Romania is certainly not the most popular country to visit in Europe. Stories about the poverty and corruption are well known and people look surprised when I tell them I am going on this trip. I didn’t really have Bucharest as a high priority on my list of capitals that I would like to visit. But I did some reading up and it certainly is a country with a lot of interesting history and the people are a proud folk.
A taxi ride to the city
When I arrived to the city’s 2nd airport named Henri Cuanda (the inventor of the jet engine) I decide I want to get to the city as quick as possible, so I walk out to get a taxi. Taxi’s seem to be the most common way of transportation in Bucharest. After asking for the price of a taxi ride into the city to the first taxi guy, I tell him that’s too expensive straight away, and I walk around the block to the next to ask again -if I do get ripped off I don’t want to feel too stupid- and this taxi driver confirms that it really is about 80 Lei to get to my apartment in the city centre.
My taxi driver’s name is Nikolai. This older gentleman starts to speak a couple of words in German to me and tries to talk with me on the 30 minute drive by shouting words at me like “politik”, “korrupt” and I try to sound friendly to compliment his driving style by saying “Schumacher” (which I say to most taxi drivers in Eastern Europe to make conversation, they always give a chuckle). He tells me he is 3 months away from his pension. So I sure hope he’ll survive his driving style before he gets to his pension but at least as long as I am in his car. Else he warns me about 5000 taxi drivers in Bucharest are “pirati” and I should be very careful with what taxi I get in to. I pay 80 Lei to Nikolai. Funny. Later that week I get a taxi back to the airport. This costs me 35 Lei. I guess Nikolai is secretly the king of the taxi Pirati’s.
After I arrive to the apartment and drop my stuff, I know I can go to a football match of the number 1 team in Romania, Steaua, I found out they play that evening. On google maps I found the stadium. It’s a 4,5 kilometre walk that will take me an hour. I do feel like going for a walk especially as I have this sudden fear of getting into taxi’s as well.
It’s a cold evening, the route takes me through some desolate streets and suburbs, with gray buildings. And it’s a lot of manoeuvring over sidewalks, where there are lots of broken tiles – or no tiles – and especially holes in the ground to avoid. On the way I run into two different people who I ask if I’m on the right way. Both these people can’t help me. One asks me “Steaua? Which sport?” When I say “football, ofcourse” he doesn’t have a clue, about anything. The other guy a couple of blocks further down the road tells me there are 4 stadiums for Steaua football in the city, and surely I am walking the wrong way. But the right way he cannot tell me either. I am stubborn and focussed so I proceed on my route. After 50 minutes of walking I see the big lights of the stadium deeming in the distance. I found it! I am getting excited. This will be fun!
When I approach the gate there are 2 military guards who tell me I cannot go in. I tell them I came from Holland,I just flew in and I walked 4,5 kilometres because of the pirate taxi’s in their city. Can’t they please let me in? “No way”, they say, the match has no attendees because of some kind of ruling by the football association. Oh my. That is bad for me. I meet a guy from Malmö, Bogdan, who is formerly Romanian military and had to defend Ceaucescu’s government as a 18 year old guy. We both try to get in in a diplomatic way, but the military police is like talking to a wall. They say no and no seems to stay no. Bogdan gives up after half an hour. And I decide I’ll just get a taxi back to the city. Bogdan tells me it is really safe. The taxi guy I walk up to doesn’t look like a pirate. Later I ask another taxi guy and I hear Steaua won with 2-0. Well. That’s really really good and I am proud I almost saw them play.
The 4 days that I was in Bucharest I used AirBnB again. I love this concept. For sure not every experience is good, but 8 out of 10 are. And it’s way better if I can help a Bucharest person by renting their place, they usually try to make an extra effort, and I like putting some money in their pocket instead of going to a more expensive international chain of hotels. This way I really get to feel the real city much more. Walking around in authentic neighborhoods, untouched by masses of tourists, I always appreciate a lot.
I buy my groceries in a typical small corner store, where they hardly speak English. Prizes always amaze me in Eastern Europe. A couple of beers, some fruits, cookies, meat, other snacks. All for little more than 6 euro. I put them in the fridge. That’s one of the perks of having a whole apartment, and it’s close to the center, and that all for a rent of 22 euro per night. The only thing – my mattress came to life at night, where I would feel a spring coming up and pushing me in my chest. That can be the surprising fun of AirBnB!
Night life in smoke
In the city I chose to go into the first nice place I find. I don’t like the freezing cold. And wow, I could not have found a better place. Caru Cu Bere I walk in, this is also known as Carul cu Bere; “the beer wagon” and it is a bar and restaurant in the Lipscani district, in a gothic revival building designed by Austrian architect Siegfrid Kofczinsky, in 1899. It is noted for its interior decoration, in Art nouveau style. And people I spoke told me it is the number one bar in Romania to hang out.
Inside I meet an Austrian guy (not sure if he’s family of Kofczinsky, I didn’t ask), his first name is Thomas, whom I share a table on the balcony with and I order a beer and some real Romanian dinner. As a bonus while we sit, there is lively music and from time to time there are dancers on the ground floor that provide extra entertainment. A very nice evening it turns out to be!
When I go to a different club much later in the “Old Town” with Thomas and a group of English we meet on the way there, walking in this club is horrific because of it being blue with smoke and all people seem to be smoking. I decide to leave right away and find my bed and say a friendly good-bye to Thomas. It seems smoking is very popular in Romania unfortunately and almost every club or baris filled with a thick curtain of smoke. Pretty disgusting, but fine for them if they like it, I’ll find better places to hang out a different night…
There are also some real fancy places with old fashioned hospitality in Bucharest. They’re called casino’s(!) and they are all over the city. I decide to go into a casino another night. I am welcomed by some very nice hospitality ladies and the games are cheap to begin with. And that’s enough fun for me as also the drinks are free and sometimes the hospitality ladies hold you company as you play. They claim to be the only 7 star Casino in the world. To me the atmosphere I would like to describe as a 1930’s New Orleans restaurant – I have never been to one, but I do hope my readers have imagination for the classy feeling I am trying to sketch…
Overall I had a great couple of days in Bucharest! I will definitely put it in my top 10 list so far of European Capitals I have visited.