossible to get any advance notice, to the point where we began to think that opera listings were national secrets.

How things have changed.

Yesterday a lovely press kit turns up at the office telling us just about everything we might need to know about the new opera season, which begins next Thursday – October 30th – with a new production of Verdi’s La Traviata.

What’s more, you can now buy tickets online directly from the opera for every performance from now until the end of June next year: that’s right, the season’s entire programme is online. This represents serious, serious, progress.

And there’s more…

There is no waiting for tickets to turn up with a courier or (heaven forbid) the postman. You simply pay for them, and then download and print a PDF which you show at the door.

And then of course there is the price of the tickets, which remains cheap: from 6 – 160 lei depending on the performance. All very civilised. Opera for the people!