Friday, 6 December 2013

Romania: Day 3

All good things come in threes ... here's the latest update on today's adventures, hot off the presses!

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)
Back to Romania... today I finally meandered into the more affluent parts of Bucharest (Sector 1), and it is a vast different from what I consider to be the 'real' Bucharest. How do I judge the poorer parts to be 'real'? Purely quantitative: most of the people rely on the public transport, and the 'richer' people who can afford cars don't appear to be able to afford new cars (never mind luxury cars). I'd judge that the average age of most cars is ten years (with Dacia and Skoda seeming particular favourites).

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.
The 'special' bus from Otopeni airport has the number 734 ... for whatever reason, it arrives at the airport at the departures section and does not make a separate stop at arrivals, so if you're flying in you're going to have to drag yourself and your bags to the right, and wait outside at departures (there's always a friendly security guard willing to point you in the correct direction).

Just beware if you've got a lot of luggage: space on that bus is at a premium, because it makes a number of stops along its route and picks up a lot of people.

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)
I'm looking forward to the weekend: we've got a visit to the big farmer's market planned, and also to the big new Promenada mall.

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).


  1. Good pics! I'll read your stories, to see Bucharest again with new eyes. Just a small note, the building draped in the flag is the Government, the Parliament is in the large People's Palace.

    1. Thanks Corina! You can chalk that down to my wife ... I told her, and like all good wives she just shrugged and said 'That's what I meant', lol.