Recycling is Rubbish

upcycling One of the most impressive things about Vienna is the shops – they are varied, stylish and often innovative. But when I went down Schleifmuhlgasse, which is not far from the Opera House, I was stopped in my tracks by the remarkable items in the window and the curious name “Gabarage. Upcycling Design.” The shop window was full of stylish and unusual things made out of waste, like plant pots fashioned from half footballs and lamp shades with strips of old film hanging down like long brown hair. Continue reading

The power of lobbies

This article was also published in Romanian on

“There are two types of political lobby campaigns” explained my tutor of political science at Liverpool University, “you have the big movements with hundreds of thousands of members, such as the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament. They make a lot of noise and get media coverage, but they rarely change things. The other type of lobby is done ‘in smoke filled rooms behind closed doors’ by big business groups who have limitless funds, patience and time.” George Monbiot writes brilliantly about the evil effectiveness of the corporate lobby groups in the Guardian and there was a recent article in TIME (“Is Obama Bad for the Environment?”) which describes how Obama is ruling in favour of Big Oil despite having been elected on a wave of pro-environmental promises. Continue reading

Prince Charles’ New Guest House in Covasna County

zalanpatak1Most people know that the Prince of Wales is fabulously wealthy and will one day become the King of England. But how many of you know that he recently renovated a country cottage in Romania and, in order to generate local employment, is making it available as a guest house? Continue reading

A Day In The Life of Alina Serban

photo by Vadim Ghirda

photo by Vadim Ghirda

You may be wondering why I’m writing so much about Alina Serban? Am I being paid by Hollywood (or Media Pro)? Am I in love? Have I got nothing better to do?  The explanation is simple: when I went to speak with the magazine Decit o Revista they asked me what I was working on and I said “Alina Serban”, and they said “Can you do one for us too?”. So I did and here it is.  Meanwhile, as an update to the article, my spies tell me that Alina is now in London attending an audition at RADA, the top British acting school.

It’s eight fifteen in the morning and I am hurrying towards the underground station at Piata Romana with Alina Serban, the dynamic young Roma actress. Alina has a puppet show at nine o’ clock at a kindergarten in the Militar area and we’re running late. We squeeze into the commuter crowd, change at Piata Victoriei and get another train to Crangasi. She calls her colleague Elena Rotaru, Continue reading

A Guide to Addiction Treatment in Romania


It’s not easy finding treatment for alcoholism or drug addiction in Romania. I know this because I have been looking for addiction treatment services in this country over the last year. You may be wondering why I’m looking for treatment (are you wondering if I’m addicted to drugs, alcohol, gambling or sex?). Continue reading

Sighisoara Needs Your Help

img_0078This article was also published in Romanian on Hotnews.

Anyone who knows Romania is aware that Sighisoara is a pretty amazing place. Guidebooks describe is as the only medieval citadel in Europe that is “lived in” and the old centre is one of the “must sees” on the Romanian map.  But I have avoided the place for about 5 years for a number of reasons: I was seriously put-off after visiting a so-called “Medieval Festival” (a grotesque combination of kitsch and heavy metal); and it takes so long to get there by car from Bucharest (over 5 hours) and the train doesn’t exactly hurry. Continue reading

An Actress to Watch Out For

credit-unatcroThis article was also published in Romanian on Hotnews.

Whenever a great Romanian actor dies someone tells me that this is the latest chapter in the decline of Romanian drama.  Romanians can be very negative about their future and this negativity is projected onto the arts where they tend to see a glorious past and a miserable future.  But I am not Romanian and I don’t share these views.

I am from Edinburgh, a city which hosts the world’s biggest theatre festival but is actually a deeply un-cultural place where alcohol and football are far more important than arts.  (If you want to understand Scotland, read Irvine Welsh.)   Like most of my compatriots I know little about acting and have no comment about the ancient Romanian actors whom people here hold so dearly.  But whenever I go to a Romanian play or film, which is rarely as I am unable to resist the escapist attractions of Hollywood, I see great young actors. I recently saw Periphery and was mesmerized by the charisma of Ana Ularu. Continue reading

British Comedy in Bucharest

comedy-copy-2nd-april-e1300778516839This article was also published in Romanian on Hotnews.

The most interesting thing about “British Comedy Night”, which takes place on the first Saturday of each month, is the street.  Strada Gabroveni is the last street in Bucharest’s Lipscani area (the old town) that is still “under construction” (i.e. in total chaos). Michael Fraser, the manager of the Mojo Club and the organizer of British comedy in Romania, says “It’s the worst street in Bucharest”.

If you are tired of the uniformity of the streets of Bucharest go to Strada Gabroveni at night. It’s a trip to another dimension.  I savoured the uneven earth surface, the total absence of cars, the dark empty buildings, the wooden boards that people wobble drunkenly along, the orange pipes that spew crazily out of the ground and the contrast with the Cocor Shopping Centre, which is a vast TV screen at the end of the street. With music pumping out of a dozen clubs and images of high fashion being flashed down the street from Cocor, I felt like I was in a scene from Blade Runner. Continue reading

Expats and Addiction

castlecraigBeing an addicted expat is no joke. A typical expat has a demanding job and a family that may be extended across two countries. They tend to come under a lot of pressure and many find escape in drink or drugs.

Back home it’s easier to confront the problem and get help. It’s easier to approach a doctor, priest or therapist about an addiction when there are no linguistic and cultural barriers in the way. It’s less scary to confront the boss if both of you are living in the same town, as compared to a skilled expat in whom the company has high expectations. The tendency among expat addicts is to conceal their addiction, suppress their sense of shame, avoid discussing the problem or getting professional help, and to indulge in ‘self-medication’. Continue reading

Romanian Senate Relaxes Road Traffic Law

trafic-bucurestiThe Chinese Ambassador to Bucharest once compared the building of motorways in his country to what’s been achieved in Romania.  He said that both countries have been engaged on motorway building for about 20 years and while the Chinese have built over 40,000 kilometers of motorway during that time, Romania has barely managed 150 KM. He offered Chinese help in building a ring road for Bucharest, but his offer was ignored and Romania’s capital city remains in gridlock. Continue reading