Bucharest, two hours in

It’s 2:50 pm, and I’m writing this on my iPhone while sitting in a hammock outside my hostel in Bucharest. There’s a little pavilion about 10 yards from me in the garden, and a group of people are listening to relaxing meditation music and watching a woman who occasionally leads them in yoga-like poses. It’s 90 degrees and climbing, but here in the shade with this peaceful music, my body feels fine despite two months in 65-degree weather.

I’m relaxing here until my traveling partner Greg arrives. Longtime followers of my travels will remember Greg as my companion through Venezuela, Colombia, and Panama two years ago. His attitude of “die by 30 or live trying” makes for a great balance to my naturally more cautious travel tendencies. I don’t think we can get into too much trouble given that Greg  will be here for a total of 30 hours before he heads to Japan (via Moscow and a universally infamous Russian airline). Greg got to the Hague on Thursday night, but we were on different flights out of Schipol. (He very kindly accompanied me to the airport at 7:00 despite the fact that his flight didn’t leave until 12:15.)

As per usual when Greg is involved, we don’t have any set agenda for Bucharest. There is certainly more to see than we can do (even though I’m staying until Monday afternoon). Our hostel, which has pleasantly confirmed my hunch that it is the Romanian equivalent of Luna’s Castle in Panama City (the best hostel I’ve stayed in to date), is located just south of the old city center, so I think we’ll probably stick around here tonight. The parliament building, built by Communist dictator Ceaušescu, is the second-largest administrative building in the world (after the Pentagon) and is quite close by.

Let me take a moment to celebrate that this is the first time I’ve flow to a completely new, non-English speaking country and found my way from the airport to my lodging all by myself. I’m as independent as can be, but I always find that process stressful even with others. I was slightly disconcerted but mostly amused when, upon inserting my Dutch bank card into an ATM, the screen showed a message cautioning me to check that no one had rigged the machine to steal my information. A careful, close examination followed (meaning I ignored the message for lack of other options), and I succeeded in withdrawing money. I had a few tense moments trying to buy a bus ticket as the woman helpfully refused to break my 50 lei (less than $50) bill and then had to do the transaction twice as she didn’t tell me to use my chip card. (I thought we’d escape the damn chip and PIN stuff here!) anyway, no harm done and onto the non-air conditioned city bus I went. I’ll save descriptions of the city for when I’ve been able to observe more of it.

The last thing I’ll say for now is that Romania is the ultimate destination for me as a Romance language dork. I’ve studied varying amounts of Spanish, French, Portuguese, and Italian, so Romanian is the last one left. I spent some time on the plane figuring out the pronunciation (which has elements both familiar and new) and enjoyed the bus ride for the practice it afforded for reading and silently pronouncing all the signs. I’m excited to learn a bit more in the next 48 hours!


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