|Despite getting up at zero dark thirty, I got on the S Bahn train about 0430, transferred to a second train and was at the Berlin airport smoothly by 5:25 am. After security I went to the Green Wings airport lounge and got some coffee and breakfast. This brings up a point I'd like to share. If you travel a lot, and pay off your balance each month, look into the Chase Sapphire Reserve credit card (I should get a commission for this recommendation). The annual fee is steep at $450 but when I signed up for this card at the beginning of the year I got a $300 credit for all travel related expenses (this includes gas, and all sorts of stuff) so this essentially brings the fee down to $150. But then I also got 100,000 points transferable to my choice (in total or in parts) of many frequent user programs (so far I've used some of them on United Mileage Plus), membership in Priority Pass which gives me access to many many airport lounges (think free food and booze - although 0600 was a little early to get started even for me), reimbursement for fees paid for global access or tsa precheck (if you don't already have it that's I believe $100 still), and awesome travel insurance including evacuation service, medical, trip cancellation, lost bags, theft, and car insurance. The travel insurance and the 100,000 points were the clincher for me but you have to spend a certain amount within a few month period in order to get the points so wait until you have a big expense. And I can cancel it after one year if I want. Enough of that.
Well as I suspected, the Schengen Agreement is great until you get to an airport passport control and they want to know how it is your last stamp was on June 9th in Florence, Italy (today is September 12), you've only been in Germany 4 nights, and you arrived from Poland. Certainly warrants extensive questioning including: do you have receipts? Well I could probably dig them off my gmail but I have my handy dandy TripIt App and I can show you where I've been, where I've stayed, and my method of transportation since Estonia. So I did and the officer was satisfied with my sabbatical explanation and travel by busses and trains and I was on my way to Bucharest by way of RyanAir which is one of the cheapy European airlines. My ticket was $21 plus another $25 for my bag. I only have with me what would be considered a carry on by American standards but it is too big by most European airlines standards. The carry on bags here are much smaller. So my bag needs to be checked.
As we descended into Bucharest I noticed two things. First, it was perfectly flat with not a hill in sight. Second, there was a lot of air pollution. I got my bag and went to the little grey booth for a bus ticket and got off at Piata Romana where my host was scheduled to meet me. I noticed that I could understand a lot of the signs and upon hearing people talk, concluded that Romanian has a lot of Spanish and Italian similarities. I later found out that Romanian is indeed a Latin language with Spanish Italian and French influences mixed with some Slavic.
My first impression from Bucharest was someone forgot to clean up after the war. Which war it doesn't matter. The buildings have incredibly good bones, and if restored properly could be spectacular. But they are not and virtually all of the buildings are facially in disrepair, there is rubble all over, and everything just generally looks pretty trashy. Even the public monuments are in disrepair and in dire need of maintenance. The building of my airbnb apartment was no exception. The build up of dust and soot in the common areas including window ledges and hardware, the deteriorating walls, holes in the floor and walls, wires running all over the place both in the interior and exterior, and the uneven and tile missing floor was not a good introduction. But, the apartment was completely new and renovated inside and quite comfortable. Just goes to show you can't tell a book by its cover so I won't say that Bucharest is a complete shithole. Turns out there are actually quite a few very nice stores and upscale shopping in certain areas, but they are in buildings the exteriors of which are in terrible disrepair as well. But this tells me that someone here has money, they just aren't using it on infrastructure. The streets are clogged up with mostly older model pollution making cars.
My first day I got groceries - food is very cheap here - and laundry soap and put in a load of laundry and set off on foot to look around. I went to a tourist info office and was disappointed because the guy there was more interested in talking to his friend than answering my SAT questions. In any event, I determined it was going to be a real challenge as a tourist here. Everything is very spread out and transportation is not tourist friendly. To ride the bus, there is no machine from which to get a ticket. You have to actually go to a little kiosk (there is one at almost every bus stop) and get a card from a living breathing person who understands no English so hand gestures are in order and have her load trips on it. In addition, there are no route maps or time tables at bus stops. There also are no public transit maps. The only thing available was a route map in the info office on the wall so I took a picture of it and used it. There may be an app but I didn't look. Oh. And the bus tickets aren't good on the metro. That's completely separate.
After I walked around I returned to the apartment and laid on the couch all night and watched American TV and did three loads of laundry. Keep in mind a wash cycle takes about 2 hours. No joke.
The next morning I went to a nearby stop where the only hop on tourist bus in the city has a stop. It's advertised at only about 25 Lei which is about $6 or $7 so I figured it'd be a good way to cover a lot of ground. Renting a bicycle here would lead to certain death as the roads are packed with cars going way too fast so that was out. There were two Brits at the stop who said they'd been waiting already 20 minutes. The bus is supposed to come every 20 minutes. I waited another 40 minutes and gave up figuring I'd just take city busses around seeing that they are only about .75 per trip. I looked at the picture of the route map and shrugged my shoulders and got on a bus. I landed eventually at a huge park so walked along and stumbled upon a huge building called Beraria. This sounded like brewery to me so I peeked inside and found a huge almost unoccupied restaurant beer hall. They were open so I walked through and discovered a huge outdoor patio in back where people were dining. It would have been a damn shame to continue walking without stopping to sample the beer so I did and the Ciuc on draft hit the spot. I then continued on and came upon an outdoor air museum that had buildings from the peasant days so I got a ticket for about $4 and strolled through there. It was nice.
The second full day I took a bus to Unirii Square near the old town and found the free city walking tour. There were about 25 people and the guide told some good stories including the one about Vlad the Impaler who is thought to be the inspiration for Dracula. After, I continued to walk and explore various parts of the city and went to the Museum of European Art which was nice. The museums here are relatively inexpensive at about $5.
My host came to check me out of my room - which is the first time this has ever occurred. My guess is he's had some theft. He asked how my stay was and how I liked Bucharest. He asked me to be completely honest so I shared with him my observations about the appearance of the city. He agreed and said that the old people have no money to invest and the young people are going out of the country. He said it was a huge dilemma which is apparent. In my feeble opinion, Romania could use some collaborative assistance from other former communist countries like Estonia and maybe Poland to assist in economic development as those countries seem to be light years ahead modernization wise. Bucharest is not tourist friendly at all and they are probably missing out on a lot of potential tourism dollars.
I took the tram and arrived at the train station Gare de Nord (similar name to the one in Paris - notice the French sound words) and noticed a long line in front of a bakery shop. Assuming they were not giving something away for free, this indicated cheap good food so I got in line as I hadn't had any breakfast. I got a long pizza looking thing that had some cheese sauce and some meat on it for 3 lei and also a powdered sugar covered slice of something that turned out to be filled with like a sweet custard cream type filling with raisins. Also 3 lei so my breakfast cost 6 lei which is about $1.75. I got on the train to Timisoara although my stop is Brasov. Brasov is the location of Bran Castle which is the basis of the story Dracula.