Before I start, however, it felt a bit other-worldly to read on the news tonight that Nelson Mandela died. Understandably it's dominating every single news story on the South African news sites, but I heard nothing about it here in Romania ... I just haven't had the time to tune into Romanian news, so I'm operating mostly off the grid.
Given Mandela's protracted battle with his health I think we were all expecting him to die, but the news now is just so final. He's at the very heart of all that South Africa is, if not in reality then at least what we dream to be. He's been the one and only real icon to look up to in a country desperate for them. Rest In Peace, Madiba (note to foreign readers: Mandela was affectionately a man of many names).
|Piata Victoriei, complete with the Romanian Government to the left (draped in the Romanian flag - thanks C)|
As an aside, the majority of the cars on the road are also only occupied by their driver: this is something I'm familiar with from Johannesburg where we have the same thing, and it's something which is no doubt contributing to the traffic congestion here.
The good news is that my delayed luggage - that's the politically correct term for 'Whoops, the airline lost it temporarily' - finally arrived with zero fanfare at Otopeni airport. When we arrived at the airport for the first time we'd specifically arranged to be collected by car, but our faith in the public transport system this time saw us drag our bags behind us to the 'special' bus from the airport and on to the underground Metro.
A couple notes that may help other people flying in: firstly you're going to need to purchase a prepaid RATB (the public transport operator) swipecard to negotiate the public transport system. I'm guessing you'll be able to buy one of these at the airport - we bought ours in Bucharest, pre-loaded with only 20 lei (which we're STILL using - it is seriously cheap). Once you have the cards, you just look for the same orange machines to swipe them across and wait for a green light confirming that your payment has been accepted (none of this is actually explained to you up-front).
|Walking: something you will do a lot of here.|
Also you've got to bear in mind that if you're making a connection from the bus to the underground Metro - the bus runs a small route - you'll have to carry your suitcase down and up a number of staircases (so work on those muscles: dead-lifting 30kg through a rush-hour pedestrian crush is intimidating).
So what else have I learned today? There's a fairly-pricey self-serve buffet restaurant at Otopeni, but the warm home-cooking makes a nice change from the commercialised food elsewhere at the airport and is a great introduction to Romanian cuisine (random fact: chicken - or 'pui' - appears to be the most common meat in Romania), and you can also grab a table with a good view of the planes taking off from the airport.
|The impressive Casa Manu-Auschnitt (another French replica)|
Then there's this park that's apparently amazing nearby, and a stack of other 'to-do's' ... still waiting for the snow to build my first snow-man though! Here's to hoping this info helps somebody someday :) More updates coming.
Like anywhere else, I think you can spot the innate humour in life if you're looking for it. I finally took a break from the amazing architecture when I saw something far more obscure ... I can only guess it's Garfield's Romanian cousin, escaping from the stray dogs (which you do see regularly, as it turns out, but not in the claimed wild packs - mostly just hungry loners).