Did anyone see my Mother's most recent comment from my picture-heavy post: 'A weekend in Bucharest'?
"...I must admit I will be at peace when I know you have left Romania.
Well Mother dearest (and to everyone else), I can now report back that yours and other people's over-cautiousness need not have been.
When I went to Paris last year for a three day break, less than 10 minutes after exiting the train I was targeted by some gypsy children with a scam sponsor form. Thankfully my worldly ex-partner cottoned on straight away and then educated me to what was unfolding.
I can honestly tell you that as of this writing and four days in, I have NOT experienced a single bad or dodgy thing here in Romania! Knowing the amount of negative press Romania received from family and friends before I got here, I am now naturally compelled to change your minds. I desperately need the pre-conceivers and slightly ambivalent readers to understand, accept and believe that Bucharest is not the bad place your friend told you it was.
Whilst peoples' concern is something that I value and wholly appreciate, often these concerns are not fully substantiated and that tunnel vision can be a problem. If I chose to listen to that and not challenge the integrity of such statements, I wouldn't be here now. There's a distinct difference between an ignorant person and an informed person and I choose the latter each time. Wouldn't you?
In hindsight, it's most telling that each of the caring people who advised me 'not to go' or at least, 'be very careful' did not follow up their passing comment any further with a story! This suggests they actually didn't know of one. The only other thing I can think of is that this is legacy vision when say, maybe 10 or 20 years ago Romania was much poorer and thieves more prevalent? These days half the people on the metro are young youths and they look as tech-savvy as the rest of us and I'm pretty sure all of these don't go around scamming all day.
Don't let the bad minority over-rule the good majority.
Anyhow, for the sake of prudence and before I made the decision to come here, I chose to consult experienced travellers to provide me the informed, impartial view that I needed. It didn't take me long to receive so many complimentary comments that I knew I was more than happy to give this city a try and I'm glad I did.
So folks, here are just a few things that I learnt during my time here:
I didn't know a single thing about the Romanian language before I boarded that W!ZZ aircraft last Thursday. However I soon realised that it had similarities to other Latin languages. Upon enquiring, indeed I was told that it shares a lot of similarities between French, Spanish, Italian and others. So although a lot of people speak English here, if you speak any of the aforementioned languages, you will easily pick things up without too much difficulty. For example, here is their 1, 2, 3 - do they look broadly familiar? (unu, doi, trei).
As you may have seen from my two posts of 'A weekend in Bucharest', there is plenty to see and visit here. Naturally I haven't been able to fit everything in but that's not problem as I can do this next time I return!
Not as clean or modern as Athens but I found them equally as reliable and as easy to navigate.
I learned from the locals that the average monthly wage here is 1700 LEI - £280 - whilst the minimum wage is 900 LEI. £150. Gulp.
Don't you instantaneously feel super-privileged as Westerners?
People on the street:
This was one of my biggest surprises - the lack of bothersome people. You know the type.
As I typically walk alone during the day, often I approach a situation when I see a less fortunate person on a park bench and he or she will be looking in my direction as I will be approaching. I'm often quick to spot this and so I'll try and prepare myself for whatever they are about to ask for, except, well, they don't! Clearly this won't be the case for every beggar within the entire city but I genuinely have not been approached, hassled or bothered once! I won't be offended if you don't believe this. Interestingly though, I've heard from two separate travellers that this won't be the case in Istanbul. Oh great. Still, at least I can be prepared for that if I ever make it there.
Cost of food and drink:
We've been briefly amused by a saying here that we cooked up the other night. When realised that when we asked each other how much something was, the same instinctive response just kept coming out: 'Not much'.
So, 'Hey man, how much was that?',
'Not much'. Then we would chuckle.
Okay, okay, one of those things you had to be here for.
You get the point though; it's ridiculously cheap here folks - I've experienced nothing like it.
Four of us went out the other night, see HERE for my 'Friends along the way' page. (A new tab/window will open).
We had four full draft pints of Heineken, four main meals and we had four extra delicious deserts. To appreciate the cost you should quickly put thought to what this would total back home (let alone London). In W-S-M for a mid-entry eatery, I reckon, there would be some change from £80?
We paid a total bill that came to £27 GBP to be precise. Get your head around that.
Needless to say I've been living it up with three course meals fairly occasionally and even shared a bottle of red the other night with my latest wingman - Darren from England. His story really deserves a quick mention on the friends page so click the above if you haven't already. Dad, you'll briefly like that tale.
I've stayed in the same top-bunk for the last four nights and it's actually been OK, besides We just adapt - right? Even the unlikely traveller it would seem. If I'm honest I will miss being in this place as I know my time here is coming to an end. Let me tell you that the hostel I've stayed in and the travellers (and staff) in the hostel have been great and so that's only strengthens my view of Romania.
I managed to get this shot of some hostel favourites and so naturally they've made it on the friend list too.
Ok, so let's get to the price: I paid 38 euros - £25. Not bad hey.
Oh, there's something else I should mention...
That 38 euros (£25) was for four nights. I'll leave you to process that.
Note that this includes free tea and coffee and they have beers chilled with a 'trust' policy tab system. Go on, ask me how much the beer in the hostel was...?
'Not much' :-)
So where next?
I really hope this post has gone a long way to changing any pre-conceived ideas you may have had about Romania.
I guess then you won't be too surprised to hear then that I'm not ready to leave the country just yet. Sorry Mother. Although again, having read this I hope you now have less concerns but of course anything is possible if I'm in the wrong place at the wrong time but this is true anywhere, right?
I know I want to do and see more than the average tourist so instead of moving on, I'll be taking on the north of the country. Admittedly this poses some challenges and so I need to put the hours in to have an idea of where, how, who, what, why, when but equally importantly, somehow work on a plan to see me enter a new country at the end of it. I have a feeling my travelling is about to get a little more tiring (amongst other adjectives) as it's time for some lengthy trains and buses. Bong.
What's up north? As if you didn't guess...