Friday, April 18, 2008

New blog

Saturday, October 14, 2006

Romania, pt. 3: the Village Museum, Bucharest

A large portion of the third day of our journey was spent in Bucharest's Village Museum. Situated on the shores of Lake Herastrau in the northern suburbs of the city, the museum contains over 300 farm houses, churches, windmills, taverns and workshops from all over Romania; most of them in splendid condition with authentic furniture and interior decorations. A fascinating insight into the architecture, history and culture of the country and the first day of our journey that I really thoroughly enjoyed.

Ingenious design: a rotatable windwill.

A small wooden Orthodox church.

Looks like a lovely place to have a meal.

The precursor of the Ferris wheel?

A little straw-thatched farm house.

Some homey interior.

While you're there, why not take a stroll in the nearby Herastrau Park?

Thursday, October 12, 2006

Romania, pt. 2: Sightseeing in Bucharest

The second day of our trip to Romania was spent sightseeing in Bucharest. As it turned out, the 2-million metropolis is actually very lively by day. On the streets trams, trolley buses, vespas, orange taxis, old Dacias and new Western cars all compete in the close-packed traffic while businessmen in Italian suits, old people and teenagers press along the often narrow pavements. The difference to other huge cities I have been to is that none of this liveliness carries over into the evenings - for whatever reason, Bucharest seems almost devoid of a nightlife.

The first important stop on our tour of the city was the Piata Revolutiei. On its Western end, it is overlooked by the Royal Palace, built in the late 1920's for King Carol II. (of the Hohenzollern dynasty, the same one that ruled the German empire from 1871 to 1918). Today, it houses the National Gallery with its impressive collection of Romanian Medieval art and Old Masters, among them Peter Breughel's famous "Massacre of the Innocents".

Opposite are the former Communist Party Headquarters, a bleak concrete block that now houses several ministries of the new democratic government. Its walls are still covered with the bullet holes of the violent 1989 revolution.

Some of the buildings around the square were actually completely destroyed during the uprising - though some architect found a quite ingenious way of putting one of the ruins to new use. The ground floor of the building is occupied by a modern cafe, where we had some ridiculously huge sandwiches for lunch.

The old quarter of Bucharest might be very beautiful if only not so much of it was totally run-down. Still, it holds some marvels like the Old Court Church, completed in 1558, the oldest house of god in the city.

Right next to it are the ruins of the Old Court. The citadel was built by none other than Prince Vlad "The Impaler" Tepes, also known as Dracula. Unfortunately, it was severely damaged near the end of his reign, so that only a few blank walls and columns remain. Another wonderful thing we found in the old quarter was a traditional bakery selling fresh Strudel - again a sign of the heavy influence Germany had on Romania in the past.

Another ethnic group that has left its mark on Bucharest are the Jews. Before World War II, Romania was home to the third largest Jewish community (800,000) in Europe. During the Communist era, those Jews who had not died in the Holocaust were slowly "sold off" to Israel at $3,000 per head, so that today only about 10,000 remain.

In the evening, we dined among Bucharest's elite at the exclusive "Casa Doina", possibly the most expensive restaurant in the city - at the same price you would have to pay in a normal restaurant in London.

Monday, October 09, 2006

Romania, pt. 1: Arrival in Bucharest

You might ask yourself why on earth me and my three friends decided to go on holiday in Romania. Well, there are two very simple reasons. Firstly, and very importantly for students such as ourselves, it is dirt cheap. In Romania, you can get a main course in a good restaurant for £2, you can stay in a four star hotel for £30 a night and you can go 1 km by taxi for 25p (unless they try to rip you off, but we'll come to that later). The other reason is that we just thought it would be a somewhat different and possibly more interesting experience than going to one of the typical holiday destinations.

We decided to spend the first few days of our journey in the capital, Bucharest. Courtesy of an acquaintance of one of my friends' dads, we could reside in an apartment very close to the centre during our stay. After our three hour flight with British Airways, the taxi ride into the city through the insanely chaotic Romanian traffic unfortunately brought the first major disappointment of the trip. Bucharest turned out to be remarkably ugly, being for the most part dominated by dirty, run-down concrete blocks.

The "Centru Civic", where we stayed, was a slight improvement, the architecture being a little more imaginative. It was built in the 1980's as Communist dictator Nicolae Ceauşescu's attempt to create the "fist socialist capital". The centerpiece of the district is the Boulevardul Unirii with its many car lanes, fountains and strips of green, deliberately wider than the Champs-Elysees in Paris. At its Western end it is "crowned" by the monumental Palace of Parliament, the second largest building in the world (after the Pentagon).

Still, the uniform monolothic buildings along the boulevards did not exactly make a very cheerful impression on me. Especially at the Western end, the B-dul Unirii seemed nearly deserted - except perhaps for the packs of stray dogs that are almost omnipresent in Bucharest. They, too, are actually a heritage of Communist policy. For the construction of the Civic Centre, a quarter of Bucharest's old town had to be demolished, leaving the former inhabitants no choice but to put their cainines out on the streets.

Our first impression of Romanian food was more positive. The meals we had at "La Mama", probably Bucharest's most popular restaurant, were very solid and, above all, huge. To my surprise, the Romanian cuisine is actually not all that different from the German: a lot of fatty beef, pork, sausages, sauerkraut and soups. What distinguishes it is the Romanians' love of polenta and goat's cheese. Unfortunately, all restaurants we went to only offered one or two dishes without meat, and often rather boring ones, too, which proved to be a real problem for the one Vegetarian member of our group.

Sunday, October 08, 2006


Having used Winamp as my main audio player for years, I've finally decided to give foobar2000 a try, following recommendations from many friends. I'm very impressed, I have to say. Not only does foobar have a clean, no-nonsense interface without any memory-consuming fancy graphic skins; the audio quality is also decidedly better than Winamp's. The sound is warmer, crisper and more transparent - amazing how much of a difference you can hear especially on heavy metal tracks.

Saturday, October 07, 2006


So I've finally done it. I've been to a proper nightclub in London. Popstarz namely. Dim lighting everywhere so you don't notice how seedy the venue is, hip indie music playing louder than the speakers can handle, a dancefloor covered in a slimy layer of spilled beverages, sexually explicit dance moves all around, transvestites, skinny emo kids and everyone dressed in the latest atrocities of high street fashion - I think you really have to be somewhat drunk to get any enjoyment out of that.

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Yet another year

Today was the first day of my third year at university - yet another year of lectures, coursework and exams. But it probably won't all be drab routine.

First of all, I am now an Undergraduate Teaching Assistant, which basically means I will provide help with and mark the programming exercises of six first year students. My own studies might also prove somewhat challenging, since I have to participate in a big group project throughout the entire first term, as well as secure an internship for my compulsory industrial placement from April to September 2007. Furthermore, this is also the first year in which I can more or less freely choose which modules I want to take.

On the extracurricular side, things are looking positive for the Contemporary Music Society. 52 people signed up for our mailing list yesterday at Fresher's Fair - that's almost 70% more than last year. Some of them seemed really keen on taking part in our activities, so hopefully we will gain a few regular active members.