In July 2015 we ventured to Bucharest on a bit of an unplanned trip. My football team, Inverness CT, qualified for a European tournament and I was determined not to miss their first game despite only having a couple of weeks to plan a trip. This was cut even shorter with our original planned flights being cancelled as well. They were drawn against Astra Giurgiu, a team based about an hour away from the Romanian capital city of Bucharest. So as well as me getting to go to the football we managed to fit in a bit of sightseeing during our short time there as well as getting another Hard Rock Cafe magnet to keep Aimee happy.. Here is what we got up to.
I finished work at 6pm (I didn’t have any free days remaining to take extra holidays and this was the only way I could get time off for it!) went home and slept for a couple hours before setting off driving through the night from Inverness to Liverpool at 11pm, requiring to be in Liverpool for 7am. We arrived in Bucharest in the mid afternoon and it was scorching hot. Having travelled to Thailand and Hawaii since, we have been in some pretty hot climates but both agree that this was the hottest we’ve ever experienced. Bucharest is over 130 miles away from the nearest coast and so is completely land-locked, meaning there is no breeze to cool the air.. Something we’re not accustomed to having travelled from the Scottish highlands in the height of summer!
Coming in to the city you get a feel for just how HUGE Bucharest is. The streets are bustling with people and traffic; our taxi driver tells us the official population is 1.8 million, but there are actually probably tens of thousands more than that living in the city ‘unofficially’.
It was a good thing the weather was so good as the first thing we wanted to do was visit Herăstrău Park, a large park north of the Colentina River in the city centre. It is very picturesque with vast green spaces and has ducks and swans swimming in the Herăstrău Lake, the centrepiece which the park has been formed around. We spent a couple of hours wandering about, exploring the many monuments and statues dotted around the park, and just taking in the views before heading to a nearby beer garden for some much needed refreshment. Bucharest’s Hard Rock Cafe is located right next to this park so we also stopped there for Aimee’s obligatory magnet before getting a taxi back into the City Centre. Usually we wouldn’t take so many taxis, but the city is massive, we didn’t have much time to be wasting and Bucharest is very cheap compared to the UK.
Once back in the centre we ventured to the Old Town which we hadn’t yet seen, despite our hotel being just a short walk away from here. Most European towns and cities will have an ‘Old Town’ district which tend to be full of charm and Bucharest was no different. We wandered the maze of streets here before meeting some friends at a bar for drinks, which then took up the rest of the night till the small hours..
We were up early for breakfast at the hotel, I mainly had juice cause my mouth was so dry, must have been the heat.. Then embarked out into the streets to explore the city some more. Our trusted favourite, Free Walking Tours, was next on the list to help us see what Bucharest had to offer. A few of my friends had agreed the night before to come on the tour with us, but never made it! Our tour started at Piata Unirii (which was helpful because that’s the same place we had to be later on in the day for the bus to Giurgiu). From there you could see the Romanian Parliament building, which you could probably see from most places as it’s the biggest administrative building in Europe, and the heaviest in the world.. Pretty impressive! We made our way to ‘Piaţa Universităţii’ (University Square) stopping at various different buildings, churches and monuments along the way. Bucharest is often referred to as ‘Paris of the East’ and it’s clear to see why, with many similarities between the streets and buildings here to the French capital. For every Baroque style building though there seem to be several more Communist, Soviet style looking ones of which the parliament building is a prime example. The tour gave us a lot of information about Bucharest’s Communist past, and also a large portion about Vlad The Impaler, the ex-Romanian ruler that the Count Dracula is based on. Our tour finished at University Square, so we wandered back through the cobbled streets of the Old Town afterwards before meeting our friends and heading to the game.
There wasn’t much to see or do in Giurgiu, we did check TripAdvisor beforehand and the number one (out of twelve) attractions is literally a bridge that takes you out of the country and into Bulgaria.. Not the best to attract potential visitors! We might have done that to go into another country but had already been to Bulgaria before so didn’t bother.
The football itself was rubbish! Finishing 0-0 in a boring game meaning Inverness got eliminated from the tournament, so at least we saw a bit of Bucharest to make our time worthwhile.
Overall I’d say it’s worth going to see Bucharest if you’re looking to tick Romania off your ‘list’. You could easily spend a few days in the city and see most of it, and it is VERY cheap as well. The locals aren’t very friendly towards tourists though, not unfriendly but just quite abrupt and rude, maybe due to the fairly recent communist past in the city. We would have liked to have more time to visit other parts of the country, namely Transylvania in order to see medieval towns and Gothic castles, but sadly we couldn’t take any more time off.
We also saw the Yellow Submarine outside John Lennon Airport in Liverpool before we headed home, which is a pretty neat, little feature.