17 September 2018, 12:13 CET
The Harp cafe, Bucharest
The blisters and bug bites have begun! My toe is sore and Emily has a nasty lump on her arm. However, armed with plasters and Savlon, we’re ready for a lazy day. The breakfast of blackberry pancakes and herbal teas might have helped a bit too.
After our cheapo Military Museum lunch, we hit the Universitate station on the Bucharest metro system – but not before we’d seen a bus stop advert filled with sweetcorn. (???) Regrettably, in the metro station I was reminded that having a degree and a couple of televised anagramming records does not mean you are intelligent enough to decipher a simple diagram telling you how to get through the ticket barriers in a Romanian subway station. Thus I entered it wrongly, and received a look of barely-concealed disgust from the man on the barriers.
The metro is run down, and instead of having boards to tell you the time of the next train, there are televisions broadcasting adverts. Huh.
We took the train north to Aviatorilor to visit Primaverii Palati, the home of the Ceausescus. The house, while a substantial size, wasn’t particularly glamorous or imposing from the outside, which surprised me.
But the interior was incredible. Sometimes stunning, sometimes tastelessly gaudy, sometimes OTT to the point of being aspirational (a gold tap in the shape of a swan; indoor fountains everywhere). We learned on a relatively strait-laced tour, on which we were required to wear plastic shoe coverings so as not to wear out the carpets, that Nicolae loved John Wayne and Elena loved Dallas. Meanwhile, civilians were only permitted to watch 2 hours of TV per day, and it was all state propaganda.
still better viewing than Game of Thrones tho, am I right
The highlight of the house was the glorious, mosaic-studded indoor swimming pool room. Yer man might have been a murderous despot, but he sure had great taste in swimming pool decor! [see top of post]
Afterwards, we went to King Michael I Park, formerly known as Herāstrāu Park. Walking around the lake and through a mini-market of food stalls and traditional Romanian garb, we eventually came out the other side and saw the Romanian copy of the Arc du Triomphe.
By this time, my podiatric endurance – for which I am not famed – was wilting, and so we headed back to Unirii Square in the city centre to sit about for a bit. Showtunes from musicals blared nearby in preparation for some kind of public show, which was cool. Less cool were the flies that kept pestering us, and so we moved on to Taverna Covaçi for food and drink.
We ordered cabbage rolls, but these were sadly unavailable, so instead we had rosemary potatoes, spicy beef, a giant pork sausage (oh my) and a bean stew between us, which were all very pleasant. To finish it off, we had the much-feted local dessert papanași – a deep-fried doughnut filled with sour cherries and cream. It was absolutely delicious.
On the way back, we passed back through Unirii Square only to hear the same music we’d heard hours earlier – but this time, it was accompanied by a lit fountain show, with holograms of dancers. It was pretty stunning, although one very excited Romanian guy squealed through fits of laughter that the government had spent money on this instead of a new hospital or school.
We have little planned for today – everything feels too far away, and I didn’t bring a swimming costume for the Thermae spa and baths. So we’re talking it easy in the day and going on another walking tour this eveing. A trip to the Parliament beckons tomorrow before we fly to Chișinău.
Weds 19th Sept, 18:30 CET
Andy’s Restaurant, Chișinău
Might fall asleep whilst writing this, tbh. 54 hours to catch up on – here goes…
We spent our uneventful day looking around the shopping centre by Unirii Square, window-shopping in very Eastern European shops such as H&M, Pull + Bear and Zara. I also needed to urinate, so visited the wazzer at famously Romanian restaurant McDonalds.
Imagine my shock upon finding, next to the wazzer, a ‘McDonalds gym’. It’s a room that’s meant to be a tiny gym for children. What?? Apparently it’s also a thing in Barcelona, but it seems to be a rarity.
We went into the ‘posh’ restauranty part of Bucharest in search of the city market, only to find it had closed for the day, so went to a restaurant instead. The restaurant in question was called Caju, and it looked exciting – most of all, the cocktail menu. As it was, our calamari risotto was wildly underseasoned and underwhelming, and our cocktails were wildly whelming.
The History and Communism tour was same facts, different sights. We saw the secret police building; the church over the road from it (priests hearing confessions fom attendees would sometimes head over to the secret police HQ to dob their parishioners in); a park, which featured a sweetcorn stand and an adorable corn mascot; and finally, the Palace of the Parliament, Ceaușescu’s pet project. Our tour guide, Daniela, was sweet and bore a vague resemblance to Meghan Markle.
My personal favourite part of this tour, however, was a bizarre spiked monument with a black blob near the top. This is colloquially known as ‘the potato’ by locals, and is a dedication to the Romanian people’s strength in enduring and surviving communism. It really does look like a baked potato from afar, though. A burned one.
We returned to the hostel and played two games of Cribbage in the garden area, both winning a game each, before heading to bed before an early start the next day.
We were indeed up early; mostly packed to check out, fully washed and dressed, ready to head to the Parliament. What could possibly go wrong? Moldova Air cancelling our motherfucking Chișinău to Kiev flight for Friday, that’s what.
I received a text saying ‘Check your email for flight changes.’ Oh? Maybe they changed the time of the flight? Email title: flight cancelled. But hey, they could stick us on a flight on Thursday afternoon instead, which would fuck up our hostel bookings in two countries and give us just one day in Moldova, a country I’ve been mildly obsessed with for the last few years… Yeah, pass.
Emily rang the flight provider as she was concerned that we weren’t getting a quick response, but GoToGate’s customer service was entirely shit. She got increasingly angry as yer man was by turns clueless, then avoidant, then helpless. He fobbed us off to another department, but insisted we redial. The other department told us to ring the first department. After £25 on the two phone calls, we gave up and claimed a full refund.
Happily, far superior to official customer service was Emily’s dad, who took the time to book us onto the Friday morning 7am flight to Kiev whilst we walked to the Parliament. This went smoothly, and wasn’t extortionately expensive (it only cost £20 more three days before departure). Simon Muir: the hero we didn’t know we needed. #champ
Our blood pressure returned to normal as we looked around the Parliament, which is even greater in size and mass than my love for Shaggy. It is HUGE. An hour-long tour barely scratched an atom of the 1,100-room behemoth, especially when our poor tour guide had to tame the wild beasts we shared the tour with. They kept wandering off, chatting to each other loudly while she was talking, and having minus levels of spatial awareness. In cavernous corridors, they somehow kept managing to end up in my personal space. Numbnuts. Anglophones are the worst.
We lunched at a restaurant near the Palace called Social 1, where I had a chicken borș soup and a vegetable lasagne on the lunchtime 2-course menu. Emily had aubergine salad and pork neck. The cost of this was approximately £4 each. Like, in total. Wild.
On the way back, we found a small monastery with intricately-decorated walls both inside and out. Then we crashed at the hostel garden, in a hippy gazebo with comfy floor cushions and tiny tables and plug sockets. Wish we’d discovered this earlier; it was so comfortable and chill.
At the airport, in shock from having seen another Maccy D’s gym on our route, I was shocked further by climbing onto the plane. It was a teeny tiny rust bucket with fucking propellers. There were 2 seats on each side of the aisle.
I started apologising to God for being an atheist for over a decade and consistently making fun of her (#GodIsAWoman), as I feared I wouldn’t live to tell the tale. However, we were given free wine on the flight, so at least I was going to die in a good mood.
Spoiler alert: despite a very bumpy landing, I survived, and so did Ginge. My atheism lives on.
The Chișinău edition of the diary will be out soon.