Bucharest, Romania – First of Six Cities
Our trip began in the capital of Romania, Bucharest, a sprawling metropolis (largest city in south-west Europe with a population of 2 million) where the romantic charm of the Centrul Vechi (‘old town’) sits awkwardly in contrast to the communist-era edifices of the former dictator Nicolae Ceaușescu.
Here I was able to start off in Romanian at the airport topping up my Romanian prepay SIM with enough credit for our 2 days in the city and directing our taxi driver to the address of our apartment near to the Centrul Vechi.
Map of flight path from Paris to Bucharest
At the airport, we took the taxi from the departures and not arrivals in order to avoid any unscrupulous taxi drivers looking to charge unwitting tourists exorbitant rates to the centre.
En route, Tatiana, whose apartment I was renting, calls to make sure that we have the right address. Tatiana being from Moldova speaks to me in Russian: ‘Привет Конор! Вы еще на такси?’ ‘Да, приедем через 15 минут. Хорошо?’ I reply. The Romanian taxi driver seems confused.
Dracula costumes in Bucharest
‘Domneavostra sunteți din Rusia?’ he enquires. ‘Nu. Sunt din Irlanda și prieten meu din America dar vorbim limba română și limba rusă.’ The taxi driver seems unconvinced by my explanation and casts us a wary glance.
‘Unde mergeți după București?’ he prods. ‘Moldova și Uncraina’ I answer laconically. ‘De ce Moldova și Ucraina?’ he asks incredulously. ‘Turism’ I reply tersely. Our driver shakes his head disbelievingly and decides not to enquire any further as to our intentions in the region.
The Casa Poporului or Palatul Parlamentului (‘People’s Palace’) is an architectural curiosity in Bucharest. Built by communist dictator Ceaușescu, using only material sourced in Romania, the building is the biggest in Europe at 350,000 m2 and also includes a series of tunnels.
The new Cărturești Carusel Bookshop (photo added in 2016)
The historic centre of Bucharest is packed with tons of cafes, restaurants and bars. The legendary Caru’ cu Bere (‘Beer Cart’) restaurant is a must for tourists wishing to sample local cuisine. The stunning neo-gothic interior and tasty traditional dishes such as sarmale (rice and meat wrapped in cabbage), ciorbă (soup) and chiftele (meatballs) offer a great introduction to culinary Romania.
The nightlife can be electric at clubs like Gaia and Fratelli and Moldovan run bars like Sankt Petersburg and Deja Vu provide a friendly atmosphere and the opportunity to order in either Romanian or Russian. A foretaste of what awaited us in Moldova itself. Plus ordering there in Russian got me plenty of free shots. 😉