Articles tagged with "romania"

Bulevardul Unirii

Bulevardul Unirii

I walked from the palace all the way down Bulevardul Unirii, which was another of Ceauşescu’s grand projects and is a few metres longer than the Champs-Élysées. Fountains lined the street, making the hot day seem a little bit cooler, and trees kept it shady.

But soon it was time to leave. I should really have sacrificed a lazy day in Braşov for a more active one in the capital, but it was too late to worry about that now. I bought a snack from a shop and then got on the airport bus to Otopeni airport. It took me past lots of things I’d have liked to see properly, and I thought I’d probably like to come back to Bucharest. But all there was left to do now was allow myself to be relieved of a shocking number of lei as I bought a drink at the airport, board the plane and fly home.


Palace of the Parliament

Palace of the Parliament

I only spent one night in Bucharest. I spent the final morning of my trip walking from my hostel to the Palace of the Parliament, which is claimed to be the second largest building in the world after the Pentagon. I could hardly believe the size of it. I wanted to go to a contemporary art gallery in the grounds of the Palace, and this involved walking along two sides of it. This took about half an hour, along shadeless pavements in the morning heat. I was then extremely disappointed to find that the gallery was closed on Tuesdays. I walked back to the front of the Palace, thirsty and lacking in cultural experiences.

On all this trip in these far flung parts of Eastern Europe, I kept thinking back to what I remembered of 1989. I was 11 years old at the time and I wish I’d been a bit older, and been able to appreciate the history a bit more. When Romania revolted in December 1989, I was in Jordan, and I vividly remember seeing an English-language newspaper on Christmas Day, 1989, carrying the news that Ceauşescu and his wife had been shot. It had only taken nine days from the first major act of the revolution to his final downfall.


Bucharest

Bucharest

It was hot and humid in Bucharest, and I stayed in a hostel above a really sleazy nightclub. I went for a late night walk around the city when I arrived. I’d read about Bucharest’s amazing stray dog problem before I came, and when I’d arrived on the night train from Chişinău I’d seen a few running about on the tracks. Now, in the quiet city at midnight, it was clear that some dark streets were dog territory and best avoided. The dogs apparently all descended from a time when there had been massive redevelopments in Bucharest, in which people were moved to higher quality accommodation but weren’t allowed to take their pets with them.

I managed to avoid getting bitten by the dogs of Bucharest, and I thought the city looked pretty impressive in places. It slightly reminded me of Beijing in a way, with its broad streets filled with pounding traffic, the activity and bustle carrying on late into the night, and the hot sweltering air.


Sinaia

Sinaia

Braşov had a laid-back vibe, and I spent another couple of days there doing nothing much at all but enjoying the fresh mountain air and sunshine. Eventually it was time to move on – I wanted to see a bit of Bucharest before flying back home – so I got a train to Sinaia, another mountain town on the line to Bucharest. I wanted to go up its cable car, which takes you up to 2200m in the Bucegi Mountains, but I’d picked the wrong day – it was closed on Mondays. So I just went for a short walk into the hills and a look at Peleş Castle, which was massively more impressive than Bran Castle. Then I walked back to the station and got the train to Bucharest. The sun was setting and I had a great journey under blazing red skies. I got to Bucharest late in the evening, jumped on the metro and headed for a hostel.


Bran

Bran

I wanted to cycle to Bran while I was in Braşov. It’s about 20km away and is the site of castle, claimed on scant but tourist-attracting grounds to be Dracula’s castle. But it was the weekend, and all the bike shops in Braşov were closed, so I reluctantly headed out to the autogara and got a bus. I watched sadly as the nice flat tarmac round wound through the mountains to Bran, and then managed to miss Bran completely because it was far smaller than I’d expected. Seeing a sign saying ‘you are now leaving Bran’, I got off the bus and walked back towards the castle. I saw it now, on top of a hill. Its location was pretty impressive, but it hardly looked mediaeval or terrifying, and when I got back into Bran itself I was confronted with a horrendous tourist nightmare of Dracula souvenirs, sold by people wearing fangs and capes, and decided to head back to Braşov as quickly as possible. The only thing I liked about the town was the view of distant snowy mountains behind it.

When I got back to Braşov the sun had just set. Earlier, I’d got a bus from the centre of town to the autogara, and the journey had seemed very short, so I thought I’d walk back. It seemed the journey had been quite long after all and two hours later I made it back to central Braşov, having walked along dimly-lit streets through endless suburbs, guided only by occasional glimpses of the cheesy hollywood sign, glowing up on the dark hillside.


Transylvania

Transylvania

At Bucureşti Nord station I said goodbye to Cristi, bought a strong coffee for breakfast, and then got on the first train to Braşov. I found a window seat on the top deck. A lot of the Romanians crossed themselves as we pulled out of the station for the three hour journey into the heart of Transylvania.

We rolled through Bucharest’s northern suburbs under deep blue skies, and before long hills were rising from the plains. After an hour or so we were in the forested Bucegi mountains, where wild bears still roam. Rocky peaks towered over the train lines and although I was tired from the overnight train journey, I didn’t want to miss the scenery by sleeping. A couple of hours later we arrived in Braşov.

I liked the town straight away. The air was cool and fresh, the sun was shining, and the atmosphere was friendly. I spent a day ambling around narrow streets lined with grand old buildings, and took a cable car to the top of Mount Tâmpa. The mountain towers over Braşov, and once you’re up there you can’t see the very garish hollywood-style BRAŞOV sign attached to it, which reminds everyone which town they are in. In a blissed-out tired haze after my overnight train journey, I stayed up there fore a while in the sunshine, enjoying views over the town and its surroundings, and also enjoying being in Romania, which depending on how exactly I define ‘country’ and ‘been to’, might be the 60th country I’ve been to.


Night train to Bucharest

Night train to Bucharest

After a couple of days I’d pretty much covered Chişinău, and so I walked down to the station and bought a ticket for the night train to Bucharest. The train was quiet and I thought I might get a compartment to myself, but a few minutes before the train left someone joined me. When the train left at ten past five, I spent a while looking out of the windows at the beautiful Moldovan countryside rolling by in the evening sun, and then I got talking to my travelling companion.

He was called Cristi, and luckily he spoke quite a lot of English. He was Romanian but married to a Moldovan, and he said he thought Moldovans were friendlier and more honest than Romanians. It turned out that he was on the first stage of a journey to Italy, where he was planning to work for at least a year. Romania had been a member of the EU for nine months and he was taking advantage of the free movement of labour that this brought. He was leaving behind his wife, and didn’t know when he would see her again. As we approached the border with Romania, he said he was just starting to realise how much he would miss Moldova. Like the currency man, Cristi was bemused that I’d come to Moldova as a tourist, and particularly that I’d been to Tiraspol.

At nightfall we reached the border with Romania at Ungheni. We were leaving the broad tracks of the former USSR for the narrower ones of the rest of Europe, and our train was shunted into a yard where each carriage was raised, and the wheels changed. My passport was taken away by the first person to check it, and after an hour or so when the wheels of the train were back on it still hadn’t reappeared. Cristi went to ask the train attendants what was going on and they said that it was nothing, and we’d be getting checked again by immigration shortly. And soon enough another border guard appeared. He wanted to know why I didn’t have a Moldovan entry stamp, and it was really lucky for me that Cristi was such a friendly guy and spoke English. They had a conversation in Romanian, the approximate gist of which was “So, how come he doesn’t have a stamp?” “Because he came via Tiraspol.” “Why did he do that?” “Oh, he’s a tourist.” “Really? Get away!” “No, he really is.”

And with that I was into Romania. Cristi shared a colossal bag of Romanian chocolates with me to celebrate his return to his homeland, and I felt terrible that I had nothing to share with him to thank him for his help. He asked me if I could name any famous Romanians. I managed Dracula, the Cheeky Girls and Ilie Nastase – the last one made up a bit for the first two. In return, he named most of the royal family. His knowledge of Britain definitely beat my knowledge of Romania, but surely in a few days time I would know more.