I’m travelling with a backpack that fits into hand-luggage. Even on Ryanair (which might be an achievement in itself). One of the many things I chose not to pack was a coat. My reckoning behind this was that most of the places I’m going to will be dry, either because of the season or just because they’re in the middle of the desert, and that being British, I’m fairly well used to rain anyway. Plus my fleece has a coat.
The torrential downpour and brief thunderstorm that accompanied my arrival into Bucharest city centre therefore was a tad unwelcome … At the time of typing this, some 10 hours later, I’m not convinced my fleece or my trousers have actually fully dried yet. I do have a poncho, however it was buried deep within my backpack, and in any case is a huge blue one I was given at Niagara Falls that screams “I am a tourist”. So maybe not. In addition, the sandals I’ve got (Xero shoes) have as much grip as a slick tyre on an F1 car, so the ‘barefoot backpacker’ in me became literal for a mile or so.
There are some places which look nice even in the rain. Porto is one. Manchester has no choice in the matter. Bucharest … is not. On first sight it doesn’t seem a pretty city. Main roads seem to plough through the very heart of it (roads that are clogged with bad drivers circumventing traffic jams), while many of the alleged prettier buildings seem to be being renovated. Second, third, and fourth sites don’t really improve the situation.
Part of the issue is that many Eastern European cities have a well-preserved historic core around which to explore. Bucharest has the Parliament building, built by the Ceaucescu regime in the mid-80s which saw much of the old city demolished (some 60,000 people were rehomed). While the building itself is incredibly impressive (the second largest building by size and third by volume in the world), and a testament to Romanian architecture and style (as pretty much everything within was sourced from Romania – curtains, carpets, crystals for the chandeliers etc), it is basically a large blob of marble on a hill. Which somehow feels wrong. Maybe.
They’re also looking for any ways they can save money on their electricity bill …
My journey to Bucharest was fairly non-descript, even managed a second Ryanair achievement by sleeping on the plane. Although it was only a three-hour flight, I took the view that any sleep was better than no sleep. Journey from the airport to the city was easy too, though it proves again that when I travel abroad, I’m a very quietly-spoken Englishman when I have to be an obvious tourist (eg buying tickets). 8.5 Lei for a ticket on the bus from the airport that you have to pre-buy on a ticket; see I long for the old days when capital cities had transport systems where you could simply buy from the driver …
Tonight’s accommodation is on the 8th floor of an apartment building in the Eastern suburbs, courtesy of Mihai and Mirela (my couchsurfing hosts), who knocked up a great traditionally Romanian meal and with whom I discussed the intricacies of the Scottish accent (they’re going there in August). Tomorrow I get to stay in a very cheap backpacker hostel with very great reviews – confused am I. Tomorrow also happens to be a National Holiday in Romania, so nothing will be open. This was great planning on my behalf.
Also, it’s due to rain again.