Bucharest Blues

16 – 22 aug 2016

Budapest – Bucharest

My trip to Romania started badly, when a miscommunication with the exceedingly friendly Romanian conductor led to the humourless “rules must be followed” Hungarian conductors unfairly taking away one of my 5 days of train travel that my Interrail pass afforded me.

Unfortunately, during the train ride to Bucharest, i was feeling worse and worse. I guess my body thinking “it’s holiday, no more work, I can let my guard down”, combined with all the train travel, moving around, short nights, the sudden increase in temperature between Holland and Central Europe, my anger at the Hungarian conductors, and being in close quarters with lots of different people, was just a bit too much for my immune system to cope with.

As I got of the Bucharest train station, I was feeling like a zombie, and that didn’t really change when I got to my hostel, or at any other point in the following couple of days. In short, I mostly stayed at the hostel trying to get fit, and I didn’t see much of Bucharest, let alone the rest of Romania.

What I can say is that the country is much poorer than Hungary or Czechia, and is really starting to feel like eastern Europe rather than central Europe. Still, it’s called Romania for a reason, and there is a clear link with Italy in terms of language, and to some extent also in terms of culture. The people were very kind, and really enjoyed eating and drinking together, and often appeared to me as supreme bohemiens. Romanians often have a bad reputation in the rest of Europe due to gangs of criminals coming to other countries and stealing everything that isn’t bolted down, but in Bucharest, I didn’t feel unsafe for a single second, and I only met friendly, kind people.

My fellow travellers in the hostel were also a source of entertainment as I tried to get well again; there was an American hippy Trump supporter, living in Romania and working as a guitar player in a Jimi Hendrix cover band there; a French Canadian visiting as many obscure countries and territories as possible (ranging from Kyrgyzstan and Kosovo to Abkhazia, Nagorno-Karabakh and Transnistria); and a Polish motorcycle backpacker at the beginning of a yearlong trip around the world.

On my fourth day in Bucharest, I did walk around the city center. Despite their similar sounding names, there really is no comparing Bucharest with Budapest. There is an overwhelming amount of concrete, and of the pre-soviet city center, much is completely dilapidated, as if it hasn’t seen maintenance in several decades.

There is an old core to the city center which is quite charming, and has a few buildings in art nouveau or earlier styles, but it’s quite small and full of tourists. There was one tiny church – somewhat similar to the one in the photo of the white church shown here, but my phone battery died before I could take a picture of it – that was, to me, the prettiest church that I’ve seen in years. It was bang in the middle of the stone-only city center, and consisted of a small courtyard with more trees than the rest of the city center combined, a side building with arches providing some shade, a group of statues, and the church itself. The church’s interior was filled with wood panels painted with fading images of saints, and the natural simplicity, calmness and modesty of it all was such a stark contrast with the masses of stone, marble and people outside, that I felt something close to a religious experience, which doesn’t normally tend to happen to me.

I did go to the Palace of Parliament, the epitome of Soviet dictator Nicolae Ceausescu’s madness, and found it to be absurdly large. Then I discovered that I was only looking at the side of the thing, and that the front facade of the monstrosity is larger still. If you consider that the (already suffering) country’s economy was basically shut down for a year in order for this palace to be built, you can imagine what a sick egomaniac Ceausescu was.

Outside of Bucharest, there are apparently some very pretty towns with loads of character, and beautiful nature. I was planning to see some of it and then move on to Bulgaria and Turkey, but unfortunately, my 4 days of illness took a big chunk of time out of the 3 weeks I had to travel. So, I decided to fly out of Bucharest to Istanbul, and then fly onwards to Georgia a day later.

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