Thursday, September 28, 2006


I decided to make an unplanned stop here today, because yesterday, when passing by the old town square, once past all the mud and chaos making a ring around city center, Sibiu looked actually quite pretty. The hour and a half of sunlight still left was not enough to both enjoy it and find a place to stay at the same time (especially considering that the hotel took 5 tries).

Anyway, in the morning on the way to city center I just happened to pass by a bike shop that was open--a lucky occurence and a sign from the gods, for since yesterday I had started to get seriously worried about the back bike tire (remember I told you it needed replacing since all the way back in Spain? For whatever reason, I hadn't found the right time/opportunity/conditions to do so), for after the twice times 3 kilometers on very loose gravel going and returning to/from Câlnic, I could start to see the thread/cord webbing inside lining of the tire, and even thought of patching it up, if necessary, with that beloved panacea for all problems engineering related: duct tape, to prevent possible damage to the now precariously accessible inner tube. You must agree though: if things get to the point where you're genuinely considering this crass default solution, "just duct tape it", so nonchalantly abused by bad first-year engineering students, replacement can no longer wait, the problem has become solemn business indeed.

So I was happy I found the shop, where I even had my choice of replacement tires (I chose one a bit narrower and with less treads than the old one, which was still leaning more towards a mountain bike--these were more of the hybrid/touring variety--to make pedalling imperceptibly easier), and it only cost 18 lei (about 6 Euros)! Cool huh?

Problem and worry thus finally off my shoulders, I headed off to city center after dropping the tire off at the hotel. Funny, the city center actually looks very...."German". They've been freshly painting it and the city looks quite quaint.

Anyway, after the short stroll through the pretty re-painted old part of town I ended up again into the modern part of the city, with its dusty, muddy chaos, and where I strolled by its rather...different...shops.

These guys haven't gotten the hang of capitalism yet.

Take the gypsies, for instance. I constantly see them on the highways, near the edges of microscopic villages, or sometimes even at the gas stations, peddling wares to automobile drivers. But the things they peddle are useless to the typical motorist: so far, I've only seen them sell cut crystal wine glasses (in the roads) or knockoff men's cologne (at gas stations). And they ALL sell this. And ONLY this. (And believe me I have passed by countless gas stations and been on the roads for a while now). Now tell me. Were you passing by, would you think of buying this? Would any of this be useful to you? What's more, if you ever did want to go buy cut crystal wine glasses, or even knockoff perfume, would you even think of going to the middle of the highway somewere to get it? Methinks the gypsies would be far, far better off selling apples or watermelon, or even sodas, if they really wanted to make some money.

But anyway, back to Sibiu and Romanian towns. I may have mentioned already that their department stores are oddly set up: the floors are dirty, unpolished, things are arranged unattractively in half-open boxes helter skelter, and different vendors share space side-by-side in strange territorial overlaps with no delimitation. And in streetside shops, the wares are not specialized. Any given shop at random will sell both clothing, shoes, and teacups, there is no such thing as "the leather store", or "the hair accessory store", or even "the sock store", they all sell everything, and the store next door to yours is exactly the same and sells the same kinds of things (not too difficult, since they all sell everything that you cannot use).

The town is full of "minimarts" (I have not seen even one single supermarket in the whole time I have been in this country), where everything is behind the counter and you need to ask for it to the vendor. You cannot "browse" and in the rare places where perhaps there is half a shelf mistakenly or for lack of space fortuitiously placed in front of the counter, you are guaranteed to see at least one store attendant planted firmly at its side in an attitude of custody, following you with their eyes and even approaching you whenever you happen to pick up something to look at the ingredients (so that you don't walk out of the store with it, presumably?).

Weird, huh?

Anyway, tomorrow: cross the real Carpathians. Hope that relief map was accurate...

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