My Favourite Corner
Starbucks, Cluj, Romania. And it's even got free wireless! :)
(well, indirectly, from the mall, but still.)
I was pretty much disappointed on our trip to London, as I've found almost no free Wi-Fi access at all. Wireless probably came a little bit later to Easten Europe, already mature, and looks like it will stay free for a little longer. I pretty much take it for granted in Cluj, as it is freely available in most public spaces, malls, and cafes, weherever you go.
Apparently, people here are starting to notice the importance of free access to your data and information, from wherever you are, much like an essential human right, as I would call it. It's more importent than the 10 pounds or 30 pounds that you can pick out of people's pocket. Wireless access should stay free. :))
I can see people moblogging, blogging, taking pictures and uploading them, or reading their mail all across the mall. Especially young people, many of them carrying laptops, which I often do myself. However, my new cellphone PDA shold be able to fight all that alone, if it doesn't crash. (Windows Mobile 6.1 provided, catch my drift, haha)
Let's get back to our beloved Starbucks then. Music is always good, from jazz and blues to folk and rock oldies, creating a very pleasant atmosphere. No techno drumbeating, no insane rhytms, just plaing good old music. Anything from Joni Mitchell to Neil Young, from Tina Turner to Louis Armstrong, from The Beatles to Doors, from Janis Joplin to Arteha Franklin and so on.
This is a 1/6 second exposure, handheld, f/2.7, at ISO 100, widest possible, 36mm focal equivalent. Now on a human language: 1/6 seconds is about the longest possible exposure that a human can make with a handheld camera, without a tripod. Every breath, every shake, every heartbeat counts, the picture will be unsharp and ugly.
People with very steady hands can sometimes pull off 1/4 seconds with decent results. Smokers, or people in worse physical condition can only pull off 1/8 or 1/10 second exposures at most. Anything slower than that will become shaky and blurred unless a tripod is used, or the camera's installed on any solid (often makeshift) base. Rice bags, little bags with beans, tea tables, park benches, garbage cans, window seals anything goes, when it comes to longer exposures and you can't carry a tripod.
Lens with image stabilizer (IS) systems can help you a little, allowing for a couple of stops more than without, but those can't do wonders either. Tips for steady shots in low light are pretty simple: go wide, don't zoom in... the shorter the focal lengts, the better exposures you will get, without shaking in. Keep the diaphragm wide open (f/1.8, f/2.7, f/3.5 the lower the better) so that more light can reach the film or sensor, allowing for a better exposure. But most of you probably know this (and a lot more than me) already, so I'll better stop with the technicalities here.
Back to our little place here. Iulius mall and Polus Center, the city's first two malls both opened in October 2006, racing each other with the opening schedules, and rushing to be ready for the year's Christmas seson. Thus, even month later you could still see unfinished corners, or store spaces yet untaken. Our Starbucks has opened its gates in March 2007, less than a year ago. It has a ground flor, a mezzanine, and a large open terrace on top.
Starbucks has been brought to Romania by the Greek Marinopoulos Brothers, as a franchise. There were one or two places opened in Bucharest already when ours opened third in the country, but the largest as surface and the number of seats. Even more, they say it's the largest Starbucks in all Southeastern Europe, for that matter. A few more shops have opened in Bucharest already (they must have at least 4 or 5 by now) and other locations were in plan as well, like Iasi (capital of Moldova region) and Timisoara (capital of Banat sub-region, Transylvania), both of them large cultural / university centers side by side with Cluj.
The Marinopoulos Bros. Holding apparently specialises in franchising, and bringing large international names into mall across Southeast Europe. Along with Starbucks, they've also brought in other franchises like Marks and Spencers (but no M&S Foods yet, nor cosmetics, textiles only) and Sephora. Rumour has it (please confirm) that they are also negotiating with GAP, a name still absent from Romania for the time being. They also have a joint venture with the Frech Carrefour Group, bringing Carrfour superstores to Southeastern Europe, including Romania.
And this also answers eleven011's question of why Starbucks still isn't present in Hungary yet. Unlike most other global ventures that came in from the West mostly (thus Hungary first), Starbucks came in from the Southeast, through a Greek franchise, and it is actively managed by the Greeks, Panos Marinopoulos and Co.. I've just found a linky about the 5-year achievments of the greeks, partnering with Starbucks' Mr. Schultz.:
They did pretty good, at least here in Cluj, not sure for the other locations, as I haven't seem any of those yet. One of the most important thing they did *well* was picking a whole bunch of great employees. Hats off to the human resources, they have recruited the best possible people. Mostly students, teherefore intellectuals in the becoming, these guys and girls are nice, pleasant and freindly. Unlike the regular minimum-wage eith-years-of-schooling employees, they talk to the people even relate to them, make them feel better. And what's more important, make them come back for more, by creating a great clean and laid back atmosphere.
This place is the very definition of posh, compared to the Starbucks' we ran into in across London. There are very many, but most of them seemed to be tiny little holes, dirty and crowded compared to what we have here. It was hard to exchange phrases with the employees, as they had all kinds of terrible non-English accents. And I better won't mention their toilets, and they have only one single-room toilet everywhere. Well, compared to all that (and coffee wasn't too good either, pretty watery, no wonders that they'll prefer their tea then)... compared to all that, our place here is clearly a charm.
My friend Mihai in London said they are small and crowdy in order to help people socialise. Well, elbows in my coffee, sorry Sir, ohh, that was my leg, please excuse me, I didn't meant to poor hot coffee on you, could you please pass me the milk anyway, etc., ohwell, thanks, but not really. And I'll yet have to see a blace as big as ours. Well, there is one in Tokyo that looks much like ours. You can dig it up in Nishimura-san's photostream, if you've got the patience. You'll find amazing things there along the way, the small things that matter, of everyday life. All those small things that make up our tiny lives. Add some good coffee, of course. :) See you tomorrow!