It really was a weird feeling to be taking the train into my final country after 3 and a half months of travelling and 13 months of being abroad. It was quite fitting that I made the journey from Bulgaria to Romania by train, given it’s my favourite way to travel and I had been robbed of a few train journeys due to my plans constantly changing over the past few months.
The first leg of the 6 hour train journey didn’t go quite to plan as the Veliko Tarnovo station was not in use, though nobody thought to tell me. I sat there eagerly awaiting a train that was never going to come. Luckily, they had a replacement bus to get me to the next station along, though the train ended up being delayed so I had a wait there too. When it finally chugged up to the platform, it was an old Communist style train with old school compartments. This was fun as it was more or less empty and so I got an entire compartment to myself. What was less fun was the lack of air-conditioning. You’d think I’d be used to heat by now but the September sunshine was stifling and none of the windows would open! Still, it was scenic – if sweaty – ride across the border and into Romania’s capital, Bucharest.
I’d originally planned on just coming straight to Romania but a cancelled flight meant I ended up going to Bulgaria first instead. I was glad I did as Bucharest didn’t seem to have nearly as much of the charm that Sofia had. It was a nice enough city to spend a couple of days but it didn’t wow me like Sofia did. There was less of the charm and more of the feel of a standard capital city. That’s not to say I hated it, and there were gems to be found as there are anywhere. I guess I just fell so in love with Sofia that Bucharest paled in comparison.
I stayed in the Funky Chicken Hostel which I basically chose because of its cheap price (around £4 a night) and it was pretty well located near to the train station and some of the sites. I’d hazard there are better places to stay for the same or slightly more money. The hostel was pretty basic, but fine, but the staff weren’t the friendliest and it’s the first ever hostel I’ve been to where leaving my bag for the day after checking out has been a problem. It was a shame not to end my trip on a high after some of the fantastic accommodation I’ve stayed in.
As such, it was my mission to try and spend as little time as possible there so my pedometer racked up a high count. Bucharest felt a lot more spread out than Sofia did but, like Sofia, there were some great architectural wonders to be found, not least the Bucharest Parliament, which is the second biggest administrative building in the world after the Pentagon (thanks Wikipedia). It’s an astounding building to look at. It’s as if someone started playing with Lego and just couldn’t stop.
Elsewhere, Bucharest is divided up into various old squares which make for a nice wander. The trouble is that many of them surround huge main roads so you don’t get much of that escapism. Perhaps that’s what takes away from Bucharest’s charm. The Old Town is worth a wander but, again, it lacks the charm that Old Towns have in some of the other cities I’ve been to. I guess charm is very subjective.
In its favour, like Sofia, there are a couple of great parks. The best park (and one of the best I’ve probably ever been to) is the huge Herastrau Park which I visited during my last day in the city and my final day of travelling altogether. It’s a magnificent free space which you can laze an entire afternoon or more in. The weather was beautiful so I just packed a picnic and wandered and chilled the day away. There’s a huge lake in the middle which had lots of sailing activity going on whilst I was there and there are endless paths to get lost down and check out the scenery. I’m a massive fan of parks and, had I not discovered this jewel in Bucharest, I probably would have written the city of all together.
Obviously, the brilliant weather helped too. I was there towards the end of September and there wasn’t a cloud in the sky. It was t-shirt weather and the perfect climate to spend the day lazing around in this gigantic park.
The day got even better as I inadvertently stumbled across a festival as I walked back to my hostel. Now, it wasn’t quite Glastonbury but Rural Fest was a great insight into the food, drink and culture of the various provinces around Romania. The whole street had been shut off and I wandered down through the stalls which sold an array of crafts, food, clothes and craft beers (which I thought it would be rude not to try) all as live acts took to the stage to perform dances, performances and music. There was a petting zoo, photo opportunities, dress ups – it was all great fun and there was a fantastic atmosphere I’d not yet experienced in the city.
It’s those moments where you just stumble into a random explosion of culture that I love when travelling and this was one of those. Smelling the food, sipping on some local beers whilst watching the performances in the evening sunshine was a great way to round off 108 days of travel and, after a frustrating few days in the city, Bucharest redeemed itself.
I’d love to go back to Romania and experience some of the other provinces I got a glimpse of during Rural Fest, particularly Transylvania. I doubt I’ll be rushing back though, not when some of its neighbouring countries seem to have a lot more going for them. I’m not going to judge Romania by its capital city and I’m sure the other regions of the country would excite and engage me much more than Bucharest did.