If you don't find economics interesting, don't read this.
There are a couple of local wrinkles that complicate the credit situation here in Romania. The biggest one is that National Bank of Romania (Romania's Fed, more or less) has placed a lot of restrictions on the movement of credit. Some of these are stupid remnants of the bad old days of the command economy. Others, though, are entirely rational. The NBR is legitimately concerned about a currency crisis.
I don't blog much about work here. Partly that's out of discretion; mostly, though, it's because a lot of my work is pretty technical, and I don't think too many people would be very interested.
Still, this week I happened to run across some interesting statistics. By chance, my work had me dealing with three different sorts of financial instruments -- mortgages, microfinance loans, and factoring. And I was intrigued to find that all three have been undergoing explosive growth in the last few years.
Nobody pays much attention to Macedonia. It's small, it's isolated, it's one of the poorest countries in Europe.
But there are some interesting things happening there. Here's one: Macedonia had presidential elections yesterday, and they were peaceful and clean. Nobody got shot or intimidated or even threatened, and the general consensus of observers was that the election was pretty clean.
The elections were held to replace Macedonian President Boris Trajkovski, who died in a plane crash in Bosnia a few months ago. Like Serbia, Macedonia runs its presidential elections in two steps -- a free-for-all, followed by a runoff between the two top candidates a couple of weeks later.
(Unlike Serbia, Macedonia still has the old Yugoslav law requiring 50% turnout. There were some worries that they wouldn't get the necessary number of votes, but they did.)
Presidential elections have been scheduled for June 13.
Serbia has a "French" Parliamentary system -- that is, they have both a Prime Minister (the guy who can get the most votes in Parliament, and who runs the government) and a strong President (who is the head of state, commander-in-chief of the armed forces, and various other things). The President is elected separately from Parliament.
But: since the last President stepped down from office, in late 2002, Serbia has not had a President. They haven't been able to elect one.
Officially, this is because they had an old Yugoslav-era law on the books that said a Presidential election needed a voter turnout of at least 50%. This was no big deal back in the Communist days, when voter turnouts were always quite high. But these days, people are disillusioned and apathetic and it's hard to get them motivated. One, two, three times, in a little over a year, voters failed to turn out in the necessary numbers for the Presidential elections.
The ferry from Silistra to Calarasi is... mm, did you ever go to summer camp? Remember the raft on the lake, where kids would climb on and off? Basically metal sheeting over some drums? Well, the ferry is pretty much like that. Just bigger -- enough to hold a dozen or so cars, or maybe fifty people. It wasn't half full when we took it, though. There's a rather flimsy railing around the edge, and that's it.
The ferry is pushed by a little tugboat. Not being streamlined at all, it kicks up a good sized bow wave. It was a perfectly calm day when we crossed, so that wasn't a problem, but I bet it gets pretty choppy when there's even a bit of wind.
A bit more about our trip to Bulgaria.
We stopped for a picnic in a meadow by the Danube. By "meadow", I mean a lovely field of green grass, sloping gently down to the river. On our right was a cliff full of swallows nests, with a forest at the top. On our left, a grove of poplars and a little pond. And it was a beautiful day, warm but breezy, with a few fluffy white clouds wandering slowly across a perfectly blue sky, their shadows pacing them across the surface of the great river. A stork skimmed over the shallows and then, a few minutes later, back again, probably looking for frogs. An absolutely perfect setting...
... except for the sheep crap. Wow, was there a lot of sheep crap. We basically had to dance our way down to the water's edge and back. We never did unpack the picnic lunch.
But it was pretty.
Saturday we spent at the Danube.
We drove down to Giurgiu, over the Danube to Ruse, then along the river downstream to Silistra, where we caught the ferry to cross back into Romania. Well, to be precise, one does go over the border into Romania about 200 meters before the ferry -- this is where the Danube makes a sharp turn northwards but the border runs roughly straight eastwards.
About a dozen storks with nests and all.
One cuckoo, who answered back to our "cuckoo" calls.
One little boy falling into the mud along the Danube shore.
Lots of sheep shit.
One cobblestone road that must stem from Roman times.
One Turkish village complete with mosque and a pig dozing by the side of the road (they must not be very orthodox, said Doug).
One ferry that had green stuff growing on it.
One airplane parked in the frontyard of some Communist living blocks in Silistra - for no obvious reason.
One pheasant that nearly hit our car while it swept across the street at eye level.
The eery, crumbling maze of the Calarasi steel works.
A day well spent.
In Germany, nothing summer-related gets done before the so-called "Eisheiligen", the ice saints. In Northern Germany, those are the days of the saints Mamertius, Pankratius, and Servatius on May 11-13. In Southern Germany, it's saints Pankratius, Servatius, Bonifatius on May 12-14. The final mark is "Cold Sophie" on May 15. No delicate flowers are put outside, in case a late frost might harm them. After the ice saints, it's considered safe. Until the ice saints, no one is really surprised by frosts or even the occasional bout of snow.
We are daring and trust the nice weather here in Bucharest. Our orange tree has moved into the courtyard yesterday, and today we got our car tires exchanged -- the winter ones for the summer ones.
I should have done this earlier, I know. But the last switch was such a pain that I kept procrastinating the spring switch. Last fall, I went to a Mitsubishi dealer, the one across from the Selgros. It took them 2 hours (rather, a rather clumsy apprentice took two hours), and they took over 150 Euros from me. Granted, there was an oil change included. Still. An oil change is something I could do in half an hour, provided I have the right equipment and a ditch and the price of the oil itself wasn't so high. It was a very frustrating experience and I couldn't help but think that I got ripped off.
So today, we went to a little "vulcanizer" next to the McDonald's on Buzesti which had been recommended to me by our landlord.
They took 15 minutes, repaired one of the tires which I managed to pierce by driving rather vigorously through some construction, checked the air and the balance (both of which the Mitsubishi garage hadn't bothered with until I asked them to do it), were very friendly, and Alan could stare with open mouth and glazed over eyes to his heart's delight as they worked on the car.
I paid all of 9 Dollars.
We're spending a week in Germany with my parents waiting for Doug to come back from the States and then continue on back home together. He'll be in for a surprise when he sees his older son, though.
See, we had one of those classic accidents.
Never mind who didn't pay attention when Alan pointed to the scissors and said "hair!". Never mind that the answer was "yes, you can cut your hair with these".
What really counts is that he looks rather cute with his new very short hair. (And no blood was shed, so that's good.)
Heh. And it wasn't me, OK?
I recently read a novel in which some of the protagonists awake to a world 1000 years after an apocalypse. They find bits and pieces of architecture but most of human construction has long collapsed. If that novel had been set in Extremadura, I'm sure they would have found the bridge of Alcnatra neatly preserved -- after all, it stands there since 106 AD already.
Alcntara in the very west of the Extremadura is situated on the Tajo river. It's a small town with a monastery and a nice church and a dam nearby, but the biggest attraction is the bridge, no doubt about it.
Cceres (Extremadura, Spain) is a city of a population of 80.000 which is located in the west of the country and which borders on Portugal. The centre of Cceres consists of an ancient medieval nucleus world-reknowned for the value of its history and heritage, which have earned it the honor of various national and international administrative and institutional recognitions (for example, Historical and Artistic Collection of Monuments as designated by the Spanish Government, World Heritage City as declared by the UNESCO, third best preserved collection of urban monuments in Europe, among others).
Source: Cultural Contact Point
Cceres is old and rich in history even by European standards. There are traces of stoneage population, the Celts settled here. The Romans founded the city proper in 34 BC, the Arabs took it in the 12th century -- the name "Cceres" stems from the Arab "Quazri". The city was ruled by monks and Spanish kings, Isabella among them (this is a Lois McMaster Bujold reference, never mind if you don't understand).
I'm not going to blog too much about Caceres, because I was only there for two days. (I'm in New York City now.) Claudia was there for a week, and saw much more than I did. So I'll let her do the travel blogging.
But I do want to mention the storks.
Extremadura, it seems, is one of the major breeding areas for Cicionia ciconia, the European white stork. These magnificent birds spend their winters in Africa, but return to Spain every summer to mate, nest and breed. They build enormous, sloppy nests -- sometimes two meters across and weighing more than a hundred kilograms -- on the tops of trees and tall buildings; they seem to have a particular fondness for old churches.
The road to the end of Europe is called the E90. It goes south and west from Madrid, through Castile and Extremadura to Badajoz and the Portuguese border.
(The end of Europe, as everyone knows, is Cabo de San Vicente, in Portugal. That's the farthest you can go to the west, without crossing salt water. And to get to Cabo de San Vicente from pretty much anywhere else in Europe, you have to take the E90.)
What I found interesting about the road to the end of Europe was how American it looked. Western Castile and Extremadura are some of the least densely populated parts of western Europe; once you leave the suburbs of Madrid, there are no big cities and few towns of any size. The land is rather dry and empty; the Castilian part could easily be Oklahoma, and Extremadura looks like Wyoming.
(And the road itself looked and felt like an American highway. It was new, and wide, and not too crowded. Comfortable.)
I fell in love with Madrid. And I haven't even seen much of it yet and won't see much more in the short time that's left before we have to leave for Caceres. But, oh.
The plazas, which have big, generous fountains in the middles and are lined up like pearls on a string.
The funky neighborhoods. (Of course, we stayed true and ended up in the gay neighborhood of town. How? I booked the hotel through the internet, so there was no way of telling. But we somehow always manage and we always feel right at home, then. We used to live in Dupont Circle in DC, you know.)
The little busy side streets.
I'm not sure this impression is correct but it seems that Madrid is a very well done cross between Paris and New York. Actually, coming right out of Romania, the first thing I said to Doug was: "This city is unbelievably rich!"
We have to come back, that's for sure. However, next time maybe we won't do the trip through Frankfurt to save a few bucks. We had 90 minutes to change planes and it was barely enough.
Anyhow. Madrid is gorgeous and we already regret that we have so little time. Next time, is what we console ourselves with. Alan and David think it's cool, too. They love the busy streets and that there is so much to see. But in two hours or so, we are heading to Caceres.
[And I had an idea. I'm going to start a blog solely for traveling parents to share tips where to stay and what to do on the road. Like, is there a child friendly hotel in Madrid? Because ours isn't. It's perfectly nice but it has stairs in odd places and a teensy elevator. Or is there such a source? I'd be interested to know!]