One of my big TRAVEL TIPS is to sign up for all the smaller airline newsletters. This can save you a bundle on airline specials. Usually, there are stipulations such as small luggage (think tiny or backpack), not great times for departure or return flights but uber-inexpensive travel – getting me from Point A to Point B. Last winter, the Romanian airline (Blue Air) was having a super 72-hour special for flights from Stuttgart. If you signed up for their newsletter, you could book a trip for about €40 round-trip to Romania. I chose Bucharest, cause I’ve never been. So I booked the flight and knew it was going to be a quick trip – 24 hours in Bucharest – that’s about it! Luckily at the last minute, my AWESOME friend Heather was able to grab her bags and join me!
Since I had already booked the flight I didn’t wait on booking a room. Usually the further out you book your hotel/AirBnb/HomeAway, the cheaper it is – just be sure to check the cancellation policy. We stayed at Hotel Minerva which was about a 15-minute walk from the downtown center of Bucharest. Depending on which website or Google you check their rating is between 3.5 and 4.5 stars. This is typically my norm. Hotel Minerva also had a Chinese restaurant (which was excellent and inexpensive.) They also served breakfast €8/person. After we checked in, we were able to book a massage €30/55 min. right there in the hotel. It was wonderful, Romana our massage therapist was fantastic and I felt myself and my worries drift away.
FREE TOURS BUCHAREST
Heather was right on it and discovered Bucharest had a FREE TOURS company and that they offered an English tour on Saturdays at 10:30 a.m. For me, this would turn into one of the highlights of the adventure in Romania
The Walkabout tour began in Unirii Park so we enjoyed a nice sunny walk through Bucharest and got to see a lot along the way.
FREE Tour companies typically run on donations – WalkAbout Free Tours is a non-profit that supports local social and cultural community initiatives. Please be generous when you visit the cities of Europe. Sometimes, it is just a few passionate college students trying to make a difference and love their city. In Bucharest, its a love of sharing the city with newcomers and tourists and also helping their community out!
In the park, we met Mihaela Oproiu our tour guide for the day and fellow travel enthusiast. Mihaela was one of the BEST guides I’ve had on a free tour in Europe. She is funny, kept a great pace and we had almost 40 in our group (maybe more) I lost count. We became quick friends because she is friendly and helpful and thankfully spoke perfect English. My Romanian is still at just two phrases… Please…Vā rog and Thank you…mulțumesc – because I have a good Momma.
Walking through history
Our 2.5 hour tour included the Old Town district and covering over 500 years of Romanian history. Which I have to tell you, you have to hear it for yourself. These people are incredible, seriously! Occupation after occupation and still resilient. With beginnings from the Roman Empire, Ottoman Empire, Communist control and now is governed by a semi-democratic Republic.
History permeates this town – literally from one end to another. So for this history-buff I absolutely soaked it up. Mihaela also shared the very sad years of communist control ran the country in the form of its’ leader, Nicolae Ceausescu, from 1967 to 1989. His severe repression of the country created a revolution that would ultimately cost him and his wife their lives.
Mihaela was just 9 years old when the revolution occurred December 21, 1989. His big project the Parliament building, is still the largest administration building in the world. As you can see it is just ridiculously big and still unfinished. Ceausescu began his palace project and quickly went into debt, so to reimburse this debt he exported goods out of the country leaving his own countrymen starving and poor. She shared the very sad existence of rationing and long lines for just a loaf of bread. Because energy was also controlled, most cities went black after dark. This reality I just can not fathom.
Travel does this to you ~ real people share real stories
and your outlook and your life changes.
Stop for lunch
After our amazing tour we asked Mihaela where to grab a bite to eat and asked her to join us! I had more questions~ She took us to a little local place called La Plācinte. Here we enjoyed a wonderful salad with dill dressing and the Moldavian cuisine specialty Învartita cu varza murata (or Moldavian pastry pie with pickled cabbage.) She also introduced me to a sweet drink with cherry juice and crushed red fruits (cherries, strawberries and raspberries) Compt de fructe de Padure
After hugs, goodbyes and promises to connect before too long, Mihaela headed out for another tour. Heather and I wanted to see that Parliament building. So we walked another 20k steps to the other end of town. It was worth it. Had to stop and get a new pair of Skechers though – Romanian style!
Next, we hopped the train to the opposite end of town to see the Dimitri Gusti Village Museum. This expansive historical museum showcases Romania’s living, culture, and houses. It has two large farms located on the property and over 270 historical buildings. I thought it would be really quaint like the little farm I worked at in Huntsville, Alabama, Burritt on the Mountain. It’s a little bit bigger, we could have been there for several hours. Here are some amazing shots, enjoy.
After walking through the village it was time to take a break and chill for a bit from the hustle and bustle of Bucharest. It worked out perfectly that Hard Rock Cafe was located at the exit of the park. An absolute classic and wonderful opportunity to have a mid-afternoon refreshment and snack! Buffalo cauliflower probably doesn’t sound awesome to Hard Rock fans but it was just what we wanted. The Hard Rock Bucharest is the one of the biggest in Europe and has an incredible collection.
TAKING THE TRAIN AND BUS IN ROMANIA
After our break, Heather figured out how to take the bus to Victoria Square, so we hopped on a bus and then the train and off we went. Taking the train in Bucharest, Romania is pretty simple, like Germany. It is end of line and it travels quite often. Some changes were just a 2 to 3 minute wait. You could buy a 2 trip pass (about €3) or an all-day €10. It was absolutely an interesting way to see the city.
Before coming to Bucharest, I had heard rumblings about gypsies, even our cabbie from the airport cautioned Heather and I to be mindful. However, during our stay, I never felt in harms way or that there was an opportunity for theft to happen. We were in some pretty busy and crowded areas but it was the same awareness I have when I’m in London, Paris, Berlin, Stuttgart – just be wise.
The people of Bucharest were lovely, more than once we had to ask a complete stranger to help us out, they did and were very pleasant about assisting us (and not in a creepy way.)
UP NEXT, JAZZ (kinda)
My son Christopher is a musician, he can wail! He’d pick on me for writing that ~ he has got me into Jazz and luckily Heather likes it too. We found out there was a cool Jazz Cafe called Green Hours 22 Cafe Bar. Still a little full from the cauliflower we split a cheese pizza, I know lame, right, but delicious.
The band was located downstairs in an alley pub. I made friends with Vlad, the bartender (who we loving renamed…Vlad, the Enabler) who served red wine in a Kool-Aid container. I’m not prejudice, it was good and funny to see. Anyway, we enjoyed listening to the band, it was more like Jimmy Buffett than Jazz, but that’s o.k. we’re Parrot Heads too.
After our fun-filled day and rockin’ night it was time to call it a day. Our flight was uber-early, so we had to “hit the hay.” That’s our 24 hours. We made friends, walked about 40k steps, tried great food, learned massive amounts of history and fell in love with another city in Europe. Can’t wait to go back – so much more to see and visit in Romania.