We spent a total of nine days in Bucharest. The first three nights we slept in a hotel and then moved to an Airbnb. We ended up paying the same amount for one week in an Airbnb as we did for the three nights in a hotel. Both were comparable in quality and well located. I have noticed Airbnbs in Europe have lower cleaning and service fees than those in America, making them more affordable.
Seiji and I are not quite paranoid travelers but we are extremely cautious when it comes to protecting our valuables. Before we left home, Seiji stocked up on the security cameras we use around the house. He had an extra lying around, and I asked if somehow we could bring one with and leave it in our hotel rooms/Airbnbs. In that moment we discovered an extra step we could take to ensure our belongings were secure. The camera is not only easy to setup but it also sends push notifications directly to your phone when motion is detected. To some this may appear as overkill but we are planning to be away for several months, and having our things stolen would compromise the longevity of the trip.
Our apartment in Bucharest was tiny but included most of the basics and essentials. From the apartment we were close to two major parks, the city center, coffee shops, and grocery stores. Seiji even found a co-working space which was fifteen minutes away by foot.
The two major parks equidistant from us were Izvor and Cismigiu. Although it is lovely, Cismigiu is overtaken by pigeons. Seiji and I attempted to take a romantic stroll through the park one evening when he suddenly felt a splatter of pigeon dropping on his arm. Naturally I was grossed out but felt relieved it completely missed me. My cousin told me this is considered “noroc” here, the Romanian word for luck.
I favored Izvor Park because it had less pigeons, fewer people, and a good running path. As an added bonus, the park has a nice view of the Palace of Parliament. The Palace of Parliament is a majestic and sprawling sight, known to be the second largest building in the world.
What We Ate
Zexe is a restaurant tucked away in a quiet neighborhood of Bucharest and left a strong impression on us. It serves traditional Romanian food and delicious sarmale (cabbage rolls). Their menu offered sarmale stuffed with wild boar, which really gave them a competitive edge. Seiji could not fully relax because they had live music that evening, and the singer attempted multiple times to make and maintain eye contact with him. If she was successful in locking your gaze, she sang all the way to your table for a private serenade. Whatever she saw in Seiji’s eyes must have deterred her because she never did make it over to us.
Sarmale are small and tasty bundles of joy. They are comprised of pork and rice, tightly wrapped in cabbage. Although they taste wonderful just as they are, sour cream takes them to the next level. Sour cream is a complementary topping to just about anything and everything. I have been calling it the Romanian guacamole, and yes, it costs extra. Growing up we only had sarmale on special occasions such as holidays and weddings. Many restaurants in Bucharest serve them, and I indulged at every opportunity. Mom, I know you are reading this, so when we come home I expect to be greeted with sarmale.
What We Did
One afternoon we visited Carturesti Carusel, a dreamy bookstore with spiraling staircases and a clean aesthetic. We were excited to take a peek at Romanian literature and look through books representative of the culture. We were disappointed when we found an overwhelming amount of American books and titles we were already familiar with, either written in English or translated to Romanian. Our expectation was to find mostly Romanian books with a limited (if any) selection of English ones. Nonetheless it is a beautiful shop, and we benefitted by having the chance to leaf through some travel guides while we were moseying around.
On September 16, we celebrated one whole year of marriage! This trip sometimes feels a bit like an extension of our honeymoon but we keep reminding ourselves this is more of a marathon than a sprint–meaning we are trying to avoid splurging on nicer lodging and expensive meals like we did last year. However, on the day of our anniversary, we treated ourselves to a spa located near the airport in Bucharest.
Therme Bucharest has several thermal pools and saunas. We went late in the evening to soak and relax, and the place actually looked like a Las Vegas club/pool party with the lighting. One of the saunas has a movie theater inside, and it was playing a documentary on leopards narrated by David Attenborough. Only the soothing voice of David Attenborough can effectively distract one from the heat of a sauna.
Therme was overwhelming to take in at first because of its size, the lighting effects, and the endless options. We spent most of our time in the two main pools (outdoor and indoor) which had swim-up bars and figure-eight-shaped whirlpools. I was impressed by the revolving door feature which linked the two, allowing you to move between spaces without having to get out of the water. After swimming we did what felt like a circuit workout, spending just a couple minutes in each sauna and mineral pool. We arrived only three hours before closing, and it was not enough time to fully take advantage of all the facilities. Next time we are in Bucharest we will go for a full day.
Some takeaways from Bucharest surround transportation, lighting, and the people. We walked almost everywhere, and used Uber only as a backup for longer distance excursions. Taxis are dramatically more expensive than Uber in Bucharest, and they are prone to offering a “foreign discount” once they realize you are not a local. I speak Romanian which is helpful but my American accent fails me every time I try to blend in. The drivers are aggressive and scary, and I mentioned my impression to an Uber driver. He replied and said the drivers in Bucharest do not drive dangerously but rather they drive very very well… I guess swerving, speeding, and tailgating can be perceived as skillful driving.
As for lighting, Seiji and I have both noticed how poorly lit the city is. Parks, stairwells, and streets are barely lit at night making perfectly safe parts of the city appear unsafe. The stairwell inside our apartment was especially creepy and dark, and I had to use my cellphone light for the four flights up to avoid tripping on the concrete.
The majority of locals we communicated with were family members and a few Uber drivers, despite our attempts to make conversation with other people around us. Romanians living in Bucharest are known to have colder personality temperaments but an act of kindness landed upon us during our final hours in the city. Seiji and I were standing outside of our apartment with our luggage the morning we were departing to catch a train. Before calling a ride, we decided it would be a good idea to grab some reinforcements from a nearby grocery store. With time being a consideration, Seiji and I began to engage in a debate as to which grocery store was in fact closer and easier to access (couples everywhere can picture this scene). Apparently our “discussion” was noticeable to a man walking down the street who approached us and asked if we needed help. He not only mentioned which store was a shorter walk away, he personally escorted me so I did not get lost. The warmness he displayed in one gesture was more than we had accumulatively encountered over the course of nine days.
This post marks the end of my Bucharest highlights. The city was a rewarding kickoff to our trip!