We are in Bucharest, Romania for one week. And we frankly think it is sending us a message loud and clear—it is time for you two guys to leave Romania. My previous post described our initial disillusionment with Bucharest: it is a big city (with just under 2-million residents) and is cold, dank and more than a little depressing.
Romania is a remarkable country and well worth visiting. But I cannot recommend Bucharest. Like many big cities around the world it seems to be jaded, cynical and just plain rude. I am not an expert when it comes to international politics but I can only imagine life was difficult here under communist rule.
Romania is no longer a communist country and now boasts a quasi-democratic form of government. But the pall of communism continues to hang heavy over Bucharest (at least in Sector 3 where we are) and it’s easy to imagine yourself back in a highly regulated and austere communist Eastern Bloc country at the height of the Cold War. But I try to refrain from commenting on local politics during our travels because as an American I am woefully ignorant of world affairs—so I stay silent.
Since arriving in Romania almost three months ago we have met some truly amazing people: Ingrid in Oradea, Timea in Cluj-Napoca, Emanuel, Mona and Sorin in Sighișoara and Gheorghe in Rasnov. We will never forget these people who graciously and warmly welcomed us to their country and helped us gain useful insights into its proud and diverse history, people, culture food and drink. Through their open generosity Romania will always have a warm place in our hearts—thank you my friends one and all for your wonderful gift to us. I think the heart and soul of Romania is in Transylvania—I would give Bucharest a pass.
Last night we hiked further downtown for dinner at a Chinese restaurant we had seen the day before. We managed to navigate the non-English menu and our waiter’s broken English to order our meal (no tourists or travellers in sight—just locals). We each had a large Ciuc Premium beer before our meal arrived and then the power went out—I didn’t think it would be a problem because most cooking is with gas. Then we saw some commotion outside and faint signs of smoke indicating a transformer had blown. Our food arrived and we began to eat in the dark—no problem. Or so we thought but things escalated.
Our waiter returned and told us the restaurant was closing even though we had just started eating. I asked if we could finish our meal first (and I thought he said yes) but it might have been lost in translation. By this time the street outside was filling up with wildly gesticulating people and more and more smoke and the waiter came back moments later and said we had to leave—NOW. We grabbed our coats and stepped outside to chaos—the building next door was completely engulfed in fire and the first fire trucks and police were arriving on scene. Guess it wasn’t a transformer after all. Wow—who knew?
Being an honest guy I asked our waiter what we owed him instead of just quickly walking away. After all we had finished our two large beers and about a third of our meal—he said 15 RON or $3.68 USD which sounded fair. But when I opened my wallet to extract 15 RON he quickly changed the amount to 50 RON—I think he saw I had a large amount of cash in my wallet. Complete bullshit—it wasn’t our fault the building next door caught fire and we had to leave without finishing much of our meal. But I wasn’t going to make an issue of it even though I’m sure the money went directly into his pocket and not into the restaurant’s till.
That’s often the difference between big cities and most small towns and villages. This scenario could have happened just as easily in New York City, London or Paris as Bucharest. It’s dog-eat-dog in the big cities, every man for himself, where in the smaller towns folks seem to be more honest for the most part—the same is true in the USA. Across the globe many people think all Americans are rich and entitled and therefore fair game—and by comparison we often are I guess. Maybe this young man is barely getting by and saw an opportunity or maybe he is just a thief. It doesn’t really matter—I know I did the right thing.
Field Notes: My last two posts have been negative and I’m sorry about that. But that’s the reality (ups & downs) of travelling like we do. And we wouldn’t change a thing. Romania is AMAZING and 98% of our experiences have been positive to the max. It’s unfortunate that we’re winding up our time in Romania on a sour note but we’ll remember the positives (Ingrid, Timea, Emanuel, Mona, Sorin and Gheorghe) long after the negatives have faded. Bucharest is an anomaly as far as we’re concerned: dreary weather, dreary architecture, jaded big city people struggling to get by. Plus I’m coming down with another cold. SFD