The train ride from Brasov was comfortable enough and we arrived in Bucharest just after 5pm. Getting to the correct Metro station was easy, but on arrival we realised we didn't have a detailed map that would get us to the hotel. No problem, as we were right outside Hotel Intercontinental. I walked in and asked for a city map.
When we were at Brasov, Gregor had mentioned that, while he'd never been to Bucharest, he'd heard very good things about Rembrandt Hotel. As it turned out, it was the hotel we'd booked.
An arty student-looking young man checked us in. He also helped us secure a table at Caru' cu bere, the beer house mentioned in every review, which was also listed on the Hotel Intercontinental city map as a tourist attraction.
When we got back from dinner, he was still at the desk. When we finished our breakfast the next morning, he was there still. We ran into him again after coming back from a day of sightseeing. I called him The Man Who Doesn't Sleep.
Caru' cu bere
Our table turned out to be on the underground level, so while the food was good, we missed all the performances upstairs. I tried to order the Lord's Meal (duck with cabbage) but the waiter said they had sold out. This gave me an excuse to come back the next day. B was happy to do that, thinking that we could get a table on the ground floor and watch the show.
We were too full for dessert but we had coffee. B ordered a macchiato and got a latte macchiato, which was quite the opposite thing.
Waiter: I know what you mean, but we don't do that.
B (when the waiter was out of earshot): This country must learn to admit it when they get the order wrong.
We made our reservation for the next evening and then walked around the Old Town, parts of which had been recently gentrified but with many streets still in a rather bad state.
When we went back the following night, we got the ground floor table but there was no performance - only 'Musica Populare', which turned out to be old French songs on speakers. There wasn't even the Lord's Meal that I'd come back for. Apparently they were out of duck for the week. In spite of all that, we enjoyed our meal, and this time we even got the doughnuts for dessert.
Palace of the Parliament
On 'sightseeing day', we saw the Old Town in daylight before heading to the Palace of the Parliament, just in time to join the next English tour. You could only enter as part of a tour. The one we joined consisted mostly of Japanese tourists. Before embarking on the tour, we all had to leave our passports as insurance against any mischief we were likely cause. One poor guy had to sit out the whole tour while his friend went on it, because he did not have his passport with him.
It was an impressive building. At the end of the tour, the guide told us that we'd walked 2.5km and covered only five per cent of the building.
Upon our exit, B and I walked around the entire perimeter of the palace, looking for the central boulevard that led to Unirii Square. In the middle of the boulevard was a line a fountains going all the way to the square.
B: The fountains are for the cars.
If we had found Bucharest chaotic before, Unirii was where all the chaos came to congregate. It was a very spacious un-modern Times Square with no tall buildings. On one corner was a series of gaudy water features that did not fit in with anything around them. In fact, nothing fit in. The place must either have been grand once, or was meant to be grand, but I did not get any feeling of grandeur about. All I managed to feel was confused.
We took the Metro back to Universitate and ventured around a little more. There were some very impressive, if not very well maintained buildings. We also passed a bizarre, crumbling street full of bridal shops.
One thing that stood out was cables. Everywhere we looked, the view was marred by thick masses of electrical cable running overhead in seemingly haphazard fashion. On the poles that carried these cables, great loops of slack were wrapped around them, like unruly tangles of hair magnified. It was an unforgettable sight.
In search of one leu
On the final day, we walked into a shop where B found a Romanian flag collar pin she wanted. It cost five lei but we only had three lei left to spend (we needed to save 60 lei for the cab ride to the airport).
When we'd come back from our sightseeing, she was still complaining about the collar pin. I found one leu in coins, which left us one leu short. We still had some euros on us so I suggested that she asked the hotel staff what they could do. To our surprise, they were willing to take one euro in exchange for two and a half lei. Granted, it was a really bad rate for us. It was only one euro though.
With ten minutes to spare until the cab came, we rushed in search for the shop, but found another one nearer to the hotel. Guess what? The same collar pin cost only four lei there! We'd gone to a lot of trouble for nothing.
More problems with money
Our troubles with the leu continued at the airport, where at the cafe they would not take euros, which meant I had to find a bank to get change, and in the departures hall the shop selling chocolate could only accept euros so we couldn't get rid of our excess lei.
B: This country needs to make up its mind which currency it wants to use!