An evening walk through Sibiu’s historical center

Here are a few photos from a recent visit to Sibiu, where we walked through the two main piazzas in its historical center.

How I dealt with my back pain

Last year, I experienced a bout of debilitating back pain, whose cause is still unclear to me. I talked about it in this video and some of you asked me to make a follow-up video where I detail the treatments I underwent to get over it. This is that video.

I’ll let you watch the video to get the full details, but here are the concrete things that helped:

  • Regular deep tissue massages from a knowledgeable masseur.
  • Stretching routines, particularly yoga routines for the hips and lower back (here’s a particularly good routine for me).
  • Various pain relief medications, but they only mask the symptoms and cause other problems after long-term use.
  • A posturology exam which can pinpoint various anatomical imbalances in gait, posture and muscular development that can cause back pain; custom-made shoe inserts are usually recommended as a result of the exam, and they need to be worn daily for over three months in order to correct the problems.
  • Ozone injections to the lower back (subcutaneous and deep tissue) in order to help the vertebrae and discs heal. Look for a good sports doctor in your area, they’re the ones who are usually equipped to do these treatments.
  • Regular use of a special massage bed made with jade stones, that uses infrared heat and mechanical movement of the jade stones along the paraspinal muscles in order to relax and elongate the back, helping relieve the strain on the discs.
  • Regular use of an inversion table that also elongates the back and helps ease or get rid of pain flare-ups, but you have to hang on it for 5-10 minutes at a time in order to make a difference.
  • Supplements such as glucosamine, chondroitin and hyaluronic acid to help heal the discs, plus multivitamins and superfoods to feed the body and make sure it has all of the nutrients it needs to function properly. I made a video recipe of a superfood smoothie that I use after workouts.
  • The most important thing I did, the thing that got me back on my feet, was a visit to a traditional Romanian healer, who used a combination of muscle and joint stretches, plus some other courses of treatment, to make my life livable again and to help me become fully functional once more. His name is Costică Bonta, and he has an office in Baia Mare, Romania. His phone number is posted in the video. Not sure if you can visit him, but I also encourage you to look for traditional healers in your country or local area, perhaps they’ll be able to help just as well.

In my case, I don’t believe the cause of my back pain was physical. There was no one particular injury I can point to and say, yes, that’s when I screwed up my back and started to feel the pain. Rather, in my case, the progression of the pain was incremental, from annoying to debilitating within the course of a few months. So I believe the trigger was something else, perhaps stress, perhaps overwork, perhaps anger or resentment, something that accumulated inside me and then manifested psychosomatically. It’s true, I have several herniated discs in my lumbar and sacral region that were confirmed by an MRI, but so do many, many other people who are experiencing no pain at all and are fully functional. So a herniated disc does not necessarily lead to torturous pain and an inability to function on a daily basis. There is more to this than meets the eye, and I’m still looking into it.

Back in the gym

A few days ago, I had my second workout in what amounts to almost a year off due to my back pain. I recorded a short video after the workout, which you can see below. It feels great to be back in the gym, and even though I still have some recurring and minor back pain, I’m undergoing therapy to address it and cannot hold off on going to the gym any longer. Exercise is vital for me.

How to behave toward women

Someone asked me to make this video a long time ago. I put off doing it until now and you’ll see why as you read on.

I am an introvert and have trouble relating to people (to women in particular). Some would label me an extreme introvert with anti-social behavior, although I manage to mask this when I’m in public, for the sake of others. Fact is, I’m most comfortable and clear-minded when I’m by myself, far, far away from everyone. I get splitting headaches when I have to be in public or speak with strangers, and the rub of it is that I organize public events with my wife (it’s part of our business). These things take their toll on me, but I do it because I have to. I find ways to retreat and hide during those days, so that I can recover my sanity. But enough about my bats in the belfry and on with the bread and butter of this article.

Given what I’ve said, I encourage you to draw your own judgment about the advice given in my video (just as you should with any advice you receive from anybody). It’s a long video, as I’m wont to do, so if you do make it to the end, thanks for watching!

Here are a few notes I jotted down before I sat down for the video:

  • Women and men are different in the way they look at the world. Clearly. But the differences aren’t black and white. There’s a spectrum of sexuality and traditional female and male roles are becoming outmoded as our understanding and acceptance of “man” and “woman” gets more nuanced. So it’s up to each of you to discover how different each woman you meet is from you and from other men and women, and to respect those differences.
  • My own personal history with women doesn’t give me much background and knowledge to go on. I’ll let the video speak for itself here.
  • When you find a good woman, one that you’ll want to be with, one that you dream of being with, you’ll know it. Of course, the woman may not know it and that’s where you can screw up big time. All introverts know what that’s like. Thank God there are women like my wife, who take the time to understand a social screw-up like myself and see me as I am in private.
  • Some women deserve wonderful treatment, some are downright nasty. Just like some men are wonderful people and some men are pricks. Being an asshole is a gender-neutral thing. And figurative assholes are to be avoided, no matter their sex.
  • The most important thing is to realize that women have the right to the same opportunities, pay, treatment and choices as men. Choice is the most important thing in a woman’s life and as men, we should give them that choice. Choices in life, relationships, choices in growing up, in love and in their jobs. We owe them that choice, especially because of our despicable behavior toward women during the past few thousands of years. No one can argue that women have been empowered and treated equally in our patriarchal society, and everyone I think will agree that women have had to fight, tooth and nail, to get rights and privileges that we as men have enjoyed efortlessly, by virtue of being born with a penis and two balls.
  • Just because women are fragile, it doesn’t mean they’re weak. Just because they’re small, it doesn’t mean they can’t do great things. Just because they’re pretty, it doesn’t mean they’re stupid or that they can be objectified. Just because they have a vagina doesn’t give anyone the right to enslave them and force them into sex trafficking.
  • Things like restrictive clothes are remnants of our male dominant culture. Dresses that zip up at the back, they take control out of a woman’s hands and put it in someone else’s. High heel shoes make it difficult for them to move and escape a potentially dangerous situation, plus they ruin their feet. Flimsy materials used in their dresses can be easily torn, exposing their bodies and encouraging abuse. I realize some of these things are meant to celebrate the beauty, the unique and amazing shape of a woman’s body, and so clothes are made thin and shape-fitting and shoes are made thin and tall, to accentuate their beauty, but there are clear downsides to these practices, and they’re also remnants of a past where males dominated and abused females.
  • Some would say women choose to dress and act this way… But when little girls are raised to believe that’s how they should dress and talk and behave, it’s no longer their choice. They see bad examples of the status quo everywhere and they’re brainwashed into thinking that way. That’s how their choices are taken away from them. Just like many of our choices as people are taken away from us simply because we’re raised to believe certain things, to not question some things, to do things because that’s the way they’re done, etc. We need to question everything. It’s our duty as we mature to sit down with ourselves and reason out what makes us tick. See where we’re right and where we’re wrong.

Finally, treat each woman as a person. A real, breathing, talking, feeling human being, not a sex toy, not a body with breasts and a vagina, not something to possess and f**k, but a soul. Relate to them that way. The rest will follow… or not, but the focus should be on a soul to soul connection, not on a penis to vagina connection. Do you get me? Treat each woman as your equal. Different but equal. Show respect, be honest and where needed, keep your distance. Not every woman is a flower, but when you do meet a flower, remember to be gentle and move slowly, as not to break it. To continue this analogy, although it’s nice to have a bouquet of flowers in a vase in your living room, flowers are meant to be outside. That’s where they get pollinated, form seeds and give birth to new life but most importantly, that’s where they live freely, enjoying their time in the sun and being seen by everyone. Give every woman the freedom she deserves.

The Pullman Hotel in Bucharest

This is probably the first hotel review I’ve ever published on my site, but I feel strongly about this and wanted to share my thoughts with you.

It’s not often I have high praise for a hotel. I do for this one. My wife and I are repeat customers here and we’ve always had positive experiences. We’ve stayed here multiple times during the past few years and we can both say that it’s the one thing we look forward to our trips to Bucharest. We like to travel, but we hate spending long times on the road, dealing with traffic, bad drivers, hot, sweaty weather and being cooped up in a car for long periods of time. So after all that unpleasantness, being able to unwind in a pleasant hotel room with a wonderful view is decompression heaven. To me, there are certain things which are important in a hotel: 

  • Location: how central is it, based on the business we need to conduct in that town, or the sightseeing we want to do, if we’re there for pleasure. For us, a hotel in Sector 1 (the northern part of Bucharest) is exactly what we need, because we conduct most of our business here and it’s easy for us to head to the highway and get back home. 
  • Parking: I want proper, spacious parking, right next to the hotel, free of charge if possible, guarded and well-lit, to minimize the potential for criminal activities and to make it easy for us to load and unload our car (we tend to travel with lots of luggage); 
  • Comfortable rooms and comfortable beds: yes on both counts. I can’t properly express in words how good it feels to step into a hotel room here after a long, hot day in the car, take a shower and unwind. I know I can get a good night’s sleep, wake up refreshed and go about my day with confidence. 
  • Price: it needs to be affordable for our budget, yet not too low, so as to discourage the unpleasant types (rude, loud idiots who think hotels are places where you party and make noise). Here the Pullman tends to be on the high side, which sometimes makes it difficult for us to stay here, but it’s still the first place we check when we plan on staying in Bucharest, because it often offers deals and special pricing for repeat customers. 
  • Friendly, helpful staff that resolves our issues promptly: not that we’ve had many issues while staying here, only minor ones, but it’s nice to know they’re always on it when we ask them. 
  • Great architectural design, both inside and outside: while the outside of this hotel is fairly streamlined and modern, the inside is great; it has lots of classical design cues, the hallways and the rooms are carpeted so as to reduce noise, the floors and walls are soundproofed, and best of all, each room has double doors. Let me explain that last part: there’s the entrance to the room, which leads into a hallway, with access to the closet and the bathroom. Then there’s another door that leads into the room itself. What this means is that there are two doors and two walls between your bed and the hallway (which is the main sound source at night) and this ensures you’re isolated from all the hallway traffic and can actually get a good night’s sleep. 
  • Large windows with great views: it delivers perfectly here. Pretty much every room gets a beautiful, panoramic view of Bucharest (see the featured image posted here). 
  • Good closet space and luggage stands: self-explanatory. It’s surprising how many other hotels have terrible closet space and no luggage stands. These two things are staples in a hotel room. They simply must be there. 
  • Armchairs and a work desk: for unwinding and getting some work done. 
  • Key cards that work: in many other hotels, the cards keep going inactive, requiring guests to go back to the front desk and get them reprogrammed. Not so at the Pullman. You can keep them in your wallet, next to your credit cards, you can keep them next to your cellphone or other RFID cards, and they’ll always work. 
  • A great breakfast: while the menu stays the same here, it’s a good menu and the food is very good. They also serve good pot-brewed coffee, which is my favorite, because I’m fed up with bad espresso. 
  • Good WiFi: the WiFi is free here and it works reliably. It’s not the fastest, but it works and you can actually get stuff done on it. I’m writing this post on the hotel’s WiFi. I’ve been to so many hotels where they charge you for WiFi, or it’s free but it’s crappy and peters out, leaving you frustrated and having to resort to 3G on your cellphone or tablet. 
  • Workout and exercise facilities: while the workout equipment selection is limited, it’s enough for maintenance workouts and as an added bonus, there are two saunas (a traditional sauna and a turkish sauna). They’re a godsend after a long of day of work and standing on our feet. 

Here’s hoping things stay the same here, and we can keep relying on this hotel for our stays in Bucharest! 

The Romanian beach-going experience

In a sentence: expensive, crowded, terrible accommodations and lots of rude people. I expressed my initial thoughts in a Facebook post embedded below. Read on for the details.

We thought we’d go to the beach for a few days. We hadn’t taken a vacation in years, and since we had to attend a wedding that was taking place in Constanta, we thought, why not combine the wedding with a few days of vacation? In theory, that sounds like a good thing, a practical thing. But this is Romania, so when you want to do good and practical things, you usually have to pair them with nasty things of some sort.

That is the ever-present curse of life in Romania. It’s a gorgeous country, but you can’t always look up at the mountains, the flowers, the rolling hills, the forests (which are disappearing) and so on. Sooner or later, you have to look at the people (many of which have little or no concern for the environment or public order), at the ground with garbage strewn everywhere, you have to open your wallet and pay ridiculous prices for stuff that costs less in most other places, you have to spend time cueing up in long lines with smelly people to deal with lazy (but too-well-paid) government bureaucrats, et caetera. Sadly, the heart wins this little game of positives and negatives and in the end, you’re still in the country, fuming over the crap you have to swallow but somehow happy with your choice.

Back to the beach-going experience… You should know that going to the beach in Romania is much more expensive than going to the beach in many neighboring countries. I would even venture to say that if you were to take the money you’d pay for a stay at a 5-star hotel on the Black Sea here, you could probably have a pretty nice stay at a 4-star resort in or around Monaco (where higher prices are justified), and just about everything about the trip would be better. You’d end up happier, better fed, more rested and more entertained. But for some damn reason I can’t fathom, some foreigners still choose to come to Romanian beaches and pay ridiculous prices. I understand why Romanians do it (see the paragraph above), but why do these foreigners put up with the crap? Low self-esteem, maybe? Perhaps they like being treated like crap by hospitality employees? Perhaps they like paying good money for sub-par accommodations? Maybe they love getting honked at and cussed out by Romanian drivers? Don’t know. Might be worth exploring (by someone else, not me).

We had to book our stay in Constanta when it was still winter in order to find a decent place. After much online research, we settled on renting a furnished apartment. It was more reasonable than paying for a hotel and also more convenient, because we had a kitchen, but I wasn’t thrilled by our stay. There were small things that bothered me, such as creaking, noisy doors that rubbed against their frames and were hard to open and close, uneven floors, tiny bathrooms with showers that weren’t in good order, no P-traps on the drains, which meant weird smells coming up from the pipes, lots of road noise from outside, A/C units that didn’t cool all the rooms, the lack of a dining room table, which meant we had to eat off a coffee table, and last but not least, having to find our own parking (that’s a feat unto itself in the middle of summer in Constanta).

At any rate, we had it good compared to what you’d get in a 3-star or a 4-star hotel, where you’ll encounter much higher prices, grimy rooms, ill-equipped bathrooms, stuff that’s not working, expensive parking, crappy breakfasts and the list can go on and on. Fact is, star ratings on the hotels and pensions in Romanian beach towns differ greatly from those in the rest of the country or elsewhere in the world, for that matter. I’m not sure if this is because of bribery, but you can safely assume that a 3-star hotel will actually have 2-star accommodations and likewise, a 4-star hotel will have 3-star accommodations, a 5-star hotel will have 4-star… you get the point. And I’m being kind here when I drop the ratings by only one star. The difference is more like 1.5 stars and the prices are insanely high at 4 and 5-star hotels. You know, I wouldn’t mind paying those prices if I actually got the level of service one gets in other luxury hotels in other countries, and if the experience as a whole merited the expense. But it doesn’t. The decor inside these places is garish, in bad taste, and you get treated as if you should be thankful they took you in. Why pay good money for crappy service and ambiance? Makes no sense to me.

Just about now, any rational human being reading this will ask why Romanians put up with this crap. You have to understand, Romanians had to put up with a lot of crap during a half-century of communism and some of that fear of making waves is still going around. Plus, it’s the Romanian Black Sea. It’s all the seaside we’ve got. There’s the damned nostalgia of trips to the beach during our childhood and it clouds our minds. The hotel and pension owners know this (at least on some intuitive level, because they see the demand) and so they have this attitude that says “You get to go to the beach, this is a prime location, shut up and put up with what I give you, because there’s always someone else that pays these prices”. It’s a truly shitty attitude and these are truly shitty people and I for one refuse to put up with shitty people.

As long as I’m talking about people, let me address the people of Constanta. I realize the picture I present here isn’t representative of the city as a whole, but hey, tourists don’t get to see the city as a whole, they interact mainly with drivers on the streets and with hospitality employees and those two groups are exactly the ones that are bothersome. I can’t believe all the honking and the rudeness on Constanta’s streets. I know there are a lot of tourists in town during the summer, but my bad experiences were with cars bearing the county of Constanta license plates. They either drove too slow or too fast. They honked incessantly. They blocked our exit from parking lots so often I finally lost my temper and had a shouting match with a few “cocalari” in a Porsche Cayenne (isn’t it amazing how many assholes own Porsche Cayennes?) I can be intimidating when I’m angry so on the bright side, it was funny to see the fear in their eyes when I confronted them. I wanted to break into laughter but I kept up my angry mask and got them to back off. On the not so bright side, anger has a price, as you know, which in my case was a beauty of a headache that lasted the night.

I also couldn’t believe how many people were revving up their engines to show off during all times of the day, and the police was nowhere to be found when these things happened. Noise violations are punishable with hefty fines in Romania. It’s too bad the police can’t be bothered to enforce the laws. I mean, it’s not like that’s their job or anything…

As for hospitality employees, let me just give you one example: many of the beaches here are private, which means some bar or restaurant or hotel owns them (not the entire thing, but a strip that extends almost to the breakers). On these strips of beach, they typically offer some version of lounge chair that you can rent. Until recently, you could rent them by the half day or the full day. Now they only offer full day rents, even if you’re only planning to spend 1-2 hours there. We wanted to get one of these chairs for a short stay at the beach, so we were willing to pay the silly-money sum they were asking just so we could sit down for an hour or so as my daughter played in the sand. We paid it, headed to one of the chairs, only to be stopped by an employee who told us we couldn’t sit there. Why? Because we needed to pick a chair toward the back of the strip. Excuse me?! I’m paying the same price as everyone else, why should I sit at the back when there are plenty of available chairs right by the waves? The owner, a bald, rotund man with a tight jacket, came over to see what was happening. I reiterated my stance and they weren’t having it, but neither was I. I asked for my money back, we got it and we walked away. I think what those dummies were trying to do was to discriminate and stick the “uncool” people at the back (parents with kids, older people, etc.) so they could stick the “cool” people at the front and by association seem cooler themselves, but I’m not going to put with up with this sort of crap from anyone. I’m not a second-class citizen anywhere and I won’t accept second-class treatment. And neither should any of you, if you’re reading this.

We could’ve played the celebrity card. My wife is a well-known author in Romania, she’s been on TV hundreds of times, so we could’ve acted important and “cool”, but why spend our time and money with shitty people who discriminate against decent people? Don’t think this is an isolated incident. This sort of crap happens everywhere: bars, restaurants, night clubs (particularly at night clubs). If you don’t look “cool”, you get treated like crap. Instead of trying to fit in and putting up with this bullshit, choose not to spend your money where they do this. Vote with your wallet, it’s the best vote you can cast for just about any important issue.

The second day we came to the beach, we wanted to spend the whole day, so we had to find a place where we could rent some lounge chairs and an umbrella. We found one where we could sit right next to the shoreline and we could watch our daughter closely as she played in the sand, then we settled in. Well, the umbrella was a flimsy thing that barely covered one chair, which meant we had to be constantly aware of the movement of the sun and move our chairs and the umbrella around accordingly. So not only did we pay what we think was a ridiculous amount for crappy chairs and a crappy umbrella, but we briefly fell asleep and as the sun moved, it gave me a nasty sunburn on half my back and my legs. Damn these pricks who don’t take the time to think about what they’re buying for their customers!


Finally, Romanian beaches are over-crowded. They’ve always been over-crowded. Given all I’ve written above, it’s not logical, but there it is. These days the government tests water samples at the most commonly used beaches in order to determine and announce the presence of unwanted organisms or chemicals and while we were in Constanta, they were quite clear that the water was full of unwanted bacteria in Mamaia (the main resort town). They were advising people to go further north and bathe in cleaner waters. Also, we tried taking a leisurely stroll on the boardwalk one evening. You know how in most places in the world, this is possible? In Mamaia, this turned into a game of dodging left and right and craning our necks to spot breaks in the crowd. It was insane. I’ve never seen so many people taking a “leisurely stroll” together anywhere in the world. It was stifling. I don’t do well in large crowds. We ended up turning onto the beach and walking among the breakers so we could get some peace and quiet.

I will say this: they’ve renovated the boardwalk and it looks really good. Lots of restaurants have popped up here and there offering all sorts of cuisines and dishes. There’s also a brand new portion of the boardwalk which is wider and (for now) quieter and easier to navigate. We took a walk there on another evening and it was pleasant. But to our dismay, it seems just about every place on the boardwalk assumes the main way to attract customers is to broadcast loud music at all times of the day. The music is typically some sort of club music with thumping base beats, because of course “research has shown” that crappy loud music with lots of base beats is exactly what people need in order to relax, day or night. Where the f**k are the police when this happens? They’d bring in a fortune in noise violation tickets.

Thanks for reading through this. It wasn’t pleasant to write, because it forced me to re-live those experiences, but we must speak up when we encounter these situations. Perhaps I’m different, because I’m used to the beaches of South Florida, which are very democratic: you drive up, park your car, plop down anywhere you like and enjoy the ocean. It’s clean, it’s peaceful and you’re left alone. When you do pay money to be on the beach, you get treated nicely and if you’re at a resort like the Breakers, you get treated very well. There’s a range of hotels and accommodations available, the prices aren’t insane and the star ratings are actually meaningful. And so is the case pretty much anywhere else in the States. Not so in Romania…

Here’s to the simple solutions

For the past couple of days, Mail had stopped working. It couldn’t connect to the email servers for some reasons and kept taking my accounts offline. I knew I hadn’t changed any of its settings. In all my years of using a Mac (since 1994), I’d never run into a situation where Mail settings had gotten corrupted, but I was now willing to look into it. I kept looking at all sorts of scenarios and guides online — things such as these (1, 2, 3, 4) — but nothing helped.

Then it occurred to me that three days ago, as I worked late, past midnight, I got the bright idea to switch the firewall level to High from Medium. “Oh, let’s get some extra protection, shall we?” My router is one of these gizmos handed to me by my ISP, it’s a ZTE that came with no printed documentation and barely any online documentation beyond “this is ON button, this is internet port”. So how was I to know that switching it to High would mean all traffic other than port 25 and 80 would be closed off? But that’s what happened. I did it, forgot about it, and when my email stopped working, it took me a couple of days to connect the dots.

I’m writing this down for you because it’s a great reminder that sometimes the simple solutions are the best (and possibly the only) ones. That, plus writing down changes to the internet configs, especially when I’m working late… Sure, I could have taken a dive into deep-level Mail documentation and email servers and the intricacies of setting up IMAP and opened up ports on my firewall and deleted my Mail settings and set up everything again, but all it took was me logging onto the ISP router and switching the firewall back down to Medium. Less than a minute vs. hours and hours of needless work.

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Good to know, right?