I went on a citytrip to Bucharest in the beginning of May. Normally a good time to visit the place, but the weather was totally messed up – so much that Belgium was the warmest place of Europe in that weekend – that we had all kinds of weather. From rain and thunderstorms with hailstones to a burning hot sun. We had it all, except snow. But we could see that on the top of the Carpathian Mountains, so… ;-).
There were three of us, so to choose a destination was, to say the least, difficult. But we managed to choose one: Bucharest! I know, not the most chosen citytrip there is. Not at all for what I know about it. I don’t know anybody who’s been to Bucharest, let alone Romania. But the main question is, who’s right? All the others for staying away, or me to take a step into the unknown? Well, I think it’s me ;-). I really loved Bucharest. Maybe because I didn’t had high expectations (sorry for that)… But the city was so much more alive than I thought it would be. There are a lot of things going on, a lot of beautiful buildings and the people – although they might seem a bit distance – are really friendly and most speak very good English. So you get along fine!
So for those of you who seek an unique place to be, Bucharest is it. For the moment it’s not overwhelmed with tourist, but they do know what to do with us. There’s plenty to fill your days, and if you want to see a bit more of Romania, they organize a few trips inside and outside Romania. In Romania, although it’s part of the European Union, they don’t use Euro, but they use their own currency, the Lei (€ 1 = 4.4 Lei more or less). That brings me to some downsides of the city:
- In a lot of places you can’t pay with the card, so make sure you have enough Lei on you if you go somewhere. Or check if you can pay with the card or only cash.
- There are a lot of people smoking. Which is fine if you’re a smoker yourself, but if you can’t stand the smell… well you got to suck it up then. But they don’t smoke inside, so that’s a plus again.
- If it rains, the streets are filled with little pools. Or big pools. Just watch your step the moment the rain begins to pour. And make sure you’re not too close to the street neither… otherwise the cars give you a shower.
But let’s start with all the things that we’ve done. To start with, we stayed in the Volo Hotel. The staff here is very friendly and helpful, we had a very spacious room, the breakfast was okay (toast, cheese, salami, tomatoes, cucumber, eggs, bacon, sausages, yoghurt, croissants, coffee, tea and fruit juice). So plenty to go around with. It was also very good located. Close to the old center, close to the Parliament Palace and some city parks as well. Under the hotel there’s a restaurant, so that’s kind of neat as well. So it’s definitely a place I would recommend.
We arrived on a Wednesday, in the afternoon, and left on a Sunday, again in the afternoon. So we had a lot of days to fill. And, if I’m being honest, 4 days are more than enough…
We took the express bus (783/ 780) to the city center and from there we walked, in the rain, to our hotel – which was a bit further than expected… so look at the busstops before you decide to take the bus :-).
The first day we did a small tour around Lipscani, the old city center. We passed by the Cercul Militar Nacional, a very nice building, the Russian Church – which was mainly under construction…, the Stavropoleos Church, the Curtea Veche (or Old Princely Court – where there’s also a statue of Vlad the Impaler, a.k.a. Dracula), Buna Vestire Church, St. Spyridon Church and the Radu Voda Monastery.
In the city center itself there are a lot of restaurants and pubs to go crazy. So chose one and let yourself go. But mind my tip: ask if you can pay with the card or only in cash… to avoid you have to do the dishes afterwards.
The second day was a little bit better when it came to the weather conditions. We only had a small thunder storm, but the real rain only began to pour when we returned in the evening to our hotel. So we could’ve done worse :-).
We visited the Palace of Parliament today. I’ve been told that you had to make a reservation if you wanted to visit the Palace. So that’s what we did. But after making the reservation they kindly informed us to call them the day before to confirm the reservation. So I’m not sure if it’s really necessary to make a reservation at all… We did the standard tour in the Palace. Oh and bear in mind that you can only pay in cash! The Palace is in the top three of largest buildings in the world. And it really is huge. Thank God we had a guide, otherwise I don’t think I would’ve find my way out, as it has more than a thousand of rooms… And you can hold a very big party in every room. I wasn’t ‘wowed’ by the palace. You aren’t allowed to take pictures either, except if you pay an extra 30 Lei. But… if you just shoot some pictures, without paying, they don’t say anything (yet). So another reason to get there fast! You have to except the killing looks from those who have paid the extra amount of money though…
Next to the huge palace we’ve also walked by the Antim Monastery which was nearby. After that we went to the Cismigiu Gardens. We didn’t stay there very long as a small thunder storm was saying otherwise. Next to the Cismigiu Gardens you can find the Cretzulescu Palace, a really nice building. We walked a bit fury towards the Cathedral of St. Iosef and the Ataneul Romanum (the opera building). We had a bit of sunshine at that point, but after sitting a bit in the park in front of the Ataneul, thunder clouds were coming again and not close after that a little storm passed us by… so we didn’t visit much after that. We just returned to the hotel when the rain stopped pouring…
Sun! And we would be on a bus for the most of the day… Thank God the rain didn’t disappoint us neither. Today we booked an excursion through Transsylvania, the Two Castles in One Day Tour. It’s a really long daytrip, if they say 12-13 hours, they mean 13.5 hours… The tour starts at 8h in the morning. So for us that meant getting up really early and leaving before breakfast had started :(. But we had a little shop nearby, so we bought croissants there.
The meeting point was the Ataneul and when everybody of the group arrived, the bus took of to Transsylvania. Our first stop was the Peles Castle in Sinaia (Wallachia). Which is a beautiful castle. It’s also a bit pompous when it comes to decorations… in the entrance ticket taking photos is again not included… If you give and extra 32 Lei (which is about € 8) you can take pictures. But that is just too much! So we didn’t pay. Nobody in our group did. And we all took pictures; only in the end one of our group got a remark of one of the guards. But hey, he got so far, didn’t he! So just do the same.
The second stop was Bran in Transsylvania! There we stopped for lunch and after that we visisted Bran’s Castle, which is mistakenly referred to as Dracula’s castle. Vlad the Impaler was born in Transsylvania, but he ruled in Wallachia and always lived there. So Bran’s Castle has absolutely nothing to do with Vlad. The only reason that people make the link, is because of Jules Vernes and Bram Stoker. Jules Vernes described Vlad’s castle in a book. But on the cover of the book he set a picture of Bran’s castle. And Bram Stoker just looked at the picture I assume… The castle is a medieval castle and is different from the first one. The inside is more humble and everything has been placed there in the last few years – except for some fireplaces.
The next, and last stop was Brasov. A small town in Transsylvania.
When we came back to Bucharest it was already 21h30. The way to our hotel passed by a part of the Lightfestival that was taking place. Big whoop for good timing!
This day was a relaxing-enjoying the sun-day. When the sun shines in Bucharest, it shines very well. And if you’re not prepared, you get burned!
Today we took the subway to the Herastrau Park. The subway is really well organized, but you can only buy tickets with at least two rides. The same for the buses actually. In the Herastrau Park you have different gardens and you can also find the Old Village Museum (Muzeul Satului) there. There you can see how the people used to live in Romania. You can spend a whole day there if you like. There’s also a restaurant.
In the evening we ate at the Boutique Restaurant Chocolat. I read everywhere that it was so good, so I had to try it out. And oh my god yes, it was delicious. After diner I didn’t had a lot of room left for dessert, but being there and seeing all the yummy desserts, I couldn’t say no, could I? Thought so… Definitely try this place out to! And more than once, so you can taste a lot of different cakes.
On the last day we didn’t do much. But some other places you can go to are the Cotroceni Palace and the Botanical Garden, which are in the same place, a bit outside the city. For the Cotroceni Palace you have to make a reservation as well, because it is still used as a presidential palace. So be prepared for some heavy guarding.
I hope I’ve convinced some of you that Bucharest is the new Budapest ;-). It really is a great place to be. Because I wasn’t with the right people, I didn’t enjoy the nightlife, but I’m sure it’s great as well; there are certainly a lot of pubs in the center.
So stop hesitating and book your flight today ;-).
See you soon!