We were in search of a communist experience with a modern twist and Bucharest delivered on the brief. Romania wasn’t somewhere I thought I’d ever travel to in my lifetime, but thanks to a suggestion from Liz we arrived on a Thursday in mid-20 degree heat. After a quick change into shorts and jandals (Henry had worked up a sweat navigating the roads of Bucharest), we were into our first Romanian meal, lunch, consisting of the local brew, a good slab of meat and polenta. The beer was going down easily and there were murmurings of no touring, but myself and Henry, being the tour leaders, led the crew out of the garden bar and onto the chaotic streets of Bucharest. 21 hours remaining.
Leaving hotel Dalin at the southern end of the city centre we headed toward Parliament Palace – the second largest building in the world, after the Pentagon. The 1,100 room palace was constructed during the reign of Ceaușescu (crazy communist leader) and is effectively a product of his ego. The site on which it sits was cleared by Ceausescu, demolishing churches (23), synagogues (6) and apparently 30,000 residential buildings. Fair to say the building wasn’t looked upon by the locals as a positive thing for the city.
We didn’t venture inside for a tour (other priorities were calling), but I’m sure it would have been just as impressive inside as it was outside. We took a few obligatory photo’s and then headed onto the historic part of the city.
Walking the Streets of Bucharest
Bucharest feels very Eastern. Communist style bloc’s, parks with stray dogs wandering around and government buildings which stand out from the rest. “Commie Atmos”, as defined by Liam, was delivered to us in bucket loads. We spent the good part of an hour just wandering through the streets looking at communist era residential buildings, there was no question why they were built – to house people – they certainly weren’t built to look good. At the same time, there were strong signs that the west was starting to creep in; huge display advertising for popular European brands. It’s a city that’s going to show less and less of it’s past as they move toward a more western society and economy.
One of the more popular interests, while on the walking tour, was to round up pigeons and try to get them to fly at Liam (who has a phobia). It certainly provided Liam with another thing to think about, although he normally just wailed at Dionne for her to protect him – that sort of behaviour coupled with the shoes he was wearing didn’t do too much for his case as a male. Eye-ree managed to find himself right at home as we passed the Romanian Institute of Statistics, don’t think I saw him smile as much as when he was outside the building. The rest of the afternoon went by without too much trouble, the lads started to moan a bit about the tour not including stops for beer, so Henry and I took the reigns and quickly diverted to the local hot spots.
We started on the early evening beers at a bar we’d read plenty about, Caru de Bere, an old school bar in the historic quarter – it lived up to it’s reputation. We managed to get a 9 seater table out on the cobbled lane to soak up the last of the evening sun. Inside was impressive, high ceilings, murals on the walls and an old fashioned styled bar. The main attraction at Caru de Bere, for us, were the 1 litre beers – costing 19 Lei, the equivalent of £3.80. It’s fair to say we made the most of the prices, putting away a couple of steins in pretty quick succession.
Next up was an area in the centre of the city that consisted of a couple of lanes, stacked with bars and restaurants. The place was humming with people, not what we’d expected, chairs out on the lane and open air bars. Liam, Dionne and I got pretty carried away and headed straight for a bar called Freddo – getting a sofa inside that looked out over the lane. Vodka shots (Ruskie style) and beer were ordered multiple times and the night kicked on hard. The rest of the team managed to get a proper meal into them, but were soon sitting with us getting caught up in the festivities. Liam did his best to make friends with the locals, who didn’t seem to warm to his hitting them on the arm and rambling something in a thick kiwi accent. We did get to the, much talked about (only by Liam), ‘Oktoberfest Pub’, but this was over hyped compared to Freddo. Beer didn’t get more expensive than £1 – £1.50 for a pint and Vodka was about the same, needless to say we went well into the night.
The next morning was spent recovering, taking on-board liquids and trying to find somewhere for breakfast. We ended up find a corner cafe near where we’d been out the night before. Like most of the bars and cafe’s in Romania, it was a smokey affair as locals lit up their cigarettes inside, with no windows open…We pushed on through the smoke and inhaled coffee, omelettes and toasted sandwiches, in preparation for our drive north to Brasov. By the time we got back to the van we were in a much better state and Henry was quite sure that he was fine to drive. We took off in the van, made an early wrong turn, the sat nav fell off the windscreen which resulted in an impromptu u-turn over the tram tracks to head back in the right direction. An interesting start but with co-drivers Fry (Coup Leader) and O’Donnell (Captain), Henry was confident on our direction. Next stop Brasov.
Tourist Sites vs Local Lifestyle
Admittedly we missed a few sites which we had planned to tick off, including the National Art Museum, Jewish History Museum, Romanian Athenaeum and the Stavropoleos Church. All featured as good spots to visit on Lonely Planet and Trip Advisor. To be honest, making the most of the sunshine, warmth and getting stuck into the local lifestyle served as a better way to spend our time in Bucharest than go around ticking off the list. Don’t miss feeling the vibe of this up and coming city.