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Romania and Bulgaria joining the EU

Posted: 2006-11-13 19:36:47, Categories: Travel, General, Romania, Bulgaria, 722 words (permalink)

Two ladies in a horse cart in Marisel village, Romania. Both Romania and Bulgaria will join the European Union from the beginning of year 2007. On the streets it hasn't been much visible except for various signs telling about EU supported renovation and construction projects, but in conversations it's naturally a hot topic.

In both countries people in cities seems to be generally optimistic but there are also many who aren't really happy about the whole process. The marketing folks touted about more prosperity and other advantages, while critical voices during the negotiation process were few and far between. As the big date approaches also the less rosy aspects of EU integration are becoming more apparent.

Prices are rising, people say, while salaries are not. In particular property prices have climbed out of reach from ordinary people trying to save towards an apartment or house. After the collapse of communism apartments were generally given to the people living in them. Therefore most people have a place to stay, but for a young couple wishing to start a family the situation is difficult. Beneficiaries have been mostly the rich who have been able to work through corrupted municipality administrations. They are building ugly-looking but luxurious hotel complexes in places of natural beauty, eagerly waiting for new tourists.

EU will also impose new rules on the production of food, taxes on home-made alcohol and possibly outlaw certain traditional dishes. Otherwise most wouldn't care much of the whole EU thing, but invasions to the traditional ways of life is making people angry. Bulgarians have named their chief negotiator "the yes lady", saying she gave up too easily to all EU demands in order to guarantee the acceptance of Bulgaria for integration.

More positive changes brought by EU include efforts to reduce corruption, to fight organized crime, to increase transparency in the justice system and to improve the rights of ethnic minorities. There are also EU requirements concerning waste management and environmental protection which will hopefully result in a healthier environment for everybody.

Most of the debate around EU is centered around money. That's not a surprise, as it's a primarily economy-driven union. There may be some hard times in the beginning, but I have no doubts that eventually it will bring more wealth to the new regions. A more subtle question are the changes it will bring to the lifestyle. It's good if everyday life will become a bit easier and people will have more choice what to do with their lives. On the other hand, if every horse cart will be replaced by a tractor, if people will get their wine from a shop instead of their own or friend's barrel, if shepherds won't be following their sheep over beautiful hilly grasslands any more, something important will be lost forever.

Of course a lot of the changes have already been happening and would happen also without EU. It's the result of entering market economy and global markets after a long period of communism. Joining the EU will just speed up the whole process. Many young people have already for years moved abroad to gain better salaries and virtually every family has some family members or close friends working outside their homeland. EU will obviously make this even easier and it remains to be seen how many will return.

A detail which several Romanians mentioned to me is that while several Western European countries put restrictions on work permits for people coming from new EU member states, Finland decided to open doors for everybody. Traditionally Finland has been quite restrictive towards immigration, so it's interesting to see that in this case we're more open than many other EU member states.

Travelers in both Romania and Bulgaria are happy that becoming an EU citizen will mean visa-free travel to a larger number of countries. Curiously the change is not so big concerning traveling in Europe - neither Romanians nor Bulgarians have required visas for most European countries for years - but several Asian, South American and African countries will become easier to access after joining the EU.

One small change we'll all notice is that new banknotes will carry the text EBPO in addition to EURO and EYPΩ. Bulgarians are proud to mention that the cyrillic alphabet was invented by them (not Russians) and now it will become the third official alphabet in the European Union. Cool. :)


Birthday in the mountains, new server

Posted: 2006-09-27 22:22:18, Categories: Travel, General, Romania, Hospitality exchange, 375 words (permalink)

View from the top of Pietrosul mountain Last weekend I celebrated my 29th birthday hiking and camping out in the wild. The picture is from the top of Mt. Pietrosul, the highest peak of the Calimani mountains. At 2102 meters above sea level it's not very high, but the views were still great. And I had great company plus chocolate pudding for the birthday breakfast. :)

After a couple of days in Targu Mures and the Calimani mountains I rode 50 km south to the town of Sighisoara. It was a pittoresque town, no surprise as it's included in the Unesco World Heritage list, but one afternoon and morning was enough for me to see it. Today I continued further east to Odorheiu Secuiesc or perhaps I should rather say Szekelyudvarhely, which is the Hungarian name. Most of the inhabitants here are ethnic Hungarians and that's by far the most common language heard on the streets too. Unfortunately I've already forgot some of the words I learned in Hungary, and I find it difficult to set my mind to "Hungarian mode" as I've tried to pick up at least a few words of Romanian during the last three weeks.

An interesting detail told me by Erika, my host in Targu Mures (who was also Hungarian), was that you can often distinguish Romanian and Hungarian houses by the color of the gates. Blue gates are Romanian, green ones Hungarian and others could be either. Red seems to be a common color too, I saw a lot of red and green gates today when riding through villages.

My bike also had a special day today, as the odometer went over the 30000 km mark. Roughly half of the parts have been changed at least once since I bought it but it has still seen a lot of road for a bike. On this trip I'm at 4540 km and will add about 90 tomorrow riding to Lacu Rosu, yet another mountain lake which should be a beautiful place.

As a technical note, my site has been moved to a new server which uses a more recent version of php. This finally resolves an annoying bug with the admin interface of the blog software. If you notice that something has been broken due to the upgrade, please drop me a line.

Blog software upgraded

Posted: 2006-08-29 02:18:49, Categories: General, 143 words (permalink)

In an effort to get rid of a nasty bug which forces me to use dirty tricks when posting to my blog I just upgraded the blog software to the latest version. Unfortunately it didn't fix the bug (which seems to be somehow related to the set of software running at my web host, because I cannot reproduce it on my own computer) but brought a few other small improvements.

It is now again possible to leave comments on the posts, but I will need to approve the comments before they get published. The reason for that is to prevent comment spam (there was a lot of it when it was fully open), not censorship. Otherwise, not much should have changed. If you notice that something is broken, please drop me an email and I'll try to fix it as soon as possible.

Towards new adventures

Posted: 2006-05-21 23:27:34, Categories: Travel, General, Cycling, 203 words (permalink)
I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I —
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.

— Robert Frost, part of The Road Not Taken

In August 2005 I made a decision to travel. The trip will begin in June 2006. I have traveled before, I've even lived abroad, but this time will be different. I won't have any obligations to work or study, nor a permanent address. The tour will start in Eastern Europe and continue in Asia, and perhaps include other continents too. Details are still open, but it doesn't matter — I'll have time to figure them out on the road.

At least in the beginning, I'll travel by bicycle. If at some point I feel I've had enough of cycling, then I'll switch to more traditional backpacking. I initially plan to travel for about one year, but I don't want to commit to any specific time or route too much in advance. I have more detailed plans for the first month or two, more about that later.

This blog will be used to post my travel news and other random thoughts.

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Copyright Arto Teräs <ajt@iki.fi>, licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported License.
(Unless otherwise mentioned in individual photos or other content.)