București, Romania; The Church TourNovember 18, 2023
Carlyon Bay, Cornwall, England; The Jet-Ski TourNovember 21, 2023
Home to the 2nd largest administrative building in the world, București is the Capital (and largest) city of Romania.
Perks of Slow Travel
A gentle train ride in to București from Brașov, led me through misty mountain views that rivalled Switzerland. I spent the majority of the journey peering out of the window, the views were spectacular in places. Interrail certainly opened my eyes, train travel is now something I enjoy and actively seek. I might have to join the trainspotter guy, his enthusiasm is infectious…
While waiting for the keys, I took myself round the corner for coffee and cake at Cofftails. The pistachio eclair was perfectly finished, the pistachio icing adding just enough flavour without overpowering the rest.
Beating the crowds
The Macca-Villacrosse passage was on my ‘to-see’ list but I didn’t want to feel swamped with people. I rose at 0600 and reached the passage around 0700. There wasn’t a soul in sight as no shops were open. Perfect opportunity to drift along admiring the architecture. No one to bump into, no one to get frustrated with me walking slowly or randomly stopping. Bliss!
Further along the road is an Instagram worthy spot, ‘Strada cu Umbrele’, where multi-coloured umbrellas hang, creating a vibrant ceiling. It is part of the Pasajul Victoriei which has some bars for coffee and drinks – though all were closed at the hour I visited.
The entrance from Strada Academiei offers a run-down view, the building graffitied and neglected, while the entrance from Calea Victoriei offers a grand arch and beautiful historic façade. I love the juxtaposition places like this offer. Equally, an historic monument aside a modern building creates just as stark a contrast. I feel things such as this epitomise the nature of humanity, ever evolving.
Meeting with my newfound friend and inadvertent tour guide Alex, we took a ride on the Metro for a walk in Herăstrău Park. Afterwards, we went for dinner at Caru’ cu bere, a building with an eclectic mix of Gothic revival and Art Nouveau style, I loved the attention to detail throughout. Even if you sit outside, make a point of using the facilities just to gain a peek inside – you won’t regret it.
Speaking of amazing interiors, I must mention Cărturești. Starting life as a bank in the 19th century, this marvellous building was then reinvented as a clothing shop before morphing into the bookstore we know it as today. Arriving in the rain for its opening at 10AM, I was the only there but didn’t think to make the most of my time and get some Insta-worthy pictures. Do not block the stairs to pose though, this is rather frowned upon.
I’m not one for souvenirs but I purchased a Romanian poetry book in a bid to further my language learning alongside Duolingo and RomanianPod101. If you fail to find a bookstore, most Romanian train stations have a book vending machine; I need more of these in my life!
The Palace of Parliament is well worth a look. Weighing over 4 million tonnes, it is said to be the heaviest building in the world, second in size to only the Pentagon when it comes to administrative buildings. It’s also known to be the most expensive administration building, as can be seen in the ornate designs throughout.
Ateneul Român (the Romanian Athenaeum), is the city’s most prestigious concert hall, its domed roof a landmark. With its Neoclassical design and statue of Romanian poet Mihai Eminescu, it is something quite beautiful even on a cloudy day.
Muzeul Național de Artă al României (The National Museum of Art of Romania) is another well-constructed building that deserves attention as much for its informative displays as its architecture.
Seeing as I was relatively close, I decided to detour down to Bulgaria. Having checked the train times for the next day, I moved on to Popcorn Hostel for one night only. A fun place with a hammock in the garden, it had a lovely atmosphere.
Unfortunately, there was no aircon in my top floor room, my 2 roommates and I melted with just a small fan. The shared bathroom was clean though and the beds were sufficient. I enjoyed their peaceful garden and the fact there were large lockable lockers. Overall, pretty good value for money at £12 considering the location.
I conversed with a lovely Rwandan volunteer who spoke multiple languages fluently. We practised Romanian together and then I half understood a few conversations he had with the French patrons as he made sure I was included in the proceedings. It’s surprising how quickly you can learn a language when you immerse yourself. I bought a Romanian copy of the Jungle Book from the Mall for the train ride, too.
Taking a few days out of Romania to visit Ruse and family in Varna, I was loving the heat until border control held the train. Hours of waiting with no air-con wasn’t the best part of the trip but at least they allowed me through.
Returning from Bulgaria a few days later, I stayed at the AG Romana hostel which left a lot to be desired. Though it only cost £9, it was the worst hostel I’ve stayed in so far (and not the cheapest). It was grimy, dead locusts, etc under the beds, dirty kitchen, and plastic bags covering the windows. I was in a mixed dorm room consisting of 12 bunks with no privacy curtains.
There was a combined toilet and shower room to share so I had to wait for someone to finish showering before I could use the toilet. There was no toilet roll and the washing machine was broken. I felt like I would be dirtier if I showered here.
Having arrived at 8PM, I had to ask for clean sheets, and found they didn’t even have enough lockers. That night I just laid on my bunk hugging my backpack to my chest. I was the only woman with 11 men but, give the guys their due, they were respectful. They even turned off the big light to put on a small lamp instead when they saw me go to bed. I’m thankful I was surrounded by nice people in a not so nice place.
Do not trust pictures, even on big sites like Booking.com – I’ve found many times that while the rooms pictured did exist, you’re often taken to a different room; usually a grim basement with a bed thrown in it, like on this occasion.
So, my take on București is that it offers an amazing insight into Romanian culture whilst also stepping up and demonstrating its modern take on life.
My return will see me delving into the nightlife as I feel like I sorely missed out on this the first-time round. I’ll be considering an apartment or decent hotel next time, no more hostels here.