A Brief Holiday In Bucharest – Paris of East Europe
Bucharest is known as Paris of the east, and rightly so. With its east European architecture, coupled with a romantic sense of history, it is a must visit city if you happen to be anywhere in the vicinity. My husband was to visit Bucharest as a part of his business trip. I too decided to accompany him for a brief holiday in Bucharest, though I did not know what to expect from the capital of Romania. All I knew about Romania was that this country boasted of castle Dracula in Transylvania, the castle in which the fictional count Dracula lived; and that it was the country my father’s favourite athlete, Nadia Comaneci hailed from.
As soon as we got down at the airport, we were impressed with the automated taxi booking system, where you just have to take out a slip from the machine and wait for that numbered taxi outside. We became more and more comfortable as we sped towards the city in our taxi. Our taxi driver thankfully knew English and was pursuing his engineering degree on the side. He acted as our guide for free as we moved through the new part of the town with well laid out roads into the romantic architecture of the older part of the city.
We had a nice apartment in the heart of the city for our week there (my husband’s company arranged that for us). It came with all the finishing touches of a house well lived in, with dish washer and washing machine etc. I liked the fact that we got a glimpse into the common household of a Romanian house, even though this one had been modernized to cater to international travellers. My husband’s office had informed us that they had paid extra for breakfast every day. But there was no provision provided. When I inquired about it, the owner got confused at first, but when he understood the situation, he quickly apologised. He came over in a couple of hours, with breakfast supplies fit for a party of 50! Even though this was not what had been promised, his over-compensation left us very amazed and amused! What I also liked was that he had brought a number of things which were typically Romanian, like sesame sticks and some unique cereals, and surprisingly, a champagne bottle, which we would never have thought of purchasing ourselves. Thus, I loved the fact that I got some more insight into the local Romanian life!
Bucharest is a fledgling city with a lot of young people full of aspirations. Most of the young generation knows English, which made our interaction with the local populace easy and insightful. The best part about our trip was wandering into the by lanes of the old city, where every turn we took was a surprise as we stumbled upon a church or a theme based restaurant catering to the wandering tourist’s delight. We browsed through the books and DVDs at a book museum once, which was designed combining the communist architecture and the more modern avatar of the city.
On the second day of my holiday in Bucharest, when K came back from work, strolling through the by lanes we chanced upon this small but pleasant restaurant called Becca’s Kitchen. We later found out that it is one of the highest rated restaurants in the capital city and we were not surprised. Becca’s Kitchen is run by Becca, who is always around to interact with the customers and is one of the friendliest hosts we could imagine. She had anecdotes to share from her travels and how she decided to open the quaint restaurant which, to her surprise, became so popular. Every day is a different menu at Becca’s Kitchen, and we were happy to find many vegetarian choices as Becca explained in detail how every preparation was made. She was genuinely interested in where we came from and promised to get in touch when she visited India. After the sumptuous dinner we walked back to our home stay via google maps. With our mobile batteries dying on us mid way, we found ourselves slightly lost in the unique streets, which we did not mind at all! It was delightful to walk in the beautiful roads, hand in hand, lost to every worry in the world!
Next day we hired a cab and visited many a monuments and once again the cab driver, Marcin, doubled up as our guide. We soaked in the history of Romania as he explained the troubles that the Romanian people had to go through under Nicolae Ceausescu’s regime in the 70s and 80s. Ceausescu was a communist leader with horrible policies. He had the most notorious secret police in the world that was known for torturing the general population. He decreed that most of the produce that people produced, like grains, rice, and goods for local consumption, would be exported, thus initiating a terrible famine in the country. Eventually, there was an uprising, where he was dethroned and later executed. As we drove past all the magnificent monuments in the old part of the city, we could have a peak into the mindset of the people of Romania. Even after going through so much in the past, they were still warm and welcoming!
Our host, with the other breakfast supplies he had brought us, had also brought us some flour (I really was amused by their choice of things related to breakfast – flour, champagne etc!). Anyways, one of the evenings when we just wanted to stay back and laze around in the apartment, I cooked dinner. I wanted to make some stuffed cottage cheese parantha. Everything was set, but only after starting cooking that I realized that we don’t have a rolling pin (belan). Never to give up so easily, I found a unique substitute for the rolling pin – the champagne bottle! It was awkward at first (mostly because K and I couldn’t stop laughing), but I soon got the hang of it, and managed to make some pretty amazing paranthas!!
During the week, I used to roam around the city alone during the day, and take K to the places which I felt were great in the evenings. In one of my solo outings, I went to a museum which showcased the rural life of the Romanian people. A lot of these rurals were gypsies, and travelled from place to place in search for adventure and satisfaction of the soul through the passage of space and time. Though most of the gypsies were forced to settle at some point by the regressive governments of the past, there were some who had avoided this fate, and till today, roamed about, living a life uniquely free and fierce. These people were colourful, singing and dancing with complete abandon. They were brave people, willing to forgo a life of comfort and security, because they could not say no to the stirring of their souls, which commanded them to travel! I came away with an immense respect for these travelling gypsies, who had been listening to their hearts for centuries!
I would often have lunch at local, non touristy restaurants, to get the flavours and culture of the place. Though not super easy, it was not difficult to get vegetarian food either. Pita pockets and pita rolls were easily available everywhere, and if you asked for it, most restaurants happily gave substitutes for non vegetarian dishes. The food in Romania was great, with spices not hugely different from the ones used in North India.
On the last day of our holiday in Bucharest, we went to visit Maria, the mother of a Romanian friend. She lived about half an hour away from our apartment. We reached there, to be met by the most adorable little woman ever! Maria lived alone in a cute little apartment with a small garden outside. It was apparent that she had lovingly made the house a home. She did not know a word of English, and we spent the entire afternoon talking through google translate! It was hilarious, how she would scurry to her work station, and type to ask us if we wanted tea, or coffee, or even if wanted to go to the bathroom!! We had a very lovely time there, talking through the barriers of different languages! She showed us her photo albums, made fresh pancakes for us, experimented with a vegetarian stew, and just simply laughed all the time!
That is one of the most vivid memories that I took back from my holiday in Bucharest. Not the huge statues adorning numerous streets proclaiming a victory in war, but the sweet disposition of the people there, of them being genuinely caring! Bucharest is definitely a place worth visiting!