When you travel, even part-time, you kind of feel like you have to be positive about everything. Everything has to be the most beautiful, the most amazing, the most awesome. Fortunately, that’s pretty easy because everything in Iceland is amazing and everything about north Norway is amazing and everything north of the Arctic Circle is amazing. But there was one trip I didn’t enjoy so much.
I hadn’t discovered back in 2009 that I’m a polar bear. Now I would know that I probably might not enjoy somewhere like Romania climate-wise but I didn’t know that then. And even back then, Romania seemed like a totally random destination for me. The truth is that I went there on the strength of Blood & Chocolate, a terrible werewolf movie that I’d quite enjoyed. The book is even worse but whereas the book is set in the backwoods of Maryland, the movie transferred to Bucharest and it looked quite pretty.
The main problem with Bucharest, really, is that it’s a busy capital city in a hot country and I’m really not a city person. The next problem is that when Ceaușescu was removed, he was in the middle of implementing something called Systematization, which was basically urban planning on an epic scale and involved colossal amounts of demolition and rebuilding. Ceaușescu was deposed and executed in December 1989 and I think Romania has gone through a lot of changes in the intervening twenty years, transitioning from one of the very most communist of Soviet states to a modern democratic state and rebuilding the entire capital wasn’t necessarily its highest priority.
My taste in accommodation has usually been “a private room as cheap as I can get and as easy to get to as possible” but even by my standards, this one may have been a mistake. It was a few streets away from Gara de Nord, an area described as one perhaps best avoided. Another of Ceaușescu’s legacy is an army of feral dogs that live on the streets and although they mostly just want to lie in the sun, they’re a bit intimidating to walk past when you didn’t know they were going to be there at all. Next, to get to the terrible hotel, you have to walk past a huge chunk of wall that’s covered two inches deep in old posters and fails to disguise the fact that the rest of the building has been demolished and that the rubble has been left for two decades. There are small scrubby trees growing out of it and it’s a meeting place for half the feral dogs of Bucharest at night. The whole street was narrow and dark and busy and the stone must once have been impressive but now just looked mildewed.
I was given a room on the top floor, with a small balcony overlooking the street. Well, that was ok. Bit hot but I could keep the balcony door open.
The next morning, I was moved down to the third floor because the top floor women’s bathroom was being renovated. The second room was… not so good. It had no balcony, only a small window overlooking this rubbly wasteland. As for the bathroom – right at the opposite end of the corridor – I spent as little time in there as possible. The one and only reason I used the dirty shower was because Bucharest was so hot and humid that I was soaked in sweat within thirty seconds of stepping outside. The windows were covered with faded rainbow privacy film but it had cracked and peeled in several places. You didn’t have to worry about anyone seeing in, though, because it overlooked that wasteland. Many an hour I passed staring wistfully out of my window at the Ibis Hotel just visible above the bushes and wishing I’d gone for the slightly more expensive chain hotel rather than the grotty independent one.
This is what it looked like when I was there. Google Maps tells me that the hotel and half the street was demolished shortly afterwards and a four-lane road and nice open space built in its place:
Bucharest wasn’t all bad. Just that the hotel was terrible and the heat was terrible and I kept venturing out without my guidebook, which meant I spent the first two days wandering around very Soviet-style residential areas and didn’t find anything of the kind that a tourist might want to see. It was also incredibly hard to get out of Bucharest – it seemed that you couldn’t just go to the station, buy a train ticket and go, you had to get a ticket in advance. I did have a day out in Transylvania and it was beautiful.
I still can’t quite bring myself to leave it on that note. I would like to go back to Bucharest one day when it’s finished – possibly in winter, so that I don’t die of heatstroke. But here are a few pictures of nice and pretty and touristy things I found when I thought to actually use my guidebook: