So it’s funny how things happen. The day I was leaving Moldova for Bucharest was the same day my new Romanian friends were leaving to go back to Bucharest. There is something amazingly awesome about making friends with locals. They take you places they go, they tell you the places you should go and they take you to places you would never go to unless you were with locals. Anyway, I have a habit of just rocking up at a station to buy a ticket the day I’m going and catching the next available train or bus. So the day I was leaving Moldova I walked to the station to get myself a train ticket and some food for the overnight journey. As there is only one train the Romanians had bought a return ticket since they knew when they were going back. We left the hostel for the station together when it was time to leave and discovered at the station that I was not only in the same carriage as them, but the same compartment as well! Crazy stuff. That was nice because it meant I wouldn’t have to worry about any weirdo’s disturbing me on the train and contributing to my lack of sleep like in Ukraine. And boy am I grateful we were together.

Leaving Moldova was a bit of an ordeal for me. Generally speaking it is very straightforward. Border control comes, stamps your passport while they spend 2 hours changing the train wheels because they have to switch from Soviet trains to Western trains (the tracks are different). However, I went through TransD on the train from Ukraine to Moldova which meant that I didn’t have a stamp in my passport. TransD border control looks at your passport and doesn’t bother stamping it when you go through on the train and because Moldova doesn’t recognise TransD they don’t have any border control at the TransD/Moldova border. I was told by numerous sources that I would be fine, border control would realise I passed through TransD and just stamp my passport so I could leave. What I was NOT told was that if you are in the country for more than 3 days and you’ve gone through TransD you must go to the police station and register and get your entry stamp there.  I was there 4 days… woops.

And this is where my AMAZINGLY AWESOME, SPECTACULAR new friends come into play and have my gratitude forevermore. The border control officer didn’t speak English, so they did some seriously fast talking (rarely translating or consulting me until the guy left the compartment). They explained I went through TransD, I was told I didn’t need a stamp or have to go to the police office and I didn’t know so I shouldn’t be punished. He used the ever classic “Ignorance of the law is no excuse” which is repeated a million and one times in law school. He threatened to have me detained overnight at border control while they processed my information, I might have to pay a fine, etc, etc. The Romanians, bless their hearts, told him that I had to catch that train to Bucharest because I had an expensive flight the next day or a hotel reservation (or both).  He went to go talk to his supervisor, came back and made a few more threats and then left again. After about an hour he came back and gave us all our passports and left without a word. I looked at mine and it had a Moldovan exit stamp in it! I didn’t even have to pay a fine or a bribe! Not like it would have been a big fine as I had hardly any money on me, but still. While I don’t think I would have been detained overnight even without the Romanians help I’m pretty sure they are the entire reason I didn’t have to pay a fine or bribe.

We spent the rest of the train journey attempting to keep ourselves cool (not easy when you are stuck in a metal box with no air con during a heat wave).  At one point while waiting one of our neighbours from another compartment came to visit. I young boy (maybe 1 ½ or 2, I can’t tell with children) popped his head in so I blew some air on him with the hand fan that Adina had and the poor bloke fell instantly in love with me. He kept coming back to be fanned and at one point even brought a toy to show me. I was fairly unimpressed and he was devastated so he left and came back with a remote control car (much more impressive). Not only did he decide to impress me with his remote control car, but he also decided to cuddle up to me on the seat and made a HUUUUUUUUGE fuss when his mother came to get him for bed. Needless to say, I meet the most dubious characters on trains. I just can’t seem to avoid them. Plus he was a bit too young for me, though I don’t think he would agree to that.

Anyway, Bucharest. I really enjoyed Bucharest. Maybe it was the company I kept, because as a tourist there isn’t a lot to do or see in the city. I stayed at X Hostel near the ‘old town’ and found a nice new hostel with a spacious all-female dorm and a bar for only 5 euro per night! It was awesome. I particularly enjoyed the bar because they made fresh squeezed lemonade with mint or other flavours (you just had to ask) and they had a giant, beautiful painting of the Sydney Opera House, which made me feel slightly homesick.

Sydney Opera House painting

I spent the day walking around the old town in the insanely ridiculous heat and it was pretty cool. Mainly filled with restaurants and bars, but still cool. I was deeply annoyed that pretty much all the places I wanted to visit weren’t open to the public on the days that I was in Bucharest (museums, People’s parliament, etc.). I was especially disappointed about the People’s Parliament not being open to visitors as it is the 2nd largest administrative building in the world (the first being the Pentagon). Apparently there was a conference on water security in the Danube Delta on while I wanted to visit (I would have loved to go to that as well as I am particularly interested in water security) so they weren’t allowing visitors. Now this is just absolutely ridiculous! The building has over 3,500 rooms! Only 10 rooms are open to visitors! Many of those rooms aren’t even used! Are you telling me that of 3,500 rooms, they couldn’t hold the conference anywhere else but those 10 rooms? Seriously? So annoyed.

What did I do instead? What any sensible girl would do. I went shopping! Granted, it was just for souvenirs and nothing for myself, but that’s beside the point. That night I met my friends and we went to a place that Andrei frequents and met some more of their friends. The place was called ‘Fabrica’ and is in an abandoned building that we think used to be a factory or warehouse of some sort. Great beer, great food, what else could you need!  Adina and Andrei ordered for me so I ended up getting some sort of amazingly delicious traditional Romanian food (recipes to follow). They also had a dog. The restaurant I mean. I’m a bit wary of stray dogs in Romania. They are often feral and while most are pretty much harmless, if provoked or spooked or for no reason at all they can attack (apparently rabies shots are free in Romania). I went to the bathroom at the restaurant and opened the door and had to step over a dog sleeping in the middle of the walkway to get to the loo. I also had to straddle the dog in order to wash my hands. That was seriously nerve wracking. I asked about it when I got back to the table and apparently the owner likes to take in sick or injured dogs that other people abandon so the dog actually lives there and is perfectly harmless. Good to know.

I asked about the stray dogs thing as I expect to see feral dogs in Islamic countries but was surprised to see them in Romania. Apparently what happened is as follows. Romanians actually really like dogs. The problem is, when they were under communist rule many people were forced to move into apartment blocks and couldn’t take their animals with them due to the size of the blocks (which most can barely fit people). Because there was no one to take the dogs (remember everyone was moving into apartments) they just had to be left behind. Well, at one point there were about 100,000 stray dogs in Bucharest. The government rounds them up, tags and fixes them to try to control the population and allegedly it’s now down to about 50,000. Pretty solid effort if you ask me.

Anywho, we went out drinking that night as well (not something I expected to do as it was a Tuesday) and I was told the club we were going to (very cheap and awesome) wouldn’t be very busy because it was Tuesday. The place was packed! Well, when we got there it was empty because it was early still, but by 2am it was packed to the rafters! We had a spectacular time, went back to Andrei’s place to continue the party where I was forced/coerced into drinking a shot of something awful against my will. Now, I no longer do shots. Shots make me sick, literally. I’m also getting far too old to be doing shots. I just don’t recover like I did when I was younger. I attempted to tell them this, but no one listened to me so to prove my point I took the shot and promptly threw it up. Too much information? Perhaps. Anyway, poor Andrei felt bad that he had me take the shot so came into the bathroom and was like “ummm, are you okay?” hahaha. Not sure how much experience he has with holding hair back.

I stayed the night there rather than attempt to get back to my hostel, woke up the next morning to find both my sunnies and my wallet were missing. We turned the place upside down and couldn’t find them. My only explanation is that I must not have zipped up my already full to bursting purse properly and they fell out. It was okay because sunnies are easily replaced and the wallet only had a couple of cards in them (1 which I have a spare of, 1 which could be easily replaced and 2 which I didn’t really need in my wallet.) My friends felt bad that that happened (has to happen to everyone once while travelling) and invited me to lunch with some of their colleagues (Andrei and Adina work together) so I went, had some more delicious Romanian food, Andrei very kindly bought me a seriously awesome new pair of ray bans (which are safely in Australia because they are too awesome to risk losing) and I spent the day visiting Herăstrău park. I highly recommend spending a day wandering through this park, it’s very pleasant. While we were at lunch I received a phone call on my Romanian number and handed the phone over to Adina because the woman on the other end spoke Romanian. She found my wallet which had my Romanian number in it (that’s karma for you)! Obviously the cash had been cleaned out (not sure what they planned on doing with most of it considering there were a lot of random currencies not worth very much in there). I did lose enough for it to be annoying, but not enough to cry about. Not only did she find my wallet though, all my cards were still in there! Yay!

In most of Eastern Europe, people don’t use cards except for at the ATM, if even then. They don’t really trust the use of cards so they don’t use them in shops (a lot of restaurants and shops don’t have card facilities) or online so they aren’t worth stealing for a lot of people. There was no suspicious activity on my cards so I didn’t need to worry about replacing them, which was great!

Other than that I didn’t do a whole lot in Bucharest. Hang out with new found friends at random bars and restaurants, attempted to visit some sights that were all closed (just my luck) and tried to survive the insane heat (heat wave was still happening).

A couple notes on Bucharest:

  1. Be careful whenever you cross the street. Road rules don’t mean anything in Romania and even when it’s a pedestrian crossing and the light is red for cars, there is no guarantee they will stop. Adina was about to go on Erasmus (study abroad) a while back and she was crossing at the appropriate time and crossing and got hit by a taxi that broke her hip.
  2. A note on the Roma (or gypsies as they are more commonly called). People who haven’t been to Romania have this idea that the Roma are all out to rob you of your eye teeth and they will attack you and yada yada yada. I’m not saying they never do that in Romania, but it’s a gross stereotype. Oddly enough, I was only approached by 2 children in Romania asking for money. I’ve been hassled more in almost every other country I’ve been to by them than I was in Romania. Most of the gypsies you see in Bucharest are either selling flowers (apparently they have a monopoly on the flower market) or they are trying to sell you random things like socks and underwear on the street. In general they are very poor people and most of them (from my experience) just try to get you to buy stuff from them. A polite but firm ‘No, thanks’ will get anyone asking for money to leave you alone. I did not have any issues in Romania and never once felt threatened or unsafe. As I stated, I am not saying that attacks never happen and pickpocketing is fairly common as in every large city (so watch your bag). But don’t assume they are all out to get you and steal your money, because that just isn’t the case.

What I’m reading now: Baby Proof  by Emily Griffin

What I’m listening to now: The Searchers

Pictures from Romania can be seen here.