In actual fact, Bucharest isn’t so bad at all. Though I’m not sure I’d necessarily be happy spending too long there. Again I spent most of the day walking around it, although this time with purpose and/or need. I went on two walking tours, ran to the railway station, and discovered the Bucharest metro.
I’d wanted to do a ‘Communist Tour’, walking around all the areas in Bucharest linked with both the communist regime and its eventual downfall in December 1989, but that apparently doesn’t start operating until 4th May, so instead from the same group of people I did a generic walking tour of the city in the morning, and the ‘Alternative Tour’, discovering street art, a couple of abandoned places, and a couple of indie cafes/art galleries, in the afternoon. The generic walking tour is a free tour, whilst the ‘Alternative’ Tour is free on Fridays. That I did it on a Friday is coincidental – I only discovered their existence yesterday and obviously I was due to leave this evening so didn’t really have an option … 😀
In between the two tours I had to run to the railway station – this was the most fraught part of the day. I needed to make sure I could get a ticket for the overnight train to Chisinau (Moldova), and that meant buying it before I got my backpack which I’d left at the hostel. Bear in mind it was as hot today as it was yesterday, my feet absolutely ached from all the walking I did yesterday, and the map I had didn’t have one major road on it (it must have ben new), which meant that at one point I ended up going in completely the wrong direction. Given also that I’d been on the walking tour for about 2.5 hours already … I ended up pretty dehydrated by the end of the day 🙁
That said, I managed to get everything done, and didn’t feel too achy on the 3 hour Alternative Tour.
The ‘normal’ tour was interesting enough; a nice quick overview of the city. Although it went round many places that I’d been past over the last two days, the tour gave a bit more of ‘meat’ to them. There were quite a lot of people on the tour (maybe 25-30?), but I may have been the only Brit (others seemed mainly to come from other parts of Eastern Europe, except a handful from Brazil, and a couple of Americans). The tour guide was pretty knowledgeable – not just about Bucharest but also about the world in general, and was quizzing me a bit on the expected fortunes of UKIP at the upcoming European Elections……
As for things we found out on the tour, one little titbit is that the name ‘Bucharest’ comes from ‘Esti’, meaning ‘city’/’town’, and ‘Buchur’, which may be a personal name, or may come from an ancient word for ‘Joy’. Thus, Bucharest could possibly mean ‘Happy Town’. I have to say though, in general, it’s not really living up to this ideal. Although it could be worse, at least it isn’t Salford. Or Stoke-on-Trent.
The ‘Alternative’ tour was much smaller – me and three others, who’d actually only known about it because they’d heard me at the morning tour saying I was going on it! Mmmm, word-of-mouth recommendation.
We wandered around the backstreets of the city, sometimes literally down streets that felt off-the-map, that were still derelict from Communist days, past buildings that were glorious in façade but which were mere hulks inside which was desolation, and which were theoretically up for rent but which had been used by squatters for some time. A side of the city that people don’t normally see.
This was also linked in with street art – we got to learn about the different people who left their marks, the ‘square cat’ graffiti and the ‘cute creatures’ stick-up art. We went into a couple of art gallery-cum-cafes, and at one point went up inside a 5-storey car garage whose slipway walls had been painted by street artists. Definitely interesting, but probably only for people like me with appreciations (or some of my friends who have talents in those areas).
The trip to Moldova was 13 hours and actually passed by quite quickly. I was in a 4-bed compartment, but only two other people were in it – a German called Andy whio I’d met previously in the hostel the night before, and who hadn’t been sure whether or not to go by train or bus, and a random Moldavian called Andriy, who’d been working in Brussels for the last 8 months and was coming home for a couple of weeks before moving to London. We ended up chatting about everything and nothing for about five hours before we settled down to bed.