Wednesday, 18-03-2015 & Thursday, 19-03-2015.
Days 210 & Day 211.
We left Turkey at the civilized time of 10:40 a.m. and after the double security screening and a short, but efficient flight on Tarom Air, we arrived in Bucharest just before Noon.
[Small aside: My Charles Schwab debit card was once again refused at an ATM, even after alerting them to my travel plans numerous times. The saga continues.]
Our host at Bucharest Boutique Accommodations (a great little B&B in central Bucharest) was waiting for us after we got through a reasonably hassle-free immigration process.
On the way to the hotel we drove past the Arcul de Triumf, which is based on the l'Arc de Triomphe in Paris, but it was being cleaned and was draped in scaffolding, so it wasn't very photogenic. We also drove past the Palace of Parliament, which is huge (really huge—it's the second largest building in the world after the Pentagon). We were told only about half of the building was being used, but construction still continues.
We didn't really know what to expect from Bucharest, so we were really curious about the city as we drove in. Our host was very good about pointing out interesting landmarks and sights to see while we were there.
No Stray Dogs
As we drove along into Bucharest's downtown, we noticed that, unlike India and Bali, which were crawling with stray dogs, the city was almost devoid of feral street animals. It was the first time since Japan that we hadn't seen scrawny animals roaming a major city's streets. This wasn't by accident, though. Until recently the city was crawling with huge packs of feral dogs. Attacks and bites were commonplace, and there were a number of deaths from dog bites. But when a four-year-old boy was attacked and killed in a park, the government took the radical step of rounding up a great majority of these wild animals and euthanizing them. It's an issue that divided Romanians, but the net effect was a notable lack of wild dogs.
After we got settled in to our room at the B&B, we went out exploring (and managed to get some cash after a lengthy call to Charles Schwab to get my card unlocked again). We ended up at La Bucara, a nearby restaurant serving traditional Romanian food, for an early dinner.
We found out quickly that many people in Romania smoke and the restaurants here are only starting to institute no smoking sections. So many of the restaurants we ended up eating at during our 10 days in Romania were filled with a thick haze of cigarette smoke.
Aside from our host, many of the Romanian people we met had only one question for us, "Why do you want to come to Romania?" It was a little funny at first, but when it happened almost every time we spoke to someone about Romania, we started to get a little sad for them. Don't get me wrong, the Romanian people we met were very nice, but many of them don't seem to have a lot of national pride.
Because Romania is relatively inexpensive and it's central to the Schengen Area (there will certainly be more on this later), it's a popular long-term (90 days max unless you can secure a longer visa) stop for families who are traveling the world. As luck would have it, we were able to connect with two of these families for dinner—Talon (from 1 Dad, 1 Kid, 1 Crazy Adventure) and his son and Rob and Tracy (from the Expat Experiment) and their son—on our second day in Bucharest.
We met for lunch at a Vietnamese restaurant (we all agreed it wasn't as good as Vietnamese food in Vietnam but still pretty good) and just hung out together for the afternoon and into the evening until we parted ways.
One cannot understate the pleasure of having casual conversations with other adults. Of course most of the talk was about travel, but after months of talking only to each other and the kids, it was a joy to talk to other grown-ups. But the kids enjoyed having other kids their own age to play with for a little while.
Before walking back to the B&B, the girls and I visited Carturesti Carousel, the new hot bookstore in Romania, pictures of which have been burning up the Internet.