Sunday, 28 October 2018

Bucharest - Little Paris of The East

Welcome back to Bucharest!
Another favourite restaurant!
The Arcul de Triumf.
Holidays have come around again for teachers and students - yes, it's July! I love these few months, and not just because it's summer. There's the weather most importantly - the city just seems to really come alive with people out and about. Being a teacher though can be hard work sometimes (nearly always!) and we do need a long break to get away from it all and really disconnect. While many jobs can be stressful, underpaid and underappreciated (like nurses!), some people don't realise that teachers put in a lot of time and effort (years off their life) for the kids they teach and their parents too. A lot of people say "you lazy teachers, you're always on holidays!" and this statement is truly unfair! A lot of holidays we do get, around 3 months in Europe, but they are much needed - there are a lot of cases of alcoholism, depression and breakdowns in this profession, most of which go unnoticed or unreported. How many people in their jobs today have to wipe little 4 year old bums, control 25+ unruly kids who don't get attention at home, mark and correct work at home in their own time? These are just a few things we have to do, apart from being a social worker, day-care service, data entry, entertainer, public relations, friend, law-enforcer and educator for students. Anyway - enough of my rant! It's now July and I'm ready to go on holidays. But, before I do this, I need to work a little bit more to make the holidays feasible and to be able to eat for the rest of ! To do this, I need to work in July and this year I was returning to Romania to work in a summer camp.

Hello Bucharest!
Always something interesting around the corner... if you have open eyes.
The 2nd largest building in the World.
Bucharest architecture - not always beautiful but always interesting.
It'd been 2 years since I'd been to Romania, as last year I was in South Africa volunteering for an NGO called ICDM in the Valley of 1000 Hills just outside of Durban. Last year was a great experience - living and working in a rural Zulu community, photographing events, organising sports days for the local kids, working on the company's online presence and also a spot of tour guide for visitors. Sadly it didn't quite work out as I'd hoped or planned - visa issues forced me back to Barcelona in November, just 4 months after arriving. This year I would be going back to Romania to work for great school in Bucharest, but in the mountains for 4 weeks for a load of kids on a summer camp. Before heading off into the Carpathians I got some time in Bucharest to wander around the explore the parts of the city that I'd missed back in 2016. Last time I was hear I did a fair I think - I saw most of the city, all by foot too, and then trained around Transylvania, to Brasov, Rasnov, Sibiu and Sighisoara. Although Bucharest isn't my favourite city in the World - it's not the coolest city, the most beautiful, nor does it have loads of tourists or tourist attractions - but there's something about it I like! In the Old Town of the city there are loads of restaurants and bars, full of good Romanian beer to drink and Traditional Romania food to eat. Sadly there is also lots of strip clubs and it gets a little seedy at night. I was staying in a hotel a short walk outside of the centre so this allowed me to go in and out easily, see what I wanted and do what I wanted, without having to sleep in the noisy part of town (which I did last time). The first place on my list was a library that I'd seen on Instagram just before getting hee this time.

More than just books at Cărturești Carusel.

The most beautiful bookstore ever!
A surprise find in the Parcul Herăstrău.
A statue out the National Theatre.
I know seeing future travel destinations on Instagram is what people do now, but I still find it a little strange and silly. Many photos on Insta are set up and even more are photoshopped to a silly level - I hate the 'influencers,' the fake photos and the people that have thousands of followers but terrible photos. Also, if you're on this app, lookup some big celebrities like Beyonce, who has 119m followers and doesn't follow anyone back - not even her husband! The Pope does the same thing... but to be fair, he has more work to do and is slightly more important too. Anyway, it does have its upside - spotting beautiful places like the Cărturești Carusel. When I first saw it on my phone, I didn't believe it and had to ask a friend if it was actually real (and if she would take me there!). Typical of this city, his beautiful bookshop was opposite an empty patch of land fenced off by a graffitied strip of corrugated iron wall - this right in the centre of the Old Town. I walked in, not believe my eyes - it truly was just liked it look on my mobile screen! This bookstore has 3 floors of books, shelf upon shelf of titles in various languages, a basement area full of of anything and everything sci-fi, as well as a top floor cafe, which has more books in the little seating nooks for you to browse while having a coffee. Although most people come into the store to get their Instagram shots in - the posing ones, looking away into the distance with you hand over your panama hat while wearing a read dress (you know the ones), or silly poses on the stairs - some people actually come here to buy books too. I didn't buy any this time, due to limited space in my bag for the flight home, but they have everything here! After walking around and getting my own photos in, I decided that it was beer o'clock, so I headed off to one of my favourite restaurants in town - Caru' cu Bere. In 1879 a Transylvanian man set up a brewery here and employed his two nephews to help him out. Today is it a very busy restaurant that serves great food, beer and is very popular with locals and tourists - you always need to book a table! To be honest, it looks more like an old church than a bar or restaurant, with stained-glass windows, dark wooden panelling, the tables and chairs are even beautiful - you have to take photos of this place when you come, and the employees expect you to even! I enjoyed a very refreshing local beer, Ursus (Bear in Romanian), at a very decent price of €2 for a pint - great value as you get a great tasting beer and beautiful surroundings! At night, this place is nearly always packed, serving traditional Romanian dishes like Mamaliga (a yellow maize porridge) and Mititei (spicy grilled sausages), as well as entertaining their guests with Romanian dancing and singing - it is something to see and sometimes there is even crowd participation!


A new and very large church being built in the city.

A little kitten in a restaurant.
The changing face of Bucharest.
There are so many bars and restaurants to visit - I don't think you could do them all even if you had 2 weeks here! Another of my favourites, for breakfast, lunch, dinner or some evening drinks, is the Hanu' lui Manuc restaurant. When you first get to the entrance, there doesn't seem to be anything special about this place, just a big white wall and large wooden doors. As soon as you walk through these doors however, the whole place opens up into a huge, square courtyard full of tables and chairs for guests. The waitresses are dresses in beautiful, traditional Romanian clothes, they lead you to a table and give you the menus, then you feast and satisfy your thirst in a real Romanian setting with real Romanian food. It's a dangerous place this one - the prices are reasonable and the food is good - but it's more the fact that the service is great, it's in the centre of the city, and it's just far to easy to come back every day and drink good Timisoara beer. They also do a metre of beer - and not like a yard glass, but a real metre of beer length-wise, 10 pints worth! Finding something to eat and drink in this town is easy - you could fall over anywhere and stumble into a kebab shop or bar. Speaking of kebabs, there is the famous Dristor Kebabs in Bucharest that you have to try if you come here. First of all, in these stores they have a money exchange, so you can change your Euros or Dollars into the Romanian Lei and then buy your lunch in the same place - very convenient! The kebabs are large, full and tailor-made buy an army of workers - you can get pickles, spicy onions, chillies and any sauce you want, or all of them. You won't be disappointed by the food or service here and will always leave full and satisfied, although sometimes it's a struggle to finish the kebab!

The courtyard in Hanu' lui Manuc.

Nation's Heroes Memorial.

An 18th Century church in the National Village Museum.
Nicolae Ceaușescu's private theatre room.
Something else I missed (and didn't even know about!) last time was the National Village Museum. Recommended by a friend, I decided to get the metro there, which is an experience in itself - the trains are old and noisy, with no air-con but windows that open instead (but then you can't hear yourself think!), and the stations are huge, as if they were expected millions of people to be using the system and nobody has arrived. It's also quite cheap at 50c a trip, less if you buy 10 trips - I did Uber a little around Romania and loved it, friendly drivers and cheap prices, but I wanted to experience the public transport in Bucharest too. The Museum is an ethnographic museum which is devoted to Romanian village life and culture and really quite amazing. Here you'll find houses, workshops and churches that have all been taken from where they were somewhere in the countryside of Romania and moved here bit by bit and rebuilt - what you see are not reconstructions but the real, physical buildings, some more than 300 years old. First opened in 1936 by the Romanian sociologist Dimitrie Gusti, this permanent exhibition covers 14 hectares and has 360 structures, with over 60,000 objects and 250,000 documents all about the history and traditions of village life in Romania. Every year, more than 500,000 people visit, most of them Romanians too. My favourite building here, which was hard to choose to be honest, was a wooden church built in 1773 - completed 15 years before the British came to Sydney with the First Fleet! The church was originally in the village of Timiseni in the northern Oltenia region but was moved here in 2002 as it had been abandoned and neglected for many years - the move here saved it from complete destruction, which would have been a loss for the country. To see these buildings here, to know that someone does care to keep history alive, and that so many people come here, fills my heart with pride and hope - maybe progress won't destroy everything, people do care. I found the whole place extremely interesting - there are also workshops for kids, where they paint traditional religious icons, eggs and other things Romanians, temporary exhibitions and more. If you want to spend half a day somewhere, see some history and culture, this is the place - it's set in a green park with loads of shade, places to sit as well as a cool little bar that does food and beer.

There are small churches tucked away in this city everywhere!

The eternal flame outside the war memorial.
Nation's Heroes Memorial.
A peacock in the Dictator's Mansion.
I walked a lot around this city always finding something else that I'd never seen before, an old building crumbling away, a new flashy one that has been recently built, there is always something in this city to see. I managed to find the war memorial in Carol Park (renamed "Liberty Park" during the Communist Era) which was very interesting. Set in a huge park with ponds, ducks, hot dog stands and people walking their dogs, the monument stands tall and imposing, its red granite arches reach 48m into the air from the base of black granite. I know, a lot of granite! Before the Romanian Revolution of 1989, the rotunda contained the crypts of Communist leaders, and the semicircle around the mausoleum held social Communist militants, but they were exhumed in 1991, moved to other cemeteries, and replaced by the remains of soldiers who fell in WWI. I also visited the house of Nicolae Ceaușescu, for only 15 Lei (3 Euros), another recommendation and another thing really worth doing. The house was built for the previous leader of the country, but he died just before he could move in, so Mr Ceausescu moved in as soon as he was sworn in. Nicolae Ceaușescu was the leader of the country from 1965 to 1989, his reign ended by a firing squad along with his wife. Frankly, I have no sympathy for him as he basically ruined the country and so many people starved and struggled to get by. His government were completely totalitarian, the state police brutal and the surveillance was complete and so was repression of anything American or Western. While American movies were banned in Romania, so nobody would see supermarkets, food, money and jobs, while this man sat in his private, air-conditioned cinema with family and friends watching John Wayne movies. While his people were starving and freezing to death in the street, due to the nearly complete export of agricultural produce to pay for the huge economic collapse and foreign debt, the 'leader of the people' had a summer garden and a winter garden with peacocks, fountains with mosaics and a private, indoor swimming pool. As much as I hate this guy for what he did, and he knew full well what was happening, the house is very impressive. Although I wasn't a fan of the decor, not really my taste, I had to appreciate how much it cost and how much effort it took to get it there as well - there was a tea set given to him by Queen Elizabeth II even. The house is enormous with 80 rooms and around 4000m²! It had so many bedrooms, including a guest room was used by Richard Nixon in 1969, private bathrooms, floors covered in Iranian silk rugs, a piano nobody played (purely decoration), a fitness area with steam rooms, massage tables, hydro-therapy machines along with a very beautiful, if over-decorated swimming pool. All this was taken care of by only 4 very busy household staff. Nicolae deserved to be shot way before 1989, but if you want to come and see a real mansion and see how the most powerful man in the country lived, then this is the place - it is worth a visit. None of the money goes to him or his family, so that's a bonus... but I'm pretty sure it's going to today's corrupt Romanian government.

The highly-decorated indoor swimming pool at the Ceaușescu residence.
Pure opulence while everyone outside starved.
Bucharest's Old Town.
Inside Caru' cu Bere.
As much as I'd been enjoying my time in the city, it was time to move to the mountains for the summer camp. I come here to teach for July as the kids are great, very respectful, educated and generally great, fun kids. It makes a difference from little Spanish kids, whom I like, but they can be a real handful and too active, sometimes even rude to teachers and adults in general. Another reason is the great people I work with - Romanian and foreign teachers alike. It's a great team that look after you and you can really have fun with them. Before we leave the city though we always have dinner out together in a traditional Romanian restaurant. This year we went to Caru' cu Bere, one of my favourites in the city. We ate everything that was put down in front of us, meat, vegetables and fish, drank our beer and talked about the camp, Romanian, the city and everything else. When we leave, it's with a full belly and big smiles - now we're ready to head to the mountains to work!

Our last meal in Bucharest before starting work.

Cheers to Bucharest from the Beer God!

Birthday Weekend

The always impressive Pedraforca. Just beautiful! Hiking with a touch of snow. Winter was setting in by November, and although ...