Bucharest is one of those cities that’s on every “upcoming hot cities” list I’ve seen for a while. It’s cheap, it’s got interesting architecture, it’s got a sort of “grunge” appeal and so much more. If we’re being real, I honestly didn’t like Bucharest.
One thing this trip has taught me is the impact of the first people you experience in a city and/or country and the impact they have on your whole perception of the city. Bucharest was not a great first experience. I was fresh off the bus from Bulgaria (happy with myself for making it and finding my way!) and I was taking the tram into Bucharest. Again, I was pleased with myself for having figured out how to get a ticket, which tram to take, and was happy that I was about to be at my stop.
And then two ticket takers came over and asked for my ticket, which I handed to them. They said it wasn’t “active” and were quite rude with me. I showed them the receipt for the ticket (purchased 11 minutes before), and they were still very insistent that my ticket was not active. I was completely bewildered because I had no clue what had gone wrong, and there was a definite language barrier between us.
So I asked “What do I do to make it active?” And I got fined… for being on a city tram without having an “active” ticket.
It took me two days of asking around to figure out what went wrong – I was supposed to swipe my card when I got on the tram and I didn’t. The swipe sign, by the way, was only in Romanian. Live and learn. And if you go to Bucharest – swipe your card.
I’m struggling with myself and my reactions to this incident. As I have now figured out, I was in the wrong, as I hadn’t swiped my card. But the rudeness with which the ticket taker handled the situation really stuck with me. I was clearly (11 minutes prior receipt) trying to do what I was supposed to, but there was no grace for the fact that I hadn’t swiped. And no explanation that that’s what I should have done.
It was my crappy lucky to draw all of this together, but it was a very harsh introduction to Bucharest. If I’m being fair – it definitely colored my opinions on all of Bucharest. I became scared to do things because I was so afraid to do anything wrong, and there were so few people who spoke English, and so few instructions in English, that I found it a difficult city. I think I was also scared of doing things because I was afraid that if I did something wrong, the repercussions could have been worse.
After I found my hostel from the tram ride from hell, I wandered around the Old Town area of Bucharest. One area I was lucky in – I picked a hostel with a great location! Because not even a half mile away is a bookstore called Caruesti Carousel, which is known as one of the most beautiful bookstores in the world. It didn’t disappoint! I spent a good part of my afternoon recovering from the tram incident there and having a homemade lemonade in their bistro. It’s an amazing place to spend an afternoon! And the feeling of a bookstore was good for my soul.
I continued wandering around and found the fountains along the main street in Bucharest leading to their Parliament building at sunset. It was such a gorgeous sunset! The fountains are quite incredible, especially considering how long they stretch for down the street!
After, I went to find dinner. And it was yet another instance of feeling that Bucharest was quite harsh. I read online that there was a great little Greek restaurant near my hostel, so I thought it would be nice to grab a gyro for dinner. I went in to order and asked the guy behind the counter a question. At which point he started yelling at me for not speaking Romanian. I don’t know what I did to draw the horrible Bucharest people card, but I really struggled to meet nice people! I immediately left the Greek restaurant and found a cool street food place outside, where I had a great grilled chicken breast.
The next morning, I woke up to explore the city. I decided to do a bit of a walking tour for the main sites, as I didn’t really feel like doing any museums or organized adventures.
I started by going down to their Parliament building. It’s the second biggest building in the world (after the Pentagon #murca). It’s absolutely gigantic. The front facade is huge, and then when you walk around the sides to see the depth of it, it’s absolutely incredible. It seems bigger than the Pentagon, mainly because it’s taller and is on a much smaller plot of land.
I continued walking down the river and passed a number of cool churches and buildings. It was a fun city to walk around in, and walking around was nice for the pure fact that no one yelled at me!
I went up to one alley that’s basically Instagram central – it’s covered with all of these rainbow umbrellas, and is a very fun sight! The one thing for me with Bucharest is that it seems like the city is almost trying too hard in some ways. I might be being harsh on the city (kind of like the people there were a bit harsh on me), but there are so many things that are just built to be good for Instagram, it feels less authentic to me. But if you want good Instagrams, there’s lots that’s been built for you.
For dinner, I went to some of the bread places. Holy crap, Romanians do bread so well. It’s amazing. There are a lot of bakeries where you can get fresh pastries and bread. I got a “Luca Traditional” which is ham and cheese baked into a roll, and a “Covrgi Chiocolata” which is this amazing concoction where there is fresh melty chocolate in the middle of something that’s kind of like a cross between a bagel and a pretzel. Amazing.
Overall, Bucharest was a city I was not especially sad to leave behind when it was time to leave. I’m glad I saw it, but it’s not high up on my list of places to go back to soon. But it does seem like a city that maybe someday deserves a second chance. It could be great; I think I might have just drawn a crappy hand of people to meet.