Tuesday, 27 October 2009

Week 8.5 - Goodbye Romania Via Brasov & Bucharest

Hello Everybody!
Well I just wanted to share the final few days of my time in Romania, as it was both eventful and so typical of my experiences there. The rest of my trip home, will be for me to have to myself, though I can assure those of you that I will be seeing soon enough, there are one or two stories I will be wanting to share with you over a pint in the pub!

So after eventually leaving my Romanian home town of Tarnaveni, an entire day late, I took the bus to Brasov, a beautiful mountain town/city in Transylvania. I was there for professional reasons as much as anything, visiting a really resourceful & creative mental health organisation by the name of SCUT. My first task was finding somewhere to stay, and with the weather being pretty cold and very wet, I took the word of a pleasantly smiling woman at the bus station and headed to the 'new' hostel she was working for. On arriving at the last bus stop, and piling out into the rain, I saw the big red gate with number 41 painted on the side. The building was indeed new, new in the sense that it wasn't completely finished (see picture below).
The new PVC windows still had their stickers on, and the roof looked decidedly suspicious! But still, I was wet and cold and had learned not to be put off by first impressions here in Romania. I rang the bell, and two minutes later a cleaning lady was talking at me in rapid Romanian, but she was not opening the gate! I was really wet now, and just as I was due to leave, the owner (Gabriel) opened the gate and ushered me inside. He told me to 'just hang on' for two minutes, then proceeded to discuss something with the cleaning lady in front of me for 10 minutes! When he finally got round to 'checking me in' he simply showed me some pictures of the town, took no details from me at all, just the money for the room 35 lei = 7 pounds, and showed me up to a rather empty ten bedded room. The showers and bathrooms were very clean ( no wonder when no one was staying there), and my room looked good enough. Gabriel was friendly enough, he was very happy that I tried to speak Romanian,and faithfully promised to correct any mistakes I made when speaking... When finally left alone to survey the room I realised that there was no curtain on the window, leaving me fully exposed to the passengers at the bus stop, and giving a romantic glare from the street light directly outside the window! Perhaps most disturbing was that there appeared to be no door to the room, in fact on closer inspection, there were no doors on any of the rooms! Still Gabriel did seem friendly enough! During my stay Gabriel proved my initial suspicions totally wrong and seemed to feel he could behave like an uncle to me. He would ruffle my hair when I would speak Romanian to him (something I really don't like), he would give me free Romanian palinka, and he even wiped the sugar off my face after I'd been eating a local breaded delicacy, and didn't realise I still had sugar everywhere. His most generous gesture of all was to drive me and what I thought to be the only other guest ( a French guy, I'd been out with a few times for a beer or two), all the way to Bucharest from Brasov (over 3 hours through the mountains). So if you are going to visit Brasov, and don't mind staying somewhere without doors or curtains, I would recommend this hostel 'Guesthouse Gabriel' to anyone, who doesn't mind being open to excessive friendliness, and sleeping in a part built hostel!

The rest of my time in Brasov was pretty much spent walking around town, sightseeing and eating. I met two Chinese girls in a Chinese restaurant, who were working in London, so I joined them as we were the only diners in the entire place, I also tried going to the grandiose looking National Theatre, but failed to realise that the ridiculously cheap price was because the performance was an amateur group (I think they were amateur) and was in a studio situated in the back entrance of the theatre's rear car park!!! The one thing I really wanted to do most was go up the mountain in Brasov by cable car, but the weather was totally against me. I thought 'sod it' and went up to see the following views!

Ok to Bucharest, as I mentioned my trip to Bucharest from Brasov was courtesy of my wonderful hostel owner who drove for over three hours for a small donation to his petrol costs! I then unfortunately spent the next 2 hours, getting the wrong bus, (though I was misinformed by another passenger in my defence), and ending up almost an hour's walk from the city centre. After stopping some helpful strangers I boarded a packed tram, almost knocking 3 old ladies down in one easy spin, and getting the underground, (which was surprisingly easy to use) until I found the main train station. I was hoping to go off searching for a modern hostel, but gave in and called 'Villa 11'. It's in the lonely planet guidebook as a 'friendly family run hostel'. Hmm.. it was certainly family run, with the 16 year old son sent out on his bike to pick me up at the station. It was a very short walk and he was chatty enough, and I was soon at the hostel, which seemed to be filled with older more alternative travellers, and there seemed to be a large percentage of more older Americans. I was taken to a lovely little room for three, with it's own toilet and shower and introduced to my roommate, a 70+ year old French man, with a remarkably long beard.. he wouldn't have looked out of place in a homeless shelter.. I know that sounds bad, but I'm trying to describe the scene that met me. He seemed pleasant enough telling me that him and his wife had been here many years before and he was now clearly alone, I didn't have the heart to ask if she'd passed away. I didn't see much of him after that first meeting, he seemed to come in at quite a late hour and sleep in until long after I had got up, had breakfast and a shower and left for the day. I wonder.....

So to the highlights of Bucharest, well there is one thing above all others that stands out, - Nicolae Ceaucescu's presidential palace. Through out the day this palace imposes itself as the must see monument in this city. Given that I have been living for 9 months in total in a small town where horse and carts are seen daily, people grow vegetables to sell at market, not out of fun, but from necessity, seeing the grandiose building which was only began to be constructed in 1983 shows everything that was wrong with Ceaucescu's decision making processes. He created (well partially created, it still remains 90% complete) one of the most impressive buildings of all time. This time with no exaggeration I tell you that with prisoners, student's and 'volunteers' the presidential palace has one grand room after another, never over complicated with too many paintings or ornaments, this building astounds you with it's vastness, high ceilings, woven carpets, thousands of chandeliers, and it's simplicity! It's a modern marvel, but in a country with so many crippling financial and economical troubles, the fact that this building even exists leaves you feeling quite sick that you are enjoying the spectacle of grandness! The fact that the government is still working on completing the place suggests that Romanian politicians are still somewhat out of touch with their people.

Bucharest was affectionately known as the 'little Paris', some stunning parks, it's smaller scaled down version of the 'Arc de Triomphe', and long stretched out boulevard's you could indeed be mistaken for feeling quite Parisian. However, there are parts of the city that feel as equally stolen from the rest of the world. Several times I felt as though I was in another city, London, Paris strangely enough Saigon (Ho Chi Minh city). never really found Bucharest's own character, but did find lots of little winding streets, historic buildings and bustling crowds. The fashion seemed to comprise solely of two looks for women, tight jeans with high boots, or a more causal trainer wearing crowd, still with tight fitting jeans. Men's fashion seemed to be the typical central European look.

MY final excursion in Bucharest was an attempt to go on the spur of the moment to watch the famous Romanian football team, Steau Bucharest, (who are doing pretty badly right now). I took a crazy long taxi ride, but in doing so found the as yet undiscovered 'honest taxi driver'. I have heard nothing but scathing reports of taxi drivers here charging excessive amounts of money, but this guy whizzed me about the back streets like the dukes of hazard, and got me nearby the stadium. I was met by a sea of armed police, who initially refused me entry to the surrounding streets. Managing to get by them I was gutted to be told you could not purchase tickets on the day, so I had to walk along way home! But still, this was as close as I got to the stadium!As Dan Spitaru (a really bad Romanian singer- known to all volunteers) would say. 'Noapte Buna Bucharest, Noapte buna' It means good night Bucharest, good night!
Thanks for reading the blog!
Regards from Romania


  1. Nice Post !

    Thanks for sharing your experience to live it Romania

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  2. Nice Writing. Study up on photography, though.