Travelling through Europe over the past year and a half has given me many things. Croatia and Slovenia showed me sunsets like I had never seen before, Brussels left me with a passion for waffles and Malta? Well, Malta provided me with perspective. So what has Romania got? For a start, Romania has got a bad reputation and I have to say that this part of the trip was not on the top of my ‘looking forward to it’ list. But now I’ve actually visited the place, I’ve got to know the country and people a bit better, I know I was off piste. It’s a country of high emotion and adventure, here are a few stories to share so you know why.
Call it a lack of preparation, a misplaced sense of optimistic adventure or just blind stupidity but for this part of our EU Tour, the Family P. decided to do something a little bit different. We booked our flight in to Bucharest (Romania), the flight out of Thessaloniki (Greece) and the hotel for the first night. That’s it. For ten days we were at the mercy of dodgy Uber drivers, self-confessed Bitcoin millionaires and clearly knackered buses. It’s been a holiday we won’t forget for a while so get comfy and let me tell you all about it.
We landed in Bucharest at 1:30am on Saturday morning. The flight had been delayed at Stanstead for two hours while they fixed the wheels. We used the time wisely and struck up a conversation with Andrei (not his real name). Andrei is a Romanian living in the UK and working in cyber security. Andrei was worried about showing his face because of the potential implications to national security.
Andrei thinks that Brexit is a great thing because ‘many Romanians come to Britain, steal and take all the money back home. Brexit will stop that.’ Controversial perhaps but a valid view nevertheless. Personally, I’m not sure that Brexit itself will have the effect that Andrei thinks but I thanked him for his candour in sharing that view with us.
At Bucharest airport we knew we needed a taxi but after three failed Uber requests we jumped into a local cab. After driving the three minutes to the hotel, he calmly asked me for 50 Lei (about 10 quid). I paid and went to bed. It was only the next morning that my brain caught up as I ordered another taxi to take us into the city proper at 12 Lei (£2.40ish) for a 20 minute journey – ‘THAT THIEVING BASTARD’ was certainly not something I said out loud at an inappropriate volume whilst in the hotel lobby. Any attempt by The Child, who was absolutely not standing next to me at the time, to tell you otherwise is not true and potentially libellous.
So our first attempts at dispelling stereotypes of Romania were not going well, but it’s true to say that this type of incident happens constantly in cities across the world and as dishonest taxi drivers are not limited to Romania, I decided not to hold it against them. If I had, I would not have been able to enjoy the delights of Bucharest to their maximum. A relatively small city, we jumped on a sightseeing tour to get a feel of the scale. Cultural highlights which I fully recommend that you check out include: The second biggest Parliament building on the planet, a park full of conserved buildings from different regions and times across Romania and a city with more McDonalds restaurants per square mile than I could have thought possible.
The Parliament building is unbelievably enormous and an astonishing waste of money. We took the extended guided tour which lasted just over an hour and showed us approximately 5% of the place. It almost bankrupted the entire country to build and now that they have as it costs approx. 3 Million Romania Lei a day to keep it operational, they can’t even afford to keep the lights on. Pride is a very dangerous thing.
We drove out of Bucharest and on up to the Transylvanian countryside. One for the bucketlist was, of course, Dracula’s castle and I had primed myself for what I expected to be a literal sea of commercialised tat surrounding the interesting and historical parts of the story. While there certainly was some needless and unfortunate commercialised shonk being peddled, all the buildings we saw were absolutely beautiful. Bran Castle, Peles Castle, Rasnov Fortress, Brasov and Dracula’s mausoleum to name but a few, each one incredibly well maintained and a phenomenal visit.
Bran Castle is very cool but don’t bother with the ‘Time Tunnel’. I understand that you’ll go anyway because quite frankly who goes all the way to Dracula’s castle in Transylvania and doesn’t get tickets to visit the tunnels under the castle? But you’ll wait for an hour to get in and it’s toss – I’m just warning you.
Unfortunately, our time in Romania was short lived because we had other former Communist loving countries to visit. We handed our keys back to the rental company and jumped into another taxi to get to the bus station. We had a date with an overnight bus into Sofia, Bulgaria but perhaps unfortunately, our Uber driver’s love of Abba didn’t distract us from noticing that he wasn’t taking us directly to the entrance of the bus station and as we pulled through the third back alley of an unfamiliar industrial estate in a city that we’d never been to before at 11pm, Mrs P and I cautiously exchanged our ‘safe words’ as we primed ourselves to implement our pre-prepared escape plan* should the need arise.
But thankfully (and with a literal sigh of relief from all involved), we pulled in just around the corner and managed to walk on to our bus. Our reprieve was short lived however because after a quick adrenaline fuelled confrontation with the driver (it seems that paying extra for seat allocation on an Romanian Bus gives you the guarantee of naff all), 2 hours later we were sitting on the back seat of a coach at the Bulgarian border. The Border Guard had taken passports from all the passengers for a few moments, checked them and returned a few. He then walked off the bus only to return a few minutes later to return the remainder. Except ours. Let me put that in perspective for you: Two adults and one eleven year old girl travelling across the eastern block by themselves had just hours before, suffered mild cardiac arrest having been lost in a taxi in a strange city been driven through what had become affectionately known within the family as ‘murder alley’. Now they were the only people in a group of fifty sat on a bus without their passports after what can only generously be referred to as a ‘relaxed’ approach to identity authorisation at the Bulgarian border at 1am .
And then the bus starts to pull away….
TO BE CONTINUED!
*Keep low, move fast and always aim for the balls.
The #2MenEUTour Big Brexit Tour journey so far: