Bucharest: Sunday (102 degrees!)

I woke Sunday morning to the sound of Orthodox church bells ringing and the sight of some 30 bug bites in my legs and 10 on my arms. I think there are two truths at play here: first, and most obviously, I have finally stayed at a hostel with bed bugs; second, Mother Nature is making sure that my body doesn’t completely forget how to respond to bug bites now that I’ve been lucky enough to spend a summer in a place where my biggest fans, mosquitos, do not exist.

I obviously wasn’t motivated to stay in bed any longer, so I showered and woke up Greg. We ate a quick breakfast of bread and cheese before bracing ourselves for the day’s high of 100 and heading out into the city.

We hailed a cab in the Piața Unirii and asked it to take us to the Village Museum, the Bucharest equivalent of Colonial Williamsburg. We learned on the way that despite having a reputation for being more than usually dishonest, there are some honest cabbies in Bucharest; I misunderstood the total and gave him twice what we owed, but he corrected me!

The “museum” is more like a gated park where the Romanian government has transplanted several hundred houses, huts, churches, windmills, and other structures from others times and places in Romania. Sadly, there are only pictures of people in traditional costume, but the rest of the “museum” is pretty cool. It also happens to be along the shore of Lake Herăstrău, so when we reached the end of the exhibits, we rented a rowboat, and Greg chivalrously paddled me around the lake. The water was just clean enough that you didn’t mind if a few drops of water hit you but also dirty enough that despite the heat we felt no desire to jump in. Instead, we spent about 30 minutes total sitting in the boat underneath the weeping willows along the lake. This was an excellent way to beat the heat – it really wasn’t that awful in the shade.

After returning our boat, we bought electric-blue slurpees which tasted nothing like the flavor advertised but were nonetheless refreshing, and I was able to use my cup to rinse off my feet and legs, which were at this point covered in a layer of dirt with the occasional piece of weeping willow slime (yum!). Thus cleaned up a bit, we walked about a mile down the long tree-lined boulevard (staying in the shade as much as possible) on our way to the Piața Victoriei. On the way, we walked alongside Herăstrău Park, which is apparently the largest city park in Europe. We also passed the Arcul du Triumf (Arche de Triomphe, like the one in Paris) and the Piața Charles de Gaulle. We had to stop and rest numerous times because we were so hungry and tired from the heat, but finally we made it to Piața Victoriei.

At this point we were so hungry that when we saw a sign for a McDonald’s, we immediately decided to go there. I think previously I had only been to one other McDonald’s abroad (in Italy) because it seems like a total waste of culinary opportunity, but going there yesterday was an awesome decision. It had air conditioning and wifi, and our cashier turned out to be a big fan of Boston sports (which made Greg very happy since he’s from Boston). For about $6 each, we ended up with a burger, fries, drink, ice cream sundae (free this weekend for some reason), and even a Euro 2012 souvenir glass. We were there for at least an hour and a half, during which I made the executive decision to book myself a hotel room for the night so as to avoid doubling my number of bug bites (plus to have air conditioning, as by that time it was 101 degrees).

Thus sated and cooled, we exited into the heat (which, for those of you on the East Coast who’ve dealt with these temperatures PLUS humidity recently, I have to acknowledge was dry and therefore not as bad) and decided to check out the subway as a means of heading back. The subway turned out to be a great example of how communism was both a blessing and a curse (an observation we made frequently): while the stations themselves weren’t very sightly (mostly drab concrete other than some marble flooring), the trains themselves were really nice and clearly made for transporting large sums of people. They were roomy and clean and continuously connected (no doors between cars), and they ran every seven minutes.

One stop later, we disembarked at the Piața Romana to see the copy of the well-known statue of Romulus and Remus with the mother wolf. Well, despite circling the plaza and looking very carefully, we found nothing. This has me convinced that one of two things is true. Either the statue has been moved since the Lonely Planet printed its last edition in 2010, or the LP was wrong about its location. We did see the same statue the previous night in the much smaller Piața Roma just off the main street of the old center…

Anyway, back onto the subway we went and again got off one stop later at Piața Universitate. There are a number of nice buildings here, but we were in search of the Piața Revoluționarii, the site of a Tienenman Square-like massacre in 1989 that precipitated the death of Ceaușescu and communism. Again, we struck out. We did find some protest signs in front of the National Theater and the small Piața 21 Diciembre 1989, but we saw none of the things described in Lonely Planet. Greg and I seem to be cursed with an inability to find interesting political sites when we travel; this brought back memories of looking for the Museum of the Power of the People in Caracas.

At this point the temperature was 102, so we headed back to the hostel, collected our stuff, and took a cab to my hotel. This cab driver asked where we were from and made a sound of annoyance when we said we were American. It turned out he was just mad at himself for not recognizing our accent. 🙂 by the way, cabs, like everything else in Romania are really cheap; even my 20-minute ride to the airport today cost less than $7.

I made a great choice with the Hotel El Greco, where we were warmly welcomed by the male receptionist and led to a room with a lush bathroom, free wifi, and plentiful air conditioning. I took an epic shower (including two rounds of scrubbing dirt off my feet) and emerged a new person, though I was still exhausted from the heat. After some lounging around, we set off in search of dinner, and since we were once again really hungry and lazy, settled for kebab from a stand several blocks away. It hit the spot, and after picking up some cold drinks, we went back to the hotel to check out Romanian tv before Greg left to catch his train.

My one word to describe Romanian tv would be “eclectic”. We found channels in Spanish, French, and English showing tv shows from the 70’s (including one featuring a barely recognizable William Shatner as a cop), Japanese extreme obstacle courses, Chinese ninja movies, and Mexican westerns. One could stay entertained for quite awhile, but with Greg’s departure, I succumbed to exhaustion and fell asleep in my bug-free bed.

Thanks Greg for another great trip! 🙂 (There’s only one person with whom he’s been to more countries than with me. Travel buddies forever!)

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