Published: June 1st 2012May 18th 2012
Our European travels have quickly come to an end. Mike headed back home a few days ago and I decided to have one last hurrah and spend a few weeks traveling before going back to Canada. The first stop on my trip was Romania. Fortunately I was joined at the last minute by Mike's classmates Aloysious and Fuad, which made traveling in this "Global South" a bit easier. We left London early (as usual), flying on Wizzair, and arrived in Bucharest just after lunch. The flight was about 3 3/4 hours long, which is a long flight by European standards (they often consider an hour and a half hour flight long), and the time zone is behind London by 2 hours, which makes it seem really far. The Romanian language is very similar to Italian in some ways, so I can make out a few words now and then, but generally it wasn't really intuitive to me (hello= moltumesc, pronounced molt-soo-mes-k).
When we arrived, we had to figure out a way to get from the airport to the Bucharest north train station. The original plan was to go directly to Brasov (pronounced Bra-shov), but we had just missed both the
train and the bus (by only a minute!) so we had to wait an hour for the next one and it meant getting to Brasov late (and skipping Bucharest completely for the boys). So we thought it was a good opportunity to explore the capital.
The bus ride to the train station was eventful to say the least. My ticket on the bus for some reason would not work, even though the boys' did. And of course the ticket collector singled out the obvious tourists to check their tickets (I saw him check a few others but not all). He couldn't speak a word of English and was trying to convey to me that I had no ticket. The guy next to him spoke english and translated to me that he wanted me to pay a fine. How can I argue when I can't speak the language? I did try to argue with the english man a bit and he argued back for me but the inspector wouldn't have it. He kept asking for money and at one point said he would turn a blind eye if he gave me a certain amount. He was definitely just trying to
rip me off. It angers me that he was just trying to take advantage of a tourist and I made it known that I was not pleased, but when the guy doesn't speak English, I'm sure that he didn't get it. At one point he asked me for my identification and I was no way going to give it to him. It also seemed like he was changing the price of the fine on me from 50 lei (14 CAD) to 500 lei (140). There was no way I was going to pay that kind of money. So I reached into my pocket (where I kept emergency money so that I don't have to take out my wallet that has more money) and gave him 50 and said that's all I have and he seemed to accept it. Really what he wanted was a bribe! I'd rather pay the money to get him away from me, and even though he was trying to take advantage, it's important in these situations to just pay the little amount of money it is to a foreigner and have him leave peacefully. Sometimes people stick to their principles too much and get into trouble.
Anyhow, he was harmless but we all felt so helpless without being able to speak for ourselves. At least I wasn't alone, otherwise I might have been more worried. Anyways, he went away and this event left a bit of a foul taste in our mouths for awhile (but we're laughing about it now). As a result, when we got off the bus at the train station, we tried to find a good hotel that we were familiar with (the Ibis), so we didn't feel like we'd get ripped off again.
The area around the train station seemed a bit sketchy, but again harmless. I think overall Romania is very safe for foreigners, probably even safer than cities such as Paris. After we got a room, we decided that we needed to give Bucharest another chance, so we walked from the hotel to the centre of the city which took about 30 minutes..
Bucarest is not the prettiest of cities, it's true. It is crowded and many of the buildings look like they were very beautiful at one time but have been neglected. We walked down one of the main streets, just to see what the city has
to offer. There were many beautiful orthodox churches. We found ourselves in the old part of the city, which was actually quite cute and really cool. The pedestrian streets were cobblestoned and were lined with old restaurants. Lots of restaurants, I would say that that the old town is a great place to go out for dinner. Restaurant after restaurant with outdoor patios lined the street. Musicians were wandering around the streets as well, playing Romanian music. If I was a local, I'd definitely come here for dinner! There was also live street music and a concert going on in the old town. We stopped to go in a few churches and then continued on our way. We walked over the river (which was not so big) to the parliament buildings, which were really quite spectacular and huge!
After, we headed back to the old town for dinner. We tried to go to this really cool restaurant called Caru' cu Bere (suggested to me by a woman who grew up in Bucharest but now works with my father in Canada). The restaurant looked awesome because it had traditional dancing and almost felt like a German beer hall (beer was
The former Royal Palace
This is located in one of the main squares of the city, Piata Revolutiei, one of the main sites of gathering during the revolution in 1989. Now it is the National Art Museum.
in the name of the place afterall), but unfortunately, it was so busy and they were booked for the night. So we settled on another place in the old town (called Malagamba), which was good but unfortunately not Romanian (we were hungry and tired and there were way too many good looking places to choose from, so we chose one from the guidebook). After dinner, we encountered an interesting music band that was wandering the streets of the old town, called the Lemon Bucket Orchestra. Their members were from all over Eastern Europe. Then we all crashed once we returned to the hotel, exhausted from the day. We were pleased that in the end, Bucharest was much better than we thought, although we're excited to move onto Transylvania tomorrow.
So in sum: 1) romania is super cheap you can easily spend less than 10 bucks on a multicourse dinner, 20 bucks on a hotel room (we paid 56 euros for all 3 of us for the European chain Ibis). 2) Bucharest, not that great. Go for a half a day just to see what the capital is about and then get the BEEP out!
There are more photos below