Romania was not on my ‘list’ of places to go. However, I had a work meeting scheduled there, so there I was. Before I left on the trip, I decided to take a few days leave after my meeting. After my leave was approved, I started reading more about Bucharest and thought I’d made a mistake. I found scathing reviews, most people referring to it as a place not worthy of visiting. I must say I was pleasantly surprised. I see what the reviews were saying, as it’s not the most beautiful city, that’s for sure. It still has that post-communist vibe to it, and you can tell that money hasn’t really been targeted at infrastructure.
I was staying at the self-proclaimed “largest Marriott in Europe”, and I still haven’t been able to verify that. It was a great hotel, with a handful of restaurants, shops, and it was the first hotel I’ve stayed at in Europe that had a gym…though this probably reflects more on my choice of hotels than anything else.
Our meeting was at the Palace of the Parliament, one of the largest buildings in Europe. This used to be home of the previous communist dictator, who was executed by his own people in 1989, which started Romania’s post-communist phase. The meeting was on zoonotic diseases, i.e. diseases spread from animals to humans. I was one of the keynote speakers, and my presentation went very well. The atmosphere was a bit stressful, as the room I presented in is where they held government meetings, so it had a ‘testifying in front of Congress’ feel to it. Overall, the meeting wasn’t that well organized, and there were a couple presentations where they couldn’t get powerpoint to work…how often do you see that these days?
After the long day of work, the Romanians treated us to dinner at the Officer’s club. This was the highlight of the trip, as the club was beautiful and the music was traditional Romanian…I got some great videos of the night.
The meeting wrapped up the next day, and myself and a Canadian friend (I told my best Rob Ford jokes) I met at the meeting headed down for the opening of the Bucharest Christmas market. Christmas markets have been a tradition in Europe for hundreds of years, starting in Germany. Romania is relatively new to this phenomenon, but it was still a very nice market. I tried the ‘hot wine’, which is a tradition at Christmas markets and basically tastes like red wine heated up with sugar added.
My leave in Bucharest started and I moved hotels to the Old Town area, which was very nice. I had plans to maybe hit some museums, but honestly it was just too cold for me to get motivated to walk that far. Thus I stayed in the Old Town area my last two nights and didn’t really venture too far from there.
The best thing about Romania was the prices…easily the cheapest place I’ve been to in Europe so far. A taxi ride that would cost me 20 euro in Belgium cost me 3 euro here. I had a massive Lebanese dinner with two glasses of wine…cost me 8 euro. This is definitely a place where you don’t feel bad about eating out. The low cost was also reflected in the hotels. The hotel I stayed at for leave was a four-star…I never book four-stars on my personal travels, but this one only cost 58 euro a night. The room was huge, and the bed was the nicest I’ve slept on in Europe.
I’m not ruling out a return to Romania, maybe to check out the Transylvania tour. This is definitely a reasonably priced European getaway spot, though it definitely lacks the aesthetic charm of other, more popular Western European cities.