On the train to Bucharest, we were overheard speaking English by an older Romanian woman travelling with her granddaughter who decided to take that chance to practice her very limited English by telling us all about her family (with pictures!) including her brother who lives in Toronto (everyone has a relative in Toronto apparently). This seems very typical of Romania – although we were warned repeatedly before coming here that we had to be careful and that people here weren’t trustworthy, we’ve found exactly the opposite. People go out of their way to be friendly and helpful, and will come up to you on the street if you’re holding a map to help you figure out where you are. Even those with a limited grasp of English will try to help – warnings about caution with our personal possessions abounded and offers to show us how to get places were always forthcoming. The only challenge we experienced was the tendency to get ignored in less touristy restaurants – we once sat an hour with our waitress completely ignoring us. In Bucharest we stayed at a nice hostel (but nothing to compare with Gabriel’s in Brasov) in a slightly seedier area of town (of which there are many in Bucharest).
Bucharest is an interesting city – modern in its young population and vibrant nightlife, but it lacks the charm of many other European cities which can only be attributed to years of communism and earthquakes. Much of the pretty old town was partially destroyed by an earthquake and then dismantled to build the enormous Palace of Parliament – the second largest building in the world, after the Pentagon. Bucharest does have some very pretty buildings, but those are interspersed with the solid concrete blocks typical of communist architecture. We still managed to find some gems – a night market, some beautiful churches and a lovely old hospital. We ate dinner at a cute jazz restaurant owned by an Irish guy – who heard English and gravitated towards and then picked up some homemade caramels at the night market before heading back to our hostel.
We headed out on the train the next day for Bulgaria – first stop, Veliko Tarnovo!