As I was chauffeured through the city from the airport, I glanced out of the window pondering my first taste of post Istanbul life. The sight of much lamented greenery lining otherwise unnoteworthy pavements was the first thing that struck me. Living in a concrete jungle for much of the year meant that any little bit of greenery inspired a desire to frolic amongst that which I had previously taken for granted. As the car rolled on, in and out of traffic in this busyish (nothing can compare to the crazy that is Istanbul) city, I laid eyes upon streets filled with an abundance of shoddily put up telephone wires and crumbling, tired looking facades; a brash reminder of Romania’s communist past.
I was dare I say it, slightly underwhelmed. The romanticised version of Romania I had conjured it was not. All rides through Transylvania in a horse drawn carriage admiring the eerie quality of traditional, wooden Romanian homes that have become an inherent part of the misty tree laden hills whilst observing the otherworldiness of the locals who have a rather unnerving tendency to cross themselves when you ride by a la Bram Stoker. OK, so not only was Stoker describing Eastern Transylvania, he had also never visited Romania, therefore any expectations inspired by his classic novel are greatly misinformed!
Disembarking from the vehicle, we arrived at what looked like an office building, but is actually a rather decent hotel, in a bloody good location. Again my first impression of the place was more like what the hell, being located on a run down looking side street frequented by gypsy families, their discarded sunflower seed shells and with a rather disturbing looking Ronald Macdonald staring straight at me.
A short walk around the locality had me admiring some interesting looking buildings and statues and trying to figure out the exchange rate in my head- Lei to Lira to Sterling… HELP!
The next couple of days were a whirlwind- planning lessons for the four week summer camp by day, exploring what the city had to offer by night. My initial feelings towards the city soon evaporated being replaced by a feeling of endearment that has me longing to be transported back there. Yes the telephone wires zigzagging above your head any which way serve as a reminder to work that may still need to be done here, yes you should beware of being dripped on when walking down the road by an unknown fluid that I was informed was coming from air conditioners (lets hope so), yes the country’s communist past stares one brashly in the face in the dismal grey of the many washed out apartment block buildings. For me these things add to the character of this intriguing city. Even if that isn’t your thing Bucharest has a lot of redeeming qualities; a vibrant nightlife scene catering to all music tastes, the mixture of architectural styles an including but not limited to French Baroque Style and Gothic revival, the world’s largest administration building in the form of the parliamentary palace, the old churches scattered throughout the city and Lipscani the bustling old town filled with bars, restaurants and a gelataria within which I experienced the best ice cream I have ever tasted. Mint, lime and basil, where have you been all my life?!
All in all Bucharest has to be one of the most interesting cities I have ever visited. Here it is commonplace to find a 300 year old church, alongside a spanking new office tower and some 1970’s apartment blocks.
As with most of my visits to anywhere I didn’t do much except walk around, people watch and enjoy the views- oh and shop in one of the many second hand/vintage/discount clothes shops the city has to offer. Nights were spent in the historical Lipscani side of town in one of the many bars and restaurants found here or in the rock and punk bar/hostel Underworld within which we made friends with the friendly staff and were served free shots alongside my first Morgans Spiced and coke for about a year.
The contrasts that one is constantly confronted with in this city is enough to keep one entertained, paired with the cheap prices, the excellent party scene and the abundance of shwarma kebab (alongside other equally impressive food options) is enough to make me look back at my time in this city with a yearning in my heart to one day return. Even if just for the basil, mint and lime ice cream and the best spring rolls I have ever tasted at Toan’s Vietnamese.