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.

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…

A case study of Romania’s healthcare system

Question: what do you do if your child gets sick on a weekend in Romania?
Answer: nothing; not an effing thing, not unless you want to deal with Romania’s state health system.

Sophie got sick over the weekend. We initially thought it was a mild case of heat stroke. Now we think it’s enterocolitis.

We don’t frequent state-run hospitals in Romania, because the doctors and nurses are more often than not undertrained and uncaring unless you bribe them, and the facilities are incredibly dirty and overrun with filthy, smelly “citizens” — you know, the kind of “citizens” who don’t contribute a cent toward the very services they overrun.

When she started to complain of a headache and tummy ache and started to go limp in Ligia’s arms, we panicked. We thought, okay, let’s hop in the car and drive to the private Polisano hospital in Sibiu, which is where we typically go on the rare occasions when we need medical care.

An aside: we don’t go to the state-run hospital in Medias, which is where we live, because it’s packed full of the same medical staff I mentioned above and is also full of the same “citizens” in its waiting rooms. The last and only time we tried using the emergency room at the hospital in Medias, Sophie could have literally died for lack of care and concern on the part of the staff, who were more concerned with the “citizens” than with tax-paying, hard-working people like us. But hey, the SMURD helicopters can fly low right over our houses to ferry the dirty dipshits to the emergency rooms, waking us up and scaring our children at night, because why not, dirty dipshits are more important than tax-paying, law-abiding, decent people.

Back to Polisano. Turned out they were closed on weekends. What kind of a hospital is closed on weekends?! So there were no private, paying alternatives for people like us on a weekend. We were pointed in the direction of the state-run emergency room.

We walked in. It was chock full of dirty, smelly “citizens”, some of them yelling at the nurses. Some dipshit was yelling about suing the hospital, so everyone could hear him. The door to the treatment room got slammed into his face by one of the nurses (good on her). There was grime everywhere in the public areas, even on the walls. There weren’t enough chairs. “People” were standing up, emanating the unmistakable stenches of unwashed sweat, layers of it, that had been alternately drying up and getting wet again on them for days on end. NO way we were staying there. We walked out with nowhere to go.

Thankfully, Sophie started feeling better. We took a walk through Sibiu’s historic district with her. We held her in our arms. When we got back to the car, she started complaining again about aches. We were at a loss, with nowhere to go.

Sophie’s usual pediatrician doesn’t answer her phone on weekends. Most of the doctors in Romania don’t answer their phone on weekends, as if diseases and accidents take a break on the weekends as well. A pediatrician in Medias even yelled at me when I called her on a Saturday, told me not to bother her and go to the emergency room.

I got in touch with my dad, who is a doctor — albeit not a pediatrician, but a psychiatrist and a damn good one if I might add. He lives in another part of the country, so he couldn’t see Sophie personally, but judging from her symptoms, he eliminated heat stroke and pointed us toward the likely possibility of enterocolitis, probably contracted at the kindergarten. We picked up some furazolidone for her from the only pharmacy in town open 24 hours and drove home.

As a last reminder of how shitty the healthcare system is in Romania, the hallway leading up to the pharmacy stank to high heaven of a filthy mix of old perspiration and urine. I complained to the pharmacist, who apologized and said about half an hour before me, a gypsy woman had come in for something and left the pungent odour behind her. The pharmacist had opened all of the windows to air out the stench, but it was stubbornly clinging to the space.

Conclusion: For f***sake, don’t get sick on weekends in Romania. Better yet, just don’t get sick in Romania, period, end of story.

Springtime in our garden

It’s become somewhat of a yearly tradition for me to share photos of our garden with you. Here then is this year’s selection of spring photos. I hope the flowers bring as much joy to you as they do to me.

I feel blessed every time I take a walk through the garden. I particularly like to walk through it in the evenings, because it helps me unwind from our typically busy days. It’s our little corner of heaven. It requires upkeep, to be sure, but the payoff is grand.

This spring not many flowers escaped our little Sophie’s eager hands. Her passion is to collect daily bouquets of assorted flowers of all sorts of shapes and colors, and that means most of the flowers are to be found on her playtable inside the house, not in the garden, at least this year. We’ll see how we fare during the next seasons.

Photos from Timisoara’s historic district

We visited Timisoara for business recently. I took my camera along and we set a bit of time aside to walk through the historic district and take photographs.

It was a sunny, breezy Saturday afternoon and lots of people were out and about, enjoying the beautiful weather and the youthful, cheery atmosphere of the city.

There are also a couple of shots of the streets at night in here, taken from our hotel’s balcony.

Electricity in Romania

Here’s what I keep saying to every friend and acquaintance who visits my house: you definitely need a voltage stabilizer if you live in Romania.

voltage-stabilizer

Around midnight last night the current started fluctuating wildly. Our UPS units were going crazy, clicking and kicking on and off, trying to contain the power fluctuations and cutoffs. After quickly shutting off all important equipment in the office, I went to see the voltage stabilizer down in the basement. It was going nuts as well trying to keep the current to our house stable, its arms moving quickly back and forth across the copper coils, barely containing the madness. I shut off all current to the house, fearing the stabilizer would burn out.

As I write this, it’s past noon (the following day) and the current still isn’t back on. Oh, it’s been back on and off sporadically, but nothing reliable to speak of. And I found out from one of our neighbors that the scrambling and bungling Electrica (that’s the power company) employees reversed the polarity on one of the phases in the neighborhood, which means they potentially burned out some people’s electrical appliances. As a matter of fact, another neighbor said his heating furnace shorted out and almost caught fire from all the electricity problems during the night.

This is part of the price one pays for living in Romania. It’s a beautiful country, but as they say, caveat emptor.

You may recall unreliable electrical power was partly to blame for a massive data loss that occurred to me a few years ago, before I replaced all wiring and fuses in the house and added the voltage stabilizer. The Drobo units I was using then simply didn’t have the capability to keep the data uncorrupted when experiencing multiple power failures within a short amount of time. They’d simply lose track of some bits, and then the corruption would spread across the drives, eating more and more data, to the point where the Drobo would cease to mount. Nowadays, Drobos come with built-in batteries that allow them to safely complete data operations and shut off in case of a power failure, and they also have some algorithms in place to ensure that data corruption is kept at bay, but it’s hard to trust a device meant to keep your data safe once it’s lost about 20% of your most treasured data, isn’t it?