Bucharest

07/08/15 – 11/08/15


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After the huge disappointment of Sunny Beach, we were a bit rattled. We were looking forward to getting back on the road again after our Workaway, but then spent a few days stuck in some sort of Little-Britain-meets Vegas-is-this-even-Bulgaria vortex that we wanted nothing more than to be back home. A few transport issues getting from Sunny Beach to Bucharest only solidified the whole average experience, so we arrived in Bucharest nervous and on edge to wait awaited us.

I’m almost embarrassed to say that I was anxious about visiting Bucharest. For some reason I thought it was going to be really poverty stricken, full of beggars and still very reminiscent of its Soviet past. I couldn’t have been more wrong, and can’t emphasise enough how much of a fun and lively city Bucharest is.

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We’ve checked into Doors Hostel, which has got a really relaxed, almost hippy atmosphere about it. It’s probably too relaxed, our dorm didn’t have a lock at all, and neither does the main entrance to the hostel. It’s basically open 24/7, which is kind of unsettling. At least there are lockers in our dorm, so at any rate our valuables will be safer than us. Apart from this pretty gaping flaw, Doors Hostel does actually seem very nice. Our room has six beds and it’s very big and spacious, and I really love the outside area –heaps of tables and chairs, plus a big undercover pergola filled with cushions and carpets. Very zen. Except when Daniel and I were playing Jenga – It. Was. On.

Jenga and cider at Doors Hostel.
Jenga and cider at Doors Hostel.
The cat belonging to Doors took a fancy to us, and Daniel's bed.
The cat belonging to Doors took a fancy to us, and Daniel’s bed.

We decided there’s no more slacking off, that Sunny Beach is behind us and we need to get back in the swing of things. So after only checking into Doors Hostel an hour ago, we headed out the door to join a free walking tour, which was starting at 6pm.

Now, we’ve done quite a few of these tours after these past five months, and can tell you that it all lives and dies by the guide. Of course the information is crucial too, but it all depends on how the guide delivers this and how they wrangle the normally quite large groups of people. Unfortunately for us, we did not have said stellar guide this evening. The poor woman, she meant well, but she spoke far too softly and not with nearly enough enthusiasm. The one highlight was when she told a kind of lame joke about the local Starbucks being in Bucharest since the 19th century, and an Aussie girl believed her. Cringe. Anyway, it got to the point where we couldn’t take anymore, and we did the unspeakable. We snuck off from the tour…

…And went to a bar instead. I know, we’re terrible people.

Cheers to you, Bucharest.
Cheers to you, Bucharest.

But terrible people who found a very cool rooftop bar, attached to a hostel nonetheless. Bar Pura Vida is located right in the old town, and despite being part of a hostel is still filled with a healthy number of locals. So while we did feel a bit guilty ditching our walking tour, we managed to feel better looking across the rooftops with an Aperol Spritz in hand as the sun started to set.

The next day was the main event, the reason we came to Bucharest on these specific days: Summer Well festival. A music festival promising some live music from some of our favourite bands; Circa Waves, Foals and The Wombats to name a few. It’s across two days and each day doesn’t start until 5pm, amazing! Before then, however, we have the whole day to do some more exploring.

We walk to what feels like Hungary to arrive at popular café/bar M60. It’s perfect. If I had to design a café it would look like this. It’s industrial but cosy at the same time, plus it has a good energy, which comes from the hipster music they play and the constant hum of people talking. The menu is simple and the drinks/coffee list impressive, our highlight not so much being the food, rather the hands down best lemonade I think I’ve possibly ever had in my life. Some kind of simple mix of honey, ginger, lemon and mint in a mason jar and HEY PRESTO my taste buds are overwhelmed, excited and delirious –sort of sums up my emotions of the past five months. The food was great also, probably the reason we visited three times in our short stay.

M60 cafe and bar.
M60 cafe and bar.
Not the most well presented dish, but delicious nonetheless. Spinach, quinoa, feta, peach and cucumber salad.
Not the most well presented dish, but delicious nonetheless. Spinach, quinoa, feta, peach and cucumber salad.

I’m sure we did some more exploring apart from lunch, but that lemonade is all I can currently remember pre-Summer Well.

Summer Well was fantastic. Coming from Australia, we have a real problem with binge drinking/drunken violence, and our festivals tend to reflect it. The drinks are limited (definitely no spirits in sight), expensive and there’s usually always a heavy police presence, which can sometimes detract from the day. Not here. Beer is of course the cheapest and most readily available drink (just over $2AU), but then you can also buy Jager mixed drinks for under $10AU, or even shots! Shots!! My Aussie binge-drinking self can’t believe it. To accommodate all this loose alcohol, there are plenty of food options too. We feasted on a gourmet burger and chips for less than a total of $20AU.

Cocktails in noodle boxes at SW.
Cocktails in noodle boxes at SW.

Ok, the music. The day started with Circa Waves, a band we actually saw in Brussels way back in April, and they were great. The perfect opening to any festival. Coupled with La Roux and then Foals (the absolute highlight of the day), it was a magical day. Magical also because of the whole setting of Summer Well. Located about 40 minutes out of Bucharest in some kind of forest estate, the music was obviously only a small part of this event. Aside from the main stage, there’s endless paths leading to different food stands, bars, pop-up shops, lounge areas and more. The whole place is covered with fairy lights and lanterns, especially the Finlandia Vodka sponsored ‘tree house’. We had a couple of hours to explore the most we could while there were two acts we could afford to miss.

Grainy pic of Foals, too excited to stand still.
Grainy pic of Foals, too excited to stand still.
Magic SW festival.
Magic SW festival.

It’s with great sadness that I admit that we never made it to day two of Summer Well. We were up bright and early-ish the next day, but did not feel well enough to make it there come late afternoon. I hear you all shouting ‘hangover!’ and I wish it was only that. Truthfully, we had a lingering case of mild food poisoning, which followed us both from Veliko Tarnovo –I’m sure from that terrible Ethno restaurant. Moral of the story: never be too polite that you’re afraid to send back your cold chicken dish.

Excited to be listening to live music finally!
Excited to be listening to live music finally!

So while it was annoying and frustrating that we couldn’t enjoy our time in Bucharest (and Summer Well) to the fullest, it for the most part didn’t hold us back too much. Before we were meant to be heading to the festival on day 2, we enjoyed some more great food and cheap cocktails at another hipster haunt –A1. We enjoyed Cuba Libres for just over $5AU each, and sampled a couple of things from the lunch menu –the hummus plate with flatbread was the winner there. The bar is small, housed in a refurbished Chinese restaurant by the looks of things, but it is very cool and only affirms how lively and interesting this city is.

No stop in Bucharest would be complete without a visit to the Palace of the Parliament, an outrageously lavish office building which is the largest building in the world, after The Pentagon in the U.S. The security is perhaps on par with The Pentagon too, seeing as we needed to surrender our passports to gain entry, and go through an extensive security screening. Nonetheless, it is worth the trouble and paying for the organised two-hour tour. The Palace has been proudly fitted head to toe with Romanian materials, from the seemingly infinite marble, to the two-tonne chandelier hanging in one of the auditoriums. We weren’t able to take many pictures unfortunately –as we weren’t allowed- but managed to sneak a couple of inoffensive ones.

Palace of the Parliament.
Palace of the Parliament.

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Like I said, the place is absolutely enormous. A two-hour tour covers less than 5% apparently, and there are a number of secret underground passages and tunnels that only a select few know about. #conspiracytheoristsunite.

Views from the balcony.
Views from the balcony.
The palace by night.
The palace by night.

Before I sign off, I almost forgot to mention yet another cool brunch spot that is a favourite with the young locals, Simbio. A proper, hearty, protein-rich brekkie is often hard to find in Europe, but Simbio didn’t disappoint with its huge variety of options. But we opted for the classic Eggs Benedict and Eggs Norwegian and were left very happy and satisfied. Bucharest is really turning into yet another Eastern European foodie destination, similar to Belgrade, and we love it.

Breakfast of champs.
Breakfast of champs.

Bucharest was a truly wonderful shock. It far exceeded all of my uneducated and ignorant expectations (apart from when we got scammed by a taxi driver), and I’d visit again in a heartbeat, plus will begin to spout praise for the city to anyone who will listen. It’s had a complicated past, and the Romanian’s relationship with the Parliament Palace reflects this –some view it as a symbol of Romanian of architecture and craftsmanship, while others see it as a stark reminder of communist history, seeing as a huge chunk of the city was destroyed in order to accommodate the building and wider area. Aside from all of this, Bucharest feels like a complicated mix of Paris and Berlin, with a splash of Melbourne –but is still very much its own unique city. The old town isn’t ‘quaint’ or ‘charming’, it’s exciting and energetic, beautiful and diverse.

The old town.
The old town.

Bucharest, the city that restored our love of travel.

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Now, we head North to Transylvania – the picturesque town of Brasov.

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