Sunday, July 14, 2013

Impressions from Europe

Since I just came back from vacation, I’ll break the wavefunction physics series for one post and share my impressions from my 2 week vacation in Europe. The two cities I visited were Paris and Bucharest.

I grew up in Bucharest Romania, and I know the city very well, but this was my first visit to Paris. Bucharest used to be called “The little Paris”, but I think the comparison works both ways and without fear of being wrong I can call Paris “The large Bucharest”. Despite the carefully projected identity as the city of fashion, Paris is a city which shares its core identity with Bucharest and I felt right at home in it. It still had several surprises in store for me.

Like any first time tourist there, I visited the big attractions and I marveled at the opulent display of art and former glory at the usual spots: Louvre, Versailles, and Notre Dame. I found the usual description of French people as rude completely false, but the “smelly” description still applies. This is because, despite the summer heat, most Parisians wore heavy formal suites for social status sake. Only tourist wore short pants and dressed appropriately to avoid body odor.

For some odd reasons, people in small restaurants in Paris love to eat outside right on the sidewalk looking at the passing traffic. After the first failure to attract attention, you will learn that you have to seat yourself. Also you will discover that each and every dish is of an exquisite quality and any humble restaurant in Paris will beat any fancy American restaurant by several orders of magnitude in taste. Also all restaurants are packed at 11 pm and I wonder if anybody is really working in this city. (The daily oddball strikes did not improve this perception either. There were strikes at the Eiffel Tower, at the airport, etc.)

The public toilets were a joke and Paris has some fancy one with a self clean cycle and here lies the problem: a full cycle (after each usage) take like 10 minutes, and a 3 person waiting line can be a big problem if you are in a hurry. Given the man-made shortage problem of public toilets, there is no wonder that about half the city smells of urine given the relative large number of homeless people.

Champs Elysees’ stores were grossly overrated, and better priced “Banana Republic” stores exists in most malls in US. And one more thing from Paris; I did not see any fat people whatsoever, and in fact most people were skinny. I think this is the result of the normal portion size in the restaurants there compared with the supersized US food culture.  

After a week in Paris it was time to go to Bucharest. Before the global economic crisis, Romania, and Bucharest in particular enjoyed huge growth and this was the place to make big money. After the subprime mortgage bubble burst, the city had only organic growth and the local general perception was that people got poorer and there was a newfound emphasis on competition and efficiency. I was pleasantly surprised by the local metro system which is I think recently became one of the best in the world.

During communist years, the dictator Nicolae Ceausescu built a huge palace (the second largest building in the world after the Pentagon) and its opulence can match any other palace including Versailles. Romanian’s Parliament is now housed there but there is still plenty left for tourists to  visit.

I took the opportunity to visit the palace, but the visiting tours are grossly mismanaged and I had the misfortune to have as an official guide a self-hating street smart young guy who “explained” the Romania revolution of 1989 in a grotesque conspiracy theory.  (I can state this with confidence because I participated myself in the 89 events and I am intimately familiar to what happened then.) To top the mismanagement, all toilets in this large palace were missing the toilet paper and the casual explanation is that the cleaning crew steals them. In this palace NATO summits took place and I am left to wonder if the building management took steps to prevent embarrassing situations, or the heads of states were told to bring their own toilet paper at the meetings. Since the politicians in the Romanian Parliament are the one in charge of the palace now, your can correctly guess that they are all crooks.


  1. I thought I would check to see if you were back from your vacation. I have never been to Romania. The last time I was at the Champs Elysees I got a sense it was almost more New York than Paris.

    I will have to reread your paper you referenced earlier to make comments.

    Cheers Lawrence B. Crowell

    1. Looking forward to your comments.


    2. I may not be able to comment much for a couple of weeks. I am in that dreadful situation of moving at the moment. I can only make pretty quick spot checks on the web with what is going on.

      Cheers LC

  2. Lawrence,

    There is no rush. Ping me when you have time and I'll explain the basic framework. Of course there are some subtle issues and I am learning the appropriate math to work on them.