I know this is a little after the event, but I want to talk about the trip I took to Bucharest. For a number of reasons I was not able to post about it at the time but I am still eager to showcase this wonderful city and the people of Romania.
The country gets a bad press in the UK and I can guarantee that if you were to take a poll, the majority of the UK people would have a negative view of Romania, despite probably knowing nothing about the country.
March 11th was a busy day. It started in Sheffield where I set off to London for a business meeting with Ioana. After the meeting we had a few hours to kill in London and ended up doing some shopping before getting the Thames Link to Luton airport.
The flight departed at 21:40 and by the time we were in the air, I was exhausted. I had not had the best few days sleep in the build up to this trip and I was running on adrenaline. Once the plane had levelled out and the first round of refreshments had been served I could not keep my eyes open. It was physically painful to try and stay awake and despite my best efforts I drifted off.
It was almost 3am local time when we landed at Otopeni airport in Bucharest and so the airport was very quiet, although there were a few duty free shops open. There was only a short wait for our luggage and then we used a cool taxi ordering service through a computer in the terminal. It prints out a ticket with the number of your car and then you simply wait a couple of minutes for it to arrive.
I don’t remember a huge amount of the car journey to the hotel as I was exhausted and running on autopilot. The hotel was a little disappointing, although we would only be staying there for this night and the following night, and by the time we arrived on the first night it was actually about 5am. The room first appeared decent but being only a few meters from reception there was a lot of noise. Also, the air conditioning was broken and with the windows being unaccessible even to staff, the room quickly felt like an oven.
We had an early start the following morning as we were being picked up by Ioana’s younger brother Vlad, who would be driving us to the family home in Snagov. We walked across from the hotel to Cişmigiu Park. I must admit that my first morning in Bucharest was not that fantastic. I had only had about three hours sleep and I was coming down with a cold. I was in desperate need of coffee and I was very nervous about meeting Ioana’s parents. However, the park was nice. Cişmigiu Park is spacious with a large lake with plenty of wildlife. There was not much to see in terms of the plants and trees as nothing had really started to bloom, but you could tell that once spring and summer come around it would be a really nice park to relax in.
We had a little walk around the area and Ioana showed me the People’s Palace from a distance and I could already see the scale of the building. For those of you that don’t know, it’s the third most massive building in the world and the second largest administrative building in the world. In short, it’s a huge building.
As we ventured a little further away from the hotel we stumbled across a cafe called The Coffee Factory. It was really nice inside as you will see from my pictures on this post. It was also excellent coffee and very reasonably priced, which is another point about Romania; the British Pound is very strong and gives you a good amount of spending power.
The drive to Snagov was fascinating for me as I was finally able to see the Romanian countryside in daylight. The main thing that struck me was how far into the distance the horizon was. I’m a proud Yorkshireman and our great country is full of hills and so there are few places we can see miles of flatland into the distance. It might seem like a simple thing, but in all my travels I have never really noticed a horizon that seemed so far away.
The drive into the country also revealed another aspect of Romania. Bucharest, being the capital, has many of the things you would expect from a major European capital, like the brand names, the transport infrastructure and a similar demographic breakdown. The countryside was peaceful with a scattering of little houses, huts and cabins. There is still a deep rooted sense of rural living in parts of Romania where people have lived the same way of life for generations.
Snagov village is one of several villages in the Snagov commune, of which the total population is around six thousand. The village of Snagov is still developing. Ioana tells me that when their house was built they had spare land on all sides and the area was fairly empty. Over the years though, much of the land has been bought and many new houses have been built. This prompted her family to buy some of the adjacent land to stop it being built on.
I’m not going to talk too much about Ioana’s family home, as it’s a private matter. All I will say is that her family showed me hospitality and were very courteous and welcoming. After a few hours of food and conversation, Vlad drove us back to Bucharest. By this time it was early evening and we had a walk further into the city. Although I have travelled fairly widely, it has always been in familiar places like the US and Western Europe. Romania is by far the furthest East I’ve travelled but the people are just like us. Yes, there are some cultural differences but the similarities are greater than many would have you think if you did not know much about Romania.
In the nine years I have been with Ioana I have met a number of other Romanians. In all Romanians I have met I have sensed a strong sense of national pride coupled with an almost contradictory sense of dissatisfaction. The consensus I have witnessed is that many Romanians believe their country has the potential to be more than it is. There is also a feeling of frustration at the perception they believe their country has within the wider world.
The city itself is beautiful in places, but quite grim in other parts. Bucharest is definitely a city that is developing and it is clear to see that money is pouring into this economy. I don’t know how much money is coming from outside the country and how much is from internal investment, but throughout Bucharest there is building work and new shopping malls being built. The brand Mega Image is a frequent sight as you drive through the city. The best way to describe it is as a Romanian counter to our Tesco, but with much better quality of produce. On the last day in Bucharest Ioana’s parents took us shopping to one of the flagship stores of Mega Image and it was immense. I have some pictures on this post and they should give you a glimpse into the quality.
As I was talking about the Saturday evening in Bucharest I would like to talk about the restaurant we ate at. It was called Caru’ cu bere and is serves traditional Romanian food. The atmosphere was like nothing I’ve experienced before. The restaurant had the ground floor and a large basement. The place was packed and we were shown a table in the basement. It was very loud and lively. There was a live band playing traditional folk music and there was an entertainer moving from table to table with two exotic live birds that he would place on people’s shoulders and then take photos. The only thing I didn’t like was the smoking, although since the trip Romania has brought into a force a similar law to prevent smoking in public places as we have here in the UK.
The food was very good. We had two salads to start with; a tomato and brânza (Romanian cheese), and a cabbage, dill and vinegar salad. For main, we had chicken schnitzel and rosemary potatoes. The food was all fresh and basic, but in a good way. It was simple, hearty and fresh food and we were both full. We also shared two large bottles of still water. The final bill was around £20. With the exchange rate and strength of the pound this was a fantastic price. We left a generous tip; about 25% and left to head back to the hotel. The meal was exhausting because of the atmosphere but it was a happy exhaustion.
One thing I have not mentioned about the meal is that as we were having our starters the staff started pouring out of the kitchen, all clapping and singing in unison. As they wound their way around the tables until the kitchen had emptied they continued to clap. Once they were all out they thanked the diners for their custom and wished everyone a happy evening. They then took a bow and returned to work. I can honestly say I have never seen anything like it.
On Sunday, our final day, we took a stroll towards the People’s Palace to have a proper look. Again, the place is huge. We took a walk down the Unirii Bulevard where there are lots of fountains and little gardens. We were going to be picked up by Ioana’s family and visit the Peasant Museum which gives an insight into Romanian culture going back hundreds of years. Ioana’s father showed me a pottery drinks vessel that used to be given to the family of the woman whom the man wanted to marry. It was a part of asking for the father’s permission and symbolised that the woman would go from the care of her family to the care of her husband. I still need to find out where I can buy one.
The visit to the museum was fairly brief as we had a table booked for lunch at a seafood restaurant on the lake at Herăstrău Park called Cherhanaua Ancora. The restaurant was ok. There was not much of an atmosphere or ambiance. The food, again, was ok. We had a variety of dishes that we shared for starters and for my main I had Dover sole. The staff were good enough to offer to fillet the fish for me. I’ve done this myself when eating Dover sole but I didn’t want to cause any fuss at the table and so I accepted their offer. The fish was very nice and cooked perfectly.
After leaving the restaurant we were taken to the huge Mega Image store I mentioned earlier. The store was about the size of the old SavaCentre in Meadowhall, Sheffield. Ioana’s family purchased us a lot of different cheeses, dried food and four bottles of good quality wine as gifts for my parents. After a short stop in Snagov we were driven to the airport. In total we were in Romania for around 37 hours.
When we landed in Luton we still had a long journey back to Sheffield to complete. We had arranged, through a friend, for a Romanian man to drive us back. We got in the car and within fifteen minutes were both asleep. I woke a little before Ioana and found we were only a few miles out of Sheffield. We finally made it bed a little after 1am and were in work a few hours later. It was one of the most bizarre, tiring and rewarding weekends of my life.
Critic. Writer. Thinker. Observer. Creator of nowwelive.com.