BEWILDERING BUCHAREST (7 february 2004)
During recent years I paid a few visits to Romania's capital Bucharest. There are two or three things about Bucharest that stand out so much that they deserve mentioning.
One of the most striking features of Bucharest is its traffic. About 70 percent of the cars in Romania are manufactured by Dacia. Many people service their own Dacia. You'll often see a Dacia with its owner lying under it trying to repair it.
Dacia (with no one lying under it)
Another feature is the number and size of potholes in the roads. I was once driven in a taxi that was literally doing slaloms to avoid the numerous potholes some of which were the size of bathtubs.
Speaking of taxis, this kind of transport is improbably cheap in Bucharest. Taxis are used by many people, in spite of the fact that wages in Romania are extremely low.
Bucharest resembles Paris in that cheating foreigners seems to be a sport among taxidrivers. But even if a Bucharest taxidriver cheats you, you're still much cheaper off than in a Paris cab (even in the improbable case that the Parisian taxidriver doesn't cheat you).
The way motorists drive in Bucharest is -- to use an understatement -- rather unusual. Driving in lanes is quite exceptional. Cars are often driven like fairground dodgems. One day I was driven by a taxi driver who was manoeuvering so wildly that he ended up in a direction opposite to the rest of the traffic.
Parking is another problem in Bucharest. The available parking space in Bucharest is far from sufficient for the number of cars present. Like in all other big cities in the world, motorists try to solve the parking problem by infringing upon the rights of other users of the road.
In Bucharest, pedestrians seem to have no rights whatsoever: all over the city you'll see cars parked on pavements, and what is strange is that nobody seems to care, least of all the police.
Whether this is due to the system of mita (bribery), which is deeply ingrained in Romanian society -- who shall say?
If time allows me, I'll try to devote more weblogs to this interesting city.