I’ll be honest, Bucharest didn’t rank particular high on my bucket list. But in a year which has been costly in off-days and travel expenses, a long weekend in the Romanian capital seemed a nice way to wrap things up. I didn’t really know anything about Romania before, aside from the stuff I read in the travel guide I bought to occupy myself during the endless flight.
But from Prague to Budapest, I’ve always had a good time in eastern European capitals, which are rightfully notorious for a lively nightlife and offer a rich cultural experience to those willing to find out.
Also I always wished I had the chance to visit Eastern Europe before the fall of the Berlin Wall, just to see what life was like. Romania, which only recently overthrew dictator Nicolae Ceaușescu seems one of the closest (and safest) things left of a glimpse into the communist past.
Bucharest’s buildings are still marked with the bullet holes from the 1989 revolutionary uprising, which is kind of surreal. The memories are still as fresh as well, as one of our cab drivers recalled witnessed tanks chasing protesters around. As you do.
The city’s architecture is also atypical. While giant advertising boards scattered around the old buildings are reminiscent of the 1970s, little orthodox monasteries pop up everywhere surrounded by peaceful gardens, open to visitors. We even walked in on some nuns having a little XFactor church chorus sing-off thing.
We had a great time. We partied every night, and tried lots of different places. At 5 Leu to the British Pound, the currency is cheap. Most drinks come to the equivalent of £2-3, although one must be careful when converting after a few drinks! We missed the bar crawl on the first night, which is becoming an unfortunate tradition – we also did that in Berlin. Naturally, we ended up playing drunk ping-pong in a hostel for much of that evening, before hitting the town.
The old historical centre has plenty to offer, and thanks to the Google Trips app we were able to schedule a few wanders round the city and see all the main stuff. It’s a really good app, which offers alternative visit routes depending on how much time you have. It can also be used offline, and allows users to download full city maps in advance. Try it out.
The imposing Parliament building which we visited was a spectacular highlight. Built during the Ceaușescu era, its ridiculous scale is characteristic of totalitarian architecture. The project was actually inspired by the former leader’s trip to North Korea in the 80s, which I genuinely guessed.
Against all the odds, we also managed to watch a football game, thereby breaking another holiday curse. Bucharest has 4 local football teams. By the time we visited, 2 of them were playing away, one had had their home game rescheduled and the last one…went bankrupt in the summer.
Great. After an unlikely and very dodgy taxi ride out of town, we managed to track down Steaua Bucharest’s away match in a little local stadium full of hooligans. And, crucially, not get killed.
I’d definitely go back to Romania. Bucharest is located south of the country, far from the mountainous areas such as Transylvania, which apparently has amazing great day trips but is unfortunately too far from the capital. Plan those excursions ahead.
Tops: we paid under 150 quid for our flights plus accommodation for 4 days- a nice enough Airbnb flat located in a lively area full of restaurants, bars and clubs and within walking distance of the historical centre. Cheap!
Flops: locals are uncomfortably pushy, whether in bars, clubs, restaurants or cabs. One girl dragged us all the way inside her restaurants just to check out the menu, stood an inch away from my face while I had a look and kept turning the pages for me. Fuck off! Also, we had to actively asked for our change back all the times.
Weird: virtually none of the taxi had seat belts. What’s that all about?
Tip: you will need to bring your passport if you wish to visit the Parliament 🙂
Here are a few more pictures…