We had never considered Europe as a contender for our travels in 2015. We always thought it would be too expensive, our budget is pretty lean so we weren’t going to venture anywhere we perceived to be costly, or so we thought. Then by a surprise turn of events, a little luck and a bit of impulsive decision-making we were headed to London, we had landed a house sit in Bury St. Edmunds (a historic town two hours outside of London). The housesit wasn’t the only thing drew us to Europe and London wasn’t the place we wanted to get to know better. Bucharest, Romania was.
We had read so many good things about Romania, the welcoming people, the dramatic history, the rich culture, and cheap prices. Romania seemed to have all the things we look for in the places we visit so, when our house sit wrapped up we boarded a plane and headed to Bucharest.
We stepped onto Romanian soil filled with a mix of excitement and anxiety, excited to learn if all we had read was true and nervous because gaining the passport stamp to stay can be like an ugly pop quiz, border guards can be a bit prickly.
When we arrived in London, we endured the third degree by a border official: why are you in London, where are you staying, what do you do for work, shouldn’t your son be in school, do you have onward tickets, when are you returning to Canada, so many questions! The border official could have denied us entry if she didn’t care for one of our answers; luckily, she was satisfied with our explanations and gave us the stamp to stay in the country.
As we approached the border guard counter in Bucharest, we braced ourselves for a grilling. The woman border official looked somber and strict. Our Romanian language skills were non-existent at that point and that only added to the apprehension we felt as we approached her at the counter. She spoke some English, so as she inspected our passports she asked, “Why are you in Romania?” Rob answered, “Tourism.” Her answer was “Oh?” she raised an eyebrow.
Then, finished with matching our faces to our passports, she looked at Rob and asked, “How long will you stay?” Rob answered, “90 days please”. A look of mild shock almost lit up her face, now both eyebrows were raised and she said “Here in Bucharest, so long, for tourism, why?” We returned her look of surprise and thought, why… huh, why what? Rob replied with a tentative smile and a slight shrug of the shoulders “Why not?”
Her face immediately softened, she smiled the most gentle smile, bowed her head slightly to stamp our passports with authority and said “Hello, welcome to Romania. My country is beautiful, where do you plan to visit?” Now we were shocked, no hard questions, no threat of denied entry hanging in the air.
We went on to tell her we had no hard plans, she asked if she could make some recommendations and then spent a good five minutes nostalgically listing of the best of Bucharest and Romania. She wished us the warmest welcome any country has yet, albeit our request to stay the 90 days seemed to confuse her. We encountered that look of modest confusion many times when telling locals about our stay in Bucharest.
People would ask where we were from, or why we were in Bucharest and time and time again they would have an initial look of surprise and then that questioning look of confusion would come over their faces, you are here for 3 months, why? The response always made me think of a song chorus by One Direction, “Right now I’m lookin’ at you and I can’t believe you don’t know uh oh, you don’t know you’re beautiful.” Yes, I like that song, don’t judge me! It sums up our experience with the people of Bucharest, warm, welcoming, and totally unaware or very modest about how beautiful and amazing they, and their city truly are. On the other hand, maybe they did know but couldn’t understand why we thought that too.
So what is it that makes Bucharest beautiful in our eyes? Well, there are hectares of green space filled huge trees, swaths of flowers, and impressive playgrounds (complete with amusement park rides in some) all over the city. When the weather started to warm for spring, people flocked to the parks in droves. They were full of families and friends biking, playing, and chatting on park benches or enjoying drinks and conversation on café patios. There is so much good food in Bucharest and people gather to enjoy it together often. They seemed to celebrate time together and life, in general, really.
Bucharest is a very walkable city, at least where we stayed in the three different apartments we rented while there. There are grocery stores and little shops, cafes, outdoor markets, and street vendors selling fruit, and flowers in every block it seemed. As soon as the snow stopped, the weather warmed and restaurants patios started to invade the wide sidewalks. We enjoyed time on a few patios in Bucharest and ate in more restaurants than most cities we’ve visited so far. The prices are so cheap in Romania!
The people are welcoming and genuinely friendly. We don’t speak Romanian aside from a few greetings and polite niceties and that was never a problem. Most people spoke some English and those who didn’t, worked with us to communicate just fine. Violent crime is almost unheard of in Bucharest. We felt very safe there, we walked at night and took the metro and felt totally at ease.
We love Bucharest. All we had read about the people and the culture, how affordable it is and the architecture and parks were true. It is wonderful, including the modesty of the people. Bucharest, we knew we would love you, you had us at hello.