This is part 1 of my Bucharest diary, and indeed the official part 1 of the diaries from this trip. If you want a bit of context, here’s the trip summary.
Scroll on for the diary… (The first few paragraphs are a bit bawdy, but what else would you expect of me? xoxo)
15 Sept 2018, 20:55 CET
Hanu’Lui Manuc Restaurant, Bucharest
My favourite emoji is the queen one (👸) but tonight I will be using its male counterpart, for I have just dined like a king. Emily and I have just finished a feast of caramelised lamb knuckle, which was an oral delight.
Unlike some of my ex-boyfriends. (Sorry Mum and Dad.)
That meat was next-level flavour.
Unlike some of my exes’ ffs stop it As were the potatoes. Sadly, the lumps of raw garlic strewn about the green beans has left both our mouths literally tingling with garlic. Just like some of my STOP IT!!! Emily is comforted by the thought that this will at least keep Dracula at bay. (I’d be thrilled to have a man bite my neck so hard he drew blood. Don’t worry, it’s far less bawdy from here onwards.)
The food has rejuvenated us after a long day – so long that I started to think we flew into Romania yesterday. This is perhaps because today I discovered the existence of a 6 o’clock in the morning, a time hitherto unknown to me. Our flight wasn’t until 10:30am, but getting to Luton Airport and contouring one’s face takes time.
Entire journey: uneventful. The most entertainment we had on our voyage was a guy pelting down a major road on a motorised scooter. That says it all.
On exiting the bus to the city centre, it turned out that it was 31ºC. This was, quite frankly, a fucking outrage. I did not endure the great British heatwave of summer 2018 to experience temperatures above 22ºC in September, nor the reek of warm sewage as we sweated our way to the hostel.
There were better times to come to our destination. As we checked in, our host asked us if we’d like to choose a song to play on the hostel sound system. I suspect I may be becoming a parody of myself because Emily directed him to me with a knowing look. Of course I did want to choose a song, and of course I chose Shaggy’s magnum opus ‘It Wasn’t Me‘ (ft Rikrok), the greatest song ever written or recorded. No-one complained – but then, who could?
The hostel – named Podstel – is cool. It’s only 2 1/2 years old, but they’ve been planning it for years and told the story of its conception as wall art in the corridor. We unpacked in our 6-person dorm, at which time the heavens opened outside. Spoiler alert: it’s not 31ºC any more.
We headed out to source some sustenance from one of the hostel’s recommended places to eat traditional Romanian cuisine. That’s how we ended up here: an ancient, open-air inn in a courtyard that’s a tourist attraction even for those who’ve had their dinner, listening to traditional music while dancers in national costume twirl.
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Manuc's Inn is an ancient Ottoman-era inn in the largely uninspiring Old Town of #bucharest. The caramelised lamb knuckle that @lemonyland and I had the other day was pretty inspiring though. #bucuresti #romania #europe #travel #travelgram #instatravel #instalikes #restaurant #inn #oldtown
Bucharest does not look promising, nor smell it. But there are glimmers of promise: the houses we passed on the bus to the airport, which looked like mini castles; this inn; the disturbing legacy of Ceaușescu that we’ll learn more about on the walking tour tomorrow.
All my trips will be held up against the standard of my Balkan adventures in 2014. But this holiday already has one win over that trip (aside from the companionship of my favourite ginge) – and that is that I’ve already had a cider, a proper cider, not that foul poison Somersby. Thank you Kingswood, for bringing true fermented apple joy to the Balkan peninsula at last.
Should probably go back to being sociable now. (By which I mean ordering another pint of Kingswood.)
16 Sept 2018, 13:55 CET
Restaurant Cercul Militar National, Bucharest
1989 was quite a year for world events, huh? The fall of the Berlin Wall. The Tiananmen Square protests/massacre. The Baltic Chain of Freedom. The marriage of a young couple from West Kent, whose union would indirectly result in the creation of this diary. And, for Romania, the removal and televised execution of Nicolae Ceaușescu – which I think I’ve learned to spell now – on Chrismas Day. I’m hoping his festive passing is the only thing he has in common with my grandad (RIP Ron, you old trooper x), because ol’ Nicolae was… uh… not a nice man.
Yep, we’ve had our history lesson on the walking tour; of the countries by that definition that I’ve visited, Romania seems to have suffered particularly badly from Soviet Bloc shithousery. When your leader’s taking tips on cult of personality from Kim Il Sung and leaving the populace impoverished so he can fund a palace as obnoxiously huge as possible (it’s the world’s heaviest building), you’re going to have a bad time.
We saw a church that had been moved from its original location on train tracks, a pioneering method that prevented it from being destroyed in the quest to build the aforementioned Palace of the Parliament, and a monastery that had a little graveyard in the courtyard for parts of churches that didn’t survive. A nun had to leave the monastery in order to tell our effervescent walking tour guide and Emma Stone lookalike, Alina, to quieten down outside.
Then we were led on to Victory Boulevard, the university and the Revolution Square, where Alina showed us pictures of people queuing around the block for food. By the 80s, these queues were starting in the dead of night, such were the shortages of food.
I’ve not previously had a walking tour guide who was so passionately anti-government, but it was quite refreshing to listen to Alina rail against the fact that some of Ceaușescu’s sidekicks were back in the contemporary Romanian government. With world events as they are, I’m increasingly convinced that tour guides should tell us how things really are.
As always, it’s weird to think that Romania was closed off just 30 years ago. The dowdy Brutalist buildings are totally at odds with the lively bar and restaurant scene in the Old Town (80% of which was destroyed by Ceaușescu, which explains why it’s not as fabulous as many of the other Old Towns we’ve visited).
Emily and I explored this last night, going into the impressive Carturesti Carusel bookshop before trawling the many side streets with their curious preponderance of fairy lights. Eventually we settled in a bar called Rocka Rolla. I had a Romanian cider called Mândru Mere, and Emily had a Ciuc beer: for some indescribable reason, both had a banana aftertaste. I liked it more than Emily, who had 2 sips and was done.
We people-watched for a while. I am extremely stylish; Emily is almost certainly my most stylish friend; and we were both convinced that Romanian women are the most stylish in the world. My new hero in life is the woman who put together tailored tracksuit bottoms, a lacy bralet and a cream blazer, and absolutely owned it. (No, seriously. It was inspirational, aspirational, and irrational in its aesthetic merit.)
With the evening peaking there, I return to the present, where – fresh from a post-walking tour diversion that took us down a lovely alleyway with rainbow-coloured umbrellas – we are dining at the Military Museum’s restaurant. I’m having the Romanian equivalent of hunter’s chicken with a mushroom pilaf, and Emily is having a cheeky schnitzel.
The cost of this meal? £8 in total. This has wowed Emily more than any single landmark has done so far, which doesn’t really say much for Bucharest.
Thanks for reading part 1! Part 2 of the Bucharest diary will be coming up shortly, and I’ll link here when it’s done. (Gotta get some inbound links for that sweet, sweet SEO.)