Saturday, November 11, 2006

I'm on the road, in Bucharest, Romania. This is my first time here, which is always a great experience...arriving in a new country...getting one more stamp in my passport....and getting a look at how other people live. Romania is in Eastern Europe and shares a common border with other countries I've visited, including Bulgaria, Serbia and Ukraine. Already, I see some parts of the country that are familiar--typically, the look of a formerly Communist country that has been shaking off its past to become a free-market society. But, the people, language, and even the feel of the place aren’t quite the same as Belgrade. I walked a bit last night and enjoyed what I saw.

Romania is usually referred to as a poor country but it seems to have the extremes....Bucharest is thriving and construction is going on everywhere. I passed both Jaguar and BMW dealerships and saw VWs that came from Romania VW/Porsche. There are more cars trying to maneuver around the city than the roads can handle. Car ownership is one sign of prosperity and individual independence--you can buy a car and travel by yourself, in the privacy of your own vehicle. Never mind that you won't travel very quickly because traffic moves so slowly. Yesterday, coming in from the airport--16 kms from the hotel or 14 miles--took about an hour. That's how slowly traffic moved. My Embassy driver told me, yes, he had a car too...a Nissan SUV...but he often took the bus or walked because it was faster. I wanted to ask more about why he had a car--and that particular vehicle--but his English didn't seem strong enough for me to engage him as I might have wanted. Gasoline costs about $1.25 per liter...that's $5 per gallon.

I will travel by car to some other cities and will soon see the extremes. More about that as it unfolds.

I left the Hilton to see part of the city on foot. I think I have an ear infection so I stepped into a pharmacy and bought an antibiotic. No prescription was necessary for me to purchase a five-day supply of amoxicillin. My doctor at home would likely cringe over questions of purity, especially if I told her I paid only about $1.50 for the 15 capsules. I found one of my favorite stops when I open produce market. It always seems to me to be a good indicator of the economy to see what's for sale in the market. Much of the produce had the "factory produced" look of American produce....clean and shiny....some of it even in plastic containers similar to what we have. Of course, the pineapples were imported...with Delmonte tags were the kiwi. But the carrots, potatoes, various fall squash, wonderful cabbages and other leafy crops looked to have been grown locally. I went upstairs in an old building that was sort of a shopping mall....full of small booths, each about 10 X 10 (or 3 meters by 3 meters). There seemed to be about four predominant types of women's clothing, hardware, toiletries, and canned goods. The mix of merchandise seldom varied. Why would someone go to the booth in the back corner to buy when for convenience safe, they could buy from a ground floor vender? I'm always amazed to see these sorts of shops and wonder where their customers come from.

The time difference is 8's a little past 10 as I post this. I'll add more shortly but must stop now for a meeting and initial orientation.