24th – 27th November 2016
I arrived in the last hours of daylight, in the late afternoon. Originally we were going to take a trip through the Baltics but somehow we pulled Romania out of nowhere.
I had few preconceptions about Romania. I knew it only as an ex-Soviet country. In preparation, I read Along the Enchanted Way, a memoir of life in the northern Maramures; a life of ploughing and reaping; of horse-drawn sleds and warming swigs of tuicā; of seductive gypsy girls, louging in fields and inspiring knife fights.
My original ideas were much closer to the truth of Bucharest than Blacker’s elegy for the rural north. The buildings are imposing with an occasional, architectural flourish. The streets are darker than I’m used to and the skyline becomes an unbroken sea of square rooftops. But we didn’t visit for the architecture.
My friends arrived after me, once the sun had set, and we headed for the centre. We stopped at a bar where the menus were in English and a pint cost more than in London. We didn’t stay to order one.
Romania has the lei (about 5 to the pound) and I enjoyed using a different currency for a change. I remember a time before the euro but was too young to be handling money. Spain’s 25 peseta coin (with the hole in the middle) is all I can recall before the bright cploured euro notes.
That first night, we ended up in a packed bar where a young woman stood on the bar adding “yeah, yeah!” and “get up!” to the top 40 playlist. The next night, after some drinks at the hotel and a little wandering around town, we found ourselves dancing with some Romanians, only one of whom spoke English. They took us across Bucharest in search of happy hours and danced until my friend had to be taken back to the hotel room.
Despite (or because of) being put to bed early from ‘over exertion’, my friend was up early the next day and I woke up to find them already on it. My friend finally needed a siesta and we took our chance to get out of the apartment and out in to the bright but frosty day.
Once out, we got talking to two men from Martinique (who lived in London) and a group of Spaniards (who lived in Dublin). Our sleeping friend woke up in time to catch his flight. And we woke up late on our last night in the capital.