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February 17th 2011
Published: March 22nd 2011EDIT THIS ENTRY


After freaking out in Hungary, I was pleasantly suprised to find a much higher level of English on arriving in Bucharest. It made me think how spoilt we are as English speakers. We can travel almost anywhere and find people who can communicate in our mother tongue. Something I have taken and continue to take for granted. With Hungarian being one of the only languages in Europe that doesn't fall into the Indo-European language group, it must be alot harder for them to learn English than other Europeans. Mind you Finnish falls into the Uralic language group that Hungarian belongs to and they seem to speak English fairly well. But then there's the difference in the education system. In any case I was in Hungary, so the principal problem lay with me not having learnt Hungarian. A language that would truly be difficult to learn for an English speaker. By the by, Hungary is the only place in Europe I have been where I understood nothing they said and they understood nothing I said.

Anyway the first thing I did when I arrived in Bucharest was change my money. Stupidly I did this at the train station, losing 30 Euro on changing 150 Euro, a rather large commission. I had asked a Romanian if the exchange rate was the same at the train station as outside and she had said yes, she thought so. But I should have clicked that a student who had never travelled before, would never have had the need to change money and hence no idea about exchange rates.

After that transaction, a few of the vultures at this trainstation had clicked that there was a stupid tourist about and I had become fair game. A scam artist or worse who spoke almost fluent English asked me what I was looking for. I told him the tourist information centre, he said come outside, it's just around the corner. I had almost bought it, when on arriving outside he said to me it was a good thing that I was wary as there are a lot of gypsies about and if he were a tourist he would be the same. I then said goodbye, walked back inside and found the tourist information centre. God knows what would have happened had I taken the bait, but that guy was too smooth for his own good. The lady told me there wasn't any tourist information center around the corner in any case.

I had planned to walk to my new couch surf arranged accommodation but after a few more vultures had approached me, I decided it best that I take the subway. There was a line of about 50 people waiting to purchase tickets when I arrived, so I pulled out my map to see just how far the walk was. On doing this a nice man approached me and asked if he could help me, I told him I needed to get to such and such address. He said come with me, took me to the subway and went half way there with me. He also refused that I pay him my fare for the subway. He was a priest and talked to me about some of the religious history in the area. A good guy.

When I got to the couchsurfing place, I managed to get stuck in a tiny elevator, until I figured out that the manually open and shut door had become loose. So I put everything back in place and finally reached my destination. I spent the next two days acquainting myself with Bucharest and hanging out with a Guatemalan guy who is living with his gf in Bucharest. I had my own room there which was great and I got introduced to Romanian food which was greater.

After two days there I walked half way across the city to stay with a new host who has over 80 videos on youtube showing various nightclubs in Bucharest. I figured that staying with her on Friday and Saturday night would be a good call...

It turned out to be a very good call with my own room in a penthouse apartment, my accomodation. She is actually also opening her own tourism agency so was a wealth of information on Bucharest and Romania and by the time I had left she had planned the next week or two of my trip.

The only issue I had had was getting to her house, where on taking what I thought was a cool photo, of police cars parked in front of a graffitti splattered wall, a 'plainclothes' policeman with a 'policebadge' approached me and asked me to delete the photo. After I had deleted the photo, he proceeded to look through all of my photos. After about the 200th photo of a church wall, I asked him for my camera back as I was starting to get an uneasy feeling.

He kept on looking at my church wall photos and that was when I started to think of how I was gonna get out of this situation. I was pretty sure he wasn't a cop, it was mid afternoon with a lot of people around and I was right next to the main road, so first things first, I wasn't going anywhere with him which I was sure was what his game would be. Fortunately with my thousands of church wall photos he wasn't going to find anything there to justify me going with him.

My dilemma was that i had my backpack on which was gonna severly hinder any attempt to run and if I socked the guy and he actually turned out to be a cop it was really gonna turn into a nightmare. So I was in one of those situations where your fight or flight system kicks in and you cant obey your instincts. Much the same feeling as when you work in an office and your boss is laying into you. You want to smack him but you can't and it wouldn't be too productive if you ran away, so you end up just feeling this gross feeling of ineptitude. That was kind of how I was feeling as this 'cop' gripped my arm with rather too much force for my liking.

Anyway I decided on a half way solution, I was going to walk away, across the main road and if they wanted to do anything they were going to have to do it in front of a lot of people. Luckily for me as I shook my arm from his grip, an old lady, I will call her super granny came to the rescue. She started yelling at them in Romanian, taking their attention, at which point I exited with haste. Thank you super granny!!!

While staying with my new host, we met other couchsurfers, a guy who works for google and was doing a presentation in Bucharest and sampled some of Bucharest's fantastic nightlfe. The highlight for me however was the excellent restauraunts and food we had while in Bucharest. She took me and the google man I had befriended to two Romanian resauraunts that would rank among the best I have been to in my life.

The first one we went to had traditional decor and we timed our arrival with an introduction of the waitors ceremony or something of the like. All of the waitors and waitresses did a circuit of the restauraunt doing a kind of dance to some traditional romanian music while the restauraunt's guests clapped in unision and sang songs. After that they had some professional dancers put on a performance, which finished in time for us to be given a table, the best 40m wait I have had! Fortunately the food matched the pre-eating entertainment and a great night was had by all.

When we had arrived at the restauraunt we had parked up and had met a group of gypsies. They had asked as is customary for money to look after the car. Basically if you don't pay the fear is that they will rob and or damage your car. In the process one of the gypsy kids attempted to pickpocket one of the Romanian sisters. The Portuguese guys we were with got quite staunch with them and then we went to the restauraunt.

On leaving the restauraunt we were driving home when what sounded like a gun shot rang our ear drums and the rear windowscreen exploded. For apparently no reason the rare windowscreen had shattered, there were no stones nothing. It looked as though the seals on the side of the windowscreen had melted away. On googling possible causes, it appears that it happens quite often and that most people think it has to do with temperature differences or faulty glass. I guess god only knows, but it was a pretty random and scary happening.

The next restauraunt we went to was another traditional Romanian restauraunt but this time on the outskirts of Bucharest. Therefore it wasnt touristy at all, which meant that there were no English menus and it was a bit cheaper than the restauraunt the night before had been. There was also a Romanian wedding party taking place which was great to observe. They definitely weren't holding back.

Another highlight in Bucharest was Palatul Parlamentului or The Palace of Parliament. An absolutely amazing building whose principal driving force was the ego of Ceausescu. It is the second biggest office building in the world just after the Pentagon when it comes to the number of square meters. You can do a tour of the building which although kitchy is fantastic. It is pretty overwhelming to when you consider that after the 2 hour tour you have seen less than 5 per cent of the known building. There are many rumours that Ceausescu built an underground complex and passage ways to enable himself to escape or cross the city should the need arise...

On a personal note, I started up running in Bucharest again, a long time between drinks. My first run in snowfall was thoroughly enjoyable and saw me discover some rather large and beautiful parks in a city that is otherwise not so appealing to the eye. The only problem with running that I had was the amount of stray dogs hanging around. The Bucharest city guide in English divulged some rather disturbing facts. Namely that 76 people a day are attacked by stray dogs a day in Bucharest and that 3 weeks before I arrived there, an elderly lady was mauled to death by a gang of stray dogs. What was noticeable for me was that unlike other places where I have been with stray dogs, in Bucharest they roam around the city centre, so if you have a dog phobia I would recommend taking the relatively cheap taxis!!!!

I went and saw a ballet on the recommendation of Andrew (googleman) at the national theater in Bucharest. It was performed to Radiohead which is one of my favourite bands (I have a lot) and was suprisingly good. Definitely a good introuduction to ballet for me.

One more memorable moment - when I was hanging out with the Guatemalan, we happened across an old Jewish synagogue. We had to hand over our passports to get inside due to previous attacks at the synagogue. We talked to a lady who described the history of the Jews in Bucharest. It was frankly amazing to see the numbers of the Jewish population in Bucharest before and after the second world war - incredible....

It was also sad for me to see the defensive behaviour that some Jews exhibit on display in Bucharest, a way of behaving I had first observed with Israelis in South America. I am not sure if it is out of necessity or paranoia, but the belief that xenephobia is returning against Jews amongst Jews is definitely very strong. Given their history you can't blame them for feeling this way, but at the same time I think that this attitute could be counterproductive to reducing the anti-semitism out there. De todas maneras it was very interesting to visit the museum and to learn about some more of Europes rather disturbing recent history...

So my summary for Bucharest would be very crazy but very good.... Next step Transylvania

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