I’m not sure what I expected from Bucharest. Perhaps I had imagined a small city that wasn’t quite as developed as the rest of Europe, a city overrun by wild dogs (as most guide books would tell you), and one who residents were small, dark haired, and reserved. The city at first appears like any other when you’re first entering it from the Otopeni airport. There are large grocery stores and several up-to-date malls beside BMW dealerships. However, once you enter the city itself you begin to notice the Communist influence. A communist nation as short ago as 1988 (the Romanian Revolution began in December 1989), the city itself has huge, domineering buildings surrounding large, empty squares. The buildings are beautiful, unlike others I have seen, but you can also see many abandoned buildings covered in giant, cloth advertisements, as if the ad will cover up the decrepit building it is strung on.
Since we arrived in the evening, we went straight out to the “Lipscani” district to get some food and experience how Romanians do weekends. We walked along the unfinished (construction was halted in 1989 due to the political upheaval), but still beautiful Danube-Bucharest Canal. We had asked our hostel hostess where we could get some traditional Romanian cusine and she suggested “Caru’ cu bere”. First opened as a brewery in 1879, it started in an Inn and was eventually moved to the Lipscani area on Stavropoleos Street. We were skeptical at first because we almost gave up on finding the restaurant after asking locals and wandering around for twenty minutes with no luck and then finding the outside covered in scaffolding and tarps. However, when we walked in, a lovely waiter and a beautiful interior, which we enjoyed the view from our table on the upper level, greeted us.
We were asked for our drink orders and left with the extremely large menu. After trying to decide for ten minutes and finally asking our waiter his favorite, we ordered “samale”, which is “mixed minced meat rolled in cabbage with polenta, sour cream and a chilli pepper on the side”. We love variety and getting the biggest bang for our “leu”, so we also ordered the “Platou ‘Caru’ cu bere’”. It was basically a plate of mixed grilled meat with chicken breast, pork fillet, Kransky and smoked sausage, “Mici” (famous Romanian dish–sausage without casings) and turkey breast with oven roast potatoes with bacon and red onion. The excitement I felt as our plates of food approached was a little inappropriate, but we had walked for over two hours (we get lost a lot) and hadn’t eaten since that morning at the airport in England.
Once we had demolished the plates of meat (all of which was fantastic) we headed to the streets to watch the Romanians (who are not reserved at all, but quite loud and rowdy) enjoy their weekend. As we walked by a restaurant we saw two young girls (early 20s) standing outside of it trying to convince pedestrians to come in and eat. We spoke to them about the state of Bucharest and Romania. They both wanted to leave Bucharest as soon as they finished university because the pay in Romania is terrible. They told us a McDonald’s worker who works eight hours a day five days a week might make $400 a month, while a doctor in Bucharest can make about $1000 a month. One girl went on to say that she wished Communism was still the political system in Romania because “if you look at all the big buildings and all of the industry in Bucharest, it’s from the Communist era. My grandfather always talks about how good things were then”. It was an eye opening statement to hear and I would have loved to speak with her more, but she had to get back to work and we had to go get some rest for our next day of exploring.