Travel 2007 – Bucharest, Day 3

Saturday, 19th May, 2007 – Bucharest, Day 3

Well, it’s fair to say that Saturday in Bucharest started waaaay too early, with an 8.15 qualifying session. Really not what we wanted, but what can you do? That meant leaving the apartment at 7.30, in order to get to the press office and get organised in good time. The hill wasn’t getting any less steep, and the weather wasn’t getting any better. Still, if we’d had the 30 C or so that had been threatened, the climb would have been more than I could have managed, I suspect. And it wasn’t as if there was an alternative, either. At least at Pau if you were sufficiently desperate, you could try and grab a cab from the railway station back to the hotel at the end of the day, thus avoiding the godawful climb back out of the paddock. In this case, at least it was downhill all the way back to the hotel…

Meanwhile, qualifying was reasonably well-behaved for a series that’s rapidly becoming a case of Red Flags’r’Us this year. A trip down to the paddock followed, with another run-in with a security guard who wanted to send us back the way we came, and was most crestfallen when a scan of our passes flashed up the word “Go” on his screen and he had no option but to let us go through. All that, just to get to the F3 paddock… It was beginning to get a bit wearing on the nerves, frankly, though I eventually did find a way of dealing with that sort of nonsense. I worked out that the locals’ reluctance to speak to women, and their lack of English, meant that if you didn’t catch their eye, they wouldn’t challenge you because they would have had to speak. Problem solved, and after that I went where I wanted to go.

I wasn’t the only one having trouble getting around though. Marc soon discovered that the circuit’s red zones (where photographers are not allowed because it’s too dangerous) had multiplied overnight, and suddenly, despite no one on the organisational side knowing about it, the outside of Turn 1 was now also a red zone. Unless, that is, you were a Romanian photographer. Presumably they are impervious to danger or something – or they’d slipped the local security a few leis. He gave up and retreated to the pitlane, not being able to pull the same stunt I could.

Anyway, the race you’ll know about if you care, though I did think the whole Safety Car start business got a bit silly. The decision was taken quite late, and Glyn was left with no choice but to make his way down the grid, telling each driver that they would be doing two laps behind the Safety Car and then the race would start as they crossed the start/finish line. He then also found a member of each team in the pitlane and told them what was going on. Afterwards, there were complaints that the mid-field guys didn’t know what was going to happen. OK, lads, a small hint. When a bloke in an official shirt makes his way down the grid about five minutes before the race is due to start, and he stops to tell you something (having done the same to every driver in front of you) then it might be an idea to pay attention to what he tells you. OK, so you may not be familiar with the procedure, but most of the teams had no such excuse. We ran the same protocol at Thruxton last season, so really, again, pay attention please and pass on the information passed to you by the man in the SRO shirt!

It was an interesting race that saw both Mansells crash out to my satisfaction. Rumour had it that the old man then stormed up to Sebastian Hohenthal in the Fortec awning and tore into him verbally for being run into by Greg! Considering that the cars between them all missed the stricken Swede, and considering he was the one being hit, not the one doing the hitting, this seemed a bit much, frankly. On top of that, Leo was apparently concussed after Frankie Cheng savaged him unexpectedly, so exit the Mansells, stage left, lamentably not pursued by a bear (Romania has a large population of brown bears apparently). It was all too dangerous according to Nigel… It’s really not good when your father starts fighting your battles for you, and to flounce off claiming it was too dangerous seemed a bit extreme.

That over, we got the report out very, very quickly, and in between were taken on a guided tour of the Palace. This was organised by the charming Romanian press officer, a very helpful, obliging, friendly sort of guy, who was very good at his job it seemed to me. He was cajoled into organising it by Agnes Carlier, who used to be the Marlboro PR woman, and also worked at Sauber once upon a time. Anyway, the tour itself was mind-bending in terms of the statistics wheeled out, and very interesting too. What was fascinating was the way the tour guide very carefully avoided talking much about the Ceausescus, which is a clever trick when they built the place. We were told that they’d made the architect redesign the main staircases more than once because she wanted to be able to glide down “her” staircase like a princess. Oh, and the two staircases? So they could set off at the top and meet together at the bottom…

I quote from the rather sanitised guidebook: “What is unquestionably Romania’s most famous building, Palatul Parlamentului (known universally as Casa Poporului) was built during the darkest days of the Nicolae Ceausescu regime. Standing 84m above ground level on 12 floors, the building has long been shrouded in mystery, rumour and hyperbole. Originally designed to house almost all the organs of the communist state, it today plays host to the Romanian parliament, senate and a modern, well equipped conference centre, as well as Romania’s Museum of Contemporary Art (MNAC). The vast majority of the building, however, remains unused. The public tour of the building is thoroughly recommended. You’ll see plenty of grand staircases, marble-plated halls and conference rooms, while – depending on the mood of the guide – you may also have the chance to go on to the balcony, which offers the defining view of Bucharest. The largest room, the Sala Unirii (Unification Hall), is laid with a 14 ton carpet woven on the premises with machines designed specifically for the purpose. Some 3,500 tons of crystal were used for the building’s chandeliers. The heftiest is that in the small parliament hall, which weighs three tons and makes use of over 7,000 bulbs.”

In the evening we again headed out to the old town, this time stumbling across the St. George, a splendid Hungarian restaurant, but with a seriously oddly translated menu (we never did figure out what “scruff and bacon” could possibly be, for a start). For our sins we ended up sitting right next to the “gypsy” band, who were alarmingly sprightly given their considerable age. The double bass player in particular was more than a little scary. He kept twirling the instrument so violently we were repeatedly surprised when he didn’t accidentally lose his grip. If he had, a cabinet full of Tokaj Aszu would have made a very expensive and sticky disaster area!

We ate well, and drank even better, and again had change from £20 a head. I had the Gulags soup, which wasn’t a very thin gruel with a solitary bean in it as you might expect with a name like that, but rather was an excellent goulash soup, and then a main course called “Only for extraordinary people” and described as “chicken breast stuffed with goose liver and chestnuts piuree on grill”. It was very good, solid cooking, not gourmet level, but respectable and very enjoyable. I finished off with “for wine lovers – vanilla ice-cream with orange rolls dipped in wine and cream”. The orange rolls were just slices of orange, so it wasn’t as exotic as it sounded (rather like the wine with “erotic aromas” encountered on the wine list of our local Thai restaurant not long ago).

And so, again very full of food, we lurched back to out beds, to get ready for another day of racing and eating!

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