Typical architecture style in Bucharest.
â€žWhy Bucharest? What the hell do you hope to see in Bucharest?â€œ were the questions I usually heard from people I told that Iâ€™m going there for 3 days. From different sides I heard that thereâ€™s nothing special about the Romanian capital. Nevertheless, Iâ€™m a traveller and Iâ€™m a curious one. I wanted to see by myself if Bucharest is as boring as everybody means. Skyeurope was offering cheap flights from Vienna and 2 of my friends were ready to join me as well. My Swedish friend Dan and my Finnish ex-college Karri, both work and live in Bratislava at the moment.
The only problem was the time of the departure.
..6:20 early morning. The Vienna airport is maybe 45km from Bratislava and there are several bus connections a day, but...the first one leaves at 5am arriving at 6am. We were quite lucky that my father suddenly agreed to drive us. Poor guy, he had to pick us up at 4am on a Friday. To make it at least easier for him I asked Dan and Karri to stay the night before in my apartement so he wouldnâ€˜t have to pick u sup one by one.
Dan in front of an interesting statue.
What can I say, the night before our flight was a damned short night. One of the reasons was of course as well that we didnâ€™t manage to get earlier to bed then at 11pm.
At the Vienna airport we bought something little for breakfast and went to our gate.
We realized quickly that most of the people around us spoke Romanian, Bucharest is not really a touristic destination. The flight was fine, I slept the biggest part o fit, haha.
Right before the landing we could see a bit of Bucharest from the window, mostly communistic looking apartement houses. I come from a former communistic country so I didnâ€™t really expect much else. We have this sort of buildings in Slovakia as well.
What we noticed after getting out from the plane before taking the bus that would bring us to the terminal, there were lots of small unfinished family houses around the airport area we could see through the fence.
Karri joked around that probably they started to build without any specific plans and realized too late that living just next to a landing platform might be not such a good idea, haha.
Me and Dan.
The airport we landed at is called Baneasa and is much smaller then the main one of Bucharest. Actually itâ€™s pretty tiny.
It was 9am already. The flight wasnâ€™t that long, but Romania is already 1 hour ahead of Central Europe, so we had to adjust our watches. Before we came I made a reservation at the Butterfly Villa Hostel and they had on their homepage a description how to get to them. There was the advice not to listen to the guys offering a taxi drive asi t could get really pricey, up to 50 EUR.
We could have asked the hostel to come to pick u sup for 10 EUR, but we prefered the adventureos way...taking the bus. According to the information from the hostel website we were supposed to take bus number 205, we just had to find the stop. Before leaving the airport Karri withdrew from an ATM some Romanian Lei, the local currency. I had some euros with me I planned to exchange, but I knew that the exchange rate on airports is usually the worst one in the whole city. And as Karri has some lei already, we had no problems to buy bus tickets. By the way, Roamanian banknotes are quite unusual. They are not made of paper as everywhere else but from some sort of plastic. This way they donâ€™t get damaged so easily.
To find the right bus stop wasnâ€™t as easy as we expected. There was one in front of the airport, but not for bus number 205.
I asked a street vendor showing him the bus number on a peace of paper and he showed us the way. But we had to cross a very busy street first. Trying to get to the other side of a street not using a crossing seemed to be pretty dangerous in Bucharest, the drivers were just crazy. I mean, we managed anyway, but it was more then a risky challenge, hahaha. Round the corner we found the bus stop and even the number was 205 was written on a little shield. Great. We just didnâ€™t see where to buy bus tickets, but we hoped we could get them in the bus. Well, we were wrong. The bus arrived and we saw inside only the little machines to unvalidate the tickets. Anyway, we decided to take the risk. What we didnâ€™t expect was that our risky ride would take only 2 stops as we took the bus to the wrong directions, aaaarrrrggghhh, hahaha. When we saw everybody getting out we realized that this might be the final stop for 205.
Traffic in Bucharest.
We crossed the street and got to the next 205 stop again. I was quite sure that we would have to wait at least 10 minutes for the next bus, so we decided to walk along the road to find a place to buy bus tickets. Couple of minutes later we got to the crossing next to the airport again. We werenâ€™t even sure where the next bus stop direction city center was. This was taking too much time, so I asked Dan to try to find our stop and me and Karri went to get some bus tickets. We crossed the street again, but this time using a crossing. Soon I discovered the place where we could get bus tickets, there was a queue of people in front of a desk. One bus ticket cost 1,30 Lei. Maybe I should mention that the official rate we found out later was 1 EUR = 3,67 Lei. The prices in Romania are generally quite low. We got back to our meeting point where Dan was already waiting. Unfortunatly he couldnâ€™t find the bus stop for 205, there was one stop just few meters ahead but for other buses.
There was a police car standing next to the crossing and I decided to give it a chance and to ask a policeman. And guess what...he spoke really good English and showed us where to go. Sometimes you just have to give it a try and it works, hahaha. Few mintes later we were waiting at the right stop for bus 205...and there it was. In the information from the hostel was written that we should get off on the second station AFTER we see the Arc de Triumph. Right, like the one in Paris. Unfortunatly the Romanian one was covered up as it was under reconstruction. Well, coming back to that description...I donâ€™t really think itâ€™s that clear. After we discovered the Arc de Triumph we waited till we passed the next stop and got off at the next one. Unfortunatly we seemed to be wrong. I had a map printed from the hostel homepage and Karri printed one from another website before coming as well. The problem was they were both worse then bad.
People killed by the revolution in 1989 when the communism fell down.
We knew that we had to get somehow to a main street called â€žIon Michalacheâ€œ, but we had no idea which direction we sgould walk. I asked a guy passing by, but he spoke only some bad Italian. I had one semester of Italian in my previous company, I wasnâ€™t really able to speak it, understood enough though thanks to my Spanish. Anyway, somehow we understood each other and he showed us the right direction. We started walking and hoped to hit the â€žIon Michalacheâ€œ street sooner or later. To loose our doubts we asked a young lady we met on the way (she spoke a bit of English), but she adviced us to go back and to take the tram. Hmmm...little bit confusing. We walked around and stopped by an embassy of some Scandinavian country (probably Norway). The guardians here were really nice and helpfull. They discussed everything between each other untill a guy joined them who knew exactly where to go. Uffff, we were lucky.
Monument for the people killed during the revolution in 1989.
This guy didnâ€™t only know how to get to â€žIon Michalacheâ€œ, he even knew which direction we should turn to get to the street â€žDumitru Zosimaâ€œ where our hostel was located. Little bit later we arrived at a little market which was marked on the map I had from the hostelâ€™s website. From now on we were safe, hahaha. On the way we discovered even an exchange office and I exchanged 60 Euros into Lei. The same Dan. Couple of minutes later we turned into the â€žDumitru Zosimaâ€œ street. According to the map the hostel had to be on the end. That the map was wrong became obvious when we were approaching the end of the street, no hostel at all. I searched again between my papers and found suddenly the house number 82. We had to walk to whole street back, aaaarrrrggghhh.
From this building the communist dictator Ceaucescu fled in a hellicopter when things started to be bad for him.
But there we were, the â€žButterfly Villaâ€œ hostel.
It was a nice white 2 floors building with a little patio in front of it. The girl at the reception was really nice, spoke great Engsish and seemed to be funny as well. We filled out the registartion form and payed 24 euros each for 2 nights in dormitory beds. Then the girl showed us around the house and leaded us to our beds. Everything looked clean and nice, the internet access (2 PCs), video games and breakfast were supposed to be free.
My friend Karri helding hands.
We brought our stuff into our room, took a little rest and decided to go for our first sightseeing. The weather was great (around 16-18 C) and we were really in a mood to go out, though we were still a bit sleepy. We got a locker for our bags and a city map with some tips at the reception and left.
Believe it or not, the map I got at the hostel was as bad as the previous ones.
I mean, I could manage to get us to the center, but anything concerning exact locations was pretty hard to find here.
Before going to the center we decided first to make a stop at the market to buy something small to eat. Nothing special, just some bread with cheese. We started walking the â€žIon Michalacheâ€œ direction center. We could have taken the bus or a tram, but we werenâ€™t in a hurry and we wanted to have time to discover what the â€žcommonâ€œ Bucharest is about as well.
Weid combination of new and old.
Bucharest is a big city with a population of about 2.2 million and not the best image in the world. I saw in the past a couple of documentaries about homeless street kids, stray dogs and lots of gypsi families begging on the streets. But honestly...we didnâ€™t see anything of this here. OK, some extrem lazy dogs were lying around, but they seemed clean and well feaded. What we noticed on the other hand was the chaotic parking of the cars. There seeemed to be no real parking places so the drivers parked wherever it was possible. Walking around we saw a lot of beautifull buildings which were run down, often they just needed some paint on their facades. One of the first big city monuments we discovered was at the â€žPiata Revolutieiâ€œ, the â€žRevolution Squareâ€œ. To its north we could see the massive â€žRoyal Palaceâ€œ, a official royal residence from 1834 even if the facade you see nowadays is much newer.
Few meters ahead we aarived at the white-stone building of the former Central Committee of the Communist Party. From its balcony the dictator and last Romanian communist leader Nicolae Ceaucescu hold his last speech. Opposite of it was the Cretulescu Church. We followed the main street and reached suddenly the old town. We were pretty hungry, so we decided to make a little stop and eat something. Walking around we suddenly discovered the shield of a restaurant where the prices seemed to be moderate. We walked down the stairs and there it was. Looked pretty simple but not too bad, And we seemed to be the only foreigners, good, hahaha. We asked the waitress if she could speak English, but she answered that she speaks French only. No problem. I took a cheese omelette and Dan and Karri some noodles. And we ordered some local beer as well...hmmm...not that bad. After we recharched our batteries we continued the sightseeing.
An orthodox church.
What we headed for was the second largest city in the world after the Pentagon: the â€žPeopleâ€™s Palaceâ€œ, an incredible Stalinist structure that was still unfinished when Ceaucescu was overthrown in 1989. Itâ€™s just huuuuge and incredibly impressive. Today it houses the Romanian parliament. We heard that itâ€™s possible to get inside and to take a guided tour, but we seemed not to be that lucky. Every time we approached one of the several entrances we were sent away by the guardians. Once I just asked if I could at least take a picture and the answer was â€žOK, but only oneâ€œ. I guess there was some sort of a conference at that moment so the entrance for public wasnâ€™t possible. At least we decided to walk around it, so we could get a â€žfeelingâ€œ for the size of this building.
I tried to imagine how many buildings had to be destroyed to make space for this â€žmonsterâ€œ, it had to be a lot. We were approaching 2 tall office buildings when we had the idea to getu p on one of them so we could have a good look on the Peopleâ€™s Palace. We didnâ€™t know if it was possible, but we decided to give it a try.
The old town.
We entered the first bulding and headed directly to the lifts when we were stopped by the guardian saying us something in Romanian. We answered in English, explaining that we thought upstairs would be maybe some restaurant. He just said a short and strict â€žnoâ€œ, so we thought that it might be better to leave. We thought first to try it at the next building, but then we saw a restaurant at the basement...what else could we invent to go up? We gave up, hahaha.
Karri from Finnland and Dan from Sweden, my travel mates.
We crossed as little park nearby and sit down in one cafe as we started to feel tired a bit. That little break helped us to recover our forces a bit so we could continue. We didnâ€™t really want to return to our hostel already.
Usually when I travel to some place I buy some postcards as a souvenir. On them I usually have the pictures of the main monuments and most interesting places. Of course I hoped to buy some postcards in Bucharest as well...I just didnâ€™t expect it to be sooo difficult. Obviously the Romanian capital wasnâ€™t used to tourists at all. I asked around in kiosks, shops, etc, without bigger success.
When we reached an area full of shopping centers I hoped I could get some here finally. But the luck wasnâ€™t on my side that day. Even when we managed to find places where they greeting cards (birthday, etc), they didnâ€™t have ostcards with pictures of Bucharest. Incredible, but true. I decided suddenly to give up and to continue searching the next day, maybe the guys at our hostelâ€™s reception can give me some tip.
Me trying Romanian beer.
It got dark already and we returned to the old town again where we saw some pubs before. We entered one to have a couple of beers. All around us were foreigners, so the waitors spoke really good English.
Around 10pm I told Karri and Dan that I would like to leave because I felt really sleepy and tired, but Karri prefered to stay.
Dan had then to choose what to do and he decided to return with me to our hostel. Karri meant he would take a taxi if there wonâ€™t be any other possibility. Heâ€™s Finnish and used to stay long out drinking beer. No matter if heâ€™s tired or not, hahaha.
There are some beautifull buildings in Bucharest.
I asked the waitor to tell us where the next subway station was. I didnâ€™t know how long we would have to walk from the nearest station to our hostel, but I didnâ€™t mind. I was just too tired to argue with a taxi driver about a horrendos price for the drive. The next subway station was very far from the pub as we were in the center. But we had to find out which line we need and where to pay the tickets. Next to the entrance to the platforms was an employee so we tried to asked him. This guy spoke quite good English and was more then helpfull.
We showed him on a map where we have to go and he told us which line we have to take giving us a little sheet with all the subway lines. He sold us the tickets as well and explained us how to put them into the little machines so we could pass through.
Me and Karri.
We knew approximatly how to get to our line, but after a while I had the feeling that we went wrong. There was a guy we asked and he showed u steh correct way. Then he showed with the finger on the cookies Dan bought that day. He wanted one for his help. Whatever, Dan and me looked at each other and then Dan gave him one. We got suddenly to the right platform and soon our subway arrived. The train looked pretty new and it wasnâ€™t divided into waggons, so everytime we passed a curve we could see how the whole subway interior turnes.
We arrived at the right station, but we werenâ€™t exactly sure which direction we should walk next. We got out and there was a huge square not far from the â€žArc de Triumphâ€œ. But which direction to go next? Close to us was a group of cleaning stuff, they were getting the trash from the streets, I decided to ask them. Nobody of them spoke anything else then Romanian but they understood where we needed to get. One of the women showed at Dan hands, she wanted a cookie as well, hahaha. Whatever, she got one, too. They told us the right direction and where to turn right, but to be sure we wonâ€™t get lost one of the guys went with us to the next crossing where we had to turn. The Romanians seemed to be nice people...even i fit cost us 2 cookies to find that out, hahahaha.
About 20 minutes later we arrived at the hostel, the whole way back took us almost an hour. We sit down in the kitchen to get some tea when some other guests arrived. It was a group of Indian guys who lived in Vienna (they were already more Austrian then Indian) and came like us to Bucharest for a couple of days using a cheap flight of Skyeurope. One of them was quite drunk and was confusing me and Dan all the time. First I was Martin from Sweden, 2 minutes later Dan from Vienna, etce, etc. His friend just laughed about him. They were quite nice anyway, we had some funny converstations till Karri returned back about half hour later. He took the taxi and had to argue a lot with the driver who asked him first 200 lei for the drive. Suddenly they agreed on 30 lei, but it took a while.
The girl at the reception meant that he paid too much anyway and it shouldnâ€™t be more then 20 lei.
Romanian post box.
However, so far we enjoyed being in Bucharest a lot and were curious what the next day will bring. And honestly...the second day became better then the first one.
To be continued...