Arrival in Bucharest was a bit bedraggled with Joel smack bang in the middle of a vomiting virus and me on the tail end of it. To be fair it felt no worse than the last four months of morning sickness, but poor Joel was suffering (oh he has no idea!). So it was with much relief that we were welcomed by our gracious hosts Stefan and Raluca in their historic house in the old Jewish quarter of Bucharest. As we were to find the remainder of the trip, the Romanian locals go out of their way to give you a good experience, and are truly proud of their country and it’s hidden subtle appeal.
We trailed alongside Stefan and Raluca as they wound through the streets, explaining how locals go about their lives, the difficulties finding well-paid work (the two jobs Stefan works earns him about 10,000 euros per year), the way they think, travel, spend their time. We were struck by the deep loyalty to their country and educated minds about the world. This is the thing we love about Eastern Europe, the ways that people are able to have an objective opinion on the way we live in Western Countries such as UK, USA, Australia etc. It is always fascinating listening and having your mind stretched and challenged. In our day to day lives we wouldn’t give much thought to how those in Romania and other Eastern countries recently out of communism go about their lives. It helps me keep my perspective, humility and inquisition.
The old town of Bucharest was bustling. As we found as we travelled through Romania – there is always a lot of activity going on. These cities, and the countryside all feel well lived in – there is a definite human presence. At an off-peak time such as December it was a very endearing thing to see locals going about their everyday lives. So often as a traveller you miss this element as it is going on behind closed doors, or you find that it is hard to get a sense of what it is like to live in that particular country. This is not the case with Romania, life is lived in community and on the streets. Roads were busy, sidewalks were full, eateries were lively, and Christmas cheer abounded. The old town has been impressively developed over the past years, with numerous cafes, bars, shops and beautiful churches.
We had an entertaining night at the Christmas Market in University Square. Romania has embraced Christmas like a child embraces its blankie. Dazzling lights, a huge tree and row upon row of local sellers hawking home made Christmas goods and local food. Despite Joel feeling quite hideous we had a brilliant night watching Romanian dancing and marvelling at the low prices which meant we stocked up on gorgeous home made Christmas decorations, and stuffed our faces with local food (no idea what any of it was – pointing, paying and consuming was our method). Everyone was in a most jovial mood and families of all ages were out creating quite the atmosphere. By 8pm it was difficult to even navigate around the market!
In the quiet of the next morning we farewelled our lovely hosts and took to the streets to absorb the charm of Bucharest. Our theory when travelling is – if there is a line, join it. We have not been disappointed so far. On this occasion it was a ‘hole in the wall’ bakery, where pointing, paying and consuming was once again successful (and once again, no idea what we ate! But it was good!). Shame-faced, we joined the line again for seconds! On the way out of the city we drove past the Houses of Parliament – a monstrous building, and I mean literally monstrous. It is so large and imposing you are almost afraid of it. Apparently the theory behind this was the grander the building, the bigger the statement. In all my travels I have not seen a bigger statement. What they do with all the rooms I have no idea?! It felt like time was in slow motion as the car moved along the road…but no…the building is actually just that big! Once we were freed of its claws we were merrily on our way to the mountains…but that is another post!