We normally drive or take the train while traveling in Europe. However, European travel restrictions (Schengen Agreement) dictated we get out of Spain as well as twenty-five other European countries and head for a country not part of this agreement. We would be illegal aliens if we remained in Spain. So we boarded our first ever European flight from Barcelona to Bucharest.
Our Bucharest Rental Apartment
We would arrive in Romania with a few leftover Euros which would be of no use paying the airport cabbie expecting Romanian Lei. After reading many Internet warnings regarding the integrity of Romanian cabs drivers, we accepted our new landlord’s offer of having his trusted driver meet us at the airport. We were escorted to his big black shiny Mercedes and chauffeured to our new home for the next 17 days. Even before leaving the airport parking garage, there was much honking and shouting. Our driver had a key to the apartment, eliminating the usual next worry about meeting yet another person to let us into our rental. I was relaxed and confident we had made a good decision.
As we most often do, we used VRBO, Vacation Rental by Owner, to look for apartments. Unfortunately, we let time get away from us and all the Bucharest apartments in the desirable Old Town section we’d looked at months earlier were no longer available. The apartment we selected showed a beautiful, elegant apartment full of Old World charm. Judging by the advertised Internet photos it would likely be one of the best places we would ever rent.
We began to worry when we learned the address of the rental days before our arrival and used Google Earth to explore the neighborhood. Exploring the neighborhood through Google Earth is a normal practice for us, but at this late date our options were limited. Sometimes we drive through bad sections before arriving at our rental. This time there was an uncomfortable silence in the big black Mercedes as we got closer and closer to our 17 day rental. Since I had studied the neighborhood on Google Earth in such detail, the streets began to look familiar and I knew the way to our apartment. I began to tell the driver, turn left at the end of the street, then make a right…. We were getting closer.
One renter reviewing her stay at the VRBO apartment called the building exterior Communism chic. I would simply call it bad, bordering on scary. Unlike many of our past rentals, we were not on the top floor enjoying the vistas. We were on the ground floor with solid metal garage door coverings over the windows which had not functioned in 25-plus years. Little natural light was allowed in.
The front entrance did little to ease our concerns.
Hopefully, arriving in 95 degree humid weather, tired from travel, made our situation appear a bit worse than it was. Then, through a text from the landlord we learned we should not drink the water, rather we should buy large containers at the grocery store. Tap water is treated with chlorine so is safe to drink, except for the E. coli bacteria.
Looking out the windows to the back yard we could see our neighbors barking dogs. One seemed to have mange or some other disturbing disease of its hair. Our trusted cab driver showing us around the apartment told us not to go back there. No need to tell me twice! A family of pigeons lived in our building looking onto this back yard scene. The pigeons appeared to live in a small hole in the wall between the first two floors. These pesky birds could be heard constantly, every day, for 17 days with that relentless, tiresome cooing noise.
As a photographer, I was torn, every morning seeing a beautiful glowing reflected light in the backyard illuminating this ugly backyard scene.
The cab driver accepted our charge card and was off to his next appointment. We were left alone in a strange neighborhood with no food or water. Next task, find an ATM and a grocery store that sells liquor. Thankfully, I knew the location of the grocery store from my electronic stroll through the neighborhood on Google Earth. Bank of Transylvania was our ATM.
It needs to be said that the apartment owners, who we never met, did a wonderful job when they remodeled the apartment. Everything was top notch. They did all they could to make us comfortable in a city and country which had very unfortunately suffered for many years the ravages of Communism and corruption. Also, they left us cookies, a bottle of wine and coffee, which is much more than most landlords ever provide.
Let’s Walk Around the Neighborhood
The only time we got out to see the neighborhood the first 10 days was to visit a restaurant for a late lunch, buy some groceries and the required big bottle of water. Our time in Bucharest actually worked out very well. The weather was too hot for exploring and there was not a whole lot to see anyway. So we used our time as we should, searching the Internet numerous hours every day, planning the next 90 days of our travels from our air conditioned oasis. Traveling the world sounds great until you have to actually make the plans. It requires many hours exploring an infinite number of possibilities of lodging and transportation options and making decisions and sending payments to places I never in my life thought I’d ever visit.
In contrast to Spain and Portugal, Bucharest had a surprising number of good ethnic restaurants, Chinese, Indian, Mexican, Lebanese, Turkish and, of course, Romanian. All were enjoyed immensely. What a welcome relief from the boring cuisine of Spain and Portugal.
These pictures were taken walking back from a good Mexican lunch at El Torrito. The broom and the very clean swept sidewalk was only a few feet away from the dead mouse or rat and lots of trash. What kind of a broom is made of twigs?
For those wishing to be tidy, the city does not provide ample sized trash bins. When we emptied our trash, we simply took it out and placed it on the sidewalk next to a random telephone pole. The next time we would check, it was magically gone. We would also witness residents drop their plastic bottles onto the street when finished rather that finding a trash receptacle. It was similar to Mexico in that regard.
Wires and Cables Everywhere
The amazing amount of wires hanging from poles and laying on the ground really intrigued me. They were also evident on the outside of the buildings. No conduit, not protected, just wires everywhere.
It turns out the thick coiled cables are high speed Internet cables. A resident bragged to me he gets an Internet speed of 500 megabits. In the States if the speed is near 75 megabits I’m happy. While traveling, 20 is a good number. Bucharest is now requiring the vendors to put the cables underground, according to this gentleman.
Bucharest is a town of some newfound prosperity ever since 1989, when their ruthless dictator Nicolae Ceaușescu and his wife died of lead poisoning on Christmas Day at the hands of a firing squad. There are many Mercedes, BMW and plenty of large Audi vehicles. My thought was this recently created wealth and disposable income resulted in these flower vendors. Our older cab driver refuted this, saying they are gypsies who have been selling flowers like this even in the Ceaușescu era. Orchids are very popular throughout Romania. Many residents and hotels have orchids in every window. However, it seems people are not always sure what to do with all these flowers.
Tourists who rent a VRBO or hotel in the popular Old Town section likely never venture into the neighborhood where we stayed. Consequently, they would come away with a completely different and much more positive view toward Bucharest. Next we will explore Bucharest’s more attractive Old Town section.