Bucharest, Romania

October 28, 2007 at 12:15 pm | Posted in Romania | Leave a comment

Bucharest, Romania Sept 27 – Oct 1

Our visit to Bucharest, Romania was short but sweet. This would be our first experience with train travel via sleeper car which we arranged in Istanbul a few days before. We didn’t know what to expect considering the railway station was a bit forboding and an other hotel guest who had just arrived from the opposite direction via train had kindly advised us to remain “open-minded”. Luckily, our assigned compartment for our 11:00 pm departure was paneled in a rich wood and looked classic against the crisp white sheets of our bunks. There were three bunks one above the other all the way to the roof of the train with an exciting ladder to the top. While the children slept, Mom and Dad squinted out the open window across the turkish landscape awash with moonlight yet too dark to discipher the mysterious bonfires, movements, sounds, trees, wagons, and fields that will remain unseen on this trip. The consistent rhythm of the train against the metal tracks lulled us to sleep and we only woke once to get off to have our passports checked at the Bulgarian border which lay between Turkey and Romania. We envisioned grumpy border guards with little patience interrogating us in the middle of the night to get their jollies but rather we found sympathetic folks allowing families with children to go straight to the front of the line and we were back in our bunks in no time. See what Hollywood can do to your optimism? The entire train ride was 19 hours and because of the novelty, it flew by. We had plenty of snacks from the market and we conveniently slept in the compartment next to a family with four children (!) who were travelling to Transylvania for a weekend getaway while vacationing in Istanbul. They lived in Nairobi and before that, Thailand, and had travelled all around the world. They were so laid back about travel with children and gave us some good tips on where to go as we rattled off our itinerary. It was a confidence booster for us and fortunate to have met them.

Bucharest was nice because we had friends there and we basically took it easy. Our friend Michael was our next door neighbor when we lived on State Street before we bought our house on Pond Street. He married a Romanian girl, Daniela, and they were our hosts for the weekend! We toured around the city and were surprised at the beautiful architecture. Not knowing much about Romania, we didn’t have many preconceived notions but expected starkness but instead it was a lively capital city. Michael gave us a driving tour around the city where we were reminded of the deposed dictator Ceausescu (if you are wondering how I know how to spell his name, we have Microsoft Encarta’s Encyclopedia loaded on our laptop – handy) who was executed after being accused of crimes of humanity and how he had taken over the city and oriented it towards Communism and “the party” and the grandiose buildings that focused on the leadership. One such building was the enormous Royal Palace which was to house Ceausescu and all of his colleagues. Michael told us stories about how the Ceausescus installed thick gold roping at the bottom of the red velvet drapes so the drapes would not sway in the main hall while people in the country were starving. After his fall, the building, the second largest in the world besides the Pentagon, was deemed inhabitable because it cost too much to heat and it now sits empty in the middle of the city. We went to an outdoor museum that showed traditional country life. If we had more time, we definitely would have rented a car and went out to Transylvania to see the countryside and the Carpathian mountains famous for their beauty, skilling and Dracula associations. We were very impressed with the country architecture and at the museum and the boys caught their first glimpses of the impact of war in the indoor photographic section. It was not too graphic and was a healthy way to get introduced to war while seeing what there is to protect – individuality and the customs unique to each country.There are large parks in Bucharest so the boys enjoyed some much needed running, climbing and jumping while we enjoyed the sunshine. Daniela showed us the “old district” which we went back to ourselves the next day for some authentic Romanian fare at the “Beer Cave” Restaurant which included folk dancing in a beautifully decorated restaurant. The boys got to have frankfurters for the first time in weeks! It was our wedding anniversary also so we ate, drank and made merry Romanian-style! Since the hotel had wireless internet accessible from our room, (often it is only available from the business center) we spent the next day and a half, doing laundry, uploading photos, watching t.v., eating, and relaxing in the nice hotel that Michael and Daniela had arranged for us. It was great! Cartoons in Romanian are just as entertaining!We went out for a breather to buy a guidebook on Egypt – the next stop. Daniela told us about a big bookstore so we made our way there and, because the guidebook was in English and imported, the normally $20.00 guidebook was a whopping $35.00! Well, we expect Egypt will be worth it, so we licked our wounds and went on to mail a simple package back to the States containing some things we had collected. Not so simple. We first went to the post office nearby who advised us that we must go to a special post office that is just for mailing packages. Then we walked several long blocks to that post office only to find out that if you are going to mail something out of the country, you must go to one of two post offices in the city. By this time, we needed to get to the train station so we gave up but managed to buy a box and masking tape and took the loot with us on the train to our next stop. We also attempted to buy stamps but you needed to get on the stamp line and not the check cashing line or the bill paying line or the something else line. No one spoke English and we couldn’t figure out which line was for what nor did anyone offer up the explanation on how to mail packages so, we did not mail any postcards from Romania! Of all of the countries so far, this was the only one where we had an issue with being able to communicate! Our next stop was back to Budapest, Hungary which was returning us back to our starting point of the circle around the Balkans and was where we were due to catch our flight to Egypt. The train was a 15 hour trip but we were now so excited about train travel, we looked forward to it. We got an equally tidy cabin at 6:00 pm and settled down for our trip. Daniela had packed some cookies and treats and we waved good-bye to our short yet sweet visit to Bucharest, Romania.

(click photo for slideshow)

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