Ara had the opportunity to go to Bucharest in late September for a work conference--so I decided to buy a plane ticket and join the fun as well! When we found out we were moving to Germany I was so enamoured with the prospect of traveling so much. But I never imagined one of our first trips would be to Romania!
Before we visited Bucharest, it seemed like everyone we told thought we were going to Budapest--but they are completely different places! The names of the two cities share far too many similarities, making it difficult to distinguish if someone is speaking fast, both cities are situated in Eastern Europe and both are capital cities for different countries. But believe me, they are very different! Bucharest (pronounced Bu-k-ah-rrr-essh-t) is the capital of Romania, located in the southeast part of the country. Budapest is the capital of Hungary, located in the northern part of Hungary.
Here's a map of where we visited. The red indicator shows Bucharest and the blue dot indicates where our home is at in Germany.
Our flight from Frankfurt into Bucharest was about 2 hours, landing in Bucharest with a one hour time difference from Germany. I learned quickly that I hadn't asked enough questions about the trip, as I had thought we had transportation arranged from the airport to our hotel. Turns out we didn't! We endured through the process of getting a cab from a machine that I can only describe as a slot machine for taxis. You press some buttons and hoped it gave you a smiley face, indicating that a taxi had been dispatched for you. We pressed the buttons many times, for about 20 minutes straight, only to receive the sad face instead of a smiley face. Finally we received a smiley face and were assigned a taxi to find outside.
Ara's conference was being held at Phoenicia Grand Hotel. It was about 20 min. from the airport and about a 30 min. drive into the city center. I was a bit disappointed that we wouldn't be staying closer to the city center, but this hotel was equipped for conferences and we were there primarily for Ara's work. One major positive was the huge breakfast spread at the hotel--there was an extensive fresh juice bar, you could have your pick of apple, mint lemon, carrot, orange, or grapefruit. I'm quirky about starting the day with a good juice--and this definitely fulfilled that necessity!
I took full advantage of the leisure day at the hotel the first full day that Ara was attending the conference. This was while we didn't have internet at our house, so I took the time to write the Paris blog post and catch up on some Hulu/Netflix shows. That evening we gathered with several of Ara's coworkers and took a taxi downtown to check out a little of downtown Bucharest and eat dinner. We wandered around a seriously gorgeous bookstore, Carturesti Carusel and discovered a tucked away street with umbrellas strung across the alley. Both were beautiful sights to take in on our first outing in downtown Bucharest.
We dined at Caru Cu Bere for dinner with a large group from Ara's conference. Our taxi driver told us that the restaurant is "very interesting, like a museum!" And he was right, as we walked into the restaurant, that dates back to the 1890s, it was so ornate and you could feel the Romanian history all around you. As we waited for our table, there was so much entertainment around us with Romanian dancing and singing in the main part of the restaurant. All that to say, we didn't have the best experience with our food--we waited almost an hour for our group of 6 to get their dinner. It was still great to experience the cultural food of Romania, we just could have done without poor service!
One thing to note is the conversion of currency for Romania. At the time of our visit 1 USD = 3.89 Romanian Leu. This made our money go pretty far for what we are used to. It also took some getting used to when looking at menus. If I was ordering a drink that was listed at 12 Leu--my brain immediately thought that was expensive. But if you do the conversion, it makes the 12 Leu drink to $3.08 in USD. I'm always into seeing the different currency when we travel to different places. The bills of Romanian leu are slick feeling and the coins are so light!
Day 2: I headed out towards downtown in my Uber (I am a big fan of Uber, especially in traveling. I love that there's no exchanging of foreign currency--less taking out money from the ATM and less worrying about haggling the price/getting scammed). You can see how much the trip is expected to be before accepting the fare!
I booked a tour Bohemian Bucharest Markets Small Group Food and Walking tour through Viator. I feel like before moving abroad I scoffed at the idea of taking a group tour. I pride myself on doing a ton of research and love finding things on my own. Usually living in the USA, we would do two or three major trips a year--taking months to plan those and perfect those. But with our trips in Europe so far, we've had very little planning time and the thought of an organized small group tour, where someone local is showing me around and I don't have to do any thinking of how to navigate around a foreign city for 4-6 hours of my time, sounds like perfection to me! This tour was just that for me--with Ara in his conference during the day, the tour was a great way for me to feel at ease touring around a new-to-me city on my own.
Emma, our tour guide, took us around some great hidden spots that I would have never found on my own and talked bits of Romanian history throughout the tour. It was interesting to hear her tidbits about the country and Bucharest. She grew up right as the fall of Communism had occurred and had a very different outlook on the country than her parents or the older generation. Our first food stop was at Dianei 4. From the outside, this restaurant looked like any other Bucharest houses we'd been passing on our walk. The inside was a great "hipster" vibe that the owners are going great lengths to preserve the history and decor of the building, without letting it decay further. We enjoyed a delicious platter of meat and cheese and a Romanian craft beer, Zaganu.
We stopped at two churches along the tour, one where pictures weren't allowed and the other a Romanian-Armenian Greek Orthodox Church. These churches were the most ornate places of worship that I've ever been in--with such dark features.
We rode the tram to a local market. Before we made it to the market, Emma stopped to get us some covrigi. a Romanian baked treat that resembles the German pretzel, topped with sesame or poppy seeds. We munched on the covrigi (I actually prefer this treat over the pretzel!) as we wandered through the large local farmer's market. Emma stopped to purchase some tomatoes and red pepper for our next stop, a local vendor that specialized in Romanian cheese and meats. The vendor prepared a platter for us to enjoy with the fresh vegetables from the market. This platter would be a typical appetizer if you were to go to a Romanian home for dinner. The whole platter was delicious and I was in heaven!
Our last stop was outside the market at a typical Romanian food vendor to get mici. Mici is a short sausage without the casing, typically barbecued. We enjoyed them with bread rolls, mustard and beer.
I headed back to the hotel after the tour to get ready for our evening outing. I was going to be joining Ara and the rest of the conference he was attending for the evening activities. I wasn't sure of our itinerary, only that the attire was "business casual." We headed out and toured the Romanian Military Museum. Seeing old guns and large machines for war aren't exactly my cup of tea but I was in Romania, seeing something I wasn't normally seeing, so I gave it a chance. Then we headed to the Palace of the National Military Circle. When we arrived I thought we were only touring it and then heading to our dinner destination. Turns out, we were having the rest of our evening activities there--at a palace! We wound up a grand staircase, we were greeted with beautiful orchestra music and given a welcome cocktail as we entered a marble hall. It was one of those moments you feel like you are in a movie! The rest of the evening we were gifted with several sets of live music from the orchestra, solo singers and a traditional Romanian band and dancing, complete with a five-course meal. It was a night that I won't forget and completely unexpected!
The next day, Ara finished his conference early and we headed back to the city center. We went back to the beautiful bookstore to get some souvenirs and an afternoon treat at the cafe. We wandered around the Old Town area before meeting up with one of Ara's co-workers for our dinner reservation. I had reserved a table for us at Beca's Kitchen. We arrived to this cozy, small dining room and I immediately knew we were in the right spot for dinner when the server placed the chalkboard menu (that changes daily) on a chair at our table. Once we were ready to order, the owner Beca, came out to explain the dishes that we'd ordered. I loved all the passion she took to tell us every ingredient and the way the dish would be prepared. The stand-out dishes from our evening were the fish carpaccio with lime and the zander fillet with lime and mint sauce. It was a fantastic dinner spot and I would recommend getting a reservation to anyone heading to Bucharest!
We enjoyed our first trip to Eastern Europe checking out Bucharest! If I could go back again, I would love to check out all their street art and more of their coffee shops.